Wouldn’t it be awesome if we had the anatomy of one of our dolls? If we could just popper baby onto our boobs and they would stick there and feed to satisfaction and then pop cleanly off until the next feed? Before I was a breastfeeding mama, I held the expectation that feeding would be just that, that baby would open her mouth, I’d offer a nipple and we’d be dandy. Yes, I thought that there may be some discomfort involved, some long nights and tubes of nipple balm, but I believed that the actual process of latching on and feeding would just come cleanly and without work. I’m not quite sure why I thought this, after all, most other activities that involve more than one person take some time for both people to find their natural meeting point, before they can fall into an easy rhythm. Remember that first kiss? Which way do you tilt your head, what are you supposed to do with your hands, how wide should you open your mouth, tongues, no tongues, when do you pull away? Yes I gave my first kiss months of research and build up, I read every teen magazine going, I sneakily eyed my friends on the backseat of the school bus, I saw people doing it everywhere, on TV, in films, on the street, at parties and yet still, when it came down to it I still was fairly clueless and in the dark.
So how then are pregnant mothers supposed to have realistic expectations of feeding? Breastfeeding is still (still!) a hidden activity for many. Every week we read stories of mothers asked to cover up, feed in bathrooms or fretting about how to feed discreetly. Those who do feed in public are often juggling their baby, their boob and their clothes, as well as their seating position so that they don’t inadvertently expose a nipple. Before we have our own babies we have probably, most of us, never seen a whole feed. Never had the chance to see for ourselves what feeding a newborn is really like. TV shows certainly don’t show new mothers with their babies, stripped to the waist, lying back in bed, adjusting and readjusting their position, offering baby a nipple several times, from different angles. More usually we see TV mums bottlefeeding, or if breastfeeding, either baby is nestling into mother’s arms, quietly and sweetly in the cradle position or the mother is at her wit’s end, crazed from lack of sleep and dishevelled from exhaustion. As if there is no in-between. It’s either heaven or hell, no in-between.
But neither of these are the reality that most women experience, only most women seldom have their stories played out. But we can change that. We can change that right now. We can share our breastfeeding journeys, we can go ahead and feed at playgroup, we can offer a hand to the mother who we spot struggling with a feeding cover, a newborn and a toddler running around the room and a drink out of reach. We can make public our breastfeeding photos, we can tell our children of how they were fed as infants and speak of the women who, in turn, helped us. We can educate our teenagers about breastfeeding, the girls and the boys. We can sit in coffee shops and lift our tops and feed our babies and we can do that again and again, every day. On the good days, the easy days, the difficult days, the trying days, the hot days when we can just slip a strap down and the cold days when we have to strip off layer upon layer. On the days when our babies latch with no fuss and on the days when they seem determined to fight and refuse. On the days when they are a tiny newborn and fit in the crook of our arms and on the days when they are an overtired toddler standing in front of us with a cookie in hand and rosy red cheeks.
We’re already doing it. We are changing the narrative.
Victoria Machin - UK
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