I wasn’t going to write anything about the whole ‘Jamie Oliver says breastfeeding is easy’ saga of a couple of weeks ago. I read excellent articles on the subject in pretty much every national newspaper and countless thought-provoking blog posts. They were all written by women who’d had real difficulties and struggles with breastfeeding. Many of them had been left devastated because they couldn’t breastfeed and made to feel inadequate by health professionals. Some of them said it lead to their post-natal depression. All of their struggles were heartbreaking, as are the experiences of many of my friends who have told me of the really tough times they had while breastfeeding and that they didn’t get the support they needed or deserved. They were rightly angry and upset at the celebrity chef’s comments, as was I.
Like I say, I wasn’t going to write about any of this because so many other women had already shared their difficult experiences, and who was I to write about it, when breastfeeding worked out for me with all three of my children?
But then someone told me that they agreed with Jamie Oliver’s comments that breastfeeding is easy. They said that for women who didn’t have ‘problems’ it was easy and a no-brainer. Because there’s no bottle to prepare, and it’s always on tap, that means it’s therefore easy. No surprises that someone was a man!
And that’s when I realised that actually, I did have a very opinionated blog post within me. Just because you don’t have any complications breastfeeding, that doesn’t mean it is ‘easy’.
I breastfed each of my three children for a year. My children were born in just over four years, and I spent the best part of six years either pregnant or breastfeeding. Every day, I remind myself how lucky I am to have my amazing children. But you don’t need to be a medical expert to appreciate the strain that might put on a woman’s body.
Yes, I was lucky I had none of the awful experiences many other breastfeeding mums have. No problems with babies latching on. No problems with a lack of milk. No problems with lacerated and bleeding nipples. No problems with having to cut out dairy from my diet because my own milk made my babies poorly, like some mums I know. For me, the actual process of breastfeeding was complication-free (other than a few bouts of mastitis, but more of that later).
It was my decision to continue breastfeeding exclusively until each of my children’s first birthdays. For the most part, I loved breast feeding. I loved the feeling that I was nurturing my babies, seeing them pile on the pounds and knowing it was down to the goodness my body was producing. It was one of the most incredible things I have done.
But easy?! That’s the last word I would use.
That word “easy” devalues three years of one of the hardest, most dedicated things I have ever done.
So for Jamie, and the other guy who told me breastfeeding was easy, this post is for you. Have a read of these questions and still tell me you think it is easy.
* Do you think it was easy never being able to leave my babies because otherwise they would starve? Do you think it was easy having to pump enough milk to allow me to go anywhere and pump milk every couple of hours while I was away?
* Do you think it was easy that two of my three breast fed babies would not take an expressed bottle, no matter how hard their daddy and other relatives tried, meaning I couldn’t leave them for more than a couple of hours for months and months on end?
* Do you think mastitis was easy, when I was in absolute agony, aching all over, burning up with a fever yet shivering cold, and still with a baby to look after, and then later a baby plus toddler?
* Do you think it is easy to breastfeed when your vagina is bruised and in absolute agony following a brutal forceps delivery, episiotomy and stitches, and your bottom is in agony from piles, as a result of extended pushing? Do you think it is easy to sit down and breast feed when sitting down itself leaves you crying in pain?
* Do you think it is easy to go through 65 hours of contractions 10 minutes apart from the get-go, to give birth having not slept for three nights, and then to have to stay up all night breast feeding your baby rather than let someone else take over so you can sleep for even a couple of hours?
* Do you think it is easy not to be able to really drink alcohol for a year, following on from nine sober months of pregnancy and the sober months when you were trying to conceive, when everyone around you is drinking? And to be conscious of what you are eating at all times because you know that what you eat, your baby will be eating too?
* Do you think red-raw sore nipples from constant feeding are easy?
* Do you think being bitten on your nipple by a wriggly teething baby is easy?
* Do you think leaking boobs in public and obviously wet patches on your jumper is easy?
* Do you think only being able to wear breastfeeding-friendly clothes for three years is easy?
* Do you think wearing ugly nursing bras that make your boobs look a funny shape is easy?
* Do you think getting up every single night for months on end to feed a baby by yourself while your husband (who for the most part, I should add, is an incredibly hands-on and supportive dad) snores next to you is easy? And do you think it is easy when your husband remarks how well the baby slept last night when you were up every couple of hours nursing said baby and he didn’t hear a thing?
* Do you think growth spurts are easy, when your baby is attached to your chest continually for 24 hours? When you have just finished feeding them and can’t even make it to the kitchen to get a drink or to the bathroom for a wee before they demand to be fed again?
* Do you think not ever being able to hand your baby to someone else so you can have a whole night’s sleep is easy?
* Do you think your baby crying angrily at you because they can’t get enough milk and are still hungry is easy?
* Do you think feeding in public and getting horrible stares from people who disapprove is easy?
* Do you think expressing 300ml of milk so you can pop out for a couple of hours for the first time in months and then dropping the milk all over the floor is easy? And then trying to re-pump but there being nothing left in your body?
* Do you think it is easy to get your boobs out on a cold and blustery day at the park to feed your baby, while your toddler runs out of sight?
* Do you think going away for the day to your best friend’s wedding and having to disappear every three hours to pump is easy?
* Do you think having a tummy bug that leaves you running back and forth to the toilet every half hour but still having to breastfeed is easy?
* Do you think sitting in another room and missing your Christmas dinner at a big family gathering because your three-week-old baby needs feeding and you aren’t yet confident enough to feed discreetly is easy?
* Do you think it is easy to have to abandon your shower mid-way through, shampoo suds still in your hair, because your baby is inconsolably screaming because she needs feeding?
* Do you think breastfeeding your baby while your toilet-training toddler wees and poos all over the floor is easy?
* Do you think it is easy to get intimate with your husband when you are paranoid your boobs might leak all over him? Do you think it is easy that because your breasts’ current priority is feeding your child, they don’t feel especially sexy to you anymore during such intimate encounters?
* Do you think being miserable about being half a stone heavier than you’d like to be because, no matter what you do to diet and exercise, your body is holding on to its fat reserves to make milk is easy?
* Do you think looking in the mirror at how breastfeeding has completely destroyed your boobs – which used to be one of your best assets – is easy?
* Do you think it is easy listening to a man who has never, ever breastfed a child or experienced any of this first hand tell you breastfeeding is easy?
Breastfeeding can be wonderful when it works out. I’m so proud of myself for nurturing all three of my babies and I feel lucky it worked for me. I would do it all over again in an instant. But please don’t EVER use that word easy again. Just because breastfeeding doesn’t involve the logistics of heading downstairs in the middle of the night to prepare a bottle for your impatiently crying baby, or having to ensuring you have enough formula with you at all times, that doesn’t make it easy. It is a huge commitment. Yes, it is a wonderful experience, but it is also incredibly hard work and requires a lot of determination and commitment.
Breastfeeding might have been easy for YOU Jamie Oliver and the other bloke who uttered those words to me because you didn’t have to do a single bloody thing other than perhaps buy the odd packet of breastpads and bring your nursing wife a glass of water or snack in the middle of the night because she’s keeling over with hunger. Because breastfeeding can leave you famished.
But it is not easy. And if you think it is, you haven’t got a bloody clue.
Can you relate? Do let me know in the comments section below, on the Cardiff Mummy Says Facebook page, or by tweeting me on @cardiffmummy
You can see all my blog posts on my experiences of parenting in the Family Life section of Cardiff Mummy Says.