The uncomfortable subject of breastfeeding

by Rayna van Aalst August 11, 2018

The uncomfortable subject of breastfeeding

August 1-7 was World Breastfeeding Week.

Oops. Did it just become a lot quieter and more uncomfortable in the room?

For me, it did.

During those 7 days I saw a lot of photos of mothers breastfeeding with a lot of encouraging words why women should choose it over formula.

I breastfed my daughter for 9 months, but I don’t have a single photo of me breastfeeding. Nor do I clearly recognize the bliss all these women talk about.

I didn’t have any difficulties breastfeeding. My husband was beyond supportive. Yet, I still feel uncomfortable around anything breastfeeding.

When I was pregnant I received a lot of information about the advantages of breastfeeding for the mother, the baby and the entire family, where I could find more information and support, if things didn't go smoothly. It was because of this “education” on the subject that I decided to give breastfeeding a try.

The choice was entirely mine. Was I comfortable with it? No, not at all.

During those months I believe that somewhere deep down in me I enjoyed the moments of breastfeeding – having my little baby in my arms, cuddling, but I never got to fully experience these feelings.

When we were out, especially in a café or a restaurant, I always looked for a table at the back, in the corner, I would cover myself with a huge scarf and do everything possible not to disturb the people around me.

It’s difficult to call this a “precious” moment, let alone enjoy it, when “Don’t make people around you uncomfortable” is a top priority for you.

For as long as I can remember, in my entire life, I can’t recall seeing more than 2-3 women breastfeeding. When I did however see one, there was always at least one person around me being indignant by the sight and expressing that.

On the other hand, how many times have I seen a baby with a bottle? Don’t be ridiculous, more times than the hairs on my head.

How many times have I seen breasts in an ad? Way too many and although there are occasional voices speaking up against women as sexual objects in advertisement I don’t recall anyone being disgusted by a scarcely dressed woman, or even naked, next to a bottle of whiskey.

I cried when at 3 months we gave my little girl her first bottle because it was time for me to go back to work and during the day she needed to be fed by someone else.

When she was 9 months old, with tears in my eyes and pain in my heart, I started weaning her. I felt like a part of me died and as I’m writing these words tears are rolling down my cheeks. At the same time, I felt enormous relief. I had grown tired of people, including family and friends, constantly asking me “Isn’t she getting too big for breastfeeding?”

Looking back at this period of my life, I now know that I made that choice not because I believed it was the best for me or my girl but because I didn’t have the strength to handle the pressure and tell the people around me to mind their own business.

I can’t go back and ask the specialists - "How do you deal with the reproaching looks when you breastfeed in public?"

Or "Why don't you tell my friend who to this day feels guilt for not breastfeeding her child that it's OK, if that's what she feels comfortable with?" And then think about why so many women feel emotionally uncomfortable breastfeeding.

How about the jokes that you most likely will be breastfeeding your child at their wedding because she'd 6 months old and you still breastfeed? Ha ha ha.

I’m writing this because I’m hoping that the conversations around breastfeeding will be first of all that – a conversation and not an attempt to convince the mother-to-be to not choose formula; that the dialogue with the expecting mothers would expand than just benefits of breastfeeding and technical information to include also the emotional aspect of it.

Rayna van Aalst
Rayna van Aalst