She was fussing again at the breast, as she had done before at bedtime. My boobs were very soft; they felt empty … like they had given all they had at the moment. I usually reminded myself that it’s okay … that I have enough for two nurslings … that she will be fine. I sometimes rationed bedtime feeding between my preschooler and baby; with my baby having priority. My hard built breastfeeding confidence is stronger than it has ever been, but not that night.
My reasoning seemed inadequate; I’d come across a very sad story … a story beyond dreadful … a story about a baby’s ‘accidental’ starvation and death; breastfeeding was asserted to be the cause. This story affected my breastfeeding confidence in a way that shocked and shook me … in a way that caught me by surprise.
The story came thick and fast from different newspapers around the world on my Facebook timeline.
Baby … starved … dehydration … dead … breastfeeding … exclusive breastfeeding … cluster feeding – WARNING … the headlines inspired nothing but fear.
A list of things you wouldn’t wish on anyone was stated to have happened to this baby. ‘Just one bottle’ of formula could have saved him … can save babies from all the doom and gloom breastfeeding could / will bring, they wrote and implied.
I was shocked, unpleasantly surprised, and confused … deeply troubled … scared out of my mind … at my wit’s end.
There I was, a second time mum trying to contain the repressed effects of the infant feeding trauma I went through the first time round … willing, believing, allowing, and giving my body the best chance to do what a mother’s body is designed to do, whilst desperately keeping the doubts at bay.
It will happen this time round, it will happen this round, it will happen this time round.
Unlike my first breastfeeding journey, I was better educated about how to nourish my baby from me. Breastfeeding started better, though not without hiccups. Whenever I ran into hardcore doubts like that night, I tried to stay calm, think positively, remind myself of the demand and supply nature of breastmilk production, and that I’m tandem nursing. I give my breasts some downtime, my baby and I cuddling breaks, then return to breastfeeding.
But that night, the doubts had the upper hand; I was shocked at how rattled I was. It didn’t matter that my baby wasn’t a newborn like the baby in the story. The ‘just one bottle’ played over and over in my mind, louder and louder with each second.
I’m I starving my baby? Is my baby’s hunger not satisfied? Is my breastmilk enough for my baby? Can I optimally breastfeed my baby? Is she crying too much or too little?
On and on the questions tumbled through my mind, almost clouding my judgement.
The comments on the articles on the media Facebook pages were hard to read. It was gloating time against breastfeeding, people warning their family and friends, folks being thankful they just went straight to formula. The parade against breastfeeding was out in full force, and the drumbeats were loud and clear – here you go, breast is not best after all.
Then there were pregnant women, first-time mums, and new mothers who were expressing their concerns about optimal breastfeeding in breastfeeding groups, online and offline.
The onslaught was horrible, and I’d exposed myself to ideas that challenged my goal to listen to my body and read my baby … to breastfeed optimally. Ideas that deepened my postnatal blues and made me feel selfish, foolish, and unreasonable.
made me = I let my critical thinking guard down, and allowed the emotional appeal from unverified channels (in this age of alternative facts) to affect me so much.
Why don’t I just give my baby one bottle of Formula to tie her over and give myself a break? This way, I’ll know definitely that she’s getting enough in her belly … that she’s not hungry … that she won’t dehydrate … that she won’t die … just one bottle, just in case. What harm could that do?
Whatever made me think my breastmilk is enough for her … can be enough for her? Some women just can’t produce enough, what makes me think I can?
So many thoughts that night … too many to remember and capture in words.
My breastfeeding confidence that I had worked so hard to build and maintain was rattled, my mother lion and mama bear protective buttons pushed, and the desire to know more about this very sad story awakened.
In the end, I dared to go against my thoughts and fears, and instead chose to err on the side of my breastfeeding knowledge and experience. I hadn’t worked this hard on trying to be a mum, to allow a story, however tragic, to change my evidence-based course.
I can’t remember the details of what I did, but I can tell you that my baby eventually got my milk from source, and we juggled the night as we had done for weeks before. I chose to trust, believe, and hope, that my body would respond to my baby’s need for my milk. And she got my milk, comfort, warmth, and presence that night, as needed.
Even then, I was affected enough by that moment and subsequent doubt-filled moments, to investigate this story from available sources.
It’s been over 2 months now, and I have very little time to write, but I feel a deep need to tap letters to screen and share what I’ve learnt with anyone who is interested.
So, over the next few days and weeks, as I’m able to, I’ll share my findings and thoughts.
If I had known on that night what I now know, I would have breastfed without worry as I had done for over 2 months at that point; focused on my baby and allowed my body to function accordingly without fear.
My heart goes out to the family in the story, I can’t begin to imagine the devastation and grief of losing a child, especially when it is preventable. I just wish their story hadn’t been handled by so many in such a sensational way, to cause so much fear and confusion about a very important function of the body … one that is undermined and discriminated against so much.
If you know about the story: how did it affect you?
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