Two and a half years ago, when I was just starting off in the blogging world, I wrote a post about my honest experience of breastfeeding which you can read here.
In short, to begin with, breastfeeding hurt.
It hurt a lot. It was toe-curlingly, excruciatingly painful.
Both times, after a few weeks of perseverance, tears and a lot of lip-biting, the pain subsided and I carried on breastfeeding to the point where it did become pain-free and natural as had been promised.
But even now, over three years on from the last time I breastfed a newborn, I still remember the pain of the early days. I still remember the fear that shivered through me every time my babies cried for a feed, and I remember those early post-partum days, sobbing while they latched on to my bruised and stitched up body.
It wasn’t at all what I’d been promised.
The NCT classes had lied.
I sent my blog post off into the ether, but at that point I didn’t even have a Facebook page or a Twitter account, so predictably not a lot of people read it.
On the second anniversary of its publication, I reshared it to my Facebook page. A day or so later, I noticed it was getting a lot more traffic than usual (i.e. some), so I searched for it. I found that it had been shared into The Motherload Facebook group, where rather than being met by a tumbleweed, others were offering their experiences; many of which were very similar to mine.
Here are some of the comments on the post from other mothers;
“I was also told if it hurts, the latch isn’t right. I suffered horrendous PND with my first and felt a huge failure for struggling to breastfeed and would panic when she cried because the pain was so bad.”
“When I went for an antenatal class with baby no. 2, I was told it wouldn’t hurt. Having breastfed previously, I was expecting it to hurt a lot again. Mentally for me it was better to expect it. Good job I did, as I was in agony after day 3 but this time knew what to do (express for a few days which is a lot less painful).“
“It felt a bit like someone had run over my boob in a lorry after vigorously rubbing my nipple with sand paper. I was just told by HV to persevere and so I did. When the pain began to subside my baby suddenly started to bring up blood. After rushing to A&E one morning I was told the blood was coming from me because I had cracked nipples. All very normal apparently. It would have been helpful to know this could happen so I didn’t completely freak out about it. It was so scary.”
“I love breastfeeding my son and I’m chuffed I stuck with it. But I really think health visitors, NCT classes and midwives should give you more information about how hard it is. Ignorance is not bliss in this situation. The facts help you make informed decisions about how to feed your baby and may stop you feeling like a total failure when it gets tough.”
“I’m currently breastfeeding my 11 day old little girl – my GOD was I in agony. It’s easing now and becoming easier to handle but how I wish someone, anyone had told me how painful it could be and that it’s not always a latch problem, a tongue tie, engorgement, etc and that it does just take a while for your nipples to toughen up!”
“Like so many other things with childbirth and child rearing I felt let down and lied to re breastfeeding. If I’d known what to expect I’d have been better prepared.”
Based on this small sample alone, it is clear that telling pregnant women that if breastfeeding hurts then something is fundamentally wrong is untrue.
I do understand, completely, that we shouldn’t just stoically power on through the pain. This is where midwives, lactation consultants and health visitors should be involved to make sure that things are OK and there are no complications; tongue tie, mastitis, engorgement…
But nor should we be lead to expect an easy ride.
So this is where I make a plea.
A plea for truth; an end to the sugarcoating.
The ‘breastfeeding doesn’t hurt’ line needs to change.
It must be the end of breastfeeding for so many mothers; feeling pain and thinking that something is wrong. Tired and emotional, not realising that it will be short-lived; thinking that this will be their sentence every hour until their baby weans. Now distrustful of anything their health visitor or midwife says. Suffering with PND, in desperate need of mental health support.*
Statistics from Public Health England released in 2017 showed that almost three quarters of the 500 mothers surveyed feared that breastfeeding ‘could be painful’.
Well, it can be.
We can’t alter that fact; it might not, but breastfeeding may well hurt.
But, crucially, we don’t need to fear it. We are grown women. We are prepared to go through childbirth (I’ve heard that smarts). We would do anything for our children. Be honest with us; let us mentally prepare. Tell us the coping strategies, tell us that it isn’t long lived. Encourage us.
Don’t lie. Don’t tell us that it won’t hurt, and when our fears are confirmed admit that actually, you just said that to make us feel better about it. Whoops, sorry. My bad.
This strategy clearly doesn’t work. Breastfeeding rates in this country are woefully low; UK mothers have some of the lowest breastfeeding statistics in the world.
Something needs to change and I think that honesty is a good place to start.
*If you think you may be suffering from PND, speak to your GP or click here for mental health support with ThriveTalk
This first appeared on The Motherload.