Yesterday, The Baby had her third set of immunisations. While we were there, the nurse asked me how I was feeding her. Presumably, this is the oh-so-scientific method of data collection on which national feeding statistics are based. Anyway, I told her that I was exclusively breastfeeding. ‘Oh, well done you,’ replied Sister.
She was the third person this week to congratulate me on still breastfeeding. And every time someone tells me how well I’m doing, I feel a bit of a fraud. Because I’m one of the lucky few who find breastfeeding a walk in the park.
Both of my two have been good little feeders from day one. I breastfed The Boy until 20 months, and am five months into breastfeeding The Baby, and I’ve hardly had a moment’s trouble with either of them. Okay, so the first few weeks were painful at times as the babies learnt to latch on, and no one can fully prepare you for how draining those early cluster feeds can be. But after the first month or so, it was a breeze. At the risk of tempting fate, I’ve never had mastitis, never suffered with thrush, or with bleeding or cracked nipples. The Boy became an extremely efficient feeder, getting the job done in five minutes or so, and The Baby has followed in his footsteps.
Bottle-feeding, on the other hand, has always looked like an almighty faff to me. I’m a fundamentally lazy person, and the thought of adding another element of domestic drudgery to my life leaves me cold. Washing bottles, sterilising them, preparing feeds… No thanks. On top of that, there have been several occasions when The Boy has had to have dry cereal for breakfast because I’ve run out of both milk and bread, so knowing me, I’d forget to buy formula and end up doing a high-speed dash to the nearest 24-hour Tesco in the middle of the night.
I’ve always believed that breast is best, and wanted to give it a good go with both babies, but I’m not militant about breastfeeding. The only reason I continued so long with The Boy was because it was so easy, for both of us. A lot easier than it would have been to wean him off the boob and switch to bottles. Yes, that’ll be my lazy side shining through again. So it always strikes me as odd that people congratulate me for doing something that is, essentially, sloth.
Oh, but it must be hard work at night, they always say. Neither of my two have been good sleepers; The Boy was a year old before he slept through, and The Baby still has at least two (and, at her worst, five) feeds a night. But I don’t honestly believe that a bottle would make a blind bit of difference. And as for hubby doing some of the night feeds? Well, he’s a great dad, but he’s not the sort to be hands-on with feeding, especially in the small hours. I could give The Baby a bottle, yes, but I’d be the one getting up, going downstairs, heating up a bottle while trying to stop the cat escaping from the kitchen and making a break for our bed, going back upstairs, feeding The Baby, winding her… You get the picture. Whereas at the moment, all I have to do is lean over, extract her from her crib and give her a boob. I barely even wake to feed her, to the extent that I often have no recollection of putting her back to bed.
Don’t get me wrong; I know that for a lot of people, breastfeeding involves a heroic effort. I know mums who have struggled to get premature babies to breastfeed, mums who have expressed for months so their babies could have breastmilk even though they wouldn’t take the boob, mums who have breastfed twins, mums who have battled through recurrent bouts of mastitis. I have the utmost respect for these people; who knows whether I’d have had their fortitude in similar circumstances?
But for me, breastfeeding isn’t an amazing achievement, or something that I should be praised for. I love doing it, and hope I can feed The Baby for as long as I fed The Boy, but for me, it’s a parenting shortcut, not a superhuman feat. I get to sit down and put my feet up every couple of hours while The Baby does her stuff – where’s the effort in that?