Saturday, 7 August 2010

Breast is best - my beef with Bundchen

Giselle Bundchen hit the headlines this week having announced in a interview with Harper's Bazaar magazine that "There should be a worldwide law, in my opinion, that mothers should breastfeed their babies for six months."

Now. This kind of statement is always bound to ignite the female touch paper of emotional responses, not least coming from a model who was posing in swimwear for a photo shoot only 6 weeks postpartum.

Mothers get a hard time. It is my experience as a mum of 1 year old twin girls that whilst becoming a mum is the most natural thing in the world - continuing the human race is within our very makeup - it is also a total u-turn from everything we have known thus far. Bringing a child into the world requires a mum to surrender her body, internal organs and all, for the best part of a year. Then she has to deliver a baby by some barbaric means of either being sliced open from the abdomen or going through the childbirth trauma before being sent home as a battered and bruised wreck to care for a newborn who feeds every few hours and does not sleep for months. Add to that the need to get used to a new routine and way of life away from the usual workplace and social arrangements, remove your income from the equation while on maternity leave, and there you have a recipe for perhaps feeling slightly out of sorts. Or in my case, totally nuts with Post Natal Depression, but that's another story.

So, back to breast feeding. Breast is best, and I totally, wholeheartedly agree. The body is set up to feed babies in the early months and we have been doing it since time began. So, what is the problem? Giselle is totally right, surely?

Well, yes and no.
She is right, in my humble opinion, to highlight the fact breast is best for the child and that more education is needed in breastfeeding. A large proportion of mothers don't have the support required to establish feeding and get the whole thing underway. Breast milk is free, it's on tap and it's ideal for the baby, so in that respect nature has sorted us out, and SMA and Aptimil (other formula milks are available) may as well go bust. If you pardon the pun.

However - and this is a BIG however - by implying that mother's who don't breastfeed are doing bad by their children is loaded with problems.

I firmly believe that breast milk is best for babies, yet I didn't breast feed. I am educated, intelligent, health aware, went to an NCT antenatal class and signed up with La Leche league, so I was totally on board with the selfless act of resigning myself to the sofa for months with twins attached to my appendages. I felt that bottle-feeding mums were poisoning their babies, that man made stuff at such a delicate age is horrendous, and that I was going to be that mother earth Madonna reclining while my little ones suckle.

SO what happened? Well the twins were premature and had to have formula immediately to stop their blood sugar levels plummeting and having to be put into Intensive Care. In the first minutes of being a mum I felt I had already failed and was poisoning them.

I fed them colostrum as I waited for the milk to come in, which was actually 5 days after my C-section, as I had a traumatic birth - my spine went into spasm as did my bladder, I had numerous water infections and was dosed up on morphine but in so much pain I still didn't;t sleep in a week. Not helpful for relaxing and letting the milk flow.

Back at home I still had a catheter in due to complications, I was now shattered and persevered with feeding. Feeding every 3 hours I would pump as they were too small to suckle, feed breast milk then top up with formula. It took an hour to feed, an hour to pump, and feeding was every 3 hours so in between I had an hour off to rest. Not that I could; by this time I had a raging womb infection and water infections, and was so exhausted from no sleep I had hit puerperal psychosis and was hearing voices.After 3 weeks of struggling on I was back in hospital, separated from my young bubs, to have IV antibiotics dripped in to kill the infections. At this point I gave up the breastpumping, I was a total wreck physically and emotionally, pumping was making my infected womb contract and I was hemorrhaging blood, and I was in desperate need of sleep.

It was a hideous choice to make, and one I still reflect on now. I will always wish I had the perfect birth and the chance to feed my twins in the ideal way. But you know what? They are healthy, happy babies. They were bottle fed, not a choice I ever thought I would make, but circumstance dictated that for my sanity I needed rest and recouperation. My body was so full of morphine and antibiotics I was reluctant to give them my milk, let alone the agony it took to express.

So, my beef with Bundchen is this; I agree with your ethos lady, but you, and the other nipple Nazis out there ( yes NCT, I mean you) need to also be mindful that not all circumstances are the same. I agree wholeheartedly that we should encourage breastfeeding in our society, educate women about it, allow it in public places, make breast is best mainstream - but don't, DON"T make those if us who, frankly, had a horrendous time postpartum feel even worse than we already do.

Let's all be balanced about this, people. Mum's get a rough ride. Most want to do their best for their babies; the sad truth is there are plenty who don't know what best is, and I agree for those reasons we all need to be educated. But please, please when our backs are against the wall of the blood spattered operating room, don't stick the knife in.


  1. Jesus. I have womb infection after reading that.Get stuck in, JoJo. I can't stand a trim Brazilian.

  2. Blimey I didn't realise you were going through all that Jo, you didn't mention it at the time. I had a tough time with Hugh in a similar way and agree with your comments. I think it should be a choice by each mum.

  3. I'm making this comment as someone who doesn't have kids and therefore have no personal experience. That said, I think that the pressure being put on women to breast feed by the Breastapo is criminal. I know people whose milk has not come in for various reasons and one whose baby was losing weight because she didn't think she could top up with formula if she was breast feeding.
    Midwives and health visitors need to start saying that yes, breast feeding is the ideal start in a perfect world but we do not live in a perfect world. But we don't live in a perfect world and if formula feeding is what works for you and your baby then that's fine. There is no need to feel guilty and formula feeding does not make you a bad mother.