THE pressure started to build up exactly when my belly started to be visible – at six months the question started to come from almost every female mouth.
I say almost because there is always a portion that hasn’t been mum yet, so don’t care much about the problem.
But all the mums, old and young, inevitably asked – are you going to breastfeed?
In the beginning I was lost, as I didn’t expect a choice so I was always saying “yes, of course … I will try”.
Then after more months on my shoulders and on my belly and the same question repeated endless times I started to question why.
Coming from a non-Australian background has helped me not to totally drain in the paranoia.
In my country of origin, Italy, nobody is concerned about your choices.
There is no choice actually – breastfeeding is embraced as a natural first option and then, if there is an issue, a bottle is better than starvation for the baby.
So we just naturally know that the baby will suck and we may get milk or we may not.
So why all this noise in Anglophone countries?
Why, here, are mums so pushy about breastfeeding?
Of course the research literature is there to back up the many health benefits of breastfeeding.
There is also the sweetest joy that comes from nursing your baby.
But I wonder if breastfeeding has not become an obsession that dictates that you are somehow less of a mother if you don’t breastfeed for at least six months and exclusively do that.
Are breastfeeding mums better than bottle-feeding mums?
Well, in my experience, the feeling was that one.
The reaction that I was getting when innocently I was replying “Yes, if I can” was of horror, as I was going to be a selfish mum not caring for the child.
And doing a bit of research on the Internet and in real life I discovered that there are endless chapters of nonsense about this issue.
Here are some of the funniest: a breastfeeding “guru” says that boys who were breastfed were less likely to end up in prison; a mums’ group was saying that breastfeeding is natural, as we are mammals, so we should exclusively do it and there is no possibility that you wouldn’t get milk; health professionals saying that babies fed with bottles would never go back to the breast because they would have “nipple confusion”.
Now, it’s evident that we are mammals, I have no doubt, but how many mammals have discussions about breastfeeding or bottle-feeding?
How many of them are having the same amount of stress and expectations that we are constantly bombarded with by our society?
And also, my little one had the bottle in his first week, and after another week he was back on the breast with no confusion, magic.
But I quickly realised that milk supply is a sensitive matter indeed.
If stress is involved, the flow can even stop.
As a consequence it may make more sense to support and encourage pregnant women and new mums by making this matter as natural as it should be, explaining all the possible issues and the various options to overtake them.
Women need to start with understanding that formula is not poison as the final goal is their baby’s health and not winning a challenge with other women. There’s just no point in being made to feel like a failure if you don’t breastfeed.
In the end there shouldn’t be any judgment as there is no right way; there is only what we get from our body and so we can only adapt and act as a consequence.
What is helping me on my journey to happily feed my child with a combination of breast and bottle is the support of my amazing mother, my husband, my Italianism and a lot of prayers to Jesus, Our Lady and St Gerard Majella, to help me relax and do the right thing.
Donata Morelli works for The Catholic Leader. She became a first-time mother this year.