The statement “breast is best” refers to the belief that breastfeeding is the optimal way to feed an infant.
But is it really?
While there is strong evidence to support the numerous benefits of breastfeeding, it is essential to keep in mind that every family and situation is unique.
The decision to breastfeed (or not) should ultimately be left up to the mother without feeling guilty or ashamed.
Related article: The 5 Best Things about Breastfeeding
When I was pregnant with my daughter, 11 years ago, I planned to breastfeed. I thought it was the most natural and convenient thing to do. I mean, why not?
Well, no one really told me that it would have been hard. Physically and emotionally.
My mum had 3 kids and we were all bottle-fed. She said she didn’t have much milk. This was over 40 years ago, in Italy. I never asked much really. And because she never did, she never talked about it or had advice for me during pregnancy.
The only information I had at the time, was the little that was shared in the antenatal classes.
I truly believed it was natural.
I had a wonderful water birth, with no kind of painkillers. (And I remember that was a big topic in the antenatal classes.) A truly beautiful experience that proved how strong a female body is. I was in the pool for a few hours, I relaxed and felt comfortable. Then, of course, I had a couple of hours of contractions, at 8 pm there she was. My beautiful baby. I picked her up from underwater and laid her on my chest. After 9 months of feeling her inside me, I think this is the most rewarding feeling.
It was shortly after that I was transferred to a bed to release the placenta. Well, that was basically another birth (and another story . . . )! And at that moment I felt the pressure of feeding my baby. I remember hearing a midwife saying you have to latch quickly. Okay, I thought no problem.
She laid her on my boob and right at that moment I felt so much pain! “Right, my nipples are not used to this. This is probably normal”, I thought. But I didn’t have much support or guidance, to be honest. We tried a bit, wasn’t really working and at midnight we were in bed. In the morning, a lactation consultant came to me with a woollen boob and a doll to show me how to do it, and how to position the baby. We were struggling and my nipples were kind of cracked already. In the afternoon I was sent home and latching was still an issue.
I was happy to be at home, in my own space but I felt helpless.
Amy was a little baby, under 3 kg. And she lost a bit too much in the first 10 days. At that time I was so in pain. I remember crying before every feed. My nipples were in such bad shape, cracked and bleeding. My boobs were enormous and started to be engorged. But according to the midwife/health visitor, it was all normal. The latching was now fine, I just had to get used to it. But every hour and a half she was crying for food, and I was crying for pain. It was continuous and my nipple never had time to “recover”.
In that first week, I tried it all. Lanolin cream, cabbage leaves, nipple shields, silver cups.
I looked for help but couldn’t find any. I felt like crap, useless. The health visitors treated me as if I was in postpartum depression. But I was simply in pain. Physically, as the pain while feeding was excruciating. And mentally, because I wasn’t able to provide the right nourishment for my daughter. I felt guilty. I felt like a failure.
Then I went to see a midwife as part of the routine checks and she noticed Amy was losing weight and asked me “Do you mind doing a top-up?” Of course! I was waiting for some sort of guidance. As a first-time mum, you have no idea what you’re doing, right?
Also, I developed nipple thrush, that’s why my nipples were cracked and I could feel that stinging pain. And the breast engorgement was starting mastitis.
Anyway, I went back home, fed Amy, not without tears and then offered the top-up bottle, that my husband run off to buy. She took it all and then slept for longer. Poor thing, she was hungry! And I couldn’t give her enough food. My pain, frustration and tension were probably holding it off.
Since the top-up, I started pumping as well and that really relieved my nipples over time. I pumped for 6 months but it was a lot of work. She was taking just bottles eventually and the thought of the pain I had, stopped me to try breastfeeding again. So I was pumping, feeding bottle, sterilising and I felt no break. It was a non-stop cycle. It was better in the evening when my husband was at home and could give her the bottle but I was always pumping. And using a manual one!!
So the journey wasn’t easy but managed to find a sort of balance. After 6 months, I got fed up and switched to just formula. Things got so much easier at that point.
As a newborn photographer, I see lots of families and talk about breastfeeding.
I thought in 10 years things changed. I thought there was more information and more awareness. But when I speak with my clients I hear the same story. Breastfeeding is hard! No one really prepares you. At the same time, you feel the pressure that you have to do it and feel like a failure when it’s not working.
I know this story too well!
That’s why I decided to start what I called the Breastfeeding project. The idea is to find at least 20 mums who are willing to share their stories: the journey, the struggles, the joy and the success! It will be a personal project that will go on throughout the year I believe. I will photograph breastfeeding mums for free in exchange for their stories.
The idea is to normalise breastfeeding for what it is. Yes, it’s bloody hard but it also creates a beautiful bond between mother and baby. It’s rewarding and practical. It has many taboos and breastfeeding in public is one of them. Feeding a toddler or older baby is another one. I want to touch on all these topics and narrate them with photos and hopefully create a little diary, a book of stories.
The breastfeeding project started already last month with an Instagram post and the response I have to say blew me away. I was scared no one would be willing to be part of it. But I found positive feedback and more encouragement on the way.
The Breastfeeding Project
Here are some of the photos I shot already with different topics and themes. I will share these stories another time, for now, I just wanted to show a little preview.
Keep an eye on my Instagram page for more news!
If you like this idea and would like to get involved in this project by sharing your story please fill out the form below.