To breastfeed or not to breastfeed – what’s true for you?
Nearly every woman I have supported as a childbirth educator, when asked about how they are planning to feed their babies, immediately shared that they would like to breastfeed if they could.
This always confirmed to me that women tend to believe that breastfeeding is something that they should at least have a go at without first pondering within themselves what’s true for their situation.
This is probably in part due to the very strong ‘Breast is Best’ message that infiltrates our society and of course the majority of mothers want to do the very best for their babies. No-one can deny that breast milk is highly nutritious and the act of breastfeeding can be comforting for babies which were a couple of the reasons why I chose to breastfeed my seven babies. Despite this I now know how important it is for women to feel that they can ask themselves the question if they want to breastfeed or not, without succumbing to the influence and pressure of any pre-existing ideals, beliefs or pictures of what they think or have been told they should do.
It is important to have the space to ponder this question simply because every woman has the right to connect to what actually feels true for her based on her own personal situation. Unfortunately, that is not always easy due to the ideals, beliefs and pictures she may be holding including:
· Loving mothers will always breastfeed
· Breastfed babies are healthier and smarter
· Breastfeeding is more convenient and cheaper
· Breastfeeding is the only true way to bond with your baby
· Societal pressure dictates that breastfeeding mothers are better mothers.
With this heavy load, it’s understandable why women nearly always feel that they have to breastfeed their babies.To say they didn’t want to would potentially come with a whole raft of judgement, criticism and rejection from themselves and others. So how can a woman have the freedom to feel she can ask herself the question, ‘do I really want to breastfeed? Is it appropriate that I breastfeed in my situation?’
How beautiful and freeing it is that women when asked about whether they are planning to breastfeed, know that it is actually a question that they have permission to ponder within themselves. With permission to consider the question, there is an opportunity to ask themselves if they have taken on any ideals and beliefs in relation to breastfeeding which in fact don’t feel true for them.
For example, when I was pregnant with my first baby, I totally believed that I would be seen as a good mother and that I would have a better bond with my baby if I breastfed him. Due to this, there was no question for me as I was very invested in being a great mum. Part of that was my reaction in feeling that my own mother had not done a good job – I was going to do it better!
It was also a way of me covering up the lack of self-worth I was carrying, which resulted in me trying incredibly hard to always look like I was doing the right thing by other people’s standards. Everyone will have potentially taken on their own set of rules and ideals around breastfeeding, so it is a very personal journey to extract what does not actually feel true for them.
It needs to be said that connecting to what feels true is simply a surrender to what our body is actually telling us. Many of us have a very strong pattern of trying to work everything out in our heads instead of connecting to a knowing from our bodies, where the true answers live. If you are like me, I have spent hours and hours trying to work things out in my head only to end up feeling like I am going around in circles as well as becoming super stressed in the process.
Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be this way as we can re-learn how to connect to our bodies (like we were as children). This supports us to re-connect to the innate wisdom which we all hold within, enabling us to feel what is true or not.
In my journey to re-connect to my body I committed to including some practical tools and healing modalities in my life. Some of these were:
1. Going for walks with the intention to feel my body. This is different from walking to get fit, it’s more about being aware of your quality of movement – feeling your feet, your legs and the rest of your body.
2. Practising the Gentle Breath Meditation
This meditation is a very simple technique where you become more aware of how you are breathing and choose to make it gentle. It only takes 5 -10 minutes and it is a great tool to feel more settled and less affected by the things happening around you.
3. Practising Esoteric Yoga
This is also a very simple practice that offers us the space to more deeply feel our bodies (note this is not your typical yoga where you do different positions). It can be challenging to start with as many of us are so used to being in our heads and always doing something. As a result, the process of firstly feeling all the activity in our body can be uncomfortable but over time the deeper connection to our body brings greater settlement and stillness within us.
4. Having Esoteric Breast Massage
This deeply nurturing modality can be received whilst breastfeeding and offers us a way to deeply connect to the inner qualities of what it means to be a woman and can build a greater connection to our innate knowing of what feels true for us.
With a commitment to consistency, practising or receiving each of the above activities, over a period of time, my connection to my body has enabled a much clearer access to what actually feels true for me, and has grown and deepened. With this came the ability to weed out ideals and beliefs I had taken on, as well as an increased confidence in trusting my choices and the willingness to learn from them if they didn’t quite turn out as I had envisaged.
If I was faced with the question to breastfeed or not to breastfeed now, I would have a more open approach so that, if I was breastfeeding and at any point it didn’t feel right for me, I wouldn’t be determined to keep going no matter what. I now know the choice to breastfeed is a very personal one where there is no right or wrong, only what feels true for each woman. In this process, we need to remember that no matter how we choose to feed our babies, all they truly need is to feel a connection to the divine qualities each of us hold.
Sharon Gavioli is a mother of 7, Nurse, Childbirth Educator, and former Breastfeeding Counsellor.