Tuesday, 10 June 2014

I've fed the baby in caf├ęs, pubs, restaurants, museums, in the cinema, on a train, outside in a crowd watching a parade go past. No trouble at all, not even a disapproving look. I expected feeding her in public to be much more of a Thing, for me if not for other people, but honestly I think most people don't notice and most of the rest don't care - and as for my own comfort levels, it's amazing how comfortable you can get when the alternatives are a) screaming baby or b) not leaving the house for longer than twenty minutes for months.

So it is weird that the only place I've ever felt awkward for feeding her is at baby groups.

It isn't that anyone disapproves. It's more that I often feel like the odd one out. Breastfeeding rates in the UK start off fairly high but plummet in the first few weeks, partly due to a shortage of decent support for women who want to breastfeed but struggle, and partly due to cultural expectations shaped around formula-feeding as the norm for several generations.

Which I had not quite realised. I mean, I knew there was a lot of pressure from the NHS to breastfeed (it's hard to miss) and that a lot of women felt or were made to feel guilty for being unable to breastfeed, or for giving up because while it was possible it was also hellish, or for just plain not wanting to.

But I had not realised that there were pressures operating in the other direction, too. Pressures like the expectation to move to formula early, because friends and family tell you it's so much easier; pressures like hearing from so many women in your mother's generation that they couldn't breastfeed because they couldn't make enough milk, leading you to think this is common and likely to happen to you, rather than (in most cases) bad advice they were given; or that milk isn't enough for big babies anyway; or that any time the baby's fussy, it's probably something you've eaten. Or the pressure from expecting the baby to behave a particular way, feeding at regular intervals a few hours apart, because you think that's just what babies do rather than what formula-fed babies are more likely to do, and then yours feeds every hour or goes through cluster-feeding bouts of spending a whole evening feeding, and you think something must be wrong, the baby must not be getting enough. (My family are very supportive of everything we do with the baby, but I still get suggestions about giving her a bottle before bed "because then she'll be getting a full feed." Her chins have their own chins, I think we can be fairly confident she's getting enough.)

And then you go to baby group, and people hang around to feed their babies afterwards, and you're the only one out of twelve who's not formula-feeding. And then everyone has a conversation about how tough breastfeeding was and how they hadn't planned to give up but it worked out for the best anyway because bottles are so much easier and this way you can see how much they're getting, and this way the baby has a really involved dad. And you can't say "it's not that hard for me" because you don't want to sound all smug, and you can't say "yeah it's really tough" because then you'll sound like you're judging them for not sticking with it, and you don't want to say "what the hell do you think my baby's dad does?", and what if you're making them feel bad now somehow, and ugh.

You can't not be the odd one out. You can't not be noticed as being the odd one out without being prepared to outright hide it. You can't not make it a super-fraught topic everyone's already primed to feel sensitive and easily judged about.

I can feed her in a restaurant, at a table with no other babies present, holding her with one arm and holding a glass of wine in the other hand (yes it's fine, yes I'm sure), and feel totally comfortable - but I still feel weird feeding her at baby group.



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