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Breastfeeding Grief & Trauma

Updated: Jan 20, 2021

This blog has been floating around in my head for months. Actually, it’s probably more like years but back then I didn’t know what it was that had impacted my life so much or made me feel so damn shitty. This is a subject that has been very difficult for me to address and I have shared a huge chunk of my heart in this piece. You may find some details upsetting or shocking. But I have not written this to get a reaction or sympathy. I am hoping that this will at least help a few people understand their own grief and at most, be the start to changes being made.

I think the moment I really understood what I was experiencing was when I read ‘Why Breastfeeding Grief and Trauma Matter’ by Prof Amy Brown (a FANTASTIC book - I highly recommend). As a doula I read lots of birth and breastfeeding related books and resources but this one was different. I read the introduction and I was already in tears. Amy was talking to ME. She was talking about ME.

Disclaimer: I’m not going to tell you about my breastfeeding journeys, not because they are not important but because actually, where trauma and grief are concerned, they are pretty irrelevant.

There are reasons why my breastfeeding journeys ended prematurely which I will cover in another blog at another time.

For now, what I will tell you is the effect that breastfeeding trauma and grief have had on my life. I have tried to be completely honest here, with myself as well as with you, which I have found really difficult, proof that I still have ‘stuff’ to work through:

  • I have thought about having more babies in order to get another chance at breastfeeding (pre sterilisation)

  • I have thought about adopting a baby in order to get another chance at breastfeeding (post sterilisation) – add that to the grief of not being able to have any more babies!

  • I have felt like I have abused/neglected my children because I didn’t breastfeed them

  • I have blamed myself for not educating myself or trying hard enough

  • I have had a negative relationship with my body (breasts in particular) which has impacted my intimate relationship with my husband

  • I have often thought about re-lactating just to see if my boobs ‘work’

  • I have often thought about re-lactating to be able to wet-nurse my friends’ babies

  • I have found it difficult to support breastfeeding parents without feeling triggered and upset

My children are currently aged 19, nearly 14 and 11 and I only NOW feel that I am just starting to work through and deal with the emotional impact that my breastfeeding experiences have had on me, my family and my life. That’s up to 19 years of guilt, self-blame and feeling like a total failure.

Does this sound familiar to you?

Birth trauma has been talked about for a while now, although still not long enough in my opinion, and it is widely understood that a negative birth experience can have serious implications on a birthing person’s mental health, relationships with partners and children and, of course, any future pregnancy and birth choices. With this in mind, I am left wondering why is it when a person’s breastfeeding journey ends prematurely or barely gets started, that the impact of that is not recognised?

Since delving into my own breastfeeding trauma and talking about it with others I have come to realise that this isn't just me. Women and parents are opening up to me about their own guilt and regret about their breastfeeding journeys. Other doulas are telling me the same thing. And if that wasn't bad enough, I am hearing of healthcare professionals fobbing off parents when they ask for help, telling them that at least their baby is fed. Don't even get me started on 'fed is best'...

So why am a telling you this?

Well, in a nutshell, I'm fucking pissed. I am angry that I suffered and blamed myself for years. I'm angry for all the other mothers and parents that felt like this and perhaps still do. I'm angry at a society that doesn't seem to understand or recognise the importance of a mother's feelings in respect of how her baby is fed and nurtured.

So, if this blog resonates with you I want you to share it with others and start a conversation about breastfeeding trauma and grief.

It DOES exist.

I want you to talk about it until they start to listen, until they look at putting better breastfeeding support in place, until they support women and parents on an emotional level when their feeding journey does not turn out how they had wished. I want you to talk about it until they listen, REALLY listen, when a person stands in front of them and tells them they are suffering with grief or trauma from their breastfeeding experience. Things need to change.

If you find the contents of this blog triggering and you need support, please reach out.

If you would like to write about your own breastfeeding grief or trauma I will be collating articles to add to my blog. Please get in contact if you would like to contribute.

I will be covering details of how I have dealt with and continue to work through my breastfeeding trauma in future blogs.

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