There is a lot of research which shows that the nutrients in breast milk are of great benefit to an infant. It makes sense then that, all things being equal, a new mother gives breastfeeding a go. If breastfeeding is tricky and painful at first (which it very often is), it is good sense to bring in the assistance of a lactation consultant to help steer you and your baby in the right direction. But beyond that, I think we need to give women a break, and here’s why.

Firstly, all things are not equal and there are many factors related to both the mother and the infant that can make breastfeeding more challenging. For example, the physical health of the mother, a traumatic birth, the baby being in NICU, tongue tie, etc. You could argue that none of these things need get in the way of breastfeeding with the right support, and if people feel like they want to persist, then by all means, do. But please persist for the right reasons and with the right attitude. Which brings me to my second point.

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Breastfeeding is really difficult. And yet mothers typically feel guilt, shame and inadequacy when they encounter challenges and when these challenges lead them to decide to stop. When mothers have beliefs about being a failure or similar negative appraisals, they tend to feel low and anxious. And that’s a problem! Problems breastfeeding, or rather, mothers’ beliefs about problems breastfeeding is a risk factor for postnatal depression and anxiety.  It’s essential that mothers are kind to themselves and shift their thinking towards a more accepting view of themselves and the situation. So rather than think “I’m a failure, I can’t give him what he needs”, it is much healthier for you and your baby if you were to think “My baby needs love and food and I can give him both those things by feeding him lovingly and attentively with a bottle”.

You may well find it hard, and that’s OK. I would encourage parents to attend antenatal classes that provide information and tips on breastfeeding. See if your hospital provides lactation support in the first few moments and hours after birth, and think about who you might ask to help you if not. And once home with your baby, if you’re still finding it tricky, you can seek the support of a lactation consultant, who should gladly see you and your baby at home. Also, feeling like you’re not the only one struggling is vital in these situations, so surround yourself with new mums you can be vulnerable with – either in person at bumps and babes groups, or join a Facebook group (for example Breastfeeding Q&A UAE). The great thing about Facebook groups is that there’s usually someone else online during a night feed, ready to help simply by also being awake at 4am, if nothing else.

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The great irony is that stressing about breastfeeding is more harmful to the baby than any form of formula. So by all means give breastfeeding a go, and seek support to help you overcome challenges associated with it. But know that when it’s time to feed your baby with formula, it’s time. You don’t have to justify yourself. Hold your head high and know that by choosing an option that leaves you feeling calmer and more responsive to your baby you are putting your baby first. And that’s really what it’s about.

If or when you decide to move away from breastfeeding, I would urge you to continue to use feeding your baby as a time to bond and be close. You can continue to feed skin to skin, to hold your baby close to you as you feed him, and to look tenderly at his face, returning his loving gaze with your own. It is this close contact that stimulates oxytocin and thus enhances the bond you and your baby feel towards each other. Holding him close, responding to his cues, being a calm and loving presence is essential in the development of neural pathways, allowing your baby’s brain to develop in such a way that makes healthy emotions and relationships more likely.

Read more: Where to find breastfeeding support in the UAE

In summary, give breastfeeding a go where possible, seek support to help you when it’s tricky, and hold your head high when it’s time to bring in formula. When you feed your baby, holding him close, being calm and present, engaging with him, and being skin to skin are the most important elements of mothering, and these can be achieved whether your baby is fed by bottle or breast.

Find out more about Vivamus clinic and Dr Marie Thompson at @VivamusDubai 

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