Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Finnish Society Has A Breastfeeding Problem

During pregnancy,  one of the things I looked forward to most about motherhood was breastfeeding.  I was told by blogs,  midwives, and friends alike that there was no feeling more wonderful than the bond felt while a mother nurses her child. I read up on potential issues, and made sure I had the necessary gear needed to get the job done. I bought two pumps, nursing bras, a pillow, breast pads - everything other moms said that I would need. I was ready.

A few hours after I gave birth,  a midwife came into my room and put my baby on my stomach. My daughter found my nipple right away and tried to latch, but it wasn't happening.  They brought in a nipple guard thing, which helped, but it was extremely painful and caused my nipples to bleed. This went on for two days, until one midwife informed me that, due to the shape of my nipples, pumping would be my only option.  Forever. And that I would need a hospital-grade pump.

At first it wasn't so bad. I pumped every 3 hours, made 10-20mls each time, and and didn't have any bleeding. But, my daughter started needing more and more milk, and what I was making wasn't enough. The midwives tried various forms of "science" to help me produce more, but it wasn't happening.  And every time i asked for formula to nurish my clearly-hungry newborn,  I was reminded that "mother's milk is better." Personal ideologies on breastfeeding were more important to these women than my daughter not feeling hunger pain. I would eventually be given formula,  but it was never an easy process.

The day I was discharged from hospital,  it was very clear that I would need to buy formula.  I knew nothing about it. I did no research,  so I knew nothing about brands, amounts, cost - anything.  So, this dialog happened:

"What happens if I don't pump?"

"You'll get an infection.  Then you'll need to pump more. And you'll have the worst headache and fever of your life. All you'll be able to do is lay down and pump."

"So, which formula is best? What should I be buying?"

"Nothing. None of it is good."

I managed to keep my composure until we got home. My boyfriend went to go pick up the pump and formula, and I cried the entire time.

Not only did I feel like I was already failing as a mother on day 5, but it also hit me that I would be pumping every three hours - every day and every night. And that I would always need the hospital pump. I would need to plan my entire life around being home to pump. If I wanted to do anything,  it had to take less than three hours.

I felt like a cow on an industrial dairy farm. There was no connection. No bond. Just me with my tits hooked up to a machine, alone.

This was one of the few times in my life that I genuinely wanted it to end.

Two days later, my Neuvola nurse did a home visit. I tried to keep cool, but I eventually just lost it. I told her everything - what the midwives said, how they treated me, and how awful I felt.  I told her I wanted this nightmare to end. I want to be happy. I want to love my child. I want to be able to have a life with my family.

She apologized and did her best to calm me down. She didn't understand why the midwife tried to scare me into pumping, but reassured me that ending milk production with such a small supply would be easy, and that it would be the best thing I could do at that point. Within a week, I was done. A
My mood returned to normal and I was finally able to enjoy motherhood.

I siold or gave away most of my breastfeeding gear, and used the money to buy formula and bottles.  Because I had no intention of formula feeding, I had no idea how expensive it was. It started out as €1.19 a day, and only went up from there. At present, I spend close to 80€/mo on formula.

I started to look for support groups for mothers in my position,  but found none. There were 5 or 6 for breastfeeding,  with weekly meetings and outings, but nothing for formula-feeders.

Then, my local newspaper interviewed an organizer of one of the groups, who said that many mothers use formula because it's "easier".

There is nothing easy about €80/moth.

There is nothing easy about having to always make sure you've got formula in your bag.

There is nothing easy about boiling bottles every day.

There is nothing easy about waking up to fill a bottle 3 times a night.

There is nothing easy about living with guilt and the feeling that you've failed.

There is nothing easy about other moms giving you dirty looks when you bottle feed in public.

There is nothing easy about there being absolutely no emotional support available.

There is nothing easy about living in a society that has embraced breastfeeding so much, anyone who doesn't do it is alienated.

Never mind mothers who have been sexually assaulted,  and find the idea of breastfeeding traumatic.  Never mind mothers whose nipples just weren't made for it. Never mind mothers on medication that would harm the baby. Never mind any of the other completely non-voluntary reasons a mother doesn't breastfeed.

No, we all just want to follow the "easy" route.

And now today, when Kela unveiled their new maternity box, YLE was quick to highlight that the box contains breast pads and nipple cream, but not a bottle, " to ensure that mothers who choose to breast feed can do so successfully."

So, the choice to breastfeed is supported and partially subsidized by the government,  but those of us who formula feed out of sheer necessity can't even get a bottle 

All we get is stigma, judgement, and nowhere to turn to for support. 

5 comments:

Inna Aaltonen said...

I'm so sad that you had so strict midwife. My story is almost the same. I was waiting moments of breastfeeding and bought things that I would need. But my baby was born premature and taken right away to ICU and the nurses were supporting.

I started to pump so that my baby would get my milk trough a tube. Finally when my baby was enough strong to give breast feeding she didn't find my nipples and cos of the pumping my tits were leaking too much. During ICU there were some good moments I felt so hopeful.

In ICU we mothers were sitting in a row of 4 in this small room which was also the parents break room. Like cows we sit there going pumping and visitors, other parents and maybe even staff could come inside and start to do their own things.

After long and very tired day in ICU we came home and I had to wake up every 3 h to pump. Then to sterilize pump parts and so on. And for me it was other way around. There was so much milk coming that with home pump I had to pump for 1,5 hours until the tits were empty.

Finally we get home from the hospital and I took hospital pump also home. I tried as in hospital to breast feed my daughter in home and thought I was calm and she was now stronger than before. My nipples were too small for she to learn breastfeeding. There was too much milk and she was so sort-tempered that our moments were like nightmares. But yes at leas we had time to buy bottles and stuff during the time in hospital.

The steriling was like second job and I couldn't leave home more than 2h. With the hospital pump pumping went faster so I was sitting only 1 h by the pump. But its 6 times 1h so many moment away from being mother.

Cos the volume of milk was huge I donate 46 litres back to baby's ICU in 4 moth. Then I had enough. Yes I cot money from that but I had to do it so that I don't breast infection. I was proud about the donation but same time feeling I had fail as a mother cos I could't breastfeed my child.

I tried to get help from internet, my mother from the ICU units breastfeed specialist. But nothing was working after 2 month of attempts. My moms " you are doing it wrong" and your not trying enough" felt like strike into heart. I felt too small nipples weren't common I was alone with it.

Finally after that 2 months I cot time with the specialist and she sad that in her 30 years career me and my baby were one of the hardest couple she had seen. After that meet I stop trying and star slowly add formula also to the bottles and slowly start ending my career as an donation cow.

Yesterday My girl had her first birthday and to day is the last day of formulas for her.

And no it is not easy to feed your child with formula or pumped milk. Everyone thinking so can try how easy it is to take breast out and put to child mouth compared to mixing worming up, washing, sterilies and/or pumping in the middle of the night. Without forgetting buying all the formula and bottles.

Hoping lovely baby moments and nice spring.
Inna from Turku Finland.

Inna Aaltonen said...

Sorry about misspellings. Lacking practice during maternity leave. My mother and the specialist are different persons :)

Stiku Hukkanen said...


I feel your pain. When I was expecting my first child I fully expected to breast feed her for a year. All the necessary supplies were bought, and I felt prepared.

Then my daughter was born. Her mouth was so small and my nipples so large, that surgery would have been needed for my nipple to fit inside of her properly. There was no way to get the breast inside her mouth as it should have been. I also started producing way too much milk from day two, and when I complained of my aching, milk-filled breasts and asked if I could borrow a pump to releve the pain, the midwife told me not to pump because "It would only make it worse." To add to all this, my daughter was a biter: She bit on my breast all the time she was feeding, and no amount of pulling the breast away for her to feed properly would make her stop.

When I got home, I too became a cow. My life started to revolve around my breasts. When my daughter was one month old I calculated that I spent 10 hours a day with my boob inside her mouth. All that stimulation caused my breasts to secrete more milk - but since I was again told not to pump, that extra milk was not going anywhere. Cue in plugged milk ducts that I used to try to open in a warm shower with a pin for three hours a night. I didn't even realise my breasts had a semi-permanent breast infecion until the one time when there was green, horrible smelling pus coming from my right nipple. By this time I had bought a breast pump against all advice and could see what I was milking from the breast.

Breast feeding had become a horrifying nightmare. After one more night spent crying in a warm shower, desperately trying to open a closed milk duct so I could get the pain away and finally sleep, I was so desperate that I told my husband I would only partially breast feed or stop breast feeding altogether.

Partial breast feeding allowed the milk secretion to decrease and the jams in milk ducts went away, but because of this experience breast feeding was never a "warm and happy moment shared between the mother and the child" that nurses told me it should be. All the advice I got from professionals was wrong, not suited to my situation at all, and the general message was that if I simply tried hard enough I could make it work. My relationship with my husband was not improved by him coming to advice me - hands on! - on the correct positioning of the baby on my breast. It looks could have killed...

End of Part 1

Stiku Hukkanen said...

The end result from all this was that when I was expecting my second child I was not sure if I would even try to breast feed him. In the end I did, but only for the first three months and I used formula after the first month. I had stopped caring what nurses would say and was still angry enough that if I had decided to give formula from the start, any midwife who would have dared to complain would have gotten a full blast of my famous scathing tongue.

I couldn't have cared less how people looked at me when I fed my baby in public with a bottle. Bottle feeding was not easier than an uncomplicated breast feeding would have been, but it sure as heck was easier than my own breast feeding experience. Had there been any stupid commenters I would have told them exactly why I was feeding my baby the way I was and told them to bugger off. Bottle feeding gave me that warm and happy moment with my baby that I never had while breast feeding.

Happy, healthy babies are fed each moment with formula. They grow up just as happy and healthy as breast fed babies. Maternity is a sea of failures, real and perceived, but if the outcome is a happy child and happy parents, you have not failed. You would have failed if you had not tried to correct the situation. The breast feeding mafia can be numerous and strong, but keep your head, always think what can realistically be done, considering the mental, physical and financial realities of your family, and you will be well. Nurses in neuvola can be gainsaid, they are not all-knowing nor do they know what it is like to live in your shoes. Demand answers, think with your own brains, trust in scientific research. And above all, know that you are the best mother your child could have.

Have a warm and sunny spring!
Love,
Stiku

End of Comments

Yulia Alifanova said...

The bad experience you got was (probably) thanks to nurses at vuodeosasto, not exactly midwives who are off after the baby is born. Well, vuodeosasto's nurses do have evil tongues, I can confirm that myself. Got my share of bullsh*t from them and told my husband "Now, bring me a laptop and a couple of those rubber caps". My breastfeeding was saved by rintakumit and La Leche League materials and pictures showing how to help the baby latch on a breast. If it were not for them I would give up eventually. The looks I got from nurses while surfing the internet in search of breastfeeding hints (in the ward approx. 6 hrs after birth with a crying baby on my shoulder) could kill :-D