‘Breast Is Best’ Nearly Cost My Baby Her Life
I followed the mantra against my better instincts. I wish I never had.
Our daughter arrived with the snow. We decided to commemorate that on her birth announcement, a card with a snowflake-decorated border. Not for over 20 years had there been such a cold winter in normally temperate southeast England. We skidded to the hospital on ice-covered roads and watched the growing snowdrifts through the window of the maternity ward. When we took her out into the world for the first time, bad roads blocked our passage, forcing us to park some distance from our street. In her baby album is a photo of her homecoming: My husband’s figure recedes into the distance ahead of me as he trudges across a barren expanse of snow-encrusted playing fields under a slate-gray sky. Only in the center of the image is there a flash of color: the scarlet-red cushions of the car seat he is carrying, a bright protective shell encasing the pearl that lay within.
From that moment, we had one job in the depths of that dark, cold winter: to keep our baby alive. I reassured myself we wouldn’t really be alone in this unfamiliar endeavor. Friends could be phoned, and relatives would come to stay. My mother marveled that a weekly baby clinic was held just across the street and that we expected our first postnatal home health visit soon. She recalled the isolation she experienced as a new mother in 1970s America, her uncertainty, her loneliness. I was lucky.
Feeding was the most fundamental element of helping our daughter thrive, and, of course, we knew what to do. The antenatal class facilitator had emphasized it, the posters in the obstetrics department proclaimed it, the parenting books championed it: Breast is best. At the maternity ward orientation, they brandished disembodied demonstration boobs at us, crocheted or maybe knitted, areolae and protruding nipples rendered in contrasting orange-red wool.
When we are in uncertain and unfamiliar territory and someone in a position of power and authority tells us how to act, the majority of us obey.
At first, I was apprehensive — not about breastfeeding itself but about my ability to carry it…