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'If,' a Poem About Breastfeeding

I can spot a failing breastfeeder even before their baby’s born. They’re the ones that say, ‘I’d like to breastfeed, but a lot of women can’t, can they? I’m not going to be too hard on myself if I can’t. Anyway, I’m going to need some help with the night feeds.’

I always smile at them brightly and say, ‘that’s so great you’re going to try.’ Inside I’m thinking, ‘Seriously? Is that all you’ve got?’

I want to shake them and say, “You know, if you really want to breastfeed, you’ll need to dig down inside those expensive maternity pants and pull out some fighting spirit.”


Breastfeeding is hard core. The rewarding parts that everyone speaks of; the convenience, the satisfaction, the blissful waves of oxytocin as you lay together and bond; those parts don’t materialise for months, if at all. Before then, pardon the pun but breastfeeding sucks. In fact, I'd say breastfeeding is a massive uncomfortable pain in the arse. You’ll need fighting spirit to survive past the first week.

It’s like that poem, ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling. Here’s the breastfeeding version:

‘If’ a poem for breastfeeding

If you can keep your cool with red raw nipples
They’re blistered, cracked and bleeding, and it’s just day two
And you’re shocked because you thought it would be simple
Three fucking months of baby classes; no one said any of this to you

If you can rely on your breasts to do their thing
If you can trust your body, even when others doubt you
Breasts are made for this, so why all the disbelieving?
Well, the truth is, you’ve had those same doubts too

If you can give up your body, your time, your life
To stimulating milk and working on ‘the latch’
If you can wait those endless gruelling days for milk to arrive
And not get too sick of being permanently attached

If you can hold your shit together when the in-laws say
‘No bottle? Are you sure he’s getting all that he needs?’
‘We didn’t spoil babies with on-demand feeding in our day.
Would you not be better just sticking to three-hour feeds?’

If you can endure long waking nights of darkness
Where you crave sleep, but try to push thoughts of it from your head
If you can say the night feeds are yours, they’re not your partners’
As un-fricking-fair as it is, they may as well go back to bed

If you can just keep putting baby to your breast
Even when you’re thinking (whilst wincing from your nipple pain)
‘That’s eighteen times now, on and off my chest-
How the hell are you hungry AGAIN?


If you can smile at the mums in the ‘weighing-in’ line
When they’re saying their bottle-fed babies ‘sleep right through’
And you say that you sleep ‘one hour at a time,
Sometimes, when it's a good day, two.’

If you can give, when right now you’re exhausted from giving
Like a worn out dairy cow, you’re knackered, and you’ve had enough
If it wasn’t for nipple cream you doubt you’d even go on living
One more feed and you swear your nips will fall off

If you can live this rollercoaster with no sight of the end
And fight the challenges with spirit; no ifs, no buts, no maybes
Can you do all of this? Then I believe you, my friend
When you say you want to breastfeed your baby


In the UK, rates of breastfeeding are the lowest in the world. Here, whilst 80% of babies are breastfed at birth, by 3 months of age this has dropped to just 17%. By 6 months, just 1% of babies are breastfed. This is despite official advice from the World Health Organisation stating that, for optimum health, babies should be exclusively breastfed until 6 months, and receive breast milk as part of a balanced diet up to 2 years of age, and beyond.

This poem is not aimed at women who try and try but do not manage to succeed at breastfeeding. It is not aimed at the 2% of women who cannot breastfeed because of medication that they must take, or because of an anatomical problem with their breasts. This poem is written in response to the many women who try and give up too easily, many because they do not seek the support they need or because they have expectations that do not fit with the reality of breast feeding. The goal of this poem is to try and change those expectations with a humorous (yet accurate) depiction of the often grim reality of breastfeeding a newborn.