I still don’t think I’m sure about breastfeeding.

This post has been hard for me to write. I’m not even a hundred percent sure why, but everytime I’ve sat down with the computer, I’ve not been able to get my words together. Nothing has flowed. I thought the fact last week was breastfeeding week would be a perfect reason; everyone was talking about breastfeeding, but no.

And then I read a post by another blogger. Her story really made me feel for her. And then she wrapped up what had been a wonderful post with this, and I quote:

I’m not sure I will ever feel OK with the fact that I have to feed him formula. Yes, formula is fine – I get it, you don’t need to go on about it. However, anyone who says that formula is just as good as breast milk is talking utter crap. It isn’t. Fed is best, but breast will always be that little bit better.

This is what finally made me find my voice.

Breastfeeding: yay or nay?

Controversial as it may be, before having children I was not a fan of breastfeeding. Before you yell at me, I did not have a problem with women breastfeeding! Far from it! I agree it is the most natural thing and I fully supported women that breastfed anyhow and anywhere they needed to. However, I didn’t think it was for me.

I’ll be honest, in my young, pre-baby, post-virginity opinion, boobs were for sex. The idea of a human drinking from them totally grossed me out. Hold your weapons guys, I was young. Stay with me.

While pregnant we obviously talked about feeding; our options and preferences etc. and while I remained honest about this opinion, I totally understood and accepted the benefits to the baby and, especially after miscarrying once before this pregnancy, I was willing to do anything and everything to give the baby the best start. So I was opened minded and willing to give breastfeeding a try. It’s worth mentioning that my husband – a science buff who had researched a lot and was very pro breastfeeding, really wanted me to try but was fully supportive of whatever I decided was best for me and the baby.

What did we decide?

After Sophia was born – oh that newborn bubble! – the midwife with us asked really politely if I planned on breastfeeding. She wasn’t pushy or anything which I think is something I was afraid of after reading many a story about pushy midwives man-handling your boobs and your child to bring the two together and make the magic happen! I said yes, I’d like to give it a try and so she showed me the best position to try out first – they have particular positions for big busted ladies did you know!

Sophia latched on straight away. It was genuinely easy; just like that we were doing it. She was sucking, it wasn’t painful and actually, I didn’t mind it. In fact, the more we did it the more I realised the magic. That bond established when you are feeding from your own body, the child that you grew in your tummy, is like nothing else.
It’s hard to describe but initially, once the overwhelming realisation that your baby is here has calmed down, you suddenly feel a little lost; empty. Your full, heavy and wriggly tummy is jelly-like and strange. The small human that was an actual part of you thus solely yours, is no longer so and is even being held by other people. I’m assuming most women feel this way… maybe it was just me? But I felt a little jealous of the world; that they got to share my baby.

Breastfeeding her gave me back that special something that was just ours.

Until the proverbial hit the fan. If you’ve read my birth story you know I had some dramas and was taken into theatre.
During my pregnancy I had gestational diabetes and so after Sophia arrived they checked her blood sugar levels regularly. It was horrible to watch them stab her little newborn, wrinkly foot and dab the blood into a machine. But she was doing just fine; her levels were good!

Then it all went wrong.

A midwife continued to monitor Sophia, her sole focus regardless of what was happening to me.Typically, just as I fell apart, her levels dropped below the cut off and so it was important to feed her to bring her levels back up. But I was in theatre and obviously my breasts were with me so what were they to do? Other than give her formula.

This was the very beginning of the end of my short breastfeeding journey.

By the time I got back from theatre and recovery, Sophia had had three “top up” formula feeds. I continued to try breastfeeding her but that first feed after being able to hold her again, was much more difficult. She was impatient. She was latching on and sucking but giving up and getting very cross. Over the course of that night and the next morning she got more impatient and I got more frustrated that I couldn’t do it. Our great start had lulled me into a false sense of security. Breastfeeding wasn’t as easy as I had thought.

Cue the pushy midwife.

The scare stories were true. By the morning, post shift change, my lovely midwife had gone home and I was met with a new midwife – a slightly more old school midwife. She had already tutted at me after I explained that Sophia was having obs and tests done because of the medication I had been on during pregnancy. That made me feel great.

I then needed to ring my buzzer to ask her to help me. My husband had gone home to shower and change and get a little sleep before coming back. I was still pretty numb from the spinal block I’d had in theatre and had a catheter in. I had been told that when baby needed the top-up formula feeds that I was still being advised to give, to ring the buzzer and a midwife would bring it, from the fridge, for me.

This is what I explained and then asked if she would mind getting some for me. “Are you not breastfeeding?” I was taken aback by this but explained what had happened and how I was struggling but perservering and why I was giving top-up feeds as I’d been advised (had she even looked at my notes?!). “You’re probably not doing it right” and with that she picks up the baby from the cot (without even asking permission!) and proceeds to tell me to pull my top down and forcibly puts my baby to my breast. It was very uncomfortable, very upsetting and very off putting.

Luckily I didn’t have much experience with her after that.

Hospitals need better support of formula feeding

When we left hospital with our 30 hour old baby we were given a lot of leaflets about all sorts of stuff including one about breastfeeding. The midwife that discharged us knew we were, at the time, still giving formula. We were told to continue with that but were given no further information. I left feeling rather overwhelmed.

I seriously feel that hospital staff need to be more open. Everyone has opinions but at no point should those opinions be pushed upon vulnerable new mothers. Whether you believe in formula feeding or breastfeeding, women should be given as much support and information as possible, equally about both. So that when we leave that hospital to, in sole charge of our new small humans, we are confident in how we are feeding them. It’s a pretty important part after all!

Breastfeeding didn’t go as we’d planned.

Once we got home and began settling into life as two and a half, it quickly became clear my new baby was a massive lazy bones. Giving her those top-up bottle feeds had clearly shown her there was a quicker, easier way to get her fill. Over the coming days she became more impatient and more fussy when I tried to breastfeed her, to the point where she would scream as soon as I tried to put her mouth to my boob, she’d turn away, curl her tiny hands into fists and quite frankly refuse to latch on.

This began to really upset me. My mental health was all over the place after she was born and it began to feel like the one thing – the most natural thing, as everyone says – that I should be able to do for my baby, I couldn’t do. What kind of a mother was I going to be if I couldn’t even feed her?!

Pass me a stool and bucket and call me Daisy.

The midwife at our first check up told me to keep trying.
The midwife at our second check up, ignored my tears and told me to keep trying.
The midwife at our third check up told me Sophia wasn’t putting on enough weight and to keep trying. Oh and maybe express as well.

So express I did. Man does that make you feel like cattle being milked. It really encouraged my milk supply too which meant that whenever I held my new baby she screamed at me because she could smell my milk but if I tried to feed her she screamed at my because I was trying to feed her.
This broke my heart. I couldn’t feed her and now I couldn’t hold her either.

Do what is best for both of you.

At day 10 I crumbled at a GP appointment and was diagnosed with a womb infection from the post labour procedure I’d had. I was exhausted, ill and sent back to hospital. But it was this wonderful lady that told me that breastfeeding was wonderful, but having a fed, healthy, happy baby and a healthy and happy mummy were so much more important.

She told me how to know how much formula to give if we were exclusively bottle feeding and how to know when to increase her feeds. She told me how to deal with myself so that my milk would dry up and she told me I was doing the most wonderful thing in doing what was best for both of us.

Why did that blog post upset me so much?

Up until now I think I’ve still felt, in a small part of my mind somewhere, that I’d failed Sophia. I had so wanted to breastfeed in the end but I gave up. At the time it felt like our breastfeeding journey was long and horrendous, however looking back now, 10 days seems nothing! Perhaps I gave up far too soon. Was I selfish? Did I put myself above the needs of my child?
Feeling this way made me feel embarrassed and made me fear others would think the same and judge me. I think this is why I held back from writing this post and putting this information out there.

And then I read that lady’s post. I’m not naming any names because everyone is entitled to their own story. However I was upset and offended by the part I quoted above because it really is a very unfair statement to make.

Science and medicine has come such a long way and we have a better understanding of the human body than we ever have. We’ve been able to use this to create the best formula milk we’ve ever had, that is as close to breast milk as you can get. There isn’t an argument against the benefits of breastmilk (in most cases) I absolutely concede that. But that doesn’t mean everyone should be doing it no matter what.

What about babies with allergies? So much of what we ingest is passed to the baby through our milk while breastfeeding that, in instances like this, formula feeding is actually safer for them.

There is plenty of evidence in support of formula feeding.

In my case, bottle feeding was better for my child than breastfeeding. Once we found a formula milk that suited Sophia she very quickly started to put on weight and was so much more relaxed and happy! She slept through the night (from her 7pm feed, with a dream feed at 11, through to 5/6am) from 6 weeks old!
I also was so much happier, Husband did her dream feed and I could sleep right through until the early feed which meant I was rested and relaxed too. I know we did the right thing for Sophia and for myself.

Reading the statement quoted above only added to my fears of failure and the pressure that I put on myself. The lady in question had authored a fabulous post that was eloquent and emotive. Until I read that last paragraph where all of a sudden I felt like I’d been slapped in the face. It was unnecessary to add such a sweeping, insensitive comment. Unnecessary and unfair.

Girl power!

And so this is why I decided to write this after all. To show that it doesn’t matter how you feed your child, as long as you are in fact feeding them in some way, using the best way for you, with the best support available.

Informed and supported to do what is best for you, to in turn do what is best for your baby.

It’s not as catchy as ‘fed is best’ but it’s much more accurate.

This is my story, it’s different from yours. It was right for me, as yours is right for you. It doesn’t make us wrong because we’re doing different things. Stand strong, no one knows your child or your body, like you do. But also importantly, stand together, there’s nothing like a woman that empowers other women.