Now, I just want to get a few things (forgive the pun) off my chest about breastfeeding. Before I get hung drawn and quartered by the “Breastapo” let me make one thing abundantly clear….. I adore breastfeeding my son and am still doing so at 6 months. I totally believe it is the natural way to feed your baby, a lovely way to bond, it boosts the immune system, reduces the risk of tummy bugs, yada yada yada you get my drift.
What I do not believe is that formula fed babies are going to grow up to be obese, unintelligent, whacked with anti- social behaviour orders or whatever other reports we read in the press from week to week.
Mothers who choose to formula feed their babies choose to do so for a reason – whether that is for health reasons or simply because they do not enjoy breastfeeding – either is a valid reason and they should not be judged for this by a) Health professionals or b) other mothers.
Breastfeeding for most Mums is HARD WORK. I know TV would have us believe that you can simply sit and read a book with your feet up whilst your little cherub effortlessy suckles away looking peaceful. Ahem … absolute crap! This may be the case for a lucky few but for the others it means thrashing refluxy babies, endless bouts of mastitis, bleeding, cracked or chapped nipples, over supply of milk (making your baby gag) or simply an under supply and being made to feel like an unnatural failure because you are not producing enough.
Pretty much 90% of my friends have been affected by some kind of breastfeeding issues. Some have persevered with success (go them!), others switched to formula straight away (go them!) some have put themselves through hell and become really unhappy in the process.
As a Nanny I looked after breastfed babies, formula fed babies, mixed fed babies. Did all the babies that were exclusively breastfed grow up to be angelic, high IQ’d, lean mean power machines? Utter tosh. All of the babies were fine – there were naughty and chubby breastfed children and naughty and chubby bottlefed children, there were children who were never going to be top of the class who were formula fed but just as many who were breastfed.
I went into Motherhood knowing this and scoffing at the mums who became obsessed with breastfeeding at all costs – I WILL NEVER BE LIKE THAT I said to my Mum (who would just give me a knowing look).
I introduced Sonny to a bottle pretty early. I knew (after talking to lots of Maternity Nurses) that introducing a bottle early very rarely causes nipple confusion (this something that is constantly preached by health professionals).
I was told this in the early days and the guilt and doubt started to creep in. In fact, mixed feeding can be beneficial to all involved – helping Dad bond with the baby and allowing Mum to get some much needed rest.
I had every intention of also introducing one formula feed per day. In fact, I think we gave Sonny one bottle in the first couple of weeks when my supply was really low – but actually after that we didn’t need to as I had too much milk so expressing was relatively easy.
Initially breastfeeding was also quite a doddle and I used to love that special time first thing in the morning when it was just me, Sonny and an episode of ladies of London/Real housewives of Cheshire (come on – I had just had a baby you didn’t expect anything highbrow did you??).
I even managed to breastfeed with relative ease whilst Sonny was in hospital with Bronchiolitis. Reassuringly I was actually discouraged by the paediatrician from doing this; he was extremely supportive and a brilliant Doctor and came right out with “your baby has had your antibodies and goodness for 3 weeks which is an amazing achievement but you may want to choose to tube feed him formula so he stays strong” which was sound advice and a great way of delivering it. However, after a little discussion we decided to give the breastfeeding a go to see if Sonny was strong enough to take it; luckily he was and I think it was a great comfort to him, keeping us close during those horrible days in hospital. However, if he hadn’t responded well and had to be tube fed would I have spent every minute pumping milk instead of being there to cuddle and comfort my son? I doubt it.
When we were discharged and home the feeding trouble started. After another trip to hospital Sonny was diagnosed with acid reflux. Whether this was on the cards anyway or a result of the infection I will never know. What I do know is, after returning home, feeding was no longer peaceful and turned into pure hell. Sonny would thrash and arch but at the same time would comfort feed so would never want to stop. I literally had to lever him off my boob.
During one particularly scary episode, I laid him down to be changed and he vomited blood all over the mat. Obviously as Parents we were hysterical; we rushed down to A&E where, after about 6 hours of testing we were reassured that it was actually my blood that had been ingested. WTF!!
From that day on, (petrified the same thing was going to happen again) I spent every spare minute pumping away at my poor boobs. As Sonny fed every 3 hours and expressing took at least an hour each time –things like eating, going to the toilet etc. didn’t take priority.
We tried giving formula a couple of times but this just seemed to make the reflux worse (we later learned our son was dairy intolerant).
If I’d also had a toddler around – (as so many Mums do) this process would have been IMPOSSIBLE without one child being severely neglected. I was exhausted and highly emotional. Especially after one visit by a health visitor who assured me “you can never over feed a breastfed baby “and that “he would pull off when he had enough” (blatantly not the case with a comfort feeding reflux baby). I also shouldn’t bottle feed him as he would “never go back to the breast” (after 6 weeks he went back on the boob no problem). This garbage is repeatedly peddled out to Mums regardless of their circumstance. I felt like a failure.
Anyway I am not telling you this to try and make you feel sorry for me – millions of women go through shit like this and a lot worse every day. What I am trying to get across is this…
Is breastfeeding best when it is making the Mum miserable and affecting her health? No.
Is breastfeeding best if it is of detriment to other children in the household? No
Is a Mum who is bullied into breastfeeding despite having problems and inadequate support more likely to feel depressed? Yes
Will a depressed Mums relationship with her baby be affected? Possibly
There are many different scenarios when actually breastfeeding is not the best solution for some Mums or babies and these Mum’s deserve not to be judged for that.
As for me and Sonny, after weeks of digestive problems and diarrhoea (him not me!) and visits to the Doctor, I actually took matters into my own hands and tried Sonny on a specialist formula (although I would always recommend talking to your GP first). After 2 days Sonny’s nappies were normal and he was a much happier calm baby. I returned to the GP who immediately prescribed a specialist formula. I had to abstain from feeding Sonny breastmilk to clear out the dairy proteins from my system which takes approximately 2 weeks.
As soon as I could we began combined feeding and the difference to both me and my son was immeasurable. He was happy, I was happy – yes I was on a dairy free diet (which believe me to a complete cheese fiend is hard work) but at least I had chance to eat something! We were both content and healthy and Sonny started gaining weight like nobody’s business.
Personally I am glad I chose to feed my son. My favourite part of the day is the last feed. This is now the only breastfeed we do and, as my milk is diminishing and this will soon be coming to an end. It makes me feel immensely sad.
But if I had a baby who wasn’t intolerant to formula would I go through the same thing again? I’m not sure I would. The whole period is a bit blurry to me but it’s not exactly a time I look back on with joy. I couldn’t enjoy the time with my son as I was constantly expressing or worrying about when I was going to pump. My relationship with my partner suffered. My flat was a complete shithole (my friends will be reading this sniggering that nothing is new).
Obviously as a Mum you want to do the best for your baby – you are vulnerable, take comments to heart and every little bit of ‘advice’ feels like a criticism of your parenting skills. I think a lot of women are ‘shamed’ into exclusively breastfeeding when actually it is not best for their circumstances.
To all new Mums, all new parents – you have to do what is best for your family, your children and most importantly YOU! Only you can make that decision and ultimately you know what is best whether that be breast or bottle, natural or formula. You can do either or both and believe me you will still be a brilliant Mum.
Now I have got that off my (slightly deflated) chest I am off to watch Real Housewives of Beverley Hills (see, still no highbrow) and fantasise about cheese. Goodnight xxx