Well you can’t really write a baby blog without writing a post about feeding. It’s something all new mums will talk about, stress over and always get asked about! And for me it was the first time I’d experienced and still do feel a certain element of ‘mum guilt’. Before I carry on let me just state that I am 100% in support of breastfeeding. For me, given the benefits, it’s a no brainer and I really don’t understand why so many people are so against it. It seems to be getting a lot of coverage in the media at the moment so it also seems appropriately topical to discuss here.
Now as I said before I am in favour of breast feeding and nobody should feel ashamed about doing it, after all our bodies are specifically designed for that very purpose! However I also think that while breast may be best there is nothing wrong with formula. It should be a mother’s choice about how they feed their babies and they should be supported either way in their choice and never made to feel that they aren’t doing the best for their baby if they don’t choose to exclusively breastfeed . After all, like with a lot of things in life what may be best for one person may not be best for all.
Even before I was pregnant I knew when I had a baby that I would want to breastfeed. Unfortunately it didn’t quite go to plan. Hayden started being fed by a tube then he was bottle fed in NICU. Now, obviously as I’d been sent home from hospital and recovering from a c-section I couldn’t be there all the time to breastfeed him and as all breastfeeding mums will know when they are newborn they are pretty much glued to you! I expressed as much milk as I could for him and the hospital were brilliant in supporting this and they even had a pumping room in NICU. I remember when he was first born and I was in hospital still, I was taught how to hand express colostrum into syringes for him. Mitch would then run across from my ward to Hayden who was the other side of the hospital with the syringes like some kind of crazy relay race! Despite my best efforts my milk didn’t come in properly until day 5 so he was put on formula and then when I started to express more milk he was topped up with formula if I couldn’t get enough for him. Despite my midwife and the nurses adamantly reassuring me that any breastmilk I could give would be a great benefit to him I was still looking online at articles about that unless you’re going to exclusively breastfeed then they won’t get any of the benefits! Google is bad!! Pretty soon I managed to get into a routine of expressing, day and night, to build up my supply and we continued feeding him in this way when we got home.
I would have loved to have breastfed Hayden properly and we did try, many times. Sometimes I thought we had cracked it and he’d got a good latch but then he’d be screaming with hunger half an hour later or just come off and scream and I’d be left with a very unhappy crying baby while I prepared a bottle. Most of the time though I’d attempt to put him to the boob and he’d just scream – so at about 7 weeks I gave up trying. He was just too used to bottles and there was no turning back. Could I have done more like seen a breast feeding consultant? Probably yes but given his slightly rocky start i just wanted to get on with family life and being a mum without worrying how I was feeding my baby. It was also making us both miserable and he was happy with bottles and had got into a nice little routine of feeding every 2-3 hours and it was unfair to keep upsetting him and trying to change it just for my own selfish desire to exclusively breastfeed. Why? Because to be honest I felt like a rubbish mum not breastfeeding him properly and it certainly didn’t help that everyone else I knew with newborns was breastfeeding. I know plenty of mums choose to formula feed right from the start and there’s nothing wrong with that but it’s just what I personally wanted to do.
We stopped breastfeeding with the boob when he was admitted into hospital for IV antibiotics for infections in his big toes (who knew that babies could be born with completely embedded ingrown toenails in both big toes? Well no paediatrician, Dr or any health professional that saw them! His feet are going to be in a text book one day!) A nurse asked me if I was breastfeeding and I replied with, “well no, not really, I express milk for him and bottle feed him.” And she said, “so you’re breastfeeding then. Just in the most difficult way possible.” She described it as a labour of love and that sums it up really – a labour of love, with maybe a bit of guilt thrown in there too. So I carried on expressing for him. He was happy with the bottle and thanks to that nurse I was a lot happier too. Some people breastfeed with a boob. Some breastfeed with a bottle. I was BREASTFEEDING!!
Although I felt better about I would still feel an element of shame when bottle feeding him in public. Even though I had a lot of support from friends and other mums, both breast and formula feeding mums, I never felt 100% happy about it. Now I’m sure it was just my own insecurities and all in my head but whenever I fed him in public for some reason I just felt people were judging me. I wanted to scream at them “IT’S BREASTMILK!”. But it shouldn’t have mattered if it wasn’t. There really is nothing wrong with formula. I was formula fed and at 30 I seem to be doing ok. Never broken a bone or had a serious illness and the only operations I’ve had (apart from a c-section) was to have my tonsils and adenoids out – touching lots and lots of wood right now!!! In fact isn’t it amazing that science has created something like breastmilk, perfect to feed a new born baby? It can even be a lifesaver. Yet formula feeding mums can be made to feel so guilty and ashamed that they are feeding their babies some kind of evil poison. Unfortunately this kind of shaming tends to come from breastfeeding mums. Why must we judge each other? Everyone is just doing their best, muddling through early motherhood as best they can and we just need to support each other no matter the choices we make.
Remarkably I managed to feed him pretty much exclusively breast milk (apart from a formula feed at bed time) for the first 3 months of his life – something I am incredibly proud of despite feeling a bit like a dairy cow with a double breast pump strapped to me much of the time. I’ve had titles of ‘expressing queen’ and ‘expressing goddess’ – I’ll take that. When he was 3 months I decided to switch to 50% formula and 50% breastmilk so I could start to build up a bit of a freezer stock. By 4 months he was beginning to nap less during the day and I was finding it more difficult to express enough so I made the decision to stop. To be honest, I wanted to do something else with my spare time other than express! Is that selfish? Cue massive mum guilt when a fortnight after I stopped (he was having mostly formula with one breastmilk feed from the freezer each day) he got an ear infection. I felt like it was all my fault, I shouldn’t have stopped. Thanks to support from my wonderful friends, most of them breastfeeding mums, I got over it. It wasn’t my fault, it’s common. Now at just over 5 months he’s completely formula fed and finally the guilt is starting to go. Now when people might ask how I’m feeding him instead of saying “well…..” I just say instead that he’s formula fed. Because there is nothing wrong with that. He’s happy and thriving so I’m happy too.
So to stay topical let’s also briefly discuss breastfeeding in general. It’s been in the news because we have one of the lowest rates of breastfeeding in this country. There’s been a lot discussed that the main reason for this is lack of support and although this may be true I actually think one of the biggest reasons is society as a whole and what we’ve become. Women are no longer home makers who stay at home with the kids and breastfeed. Many women choose to or have to for financial reasons to go back to work after just a few weeks or months of maternity leave. To keep milk supply up you have to express at least 4 times a day and ideally once at night too. How you’re meant to do that while working a full time job is close to impossible! Expressing takes time and is hard work. Work places however, should legally provide time and space for breastfeeding mothers to express but few do and many women are left to express quickly in a toilet or store cupboard during a lunch break. And would you really want to store milk in a communal fridge in the staff room? Not exactly a sterile place! So to up breastfeeding mothers I believe what would make a difference is better maternity pay. We’re lucky to the extent we get paid maternity leave for 9 months but it’s not much if you’ve got a mortgage to pay. As a comparison; countries like France, Germany, Spain and Austria allow mothers to take maternity leave for 14 weeks, fully paid. Here it’s pot luck as to whether you work for an employer who provides enhanced maternity pay.
Whether you breastfeed or formula feed, it doesn’t matter. You are doing a great job feeding and raising your baby and we should all support each other no matter what choice we make in the way that happens.
And just for fun, what our fridge looked like for months. Baby food. Daddy food.