Welcome to Fearless Formula Feeder Fridays, a weekly guest post feature that strives to build a supportive community of parents united through our common experiences, open minds, and frustration with the breast-vs-bottle bullying and bullcrap.
Please note, these stories are for the most part unedited, and do not necessarily represent the FFF’s opinions. They are also not political statements – this is an arena for people to share their thoughts, and I hope we can all give them the space to do so.
In today’s FFF Friday post, FFF Susanne wonders if bottle feeding could possibly do more harm to a child than having a miserable mother. I think she came to the right conclusion. But I really think this is what this debate comes down to, more times than not. We can argue biological superiority, statistics, and health outcomes on the population level until we run out of breath, but at the end of the day all that matters is the individual mother and her individual situation. And if that situation is making her miserable, she needs to be given the opportunity to make a decision which could alleviate her stress without being made to feel guilty, or given misleading information.
I’ll be back next week with new posts… thanks for your patience as I adjust to being back at a “normal” job…!
Happy Friday, fearless ones!
I’d gone into hospital to give birth with every intention of breastfeeding my baby. Bottle feeding was just not an option. I was practically militant on the breastfeeding issue. It’s the most natural thing on earth, it’s what breasts are for, it’s a wonderful bonding experience and best for the baby… So how did I end up leaving hospital with a bag full of formula bottles?
Well, combine anaemia from an emergency c-section with a hungry ten pound baby who is so distressed he can’t latch on, add in the pressure of being told he must be fed every two hours because his size could be due to gestational diabetes and it could be dangerous if his blood sugar levels drop, and later that he must be fed regularly because he had jaundice.. But he still can’t latch on properly and still the milk hasn’t come in… Ultimately I didn’t feel like I had a choice. And I’m no quitter either, I tried and tried until I bled, I got every kind of help available to me, I spoke to the breastfeeding support workers and buzzed so often for help from the midwives they got sick of me. I knew the “nipple to nose” advice of how to achieve a good latch inside out, but that unfortunately was the only advice they seemed capable of giving. Other than it being nice having someone to talk to, unfortunately I didn’t find them very helpful at all. And I went through quite a few.
But me and my hungry little fella fought back on our own. Yes he left hospital a bottle fed baby, but once back at home we practiced and practiced until we got it right. It was far from easy, I was always told babies loved breastfeeding but he would scream at me, claw at me, grunt and practically fight me. I often felt horribly rejected and as though he hated me. But I was utterly determined. Eventually the formula decreased, the breastfeeding increased… and increased, and increased… He would feed for hours and hours on end, with my husband back at work I barely ate, barely drank, obviously I barely slept (all of these things I now know exacerbated the problem, though not one health visitor or breastfeeding support worker mentioned these factors) I didn’t leave the house, I was too embarrassed to feed in public in case he started the screaming, grunting, fighting me thing. And he just fed for so long I literally couldn’t go anywhere. The breastfeeding support workers came around again with their “nose to nipple” advice (yeh, we’ve got that down now thank you!), the health visitor said it was a growth spurt and would last maybe 48 hours (ignoring the fact it had already lasted weeks and I’d told them that). No one seemed to have heard of a baby who liked to spend practically all of his waking hours feeding, I was just urged to keep going and told I should be proud of myself.
By 3 months we’d done away totally with the formula and settled into a routine of one hour on, one hour off, then back on for the entire evening. I didn’t deliberately set out to do the attachment parenting thing, but he was pretty much permanently attached anyway. Last Christmas I opened our presents with him attached, ate my Christmas dinner with him attached… you get the picture. And actually I was ok with this. I worked on my supply by ensuring I ate properly, drank loads of water, did relaxation exercises (things I’d researched on the internet). The fighting and screaming had stopped. We were winning!
Then a block duct led to thrush, which due to misdiagnosis and then the wrong prescription led to mastitis. After a month of crying in agony through each feed (which is a lot of feeding for my boy) it almost destroyed the breastfeeding, decimated my supply and put him back on the bottle.
Once eventually cured I set about trying to build the feeding up again, but he would scream at me in hunger and frustration, claw at my chest and grunt as he had done before (you should have seen the state of my chest, I looked like one of my cats had attacked me! I thought breastfeeding was meant to be a beautiful experience??) Anyway I just couldn’t put him through all that again, just so I could pat myself on the back and say my child was breastfed, when even at best he needed to spend most of the day feeding just to get his fill. Barely anyone saw his face until he was four months old! And I was utterly miserable, my sanity was seriously fraying around the edges. Was breastfeeding really the best for him? I was a bottle fed baby and my mum suffered depression for years, I know which did me the most harm and it certainly wasn’t formula. I was losing my marbles and I didn’t want my own child to grow up with a mentally ill mother as I did.
So I decided to stop. But my god I was heartbroken, utterly devastated. I felt like I’d failed. I’d failed to give birth naturally and now I’d failed to fully breastfeed. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to become a mother? I didn’t feel like a proper woman, a feeling I’m still struggling with.
Actually we didn’t fully stop breastfeeding until he was around 7 months old. I kept on feeding him at night until he started sleeping through and then we stopped altogether. And with a combination of breast and bottle my little fella was contented at last. In fact he came on leaps and bounds. He wasn’t so angry and unhappy anymore, he smiled all the time and is an utter joy to be around. I feel sad we didn’t fully breastfeed, but it was the right thing to do and no one can tell me otherwise. And I’ve also learned some valuable lessons in humility and not judging others along the way. It brought me down a peg or two.
I do still believe breast is best, but formula is a close second and if breastfeeding is causing you and your baby so much distress, then perhaps that outweighs the benefits? Looking back I feel very let down by the professionals, the antenatal classes were so busy bigging up the benefits of breastfeeding they never once mentioned how difficult it could be – but if I’d had more honest, realistic information perhaps I could have avoided the pitfalls.
When it came to feeding him formula I felt abandoned – I was sent home from hospital with mountains of literature about why you should breastfeed, and one miserly leaflet printed in the 80s (it looked that way at least!) about formula feeding. I felt embarrassed to bottle feed in public. Even Boots refuse to give you points on your loyalty card when buying formula because they want to encourage breastfeeding. They will reward you for buying absolutely anything else in the shop but not formula. I was livid. How dare they judge me? Are they saying I’m a bad mother for giving my child formula? Would I be a better mother if I let him go hungry? Would they prefer that?
I could go on and on (I already have!). I truly wish the most extreme of breastfeeding fanatics, as well as doctors, midwives, breastfeeding advisors, health visitors etc. would spend some time reading through all these accounts. It isn’t that we’re too vain to do it, aren’t prepared to make sacrifices for our babies, don’t want the best for them… perhaps if they understood the real reasons they’d be able to help or support rather than judge? And if governments are serious about improving breastfeeding rates then this would be a perfect place for them to start researching better ways to achieve that rather than shaming mothers who are already struggling.
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