FFF Friday: “Caring for my baby doesn’t just mean breastfeeding him. It means being present to love him.”

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 also are not political statements – this is an arena for people to share their thoughts and feelings, and I hope we can all give them the space to do so. 

Gemma talks about feeling disconnected from her body while nursing her son in the story below. These sensations are in such contrast to much of the rhetoric we read about breastfeeding – how it is conducive to bonding; a way for mother and baby to connect. Obviously, for many women this rhetoric is reality – but for others, breastfeeding can provoke feelings of anger, isolation, pain, and sadness. This can be due to emotional reasons or conditions like D-MER, but it also can be provoked by the pain a woman experiences due to a bad latch, breast infection, or some other physical problem. There’s no doubt chronic pain can lead to depression. According to a 2004 Harvard Medical School Mental Health Letter, “Pain, especially chronic pain, is an emotional condition as well as a physical sensation. It is a complex experience that affects thought, mood, and behavior and can lead to isolation, immobility, and drug dependence…it resembles depression, and the relationship is intimate. Pain is depressing, and depression causes and intensifies pain. People with chronic pain have three times the average risk of developing psychiatric symptoms — usually mood or anxiety disorders — and depressed patients have three times the average risk of developing chronic pain.”

We can’t underestimate the effect of intense breast pain on a woman’s postpartum mental health, and vice versa. If this pain can’t be mitigated or conquered, it may very well be in the mother and baby’s best interest to end the breastfeeding relationship, so that a real relationship – one based on love, connection, and actual bonding – can develop.

Happy Friday, fearless ones,



Gemma’s Story


The birth didn’t feel traumatic at the time – baby was breech, planned c/s arranged but waters broke in middle of night with no prior contractions 2 weeks before he was due.

4 hours after waters broke I was 8cm dilated and had barely had gas and air for 15 minutes by that point. The spinal was then administered and he was born 5 hours after my waters had broken.

Let me be clear – breastfeeding had been a long held ambition, desire and belief. It was what I was most looking forward to in raising my baby. I knew it might be a bit toe curling to start and expected that.

I fed the colustrum with ease on first feed but every time after that seemed a struggle, and most of it had to be expressed. There was plenty of it which I thought boded well for the milk coming in and getting in with the real feeding.

We were discharged 36 hours after birth as I couldn’t stand it on the noisy hospital ward (this is not the place for a rant about the NHS) and I had to prove I could feed him alone with good latch and position. This box was ticked and tongue tie was ruled out.

Each day at home with the baby got progressively worse…I was being very well supported by my husband, mother, and extended family with all aspects, including the BF, whilst some feeds were slightly less painful than others as the week went on I dreaded the latch and feed, more and  more and more. The baby was being cared for by husband and mum so I could ‘rest’ but then being brought to me when he was so hungry it made the hell that was developing even worse.

All I could see was my husband bonding and loving the baby and I was disliking the baby, afraid of the baby and by the 9th day I was loathing the baby and devastated that I wasn’t loving him or having the relationship I wanted and intended.

Every feed was so incredibly painful at latch and then would only marginally reduce through each feed. The midwives who visited all reiterated that’s latch and position were correct and he was feeding correctly. I tried nipple shields, lanolin, breast shields, airing nipples, hydrogel dressings. It all made no difference. I became exhausted by conflicting information, it shouldn’t hurt, it will hurt, it improves after 10-14 days, it either works easily or it will always be a struggle…on and on with ‘information and evidence’…and I was sick of professionals looking at me and the baby, I felt, inspecting us which prevented me seeking the lactation consultants or other BF counsellors. . .

The pain on latch was worse than what I had felt in my labour, and I think I made more noise at times as he latched on than I did through most of the labour.

My husband helped me decide to stop BF our first born when he found me inconsolably sobbing over him while trying to get him to latch on at 9 days old. It was the third major breakdown over feeding in 3 days…and we had already been giving formula for two nights to help my nipples rest, which made me feel bad, but then the first early morning feed was less painful…so I accepted it thinking it would help the BF get better established.

He told me we had to use formula then and there. I resisted and we briefly fought before I relented.

After I slept for an hour I woke and realised I would stop loathing and start loving my baby as soon as he didn’t represent pain. I realised I had not been ‘present’ at all since I got home. I know the first week is said to be difficult but I had totally ‘checked out’ it didn’t feel like I was in my body at all.

The next morning I woke feeling my soul had re-entered my body. I loved my baby and haven’t stopped since. He is so calm with me, and is on a mix of formula and expressed breast milk (more F than BM, and still navigating this dynamic).

No doubt there are still storms to weather but now I know that caring for my baby doesn’t just mean BF him. It means being present to love him, being calm enough to take care of all his needs as well as feeding him with my soul and personality in tact.


Suzanne Barston is a blogger and author of BOTTLED UP. Fearless Formula Feeder is a blog – and community – dedicated to infant feeding choice, and committed to providing non-judgmental support for all new parents. It exists to protect women from misleading or misrepresented “facts”; essentialist ideals about what mothers should think, feel, or do; government and health authorities who form policy statements based on ambivalent research; and the insidious beast known as Internetus Trolliamus, Mommy Blog Varietal.

Suzanne Barston – who has written posts on Fearless Formula Feeder.

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3 thoughts on “FFF Friday: “Caring for my baby doesn’t just mean breastfeeding him. It means being present to love him.”

  1. Good for you Gemma to find that right balance for you. I had pain every time I nursed that was far worse than labour (or any other pain I have experienced before or since). I didn’t stop, even when my very supporting mom (who BF all her babies) suggested I take a break to heal. I did it for months of hell, and never bonded with my baby because of that pain. I only wish I hadn’t been so stubborn. Its only now that my son is nearly 3yrs that we have built the same bond as he has with his dad. I always feel sad when I hear of other moms experiencing pain like I did, but I am so happy that you have found that balance!

  2. Thank you for this. I’m struggling with my feelings regarding breastfeeding my newborn and have had several breakdowns these past five days and have not felt a strong bond with my daughter in terms of breastfeeding. I couldn’t feed my son, so you’d think switching to formula would be an easy decision, but it never is.

  3. Gemma this resonates so strongly with my experience. I developed thrush around 4 weeks, just when my baby was starting to latch better and with less guidance. It was the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced especially at the initial latch, only just second to labour. I was so envious of my husband being able to enjoy our baby and caring for her in every other way when all that I was consumed with was breastfeeding and pain. It took two “breaks” from feeding while I expressed but then realising that as soon as I restarted the pain was just as bad, to realise that I was teetering on the edge of postnatal depression. I too didn’t feel like I was bonding with my baby, but how can you when your main feelings are that if anxiety, pain, confusion and resentment among many others?!
    I’m so glad you recognised this and made the decision to switch before your feelings escalated. As soon as I stopped, it felt like a huge weight was lifted and I could see my baby in a different light and could actually start enjoying her. I still feel sad that it didn’t work out but I can’t bear the thought of having missed out on more of her early weeks than I already did. Our bond came as soon as I stopped BF so it really isn’t the be all and end all for baby bonding . Thank you for sharing your story and helping me to feel like I’m not alone in my feelings.

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