If I could nail down one thing to blame for the pain formula feeding parents feel, it would be the nature of infant feeding literature. The words they use, the images, the phrasing…. it’s not the “facts” that are given but the bastardization of those facts; not the purpose of the public health campaigns but the insidious ear-worms they become. Those words haunt us, and taunt us.
Changing the way we support and inform new parents could make all the difference. And it’s so freaking easy. It doesn’t need to be researched or number-crunched. You wouldn’t even need particularly smart copywriters. Just be honest, emotionally neutral, and understanding that people are people, not statistics. Done and done.
Happy Friday, fearless ones,
In December 2012 we decided we would come off the pill and try for a baby. Two years and two miscarriages later our son came into the world, on 9 December 2014.
I was always unsure about breastfeeding. I’d heard a few stories about it being hard and painful but I decided I would go for it and see what happened.
I was very casual about the whole thing. I knew that breast was best, I had been given countless leaflets and advice leading up to the birth to tell me so, but I wasn’t going to put any pressure on myself. Oh no, I was cool, calm and well in control of the notion.
Until my son arrived.
It was a tricky birth, natural, with an early dose of pethidine, more gas and air than you could shake a stick at and a helping hand from a ventouse cup, but he came out alive and screaming.
It was amazing. He was perfect. The most perfect little thing I had ever seen and I immediately fell into mother mode. I wanted him on my skin straight away and I never wanted to let him go.
When we were moved into our room the midwife came in and told me it was time to try feeding him with my breast. No one asked me if I wanted to use a bottle, I was just guided through what to do. He latched on perfectly and I was told I was a natural.
I sat there, with my son feeding away off me and I felt like this made up for all the hard work I had to get him here. The miscarriages and the traumatic pregnancy (I had severe SPD and was in a wheelchair for the last few months) were all worthwhile, as now I was giving my son the absolute best start in life.
Because the birth was a little tricky I was kept in for a few days and as such my son was more closely monitored. His sugar levels were low and he needed a lot of heel pricks, he became jaundiced and slept, a lot.
At no point did anyone suggest I try a bottle to top him up. I just kept being told that I was doing a great job. They even sent in their breastfeeding expert to sit with me, who confirmed this.
It was at this point I noticed he had tongue tie. I had heard about this from a friend so I knew what to look out for. I pointed it out to them and they arranged for him to have a snip that day, day two.
He came back having apparently not even noticed it was done and I clamped him to me to try it out. It felt different and yes, I nodded that this should be it. I had convinced myself it was better.
We were discharged on day four and I went home, carrying on feeding my son from my breast, believing that everything was OK. By this time I was becoming determined to breastfeed my baby. The message I was reading on all the sites I googled to help me was that if I didn’t breast feed him he would likely become obese, suffer allergies and even a higher risk of cancer! There was no way I was going to allow that to happen to my precious bundle.
The community midwife came to visit the day after and we were sent back to hospital on day 7 as he had lost 11% of his birth weight and he was severely jaundiced. It was absolutely horrific.
My son spent the whole night in a UV incubator by my bedside. I was only allowed to pick him up to feed him. I wasn’t even allowed to hold him if he cried.
I spent the 24 hours we were in hospital on a strict routine of hourly pumping and feeding. I was distressed, convinced I had starved my son by not being able to feed him properly. I felt like I had already failed him as a mother.
I wasn’t pumping enough milk. The staff told me that that was probably the issue and that I needed to calm down and wait for my milk to come in. It was probably delayed from the birth. In the meantime it was suggested that I top up with formula.
I point blank refused. I had been told by breastfeeding supporters that I mustn’t do this as it would affect my supply. I had read all of these messages from government campaigns. I had a close group of friends who had all had babies around the same time, who were breastfeeding advocates. I had come to believe that formula was poison and I was not going to give up without a fight.
The UV lamp did the trick and all the pumping and feeding meant that he gained a little weight. Enough for me to be allowed to go home, with the agreement that I would see the community midwife daily.
On one of these visits she pointed out that he was still tongue-tied. I hadn’t realised, but it was actually pretty bad still. He was booked back in for another snip at two weeks old and we all felt sure that this would be the end of it.
I spent the next few weeks desperately reaching out to everyone to get help to feed him. Friends, peer suport, midwives etc. Everyone praised me and encouraged me to keep going, even though Hugo’s weight gain was very slow.
My husband, normally a placid, gentle man was determined I keep going and during one conversation we had about possibly stopping he became quite cross and insisted I continue to breastfeed our son. He had also been made to feel as if breast was best.
On Hugo’s four week birthday I went into clinic to weigh him. I had previously been given another week to get some weight on him or my midwife was going to insist I switch to combi or formula. I was a wreck that morning. I knew that this journey was going to come to an end and I was right. He had hardly gained a thing that week and I broke down in hysterical tears.
I was led to a private room and she asked if I had a bottle and some formula. I had come prepared and she made the bottle up for me to feed to my son. As I held him in my arms and looked down at his face, I realised that this was the first time in weeks I had properly ”looked” at him. I watched his little lips work around the teat of the bottle and saw him gulping up this golden liquid that was going to make my son get fat and healthy and I felt euphoric.
I felt uncontrollable love for him and right then, as I fed him this wonderful stuff, I knew I was the best mother in the world because I was finally able to put my son before me and do what is best for my son. All the stresses and worries of the first few weeks just washed away and I felt amazing! Breast is not best, a well fed, happy, healthy baby is best!
I don’t disagree with promoting breast feeding. What I disagree with is the wording of these campaigns and the pressure they put on a mother to breastfeed. There is something very wrong with our world if we are not able to support a woman, no matter what her choice of feeding is, who just wants to feed her child!
Feel like sharing your story? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.