First and foremost, let me say that breast feeding is a wonderful force of nature. To be able to provide for your newborn by only using your body really is an incredible thing and one that I will always be astounded by, as I am by the ability of a woman’s body to give birth. But, like delivering a baby, breast feeding isn’t easy and – dare I say it – it’s not always nice. I admire those women who do it, and especially those who persevere though the pain and discomfort for their babies’ sakes. I gave my body over completely when giving birth, but breast feeding was a much more difficult challenge for me.
This is my truth about breast feeding, nothing more. I understand that “breast is best”, I really do, but my experience wasn’t perfect by any means, and I want to share my story in case it helps women who may have had a similar struggle.
I’ll start from the beginning. I completely understand if this doesn’t interest you or if it’s simply too much information, and hopefully I’ll see you for the next blog post. 🙂
I never felt any pressure from professionals to breast feed, even though all the literature and antenatal classes were focused around breast feeding (even so, feeding information of any kind was fairly limited). The midwives were all very honest. Yes, they stuck to their curriculum, but they also offered advice on formula feeding when asked, and admitted that every woman and every baby is different and that feeding your baby is all about finding the right result for you.
I never felt any pressure from my peers to breast feed. Yes, at times I felt like I was the only person in my circle not breast feeding, but not once did any other new mum (or mums of kids of any age) ever make me feel as though I should be breast feeding.
The pressure to breast feed came only from myself. Oddly enough, this was a bit of a shock to me. Before NCM arrived, I’d always been adamant that I’d give breast feeding my very best shot, but that I wouldn’t put any pressure on myself. I promised myself I would – as I do with everything – do my very best, and leave the rest up to fate.
As fate would have it, I lost a lot of blood during the birth. As far as I can recall, it took almost two hours to stop the bleeding (while I held onto my newborn squidgy mess before handing him over to Daddy so I could focus on more gas and air), followed by an iron transfusion and six hours of bed rest before the health professionals decided I didn’t need a blood transfusion. Naturally, this resulted in an incredibly worn out body, one that needed to fix itself before it started to look after someone else. My milk didn’t come in immediately. Usually, the colostrum (the yellow-y goodness) comes first (and mine did, slowly), while the milk comes in around three days later. My milk eventually came in about a week after the birth, and it took a lot to get it going – electronically pumping my breasts every three hours around the clock to mimic a newborn’s feeding habits in an effort to ‘trick’ my body into producing milk.
When my milk did come, it was in very small volumes and it wasn’t easy for NCM to latch on. I used a nipple guard mostly, after help from midwives both at the hospital and breast feeding specialists within the community. I expressed in order to tell how much he’d had, but after 45 minutes of pumping and only 60-100 mls later, I wasn’t able to generate much of a store. Before we left the hospital, seeing other mums with fridges full of expressed milk, and afterwards at home hearing of mums with freezers full, were some of the saddest feelings for me.
But exactly how did I feel when I was actually feeding? When it worked and it was seamless it felt lovely. I felt so close to my little baby boy and it certainly helped me bond with him – giving birth doesn’t instantly make you feel like a mother, it’s all the little things that mean you’re looking after your baby that make you feel like a mum (which is why, I suppose, we can all feel like mums, whether we are or not). Feeding is inevitably part of that and yes, breast feeding made me feel close to him. But, honestly, it was mostly uncomfortable. Some women experience really bad pain and sores on the nipples and, luckily, this wasn’t really the case for me. My discomfort came from the sensation inside, the backache because I couldn’t find a comfortable position to hold my baby, the strain of constantly trying to get him to latch on while he cried that newborn cry that makes your heart break, and all I wanted to do was fix it. And, for the life of me, I couldn’t get him on quickly enough – I mean that literally, not figuratively – to feed this tiny, screaming, hungry baby who never seem satiated by a feed. When I fed him a bottle (we did that twice throughout the night) I could see him relax, happy with his nice full tummy. Perhaps I’m over dramatising it. But perhaps not.
NCM was formula fed from the day he was born. He was born at 4.32am on Wednesday 25 January 2017 and, before midnight that same day he was taken away from me to the specialist baby unit. It was the most gut wrenching, heart breaking moment of my life and I can’t remember it without hot tears springing to my eyes. By the time I was allowed* to visit him in his incubator, he had already been given formula by a tube and I couldn’t have cared less – all I wanted was for him to be well and for us to be together again. Sleeping away from him for the first two nights of his life was indescribably horrible.
So giving NCM formula was never an issue. From day one, until five days later when we finally went home, he’d been living on formula. The volume of colostrum I produced was tiny and I had nothing more to give him. I’m sure that if I had felt strongly about it, there would have been other means. But I didn’t feel strongly, and I also felt a bit of a failure; selfishly, I didn’t want anyone else to be able to provide for him. Even watching the baby nurse feed him his first bottle made me annoyed and frustrated. I felt a failure and I felt useless and to have given him his first bottle might have helped me feel like a mother. (I’ve never said that out loud to anyone and it makes me feel like a shitty person, but I’m pretty sure it’s normal and I’d appreciate anyone else who has felt the same way reaching out.)
So we left the hospital as ‘combination feeding’ parents. The support I received with regards to breast feeding was amazing, and I am so grateful to the staff and the NHS for that, for not rushing us or putting pressure on us. However, if one of those nurses or doctors had just said ‘feed your baby formula’ I’d have felt so much better. The validation of a professional would have made things so much easier.
But we went home with formula and with a breast pump. And for two months we carried on like that. And still I told myself that I was being selfish, that the physical pain, the sore nipples, the engorged breasts, the backache, and the leaking was nothing to complain about, that I should just suck it up and get on with it. But for me, the hardest part was the emotional struggle that came with breast feeding. I knew I wasn’t happy – I questioned everything I was doing when feeding him, I cried, I worried, and I was anxious almost all of the time. But I carried on for NCM’s sake, to give him the best start in life (as it had been so well drummed into me). I think I even carried on to prove to my husband, my baby’s father, that I had truly tried my best for our baby. He couldn’t have been more supportive, he understood it was my body, and he didn’t pressure me ever, not once. Never. But I still wanted him to know that I had really tried and I suppose I needed his approval.
As the weeks passed I became more confident as a new mum. I got to know my baby and we settled into a bit of a routine. I became more self assured, more independent. It felt like the fierce mama inside me grew stronger and she started to feel like she could take on the world again. No one was telling me to keep going. No one was telling me to stop. I had to come to a decision by myself and, suddenly, I realised that I’d be much happier if I wasn’t breast feeding. I truly believe that anxiety is picked up by babies. Eventually I took on the ‘happy mum, happy baby’ mantra.
After two months I made the decision to stop breast feeding. I did it gradually, cutting down feeds over a number of days. In some ways I wish I’d kept going. In some ways I wish I’d never started. But you know what? I was and I am happy. After I decided to formula feed, I started to enjoy my baby more because I could focus on him as a whole, not on how his next feed would go. I’d kept my promise: I did my best. And there’s nothing more I could have asked of myself.
Image: Kris Miller
Location: Archerfield House
*Let me say here that nobody in the NHS said I wasn’t allowed to go with him. But the midwife looking after me advised that watching him being handled and settled into his incubator would not be pleasant and that I too needed the rest after a grueling delivery. So, being vulnerable and weak and with my catheter and my stockings and my bleeding, I took her advice until 1am, when I finally dragged myself and my catheter along the corridors to see my tiny new baby.
Such a personal thing to talk about and I really appreciate you opening up about your experience! I’m due in December and I’m going to try to breast feed but there will definitely be formula in the house ready to go. As you just don’t know what’s going to happen, how your body will cope. The uncertainty is definitely the biggest worry for me when it comes to the idea of feeding my baby. This post has definitely helped me thank you!
Author 13th October 2017 / 13:09
Mhairi, good luck! I hope you’ve had a lovely pregnancy and are feeling well. Enjoy these last few weeks. Not long to go! Whatever happens, you’ll be fine and you will come out of the other side, don’t worry at all. Yes, try your best, do what you can, but please don’t feel the pressure or guilt that we put on ourselves – do whatever makes you and your baby happiest. Always good to have a back up – and if you do go on to formula, we chose Aptamil and their phoneline help is amazing. Otherwise, the breast feeding support workers are great too. I just wish the NHS had a wee bit more support for formula fed babies. Anyway, good luck and enjoy! I hope all goes well and do please share your news with me. XX
Firstly, Well done for speaking out! Not many people want to admit they ‘couldnt’ breast feed, largely due to the overwhelming advice/pressure to do so. I understand that you didn’t feel any outside pressure to do it (which is a welcome change as when I had my son 14 years ago there was a lot of pressure from every angle) but as mothers we put pressure on ourselves as we repeatedly hear ‘breast is best’. Personally, I’m of the opinion ‘fed is best’. I am currently breast feeding my second child (note the 14 year age gap) and breast fed my first until 6months old. I am delighted that I have been able to do it, but remember a time around 2 weeks in with my first son where I was in so much pain due to him feeding constantly (and what felt like visciously) and was so miserable that I considered changing to bottle feeding which stressed me further and really upset me. I felt that feeling of failure. I felt defeated by my own body. I was distraught. Thankfully following advice to use silicon shields, I was able to continue and never looked back.
During My recent stay in the labour ward at Ninewells (where the staff were not judgemental or biased in any way) I came across a mother who tried desperately to breast feed, largely due to immense pressure from her husband and family, related to cultural beliefs, and was unable as her body simply was not producing. I endured 5 solid hours of baby screaming in pain through hunger while mum refused to give formula milk to her child. I’m afraid where the welfare of the child is at stake, I feel that cultural beliefs and outside pressures have no place. This woman was clearly distressed and like you I believe that babies pick up on the anxiety of their mothers. Perseverance to breast feed when it’s just not happening is no good for mum or baby, and I think you were absolute right to make the decision you did as it was what was right for YOU!! Each and every mother is different and as long as both mum and baby are healthy and happy that is all that matters!! FED is best!! Much love x
Author 13th October 2017 / 13:06
Julie, thanks so much for your comment and sharing your story. It’s so tough! I don’t think there’s enough information on how difficult breast feeding can be, and I don’t think there’s enough support available from a ‘not breast feeding’ point of view. It’s like, once you’re formula feeding you’re on your own. I found Aptamil’s customer care via phone to be absolutely excellent and wish I’d know about phoning them sooner than the six month mark. Reading the story about the culture made me sad – I’m wholeheartedly with you on that. The welfare of the baby should be first and foremost, but if that baby was happy so would the mother be. I love FED IS BEST! Lots of hugs. XX
Well done for sharing this. I’m sure there are many mums who can relate to every word. My daughter was born three months prematurely and I know exactly that awful feeling of seeing your new born being whisked away to the special baby care unit. In my case she spent the next twelve weeks there and as I felt I’d already let her down by her being born so early I was determined to breast feed. I used a breast pump at home and tried so hard to express milk, I often felt like a freesian cow sitting there for ages, but having no baby with me made it almost impossible and I produced tiny amounts compared to everyone else. I had to put the milk in its sterile container into the fridge within the baby care unit and well remember looking enviously at the numerous fully filled containers already in there adding mine which barely covered the bottom. I was eventually told to ‘just combine it into one container’ adding to my sense of utter failure. Eventually I had to admit to myself that this wasn’t to be. When, thank God, we were told she was getting home three months after her birth I’d long given up the breast pump and thought it would be straight to formula (which the hospital had been using to tube feed my baby) but came under so much pressure to try to “bring your milk back”, I even had ‘lessons’ from a breast feeding expert in the hospital which left me bruised, anxious and almost in tears, it was at that point I seemed to regain some of my pre-pregnancy feisty self and said a firm ‘no’. I then asked for advice from midwives on what was the best formula to choose. They told me they couldn’t say as they had to be seen to be promoting breast feeding! I was left to figure out myself what was in formula milk and which brand would be best for small babies.
This was 22 years ago and I’ve never forgotten it. I firmly believe fed is best. If you can breast feed that’s great, but many of us can’t. I get so angry when I read about some of the breast feeding warriors judging the rest of us who just can’t do it. As a footnote, my daughter has just done brilliantly despite no breast milk and is currently studying for a Masters degree at university. So it’s a big thumbs up for formula milk from me.
My friend and I were just chatting about how no-one is really honest about pregnancy, birth amd motherhood so well done you! I came to the decision ‘fed is best’ a long time ago!
Author 15th October 2017 / 11:22
I think we’re all too afraid that we’re alone, and if we open up we’ll be looked at by another mum as if we have two heads! But in reality, if we open up we all feel better about things. Fed is most definitely best. Now facing the struggle of the weaning phase! Hope you are well. x
Thanks so much for sharing this. Very few people I know have had a straightforward breastfeeding journey. It is one of the hardest, most tiring things I have ever done – yet also one the most rewarding. I had a similar experience to you with my firstborn. I will share it with you sometime. x
Author 15th October 2017 / 11:23
Please do share it, though I know some don’t want to do so publicly. I admire the mums who do it – it’s not easy by any means. xx
I was so proud of you then and now, you didn’t give yourself enough credit at the time. Well done in writing it all down so well for others to understand the dilemmas facing new Mums (& Dads!).
Author 15th October 2017 / 11:23
Thank you. XXXXX
Thanks for sharing your story. To be honest I didn’t plan ever to breastfeed (although I wasn’t 100% decided) and had so many friends with stories similar to yours that had brought me to the place where I felt I would just go with what happened at the time. Of course we ended up in a super similar situation to you with my blood loss followed by a stint in special baby unit for him and so the decision was made ‘easier’ in a way – that I didn’t have much guilt about not trying because the circumstances seemed to go against it. But my mum guilt kicked in every time that tiny baby bobbed his head on my chest searching for milk… so yeah I cried tears a couple of times over that but for the most part I was delighted he was feeding well (from the bottle) and that the husband was able to share that bond of feeding him right from the beginning. It was in special baby unit that he had his first feeds, without us, and I just remember feeling so relieved he had fed at all. Motherhood rarely seems to be an easy journey but I can tell by the look on your faces in this photo (and the many others on social) that you’re doing the very best job. So much love to you all.xx
Author 15th October 2017 / 11:26
I’d love to have coffee to chat about our stories as yes, they seem so similar. I think that the decision being taken away from us is both easier and harder. Yes, I think babies being fed is really the most important thing. Though it seems we are set for a life of beating ourselves up over everything, anything, and nothing! xx
This was really interesting to read. I’m expecting first baby in March and I don’t want to breastfeed because I am enough of a worrier already and it seems like something that would just add anxiety ! But there is no information on formula feeding and everyone seems to say “just try it” about breastfeeding. It just doesn’t feel right for me but it seems tough to get others to agree ! X
Author 15th October 2017 / 11:27
Louise my only advice (should you want it) is to go with the flow. You will worry but it’s natural and try to remember that it’s okay to worry, it’s okay to talk to people and you are doing the best job. We use Aptamil and they’re phone helpline was amazing the time I used it. If you don’t want to try breast feeding then don’t! It’s your body and your baby. Do what feels right. XXX
Author 15th October 2017 / 11:29
And so many congratulations on your first baba! It’s the BEST. xx
Hi Christina, I had to read this post this morning as I have just had my little girl 3 weeks ago and went through Avery similar time to yourself! I could relate so much to your struggles. I too had a blood loss after giving birth and unbeknown to me, until it was too late, a blood loss like this can delay your lactation. I was not advised of this at the time I was just given her to feed. You do just expect to be able to do it too so when things don’t go as smoothly as you think you do begin to feel like a failure or like your body is failing you. We were allowed home the following day and every time it was feeding time I dreaded it as my little girl was so agitated, she would not latch on for ages and would just scream! I felt helpless and I would end up crying too due to the stress and frustration of the situation and that probably didn’t help her either. We ended up back in the hospital the following weekend just 5 days after she was born as she lost too much of her bodyweight quickly. I was in bits that day we were told to go back in and I felt like I had completely failed with breastfeeding and that my daughter was starving! Of course I was told otherwise but naturally it’s hard not to feel these things. I persevered with breastfeeding that night in the hospital with help and pumping milk every 3 hours (which seriously took its toll on me). Eventually we decided it was best for her just to be putting on weight and getting better and breastfeeding was not helping her with that and was only stressing her out more so we changed to formula feeding instantly. The difference is night and day now to how she is developing and she is now back to her birth weight and more! It does just show that breastfeeding is difficult and every baby and mother are different but I believe you should give it your best go if feel strongly enough. Thanks for sharing and allowing me to share as this was on my mind since happening and would be great to bring some awareness to new mums!