There’s plenty controversy surrounding the issue of Breastfeeding in the Media of recent. The debate over bottle v breastfed babies is spiralling out of control, it’s to the point of teetering on ridiculous. As a mother of two, I have my own opinions on this matter. Opinions that rival those of millions.
My son, my first born, never took to the breast. Before he was born, I had an idealised version of Motherhood. In this, my child took to my breast harmoniously and worked in sync with my body. There were no tears over his inability to latch, no guilt over my poor milk supply. I was going to breastfeed, I was 100% sure of it.
So when it didn’t happen, I was left tormented by the whole ordeal. At 24 hours old, Tristan was diagnosed with Jaundice. Although common in newborns (and even more so in those born before 40 weeks), Tristan’s bilirubin levels plotted high above the treatment line, leaving him under U.V lights for 6 days. In this time, Tristan was made to take formula every 2 hours to wash out the infection. I wasn’t allowed to hold him unless trying to feed. Even when he screamed for my affection, I had to deny him. The roll on effect of this was that, due to not being able to give him skin to skin, my milk supply was practically non-existant. It also meant that when in my arms, Tristan took comfort in my embrace instead of trying to work. Lastly, like many boys, he was also incredibly lazy and didn’t understand why he had to work when milk had been given to him for free without demand.
Once out of hospital, I persevered, I even scheduled my days around expressing to make sure he got the ‘liquid gold’ but it was hard and tiring. Tristan’s one week check up confirmed that he had lost 10% of his body weight. My ultimatum was either continue trying and risk him being hospitalised or give up the ghost and turn to formula. I’d tortured myself for seven days and eventually, I saw what I had to do.
Turning to formula was a decision I didn’t take lightly but it was also I decision I knew was right for Tristan and for me. Still, I wept and wept over the abrupt ending to breastfeeding. For weeks, I felt deprived of that ‘special bond’ breastfeeding allows you to form. I felt rejected and useless.
Having a baby is a crazy experience but having your 1st baby is on a whole different level of surreal. It’s a time when emotions run high and the slightest thing can be magnified intensely. I’d been preached at by so many midwives and nurses before Tristan’s birth that failing to breastfeed made me feel like a failure. It confirmed that I was already going to be a rubbish Mother, that I was already not good enough. But of course, this wasn’t the truth. Turning to formula was actually the act of a ‘good’ mother because I refused to let my baby starve. It was the act of a ‘good’ mother because I put my own selfish wants and desires aside to do what was best for my baby. I wish I’d realised that at the time.
Bottle feeding my baby made me feel dirty, like I was breaking the rules. I dreaded seeing people I knew because I dreaded the question ‘how are you feeding him?’ I mean, what a thing to ask…and yet, it was nearly the 1st thing on everyone’s mind. I felt embarrassed to admit that I was giving Tristan formula, always felt as though I had to justify why.
When I fell pregnant with my second, breastfeeding didn’t even enter my mind. I’d already decided that I wasn’t going to try. The hardest part of having a newborn was the mental torment I endured over feeding, I’d already realised that having a newborn was stressful enough without inflicting even more duress on myself. Plus, I’d seen the benefits of formula. My son was rarely starving, he was satisfied and a satisfied baby is definitely a happy one. My husband could take over, giving me time to shower (or at least, let’s admit it, use the toilet in peace). Tristan’s immune system was never effected, he’d never caught a bug. He was also always in line with the 50th percentile, the myth of formula making babies obese just didn’t seem truthful.
Then my daughter arrived prematurely and my plans were, once again, turned on their head. Breastmilk was part of my daughter’s treatment. I was told by the doctors at North Tees Hospital (Doctors by name but Angels by profession, their care and expertise was simply amazing) that I wouldn’t be allowed to formula feed even if I wanted to. The thing is, I suddenly didn’t want to.
Siena was incubated for 17 days, fed through a feeding tube for 4 weeks. The only think I could possibly do to help her was breastfeed. So, once again, I centred my days around expressing. I even set my alarm twice through the night to get up and express. During the day, I made time at hospital to leave Siena’s side and express. If out somewhere else, I carried my breast pump with me. I was that determined to do this for my daughter, I once even expressed in the changing room of H&M. When the time came at 35 weeks gestation, I was nervous about whether Siena would refuse me just like her brother. She didn’t, I eventually had the harmonious experience I’d craved. It was like fate, like destiny. Siena’s release from hospital depended on her ability to feed from me, I’d been warned that this might not come naturally or quickly and that Siena might have to be trained how to feed. I was told to expect up to a month until she’d be released from hospital. Only two days later, we were on our way home. It seemed as though Siena was just as determined as I was. Although completely overjoyed, I knew I’d never preach breastfeeding.
I’d never preach it because I don’t believe we should. As women, we need to support and encourage each other to do whatever is best. And let’s face it, breast isn’t always best. Having a newborn is daunting enough, we shouldn’t add extra pressure to new mothers. Everyone is entitled to their opinions and those whose opinion is strictly pro-breastmilk are freely allowed to express these but not look down upon those who don’t. The Mothers who choose to bottle feed should feel confident about their decision but remember that not all women who choose to breastfeed will disagree with formula. Having experiences in both, I’m well aware that breastfeeding carries its own stigma.
At the end of the day, we do what we do for the sake of our children. Whatever decision that we choose, we should be applauded for caring and doing the right thing. To those breastfeeding Mothers, well done for feeding your baby. To those formula feeding Mothers, once again, well done for feeding your baby. Our methods may differ but we essentially have the same outcome in mind.