The great feeding debate.
When pregnant I planned to breastfeed. It was not a rigidly assertive decision I just simply presumed and was confident that because it was natural, it would be easy. Each birthing session polarised towards breastfeeding where we were instructed on the many benefits. A knitted breast was passed around. We laughed together. No one raised their hand when asked who was planning to formula feed.
After a complicated forceps birth and 3rd degree episiotomy (in non-medical terms the midwife had a big scissors) pain was the unexpected currency of my days. Discharged from hospital I found myself feeling lost and overwhelmed.
A first time mum I existed in a giddy sleep deprived haze of cluelessness and caffeine.
My new parent self wore the same pyjamas for a week and as I could not sit down, I fed my son standing up. The outside world was a distant memory. Thankfully my mother had come to stay, without her I would have floundered. With all the prenatal classes I had I don’t think one instructed me about how to dress a baby, how to put on a nappy or bath him safety.
It was like learning to swim without armbands, in a tsunami.
My midwife tutted at the state of my stitches, gathered my son in her arms and chatted happily to him. Leo found it difficult to latch on. I was uncomfortable, anxious and he was irritable. As soon as I took my bra off it would be like a milk nerf gun would shoot in his face. Often he would be sick because it was coming out to fast.
One day, moving the moses basket into the hall whilst he slept, I climbed into the bath. The door was wide open so I could watch. Closing my eyes I can still remember the smell of the lavender and jasmine pooled into the lukewarm water. I sobbed and sobbed and then found I was in too much pain and too exhausted to get out of the bath. If someone had offered to take my baby away I would have begged them to in that moment. I could barely look at him. Shame is a cruel creature.
I had utterly folded under the stress and pressure on mothers to exclusively breastfeed.
This is not an anti-breastfeeding post, many of my amazing mummy friends were/are extended breast feeders and they do it with grace and love and joy. I went out and bought bottles. My midwife reassured me any amount of breast milk has a positive effect. My Health visitor took the logical approach of ‘but you know that breastfeeding is best for baby’. I felt like I was being critiqued. Looking back I know she was being supportive of what she knows is a positive thing. To me at that time the stressful breastfeeding relationship was damaging my ability to bond with my son. I was depressed, on a lot of pain medication and riddled with worry it was unsafe for him. Breast may be best for baby, but baby also needs their mum to be at her best and I was not. I resented feeding and hated myself. Hated.
We all deserved an informed choice.
Sobbing with relief, regret, shoulders heavy with the weight of expectation I chose to just feed my son. Years later I do get a pang of the lost chance of bonding with an added dollop of guilt on the side. Guilt that I was somehow giving him less that I should have, that I was somehow less of a mother because of it. Pulling out the bottle in baby group left me wincing, waiting for judgement.
Ban the bitching and promote active kindness to other parents. A mum was breastfeeding in a coffee shop the other day trying to cover her baby in muslin and glancing at the people in the shop. I remember that anxiety, we all feel it, boob or no boob. I brought her a cup of tea, a big one. The source of all compassion.
Dads do not lactate and look how kick ass they can be.
Take good advice where you can, be kind, try your hardest and know that no mum is perfect. If you bottle feed look into what type of bottles are good; Dr Browns are great for colicky baby’s, Boots own brand are cheap and do the job, you need to buy different teat sizes as your baby grows when bottle feeding (formula or expressing). Dads can get involved with bottle feeding. Look into the different types of baby formula and you don’t have to buy an all singing all dancing steriliser. I brought a travel one that fit in the microwave for £10.
If you are breastfeeding make sure you eat well and drink lots of water, I loved cheese and nuts as snacks. I also enjoyed a snickers or two! Find a breastfeeding support group. Check out scarfs or clothes that make it easier, get comfortable with bras with flaps and lots of Lansinoh. If you are struggling and no one is around there is the National Breastfeeding Helpline 0300 100 0212.
Let’s normalise both breasts and bottles and stop knocking each other down. Save your energy it’s going to be a long lifetime of parenthood. Feeding a baby should not be an either or argument.