The news is regularly full of stories about women who have had problems with breastfeeding their babies. Most recently, there were calls from midwives for new mums to be given more support when they choose to bottle feed. That old mantra that ‘breast is best’ was trotted back out amidst these headlines, just to remind us that we should really all be whipping out our nipples as often as possible for at least the first six months of our child’s life. Unfortunately, the problems with breastfeeding were largely glossed over.
The message behind these headlines is that women who bottle feed – whether through choice or necessity – need help and shouldn’t be shamed for turning to a plastic teat. That’s all very well and good but I have significant doubts on whether it’s more talk than action. In my experience, I definitely faced problems with breastfeeding yet still felt pressured into it … and a failure when I was unable to do so.
My problems with breastfeeding.
When I was pregnant in 2015, I was 100% sure that breastfeeding was the right decision for me. It seemed like a no-brainer and I was sold because it was free, easy, portable and healthy for us both. I took notes on it during the antenatal classes. When I read the baby books, I skipped the sections on bottle feeding, thinking that wasn’t for me. A pricey breast pump was purchased. I had visions of myself pumping in the bathroom at work to avoid any problems with breastfeeding supply when my as-yet-unborn baby was in nursery.
Cue an induction and a rather traumatic C-section and the result? My milk never came in and an increased bust size had been in vain as, despite having to grapple the basic problems with breastfeeding before being discharged from hospital, my tiny 7 pound TJ wasn’t gaining weight.
A few days into motherhood, during a routine home visit from a (rather offensive) maternity assistant, I was told that TJ was dropping too much weight and I had to get myself down to Sainsbury’s pronto to pick up some formula. I burst into tears. Yes, OK, this was possibly due to hormones, sleep deprivation and all the rest of it. But, it still wasn’t handled sensitively and I was hit with my first wave of mum guilt.
I hated bottle feeding even though in the back of my mind I knew it was the right thing to do as TJ soon gained weight and became quite the chunky little monkey. I didn’t give up on breastfeeding though and I went to see two different lactation consultants on two separate occasions to try and overcome the problems with breastfeeding which I was experiencing. My milk did flow a little more but it still wasn’t enough.
So, I combi-fed the shit out of life for nearly 10 months. I gritted my teeth during painful latching on. Copious amounts of lactation tea were consumed to wash down the fenugreek pills – all supposed to stimulate milk production. I pumped on a girl’s weekend away. That little man was breastfed every morning with as much milk as my minuscule boobs could muster. I spent evenings with a breast pump whirring away to stimulate production. All the time, I felt like I had let my son down already.
Is it everyone’s problem?
I am not at all judging the mums who decide that breastfeeding isn’t for them – or those who, like me, couldn’t keep up with the baby’s demand. I am a firm believer that what’s right for the mum is right for the baby. But, I really wanted to breastfeed. Yet, despite my best efforts, it wasn’t meant to be. Does it make any difference in the grand scheme of things? I highly doubt it. TJ is a healthy and happy boy who is developing well. I also found out that my generation largely grew up on formula and it doesn’t seem to have done us lot any harm.
It’s not just me who feels that way either. Hayley also experienced some problems with breastfeeding. She told me: “I wish I’d known before giving birth that breastfeeding might not work for us. It was sold to me as the world’s most natural thing and therefore it would be easy. It wasn’t. I tried and tried and there just wasn’t enough milk to satisfy my baby. It was one of the loneliest and most hopeless times of my life. Practically, we weren’t prepared either – we didn’t even know how to make up formula.
“If you want to breastfeed, prepare for all eventualities. If it doesn’t work for whatever reason, know that you are not alone and that you are not a bad mother.”
The early days of motherhood are hard. Bloody hard. Us mums don’t need any more pressure to perform. Feed your baby in the best way that you can, whether that’s from a breastfeeding, from a bottle, or both. There’s a big girl gang of mums out there who have been through it and we won’t ever judge you (as long as it’s not a Happy Meal, just yet).