At the end of World Breastfeeding Week (1-7 August) I wanted to share my experience of an issue that stirs up such strong feelings.
First the disclaimer! This is only me telling my story. I respect all mums in how they choose to feed (or have to, if they don’t have the luxury of choice). It’s a personal journey and everyone wants to do the best for their children.
Ok, here goes… I didn’t breastfeed and I’m perfectly happy with that. There. I’ve said it… But why?
While I was pregnant I was completely up for breastfeeding. But I was also clear, with my husband’s support, that if it didn’t work, physically or mentally, I wouldn’t beat myself up about it. Breast milk is fantastic, it’s evolved to be so, but I still grew into a perfectly happy, healthy child and adult without it.
Speaking to friends, I found that some had taken to breastfeeding like a duck to water. Others had a difficult start but it got better. One admirable friend cut dairy out of her diet so she could breastfeed her daughter who was intolerant to it. Then there were the others- friends who told me how breastfeeding nearly sent them over the edge with the pain, sleep deprivation and sheer relentlessness of it. They felt like they’d missed out on what should have been such a special time bonding with their newborn. I didn’t want that.
So when Harriet was born, a little more than a week early, we went for it. The latch wasn’t the issue (I channeled all I’d learned from the NCT course with its hilarious knitted boobs!), she just wouldn’t suck. I painstakingly expressed the colostrum (what seemed like continually) into a syringe to feed her while numerous midwives and members of the breastfeeding support team came to assist over the two days I was in hospital. Nothing worked. It didn’t matter whether she was cradled, ‘rugby balled’ or any other positions in the breastfeeding Kama Sutra.
The hospital wouldn’t let us go home without three clear feeds so we knew the best chance was with formula. Harriet did it but the feeding trauma wasn’t over.
It became clear that sucking issues weren’t just linked to breastfeeding. My husband cleared out Mothercare trying to find bottles she’d take to and all the while her weight was falling. She was one health visitor visit away from being readmitted to hospital. After a week we found a bottle and teat that suited her and the relief of seeing the milk go down in the bottle was indescribable. There is no way I could have persevered with breastfeeding in the hope that some milk made its way down. Fed is most definitely best!!
With the bottle breakthrough came routine and security. Harriet settled well day and night. It worked for all of us.
That’s not to say that I gave up on breast milk completely. I did express and was able to give Harriet some every day up to three months old. I did it because I could. I wouldn’t have felt bad if I couldn’t; I was just lucky enough to have a pretty generous, non-breastfeeding milk supply.
When you hear people’s breastfeeding experiences there is an overwhelming sense of pressure to do it. I was one of the lucky ones. I felt supported but never pressured or made to feel guilty.
‘Breast is best’ is said so flippantly without any context that may reassure people who don’t or can’t breastfeed. Breastfeeding doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Children’s health is down to a range of factors linked to the environment and communities they grow up in, not just whether they were breastfed or not. It’s like I said in one of my earlier blogs – reams of research is simplified for a non-informed audience potentially losing some of its context and original insight.
Well, that’s my story. Take from it what you will. All I will say in close is that mums and their families are facing enough challenges in raising happy, healthy children. Be comfortable with your way, be kind and don’t judge.