Throughout my pregnancy I was desperate to breastfeed my baby. The media told me it was best, the books told me it was best, the midwives told me it was best because, after all, breast is best – isn’t it? In the lead up to giving birth,I read endless articles about nursing positions, bought nursing scarfs, researched breast milk storage pouches and attended a BF support group. In my eyes, I was ready and I couldn’t wait to hold my baby in my arms and nurse him. In reality, I had no idea how difficult things were going to be.
Finn was born after being in labour for almost 4 days (watch out for a post in the future about my birth story). Within that time frame I had mustered about 3 hours sleep and in the final 24 hours had been put on an IV drip as I struggled to keep any fluids down. When Finn was born, he latched on perfectly and fed no bother. I was so relieved. In my mind this was what I had been looking for, this was motherhood.
In the days that followed, my breastfeeding journey took a quick noise dive. Finn was born at 8.6lbs and was a VERY greedy baby. In the days that followed his birth I was sitting for over 12 hours a day feeding him but he was still hungry. He was constantly looking to be fed and was sleeping for no more than half an hour at a time and was constantly crying. Actually scrap that, he was hysterically screaming. We didn’t realise it at the time but Finn was actually starving. My body was not producing enough milk and the poor wee soul was losing a lot of weight. By the 3rd day he had lost over 10% if his body weight and my blood pressure had dipped worryingly low. I struggled to get off the sofa, had no appetite and couldn’t stand for longer than 5 minutes. We desperately sought out advice from the midwife but she (and this does not go for every MW out there) was anything but supportive. She blamed me for his weight loss, explained that I needed to feed him more and when I admitted that I was struggling (something that has always been tough for me) she said that I needed to try harder. This wasn’t exactly what I had been looking for. So we tried to persevere. It was my fault after all wasn’t it?
Finns screaming continued.We were struggling. We weren’t sleeping. We weren’t enjoying this time as new parents. Things came to a head when we went for a walk at midnight in a desperate attempt to get Finn to sleep. During the walk we discussed if breastfeeding was the best for him and for me. I cried the entire time and the words of the midwife rang out in my ears. I was a failure. I had let him down. My other half made the decision that when we returned Finn would be given one bottle of formula in hope that he would be able to settle better and boy did it work. Finn drunk 4oz in a matter of minutes and then slept for a solid 4 hours. It was a god send. I wanted to see how much milk I was producing so used the Tommee Tippee electronic breast pump to express some milk. I struggled to get a poxy 2oz. I was producing less than half of what he needed. We realised then that breast wasn’t working as well as we had hoped and I had dreamed off.
When she next returned, the midwife was furious that we had given him some formula milk. “Oh you aren’t going to be one of those mums are you?” What? One of the mums who wants her baby to be fed? She then questioned if my partner had pressured me to stop giving Finn the breast as often, she claims, they can be jealous. Her professionalism was abysmal. Her support was non-existing. My guilt was overwhelming.
This then sprouted much research and discussions with friends and family. Could we not give him breast milk and formula? That way he wouldn’t be hungry and he was still getting all the goodness of breastfeeding. We decided this was the best way for us. I would express milk every couple of hours and Finn would be given a cycle of bottles with formula during the day and bottles of breastmilk at night and when he woke in the morning. I felt that always feeding him with bottles would make it easier for him and would stop any nipple confusion. I was finally able to start sleeping, my blood pressure started to improve and we started to enjoy our life as a new family. But the midwife? We lied. When she returned and told us Finn had put on weight we were so relieved but we decided not to tell her about our combination feeding. We didn’t want another lecture and telling off and it had been the first day since giving birth that I hadn’t spent hours crying. So we waved her goodbye and never saw her again… thank god!
For the first month of his life, Finn was given a combination of breast milk and formula but after that my milk dried up and we switched completely to formula. Finn is a happy and healthy baby – in fact he is huge! He isn’t even four months old yet and its already outgrowing 3-6 months clothes. Clearly, giving him formula has not had any negative effects on him. I am so glad that my baby got breastmilk goodness for the first few weeks of his life but the guilt still remains. Society tells us always that breast is best but in our case it was making Finn loss a worryingly amount of weight, it was making me weak, fragile and depressed and no one in our house was happy. Not choosing to exclusively breastfeed has been one of our best choices as parents.
Nowadays, I still struggle with the guilt I feel. For National breastfeeding week, almost every local cafe and restaurant were offering free lunches, teas, drinks etc for nursing mothers. I didn’t qualify cause I fed my baby with a nipple that wasn’t attached to me. So that week I stayed at home because I felt ashamed. I didn’t fit in and didn’t want to be outed for not breastfeeding. When I see mothers nursing their babies I feel an overwhelming sense of jealousy. They have what I wanted so badly. When we started having issues when Aptamil changed their formula, the guilt almost destroyed me. I wasn’t sleeping. I wasn’t eating. I struggled to cope.
Why do mothers feel this guilt? Why does society have to put this pressure on us? My son is happy. He is thriving. Isn’t that what matters? This glimpse of post natal depression will stay with me for the rest of my life. We are often so quick to judge people, especially mothers and parents. If your for breast then thats great. If your for bottle then thats great too. Just don’t pass down your judgements. You didn’t know my story and you won’t know others. Breast might be best for you and I wish it was best for me.