Breastfeeding isn’t everything…

Anybody who has spent time with me talking about babies knows that I'm pretty opinionated about breast feeding. To me Breast is Best. I'm one of those people who thinks if your body makes something specifically for your baby why wouldn't you try and use it. Having said that it is my own personal opinion. I have lots of friends who chose to bottle feed and that is their choice. I have a lot of parenting opinions but I feel strongly about them as choices for my children, Not my friends children or my colleagues children. I can never know what other peoples feelings or reasons are for the decisions they make for their children, I just strive to be happy with the choices I make for me and my family.

I always intended to breastfeed Erin when she was born and my husband felt the same. He thought it was the best option for our daughter. When she was born we had lots of skin to skin and I fed, and fed, and fed from about 7 pm until around 3 am and my daughter would not settle. She cried and cried and was exhausted from sucking. The midwife suggested that they try cup feeding her some formula and reassured me that it wouldn't affect her feeding but that she was probably just really hungry. It was 3 am, my first ever night of being a mum and I was exhausted. I let the midwife take Erin, they fed her and she slept for about 3 hours (so did I!). That was her only cup feed, I continued to breastfeed and asked a couple of people if they were happy with her latch. It was agony whenever she latched on and although I had been warned breast feeding was painful I had not expected it to be as excruciating as it was. I was reassured that all was fine and I just needed to relax. We went home the night after Erin was born and I continued to Breast feed. By the time we had our 3 day midwife visit things weren't going so well. Although Erin would latch on and feed, she seemed to be always hungry and when they weighed her she was on the verge of being readmitted due to excessive weight loss. I was distraught at the suggestion from my midwife that I introduce formula and start combination feeding. I was torn because I wanted to be a good mum and breastfeed but was also being told that my breast milk wasn't enough to sustain my daughter and we might need to go back to hospital. I felt like I was failing her already before she was even a week old. After the midwife left my husband went out and bought a starter pack for formula feeding. Neither of us anticipated it being a long term thing, just something we would do until my milk supply kicked in.

That evening we struggled to get Erin to latch at all and she just seemed to be frustrated. I was distraught, I was spending all my time having skin to skin between feeds and some friends of ours came over to see our new addition. I was in floods of tears with a screaming baby and asked my husband to send them away! Luckily they were understanding!

The following morning we went back into hospital anyway. I couldn't get Erin to feed properly and we had had a horrendous night.

Back at the maternity ward the staff were brilliant. They tucked me into a side room and made me a cup of tea since i was crying my eyes out again! They looked at Erins latch and thought that although she was latching well she was then slipping down slightly and although she looked like she was well latched she wasn't. This would explain why she had to work so hard for such little return and why it was so painful for me. We had a couple of successful feeds and then they sent us home again. We continued to combination feed, as although Erin would feed from me for 40 minutes to an hour, she would still be hungry and take a full formula feed. I always offered breast first and formula if she was still hungry. I never seemed to be able to establish a good milk supply. We bought a Medela swing breast pump and I was expressing between feeds to try and boost milk production as well as eating lots of oats (which is supposed to help) and taking fenugreek capsules as recommended by my midwife.

I managed for 6 weeks and then I switched to full formula. It was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made, but I had to accept that I could not produce enough milk to satisfy my baby. Whenever I expressed I would be lucky to even make an ounce.

Feeds were incredibly time consuming and eventually I asked myself who I was really persevering for. I love my daughter with all my heart but I came to realise that feeding her formula does not make me a bad parent. Being exhausted and distraught all the time wasn't making me a good mummy either.

I took a very long time to forgive myself for not giving my baby the start I felt I should be able to. I had never really considered that I would have physical problems breastfeeding and thought it would just be a matter of will and determination. I grieved almost, for the fact that i couldn't breastfeed. I found it hard to make bottles up in front of breastfeeding friends and felt as though I was doing something bad. I felt I had to explain to everyone why I was using formula and that I really had tried.

One day, a friends husband was watching me make formula whilst she breastfed and he looked at the powder with disgust - sarcastically saying Yum! as I made the bottle. I wanted to shout at him for being so inconsiderate but he didn't know better.

I decided then that I wasn't going to feel guilty for making the right decision for us as a family. My daughter was happy, she was gaining weight and she had a mummy who didn't spend every waking moment eating oaty bars and worrying about feeding. I had been so stressed for the first six weeks of my daughters life I felt I hadn't enjoyed her as much as I should have and now she was going to have the time and attention she deserved.

To me these feelings have all resurfaced as I am pregnant again and already have had several midwives ask me if I intend to breastfeed. I do intend to try again with my next baby and I will give it my all, but if I feel that things aren't working out the way they should be I will be much more at peace with formula feeding. I won't be agonising over the decision to the point that I risk losing my sanity.

Yes breastfeeding is a wonderful thing, but it doesn't work for everybody and we are very lucky that we live in a time where there are some brilliant substitutes.  I know that I am definitely not so quick to judge other peoples choices any more!


2 thoughts on “Breastfeeding isn’t everything…

  1. Cate

    This almost completely echoes my own experience of breastfeeding. If I were to share the details I would be repeating much of what you’ve already said so well. With my first 3 children it never worked and I felt terrible + comments by some really awful people – all other mothers or health visitors sadly – made me feel as though I was utterly failing my glorious babies. When I had baby number 4, I said I intended to breastfeed, thinking that this time I wouldn’t torture myself when it inevitably didn’t work. Maybe it was the total lack of expectation this time – who knows – but feeding has finally been all I hoped it would be. I still feel pangs of deep sorrow for not being able to get it together for the first 3 – it’s a hugely emotional thing which not everyone understands, especially if they found it relatively easy going. I am still feeding number 4 who is 2 next month. I am amazed – but it took me 4 children to get the hang of it! You are clearly an excellent mother and I wish you all the best with feeding your new one. It is likely to be an entirely different experience!

  2. Yolanda

    Your story is so poignant but also so woefully familiar. It follows the pattern of a lot of other mother and baby dyads who have been let down by health care professionals who do not sadly know the limitations of their knowledge. And sometimes their knowledge is really bad especially when dealing with newborns.

    From everything you said, it doesn’t sound like your baby had a good latch despite everyone else telling you so. This is an elementary problem which is easily fixed but only if they recognise the problem: a baby that is on for long time, fussy despite being on the breast for hours, lack of weight gain, the painful feeds and the damaged nipples.

    You are only human and did what any responsible mother would have done in your shoes. Please don’t be hard on yourself anymore. Instead, visit an accredited breastfeeding group while you are still pregnant – t where you will find accredited breastfeeding counsellors and peer supporters plus a network of mothers who will show you what is normal and provide you with moral support when your baby arrives. You can do it next time.


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