The Great Feeding Debate

I originally wrote this post for Mum Amie’s brilliant blog – you can find it here but wanted to share it here too as I think it’s important to talk about feeding and the way people’s opinions can make us as mothers feel! Thanks to Aimee for publishing the post!

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If there’s one baby debate that has the potential to divide parents (and even other onlookers), it’s the breastfeeding v formula feeding choice. There are arguments on both side of the fence and everyone from those extended breastfeeding or even tandem feeding two or more children to those who formula fed right from that first day has an opinion. What I can’t stand about the debate is the pressure it puts on new mothers and pregnant women to make the ‘right’ choice. In an ideal world, a woman would be able to read up on the facts and make the decision accordingly, perhaps with some input from her partner. In reality, there’s pressure from family (perhaps wanting to be able to help feed the baby or having breastfed themselves and believing that’s the only way), pressure from the outside world (some antenatal organisations present breastfeeding as the only option) and even celebrities wading in with their opinions as if they’re experts.

And of course, there’s very little focus on expectation v reality and what to do if the option you wanted to go for doesn’t work out for you. There’s very little done to reassure a mother that she’s doing a good job regardless of whether a teat or a nipple is going into her baby’s mouth at feeding time.
When I was pregnant, I decided I’d quite like to give breastfeeding a go. I’d read and heard about the potential benefits to baby and myself, I thought it was worth trying. What I didn’t realise is that I would still feel an element of guilt over a year on that it was such a short-lived attempt. From what I can remember of Alexandra’s first few hours in the world, she did feed (or at least try to) but what followed over the next week was an endless battle of tears and frustration. I had more than enough milk, that wasn’t the problem. I was still in hospital so I had an endless round of midwives and healthcare assistants trouping in to try and help. But Alexandra simply didn’t get the hang of it.
One lovely staff member sat and showed my husband Dylan how to feed her tiny sips of expressed milk from a cup on our second night. Others would come in every time I pressed the buzzer and spend exasperatingly long amounts of time trying to get her latch right and then once we’d got that sorted, trying to persuade her to actually do anything other than fall asleep. I lost count of the number of people who touched my boobs over that week in an attempt to sort out the feeding issue.
We had a whole 24 hours where I had to express then throw away all of my milk after I’d had a CT scan, where dye is injected through your veins so you have to wait for it to clear before baby can breastfeed again. That was obviously best in terms of safety but didn’t help when she hadn’t got the hang of it yet and morale-wise it was heart-breaking to be throwing away all of the milk which I had in abundance. By this point I had pneumonia and blood clots in both of my lungs, even holding her to me was painful, breathing was painful and I was crying every time I tried to get her to feed. Alexandra had dropped to 5lb 15 from an initial birth weight of 6lb 7, which was fine, but she wasn’t putting any weight back on and they were concerned she’d become jaundiced again.
Dylan and I made the decision to switch to formula feeding. At the time I felt awful but took some comfort in the fact she started to thrive almost immediately. Looking back now, there was no way we’d have ever carried on breastfeeding as I was readmitted to hospital without her when she was less than four weeks old.
But yet when the conversation about breastfeeding v formula feeding comes up, I still feel the need to justify myself, to recount that first week, to say I really wanted to but the fact of the matter was she couldn’t get the hang of it (she wasn’t the greatest bottle feeder either, taking hours to feed and dribbling most of it down here – but she more than makes up for it now with a ferocious appetite aged 13 months) and I was so poorly, it was horrendous even trying.
I hate that pressure from other people makes me feel this way. I hate the need women feel to justify themselves and their choices. My baby is very much alive, happy, healthy, hitting her milestones and yes, in an ideal world she would have got there relying on me for sustenance, but so much of my post-partum experience was the exact opposite of ideal. I ask of anyone who lectures, berates or moans about other women’s feeding choices to simply put away their judgey pants and accept the choice is utterly complicated and every mother and baby’s story is unique, there will always be more to the decision than simply ‘I breastfed’ or ‘I formula fed’.

Harriet and Alexandra x

9 Months On

You forget how much they've grown until you put them next to a newborn!

You forget how much they’ve grown until you put them next to a newborn!

Three quarters of a year has passed since the lovely little human being we called Alexandra entered our lives. She turned nine months old on May 29 and what a nine months it’s been!

Alex is now moving around using a complicated system of rolls, commando crawling and odd frog hopping. Some of it looks a bit dramatic, like the end of an action film where the hero is desperately trying to crawl to safety using the last ounce of his strength before he pegs it. But still, it’s a form of movement! And no doubt proper crawling will happen very soon as she’s making huge progress every day and she gets up into the crawling position and rocks backwards and forwards.

She’s also moving between positions much more easily, trying to pull herself up from sitting to standing or lying down to sitting. It’s quite bizarre to get used to, when you’ve spent months leaving the baby in one place and coming back to see the baby in the same place and now baby can be halfway across the room in an instant.

Food wise she’s still having three bottles a day (hopefully soon to be reduced to two) and three meals. She absolutely loves food and has just got to the stage where she’ll cry if we’re eating and she’s not. She wants to eat anything and everything we’ve got and is particularly fond of oranges, yoghurt and any type of bread, but really isn’t fussy and will eat anything put in front of her. She’s also very good at drinking water out of her sippy cup too.

On the sleep front, we’re still generally getting around 12 hours from her overnight (from around 8.30pm) although sometimes she wakes for a minute or two wanting her dummy to be put in. We really can’t complain at all! In the day she tends to have around twenty minutes or so in the morning then maybe one or two naps in the afternoon, of varying lengths.

She absolutely loves going on the swings, hasn’t quite mastered the art of being gentle yet (either with mommy or her friends), still loves daddy more than anyone else in the world, doesn’t quite know what to make of her tiny cousin Zachary and is still a gummy bear with a grand total of zero teeth.

Harriet and Alexandra x

Feeding Guilt

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I’m absolutely all for mothers having a choice when it comes to feeding their baby. I wrote a post on here while still pregnant stating I would be trying to breastfeed but wouldn’t beat myself up if I wasn’t able to for whatever reason. I think moms should feel comfortable feeding wherever they like and shouldn’t have to deal with comments from ignorant jerks who don’t want to see a baby being fed by its mother.
However I can’t help but have this tiny bit of guilt attached to the fact I didn’t maintain breastfeeding. We tried to get Alexandra latched on pretty quickly after birth – although in my hazy drug-addled and exhausted state I have no memory about whether she actually fed properly that time. Over the next seven days I tried repeatedly to get breastfeeding to ‘work’ for us. I was producing milk, a lot of milk, so that wasn’t the problem. Alex just didn’t seem to want to go to the effort of feeding properly. She might latch on sometimes but then she wouldn’t actually do the necessary to get any milk.
Each day we seemed to spend longer and longer trying to get her to feed. It seemed I was either trying with her at my boob or expressing. She was being cup fed by Dylan occasionally and then we were also having to top her up with formula. Countless people tried to help us out (by people I mean midwives and healthcare assistants not just random passers by!) and offer advice and a helping hand. So many helping hands I felt like someone was constantly touching me!
By the Friday (she was born the previous Saturday) I was crying a lot about it. I know I’d just given birth and was hormonal anyway but I was very seriously ill by this point, I hadn’t been able to try breastfeeding for 24 hours due to a CT scan (they put dye through your veins which obviously isn’t safe for baby as it can get into your milk), during which time I’d had to express and throw it all away.
I was in pain, I was hooked up to oxygen 24/7, I couldn’t get to the bathroom and back on my own. Midwives were expressing concern Alex’s jaundice could return and she’d dropped the 10 per cent of her body weight and was a tiny 5lb 15 so we couldn’t afford for her to lose any more. Dylan and I had a chat and decided the best thing to do would be to formula feed. Immediately she began eating so much more and all the concerns about her health and the crying at every feed (from both of us) stopped. I knew we’d made the right decision. And thank heavens we did because three weeks later when I was back in hospital without her, how would we have coped then if I was still breastfeeding? And even if I’d managed to express enough to keep her going through the nights when we were apart, she would have to have been solely formula fed by the time I was in intensive care two weeks after that. By the time I came round my milk supply had ceased.
So all in all I think I have a reasonable back story to why I don’t breastfeed, even if I didn’t it would be absolutely fine. But I do still get these occasional pangs of guilt. I like to think I’d have tried for longer had I been well but who knows. I just know when people who don’t know me ask me whether she’s breast or bottle fed or when I perceive looks from people seeing me bottle feed her in public, I want to explain to them. I want to tell them I tried and it didn’t happen. I want to tell them even if we’d got through the first few weeks there’s no way we could still be breastfeeding now.
And I shouldn’t have to. I shouldn’t have to explain to anyone why we as a family made the decision we did. As much as it’s horrific for breastfeeding mothers to feel pushed out of social situations or to be sat at home feeling like they can’t go out, we also should be supporting bottle feeders! After all, we know the benefits of breast milk but as long as your child is happy, healthy and eating something – and you’re happy too – surely that’s the important thing?
Harriet and Alexandra X