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

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