Where to start? Huge topic, controversial and as I have discovered, everyone and I mean everyone has something to say about it. Some people love it, some hate it and think its weird and a bit icky and others are simply a bit confused by it. Whatever your feelings are at some point you’ll have to ‘deal with it’ so to speak, whether you, a friend, spouse or relative is the one breastfeeding, or you are simply out and about and see a breastfeeding mum in a café or restaurant.
After my little girl was born and five and a bit months later (I was still breastfeeding) I felt I had experienced almost every feeling you can towards breastfeeding and have somehow come out of the other end relatively normal. When I was pregnant, to be honest I didn’t really give it much thought. I mean I just assumed ‘of course I was going to breastfeed’ end of really, I mean how hard can it be? Is there really that much to it? I thought people made a big deal over nothing. It’s simple right? Well not really. Well maybe for some, but as I soon discovered it was bloody hard work actually. It’s amazing how the ‘most natural thing in the world’ can make you feel so unnatural and awful. So the (usually) wonderful journey began.
After a long labour I was quite simply knackered. Once our gorgeous daughter finally arrived and I started to feed her I just remember thinking ‘oh right, this is a bit weird but hey ho I’m doing it!’ great start. Then we got home and it got painful, really painful. It was awful, the pain was excruciating and unfortunately not something that I was told about. It gradually became worse and with every feed I was crying due to pain, something I managed to avoid in labour! I was so confused, I mean I’d done the hard bit how could this be worse? I remember feeding her in the night and instead of this magical bonding glow I was expecting to feel all I could think was ‘I feel so sorry for pigs, they have to do at least six feeds each time!’. I became way too reliant on the nipple cream which was supposed to ease the pain, and I would carry it around with me everywhere in an effort to ease the pain. I felt horrendous. Tired. Rough. And most of all in a great deal of pain. All the time. Things got so bad I started to dread my little one waking up for feeds and each time I would hope she because of a nappy instead of for food. Things came to a head when I woke up at 6 am one morning and drove to the nearest supermarket in an attempt to buy nipple shields things that I read were supposed to ease the pain or ‘discomfort’ as everyone seemed to say. Did I ever think I would be doing this?! I got there. The supermarket does not sell them. I cried in the aisle and realised that I couldn’t carry on like this. It was all thanks to my lovely supportive husband who simply said that things were getting ridiculous and we should try our little one with some formula milk. Oh my god, to me he may as well have said ‘lets try giving her a whisky’, it seemed like the worst thing ever, I mean formula! Surely that means I’m a failure? I should be able to wince through the pain and get on with things as it’s not all about me now, instead of stooping as low as to give formula! Utter rubbish. It was because of the formula feeds that I was able to continue breast feeding. Out little one’s next feed was a formula feed and this meant I was given a few hours break from breast feeding and only hours later, for the first time since she was born…the pain subsided. Her next feed was from me. We continued alternating like this for the next few days until I was virtually pain-free and much to my surprise I started to enjoy breastfeeding! I became one of those annoying women who raved about it to anyone that would listen, I really loved it.
I didn’t know at the time was that because we introduced Liliya to feeding from a bottle this made things a great deal easier in the weeks to come (and now) as she is able to happily feed from both breast and bottle, meaning other people are able to do the feeds at times and share in her care.
At the time I was too scared to tell our midwife that I had started to give formula feeds, which seems ridiculous now. I mean don’t get me wrong I am all for breastfeeding, of course I am, I am fully aware of the benefits and all of the lovely things that come hand in hand with it. I am fully aware that in Britain we have one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world, which is blamed on the ease and availability of formula feeding and of course in the future I will fully support and encourage my patients and friends to breastfeed….if that is what is right for them. Maybe because we so often are told about the benefits of breastfeeding and formula feeding is virtually never mentioned at the antenatal classes let alone encouraged, that I felt I would be judged if I was to tell others about it. We are told that breastfeeding is best both nutritionally and helps in the bonding process, as well as the reduced rates of gastrointestinal infection and allergy in later life…however I don’t think babies who are fed by a mother who is in pain and distressed and this is now impacting on her bond with her child…is that really best for the baby? I think the way you choose to feed your baby is a very personal and individual decision and of course some women will ignore the pain and carry on and once again I would support this too…as long as that is their decision. I think forcing someone to continue with something they are not comfortable with is never going to end well. I was lucky, I had a great deal of support from both family and friends (and I knew others who had done the same) who supported my decision to try formula feeds and in the end it was the reason I was able to continue breastfeeding. However I still question why I felt so bad about giving a formula feed in the first place? Surely it can’t be the worst thing in the world?!
In the end I inadvertently had the best of both worlds, the bonding and health benefits that come with breastfeeding as well as the convenience of formula feeding, which allowed family members to be involved in the feeding too. This ‘combination feeding’ worked really well for us and I dont think enough is said about it! I would probably do the same with any future pregnancies, and as for advising patients and friends…I think just do what feels right for you and your baby and you won’t go wrong, happy mum equals happy baby!x
Check out some of these articles below..
A link to breastfeeding support groups in the North West