My Mum brought around a copy of your book the other day… thank you, thank you, thank you! This is exactly the experience that I’ve had but I’ve found it hard to put into words.
Around here the main complaint seems to be that all too easily babies are given formula top-ups in hospital and the mother’s not given breastfeeding support but I found that the pressure to breastfeed was immense.
I had been to an NCT course and didn’t expect breastfeeding to be easy, but I never thought that I would be unable to do it. I had no preparation for bottle feeding.
I also went to an NHS class and was horrified that, when someone asked about bottle feeding, they said as healthcare professionals they couldn’t give any information as they could only support breastfeeding.
Fortunately my Mum (a retired breastfeeding counsellor!) bought a steam steriliser and hand pump in a sale and some bottles ‘just in case’.
My son was born in August, four weeks early, with premature rupture of membranes (I was probably in labour for a couple of days without realising it). I ended up with a ventouse delivery, although baby was fine throughout.
After checking he was okay they put him to my breast to see if he would feed – he was not interested. I expressed colostrum and they gave him nutriprem. He was jaundiced, had dodgy blood sugar and just wanted to sleep.
I was told by the paed to feed him every two hours and I knew how important it was he ate, so I had to get him undressed to keep him cold and awake long enough to feed.
At the time I was just so over the moon that he had arrived safely and that I was able to express and give him some ‘liquid gold’ that I didn’t think anything of it.
He needed to eat to keep his weight up and flush out the bilirubin. Most of the midwives were helpful and tried to get him to feed, although frequently with conflicting advice (one horrid lady laughed at the amount of colostrum I had been able to produce – I should have hit her).
They were understaffed and I had to badger them for help. My son would latch and then fall off hungry and screaming. “Be patient,” I was told. I was in hospital for six days while he had blood tests to check that his blood sugar and bilirubin levels were okay.
I was sent home with virtually no information on bottle feeding, just a handout in a folder. I had expressed concern about how I was going to express, and one midwife gave me the number of an NCT breastfeeding counsellor who hired out hospital grade pumps. My Mum had bought some formula so I knew as least he wouldn’t starve.
Once home I arranged to rent a pump. He still had little interest in feeding and my lovely health visitor recommended I saw a breastfeeding counsellor at a local children’s centre.
She suggested that he may have tongue tie. So a couple of weeks later we paid to see a lactation consultant and he did indeed have a severe tongue tie which was snipped there and then.
“Most babies will feed straight away,” she said. Not mine. She suggested going to bed for the day for a ‘babymoon’ and keep trying.
So I had a horrendous day of trying to feed a starving, screaming baby. She suggested that I didn’t have enough milk (even though I’d been pumping the recommended eight times a day). We then had a couple of sessons of cranial osteopathy, but still had no luck.
I took fenugreek to try and increase my supply which gave him terrible colic, so I had to spend a weekend pumping and dumping while feeding him formula.
And so it went on. I saw more and more BF counsellors. I was congratulated on almost exclusively expressing (and was lucky as I could get a reasonable amount out quite quickly) but none of them checked if I was okay doing it and the idea of formula feeding was never discussed.
At two months I developed thrush and stopped trying to get him to latch, and by four months my supply had reduced so much, I was exhausted and he was mainly being formula fed, I decided it was time to stop.
My family and friends were hugely supportive of my decision but the looks I got bottle feeding a tiny baby – I found myself explaining what I was doing to people.
Even now I got the odd insensitive comment about bottle feeding and people often assume that my son sleeping through the night is down to formula (after three months of three hourly feeds I think he decided that we all needed some sleep!).
I now have a healthy, happy 6 month old who is triple his birth weight and my BF experiences are fading into the background.
The more I looked into the breast vs bottle debate the more I couldn’t see any hard evidence for why breast is best. I am frustrated that while I was doing what I thought was best for my baby, it might have been for nothing and could easily have been at our detriment.
I found this research and have seriously started to doubt the “baby friendly” policies.
I fully support breastfeeding and if I have another baby I would try again, as much for the convenience as for the health benefits (expressing and/or formula feeding is a massive pain in the arse).
But if it didn’t work out I would switch to formula far sooner and not worry that I wasn’t doing the best for my baby.
Read more stories in Birth, Boobs and Bad Advice – the book!