For 9 months during pregnancy I listened to midwives and doctors tell me that “anyone could breastfeed”, “breast is best” and “breastfeeding gives your child a far better start than formula”. I wasn’t worried however because I intended to breastfeed so formula feeding never crossed my mind. Anyways, they said anyone could breastfeed and they obviously know what they are talking about. Right?? WRONG!!!
The night Izzie was born I put her straight to the breast. No one assisted me with latch or made suggestions. No one offered to help me or asked if I felt ok with it. I just did it because as far as I knew, it was easy and anyone could do it. Or so I had been told. The next morning the midwife came in and said, “Are you ready to go home?” I was bewildered and thought; well I guess they feel I am ready so “sure”. That afternoon they discharged me with Izzie and we went home. For the first 3 days of her life I put her to the breast every couple of hours. She would appear to be eating for about 10 minutes and then stop. I thought this must be normal. We continued this way until on day 3 the community midwives came to see us. Izzie was yellow with jaundice and had been screaming night after night. She had lost almost a pound since birth and I was sent directly to hospital with her.
While in hospital she was treated for jaundice and the doctors started asking questions. Was she eating? How often? Was she latching? Was she swallowing? Was she vomiting? I was overwhelmed. I explained I was exclusively breastfeeding and that she would eat every couple of hours for about 10 minutes and then fall asleep. She was always lethargic and never really woke up to eat properly. The doctor’s suspected she wasn’t getting enough from me and was perhaps not actually latching on. They asked me to pump so they could get an idea of how much milk I was producing. When I pumped it took me 30 minutes to achieve 2 ounces in all. Not a great amount and no matter how much I pumped the amount wouldn’t increase. Finally the doctors suggested I see a breastfeeding support worker. I was glad to see her as I was traumatised at the idea that I had inadvertently been starving my daughter. I felt like I had neglected her and this thought was understandably devastating. The breastfeeding support worker noticed that she was not latching and also explained that some women did not produce as much milk as others and so I should do all I could to increase my milk supply. The doctors had said I would need to combination feed her until my milk came in properly.
I went home feeling depressed and like a terrible failure. I couldn’t breastfeed my daughter properly and “everyone could breastfeed”. For weeks I beat myself up inside. I was a failure before I even started and I was failing my baby. I would breastfeed from each breast, then bottle feed her and then pump for an hour to try and increase my supply. I took fenugreek and drank special teas, did special stimulation massages and read everything I could on how to increase milk supply. Each feed process took 2.5 hours and she ate every 3 hours. I had no sleep and I was becoming very depressed. I was lucky if I got an hour or two a night and I was a zombie all the time. I was no good to Izzie because I was too tired to do anything other than feed and change her. It was not the happy time I had imagined it would be bringing our newborn home. Don’t get me wrong, I was grateful and I knew how blessed I was but I felt like a complete failure.
At my 6 week check my GP could see I was struggling, I explained to her in detail the pressure I felt to breastfeed, the things I had been told about how easy it was and that everyone could do it. I told her about our 2.5 hour feeding routines and that I felt incompetent and like a failure. She was so kind and supportive. My GP explained to me that in fact not everyone can breastfeed and not everyone produces an abundance of milk. She explained that the first milk or colostrum was in fact what contained the majority of the antibodies that Izzie needed and that by breastfeeding her what I could, for the short time I had, she had already had the best start possible. In fact, she told me that at that point, even if I could no longer breastfeed at all, she would still flourish on formula. She also explained that the stress I was putting myself under and the lack of sleep would not help my diminishing milk supply. My doctor suggested I try limiting my pumping in the night to once or twice (if once between the hours of 1 am and 4 am when my milk supply would be at its highest). She explained to me that I was no good to Izzie in the state I was in and that a happy mummy meant a happy baby. I needed to stop beating myself up and start enjoying motherhood. For the first time someone had properly explained to me that in fact breastfeeding was not easy and that not everyone was able to breastfeed in the same way if at all.
I went home feeling refreshed and full of renewed hope. We started making some feeds exclusively bottle feeds and I took her advice and allowed myself to sleep at night when Izzie slept, only pumping once during those hours of heightened supply. What a difference it made! When I finally started reading up on other people’s breastfeeding journeys I realised that I wasn’t alone. In fact, far from it. Breastfeeding is a journey and one that not everyone can take.
When Izzie was 2 months old my milk dried up completely and I was forced to exclusively bottle feed. I found this difficult with memories of the incorrect information I had been fed for 9 months floating through my thoughts. I went back to see my GP and again she assured me I was doing great. Izzie was truly flourishing, she was gaining weight and as healthy as any breastfed baby. I was a great Mum.
Izzie is now 5 months old and she has been bottle fed for the majority of her life, but guess what?!?! She is beautiful and healthy and happy! She has had one little sniffle her whole life to date and she is a great weight.
I understand why the health professionals promote breastfeeding and I agree with them and the reasons behind the slogan “breast is best”. In an ideal world, I would have exclusively breastfed myself. The thing is, the world isn’t always ideal, not everyone can breastfeed, and breastfeeding is not easy for everyone. In fact for some, it is incredibly difficult and sometimes impossible, but this does not make you a failure or a bad mother. As long as your baby is eating and gaining weight, you are doing everything you can. So to all those people who walk around telling pregnant women and new mothers that “breast is best”, please consider all the women of the world who struggle with it as I have and remember that breast is best, but formula feeding is fantastic too!