I was always going to breastfeed. Before I had a baby, that is. It just made sense to me. human milk for human babies, right? It’s free, what’s not to love? And yes, I like to think of myself as a bit of a hippie-ish, earth mama type. I’m all for the natural parenting, babywearing and feeding ‘the way nature made possible’.
And then came Cora. After four long days of labour at home, a brief spell in the calm birthing pool in my living room followed by a fairly traumatic trip to the hospital and an urgent, emergency c-section. Cora arrived very jaundice, so I battled a sleepy baby, a midwife who insisted my nipples were ‘far too flat, she won’t be able to feed off those’ and all the emotions that went with an extended/unexpected stay in hospital to establish our feeding journey.
I was told I must express into a syringe and feed my baby with that, which I really struggled to do. Within hours of her birth, I was thrust a paper record to fill in, how much and how often she was feeding. “It’s medicalised now” one midwife told me – now that you’ve expressed rather than just fed her directly, you’ve got to record everything. Neither had felt like my decision.
My husband left to get supplies and nobody came, when my baby cried. My buzzer might as well not have worked, for all the response when I pressed it. I could not lift or get to her myself, having been opened up in theatre some short time before, so when her tears flowed, mine did too.
We left hospital still breastfeeding, I had always known it might not be easy, but nothing could have prepared me for just how difficult I was going to find that first few weeks of feeding. I listened to all the advice, I called the amazing Koala whose help was invaluable, but I was just not in the right headspace. So when formula presented itself, I grabbed it with both hands.
As a result, I had a perfectly content, happy baby, gaining weight, sleeping 12 hours at night and generally smashing her awesome little newborn life. How was I doing? Not OK…
I didn’t realise til down the line but I was dealing with PTSD that arose from Cora’s difficult birth, and for the next three years, my ‘failure’ as I genuinely thought of it, to breastfeed Cora, caused me untold upset. It did something else too – like a dog with a bone it made me adament beyond belief that I would ‘succeed’ – next time.
Cora was three when ‘next time’ came around. I had intended to attempt a natural birth again, but 42 weeks rolled around and we were ushered off to theatre for an urgent-but-not-emergency c-section. Athena arrived screaming into the world with the biggest set of baby lungs I still to this date have ever heard, weighing an impressed 9lb 7oz. All I could think of was feeding her, and to my delight, she latched perfectly in recovery, just 30 minutes or so after being born, and fed for… well… much of the next 8 months!
I fed Athena for a full eight months. Was I happy? I was proud. Yes. Proud that I did what I set out to do, through sheer grit and determination. I made it through the pain of engorgement and a baby who couldn’t latch on day four and five. I made it despite constantly needing to use nipple shields because my lazy (but very hungry!) baby wouldn’t latch any other way. I coped being the only one who could settle her, and the only one could feed her. I wasn’t enjoying it though.
Breastfeeding did not make me feel like I had super-powers. Far from it. I was tired, because she didn’t sleep more than an hour at a time, in stark contrast to her sleep-loving big sis. I ate the world. Because she was so big born, lost 14% and took 4 weeks to come back to birth weight, it was all panic stations with the midwives. I lived on flapjacks in the vain hope they would ‘boost my supply’ – and gained more weight than I’ve ever carried in my life, including during pregnancy. Breastfeeding certainly didn’t ‘make the weight fall of me’ like so many well-meaning people insisted.
I felt trapped. Stuck on the sofa with a baby who fed 45 minutes on and 15 minutes off, for weeks. I had a three year old who’s disappointment was palpable when I told her for the 15th time I couldn’t wrestle with her on the floor, I was feeding the baby. I hated the leakage, I felt constantly covered in milk. My boobs, which I’ve always been rather fond of, where no longer my own, and if I could have cut them off and thrown them at my husband, I would have! To feed the baby, of course. There was absolutely no other use for them, that whole eight months. In fact I was so ‘touched out’ during that time, no ‘other use’ for them even came to mind!
My bond with my daughter was perfect though. ‘The bond is just amazing’ is so often attributed to breastfeeding – but I can hand on heart say that my bond with my formula fed baby was entirely as strong. I will admit this though: in that first few weeks, when Cora woke, her little cry made me grin, and lift her up with delight, talking to her and kissing her sweet little head ‘hello’. When Athena woke (which was MUCH more often) her little cry made my heart sink. It was time to feed, again!
I decided before she was even close to being born that Juno, daughter number three, would be formula fed. I spent 24 hours nourishing her with colostrum in hospital, before switching to formula the moment we got home. As a result, I am happy, well rested and more able to respond to everything she and her big sisters need from me. They are able to join in with feeding ‘their’ baby and my husband is able to feed and settle her too. Cons – we have to get up at night to make bottles… booo! That bit, I didn’t miss with Athena one bit. We have to be prepared with all the gear when going out and about too – sterilised bottles – CHECK! Formula – CHECK! But… we are getting out to enjoy the Spring sun, all together.
Thousands of clients have come through my studio in the last 14 years, all with their own feeding advice and experiences. Three babies and three completely different feeding journeys of my own. My only advice to expectant mamas contemplating their own feeding choices? Feed your baby. However best suits you!
Happy milky times, mamas!