I’ve actually had this post rattling around my brain for a while, but it seems appropriate to post today.
Breastfeeding is something that is instilled in new mothers as ‘the way’. It’s the best, it’s easy, it’s free, it’s convenient, it’s what women do as mothers. There are adverts in the waiting rooms telling you how great breastfeeding is, leering down from the walls both subliminally and obviously. Packs that are provided for pregnant women are bursting with pro-breastfeeding paraphernalia, tips, stories and research.. Now I’m not contesting any of that. What I’m contesting is: what about those who formula feed?
People formula feed for hundreds of reasons. Allergies, impossible latches, some families of the same sex because they have to.. Obviously I can’t list every reason here. But it’s a choice. It should be respected. Not everyone can settle with breastfeeding. Not everyone can breastfeed, let’s be honest. So much emphasis is put on new parents that ‘breastfeeding is best’ that those who can’t or have made the choice not to are often unsupported.
In the prenatal appointments, every appointment you get asked how you plan on feeding baby – I explained I’d be breastfeeding “as long as baby allows it” and was praised for that – nobody asked me what I’d do if baby didn’t allow it, nobody told me what to do. It was just assumed that he’d be fine and I’d be boobing with no problem. At no point did anyone give me advice on what formulas I’d use if it didn’t work, if he’d need comfort milk or milk for hungry babies – it wasn’t even mentioned.
In hospital, laid in bed after my caesarean I had the tiniest little baby and my boob. Nobody came to tell me what to do, nobody sat with me and talked me through the breastfeeding process… Despite me being a first time mum and despite the huge amount of pressure I’d felt to make the breastfeeding choice.. I was alone. In recovery, a lovely nurse had reassured me that I had milk by expressing some but other than that – nothing. I tried my best but due to being a caesarean baby, Baby Button was struggling with his sugars and what was the first thing my nurse suggested?
“SMA or Aptamil?” I was asked, but with absolutely no idea what the differences were I half shrugged and she brought back a bottle of SMA milk. Nothing was mentioned about having a new bottle of milk every two hours, which someone told me five hours later.
Within minutes of having the formula placed in his mouth he was settled and feeding from the bottle. Nothing else was mentioned about breastfeeding, and I was left feeling a little bit like an alien: was something wrong with me? Why did he not want my boob? What had just happened?
At home, I kept trying. I didn’t really get any worthwhile advice from my Health Visitor who just told me to keep trying.. Through blisters on my nipples, through engorged boobs, through late night (or early morning, depending) hours where Baby Button screamed as he couldn’t get it.. It wore me down. I have no shame in admitting I cried more than once, alone on my sofa as I had to reach for the bottle of formula.
Why. Why did I have to feel like that? I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I was doing as advised by the nurse at the hospital.. But because of all the breastfeeding positives I had been exposed to during pregnancy, it made me feel inferior. Other mothers on the Facebook groups were all happily boobing. Why wasn’t I?
Now, as he nears six months I’m proud to say he does breastfeed. From one boob, the other just doesn’t interest him – whether that’s because of how we started our journey I don’t know, but I’m wonky. He does still have formula, because it was the first food he had. I’m not taking that from him. But getting to this stage has been hard, and it’s been a lonely road with zero support from professionals.
Why am I telling my story?
Because there needs to be support available to those who don’t choose, or can’t breastfeed. Yes, we know it’s natural and all those other arguments you use. Just as there is support for those who choose to breastfeed, it needs to be reflected.
It’s not easy. Believe me. I’d have to say, breastfeeding is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Being up through the night because I’m the one with breasts, the ailments as I mentioned earlier (blisters, blocked ducts, Mastitis in some cases), but the worst thing for me was feeling so let down by my body in those first vital months.
The choice to formula feed isn’t one taken lightly.
Those who make that choice shouldn’t have to preface every post or question they have with “don’t judge me but I’m formula feeding..” nor should they be labelled as anything. It isn’t the easy option all the time, sometimes it’s the only option a parent has.
Enough with the ignorance. If the mother and baby are happy and healthy it shouldn’t matter whether it’s from the boob or the bottle. You don’t know someone’s story and it’s time to stop acting like breastfeeding is some sort of elitist badge of honour. Be proud of what you and your wonderful body have achieved, but don’t look down on others for the choices they’ve made.
Can I just say, most people I encounter are fantastic. Breastfeeding exclusive mums I’ve chatted with, other combination fed mums, and those who formula feed. It’s a small amount of people who seem to pop up every now and again on social media who have prompted this – keep on being amazing, mama.