Yes, like many before me I decided to throw my oar in (or bra in) on the baby feeding debate…
After a complicated forceps birth and 3rd degree episiotomy (in non-medical terms the midwife had a big scissors. Wince). I was left with pain from the procedure and unbeknown to me at the time, a broken coccyx. My lady parts were akin to Frankenstein’s monster, he may have looked better. Needless to say I was in relentless pain.
A first time mum I existed in a giddy sleep deprived haze of cluelessness and caffeine. I think I wore the same pyjamas for a week and as I could not sit down I fed my son standing up; the outside world was a distant memory. I had planned to breastfeed, it was not a rigidly assertive decision but I was aware of the health benefits of breast milk and was instructed of the positives in every birthing session. I did not buy bottles or formula. In earnest I was simply confident that because it was natural it would be easy.
In reality I was discharged from hospital and found myself feeling lost. Thankfully my mother had come to stay for three days, I don’t remember them but without her I would have floundered. I do recall her explaining that the baby needed a vest under his sleepsuit and with all the prenatal classes I had I don’t think one told me about how to dress a baby, how to put on a nappy or bath him safety.
It was like learning to swim without armbands, in a tsunami.
My midwife tutted at the state of my stitches, gathered my son in her arms and chatted happily to him. Leo found it difficult to latch on, I was uncomfortable, anxious and he was irritable. As soon as I took my bra off it would be like a milk nerf gun would shoot in his face. Often he would be sick because it was coming out to fast. Take deep breaths and a couple of minutes to calm yourself down as it is frustrating.
One day, moving his moses basket into the hall whilst he slept I climbed into the bath. I left the door wide open so I could watch him. I can still remember the smell of the lavender and jasmine I had glugged into the lukewarm water. I sobbed and sobbed and then found I was in too much pain and too tired to get out of the bath. I rang my midwife and through sheer grim determination flopped myself out and onto the floor. Thinking back I have to smile, it was like a bad replica scene of Free Willy and I was the whale.
I had utterly folded under the stress and pressure on mothers to exclusively breastfeed.
This is not an anti-breastfeeding post, many of my amazing mummy friends were/are extended breast feeders and they do it with grace and love and joy. I got Leo a bottle. My midwife reassured me any amount of breast milk has a positive effect…my Health visitor took the logical approach of ‘but you know that breastfeeding is best for baby’. I felt like I was being critiqued. Looking back I know she was being supportive of what she knows is a positive thing. To me at that time the stressful breastfeeding relationship was damaging my ability to bond with my son, I was depressed, on a lot of pain medication and riddled with worry it was unsafe for him. Breast may be best for baby, but baby also needs mummy to be at her best and I was not. I resented feeding and hated myself.
I made a choice. It was one of the most tearing I have made, which it shouldn’t have been. It WAS the best choice available to me with the knowledge I had. I berated myself, I sobbed, I was relieved. I still five years later get a pang of the lost chance of bonding with an added dollop of guilt on the side. Guilt that I was somehow giving my son less that I should have, that I was somehow less of a mother because of it. When I gave him a bottle in baby group I would worry that I was getting judged.
It was the mummy friends I made that kept me sane and so I promote active kindness to other mums. I see a tired looking parent and smile a knowing smile, one that I hope puts forward a message of reassurance, of fellowship, of ‘you can do this even though you are exhausted and haven’t brushed your teeth in a week’. A mum was breastfeeding in a coffee shop the other day trying to cover her baby in muslin and glancing at the people in the shop. I remember that anxiety, we all feel it, boob or no boob. I brought her a cup of tea, a big one. The source of all compassion.
Dads do not lactate and look how kick ass they can be. Take good advice where you can, be kind, try your hardest and know that no mum is perfect. If you bottle feed look into what type of bottles are good; Dr Browns are great for colicky baby’s, boots own brand are cheap and do the job, you need to buy different teat sizes as your baby grows when bottle feeding (formula or expressing). Dads can get involved with bottle feeding. Look into the different types of baby formula and you don’t have to buy an all singing all dancing steriliser. I brought a travel one that fit in the microwave for £10.
If you are breastfeeding make sure you eat well and drink lots of water, I loved cheese and nuts as snacks…I also enjoyed a snickers! Find a breastfeeding support group. Check out breastfeeding scarfs or clothes that make it easier, get comfortable with bras with flaps and lots of Lansinoh. If you are struggling and no one is around there is the National Breastfeeding Helpline to call on 0300 100 0212.
Let’s normalise both breasts and bottles and stop knocking each other down…save your energy it’s going to be a long lifetime of parenthood.
And remember, your baby loves you whatever.
…You still have weaning to come…
Guest post originally written for @meetothermums