#WorldBreastfeedingWeek: Don’t all mums deserve a smile?

August 6, 2017

Earlier this week I was told that my baby was so contented that he was obviously breastfed. Put on the spot, I felt flustered and shocked. When I replied he was bottle fed, I was then asked why?

Not that it was any of the woman’s business, but taken aback I proceeded to justify myself, and explain the long and complicated tale. But actually, it wasn’t any of this stranger’s business how we feed our baby, and shouldn’t have felt any need to fill her in on the first weeks of our baby boy’s life and the struggle we faced.

This week has been World Breastfeeding Week, and to me anyway, the web seems to have exploded with images of women breastfeeding their babies effortlessly. I’ve read articles extolling the simplicity and beauty of breastfeeding, demonising formula and in some cases the Mums who use it.

Full of determination I breastfed for five weeks, and over that time it became apparent that our baby wasn’t getting enough milk. He’d get angry and frustrated, beating his little fists on my breast, screaming until he eventually fell asleep exhausted from the effort.

All I could think about was that the problem was that I wasn’t trying hard enough, that I should persevere despite my instincts telling me there was something wrong. In an attempt to boost my supply, I expressed every couple of hours, and dosed myself up on fenugreek, determined that breastfeeding would be a success for us.

Soon enough, our babies weight and jaundice levels became a concern, and we were traipsing to the clinic for checks every few days. I was completely exhausted, and experiencing piercing headaches for the duration of every feed.

Given fantastic advice, we were told that formula isn’t the devil it’s made out to be, and that sometimes it can help give our baby the energy to suck and encourage my supply. The first positive words I’d ever heard about formula, we gave our baby a bottle, but I was still haunted by the thought I wasn’t trying hard enough, and I must try harder.

Days later I was in the GP’s office, having persevered with expressing and fenugreek I thought perhaps Domperidone might be the answer. At the same time, I also mentioned the headaches. Alongside my underactive thyroid, they were clearly a red flag, and I was referred to a specialist endochronologist and quite rightly told Domperidone might pose too many risks to my health.

Over the next week formula top ups were becoming more frequent, as every feed ended in a frustrated hungry baby and more often than not me in tears. Well-meaning visitors would tell me to cherish every moment, but I started to feel like I was missing them. If I wasn’t trying to feed, I was expressing, and in-between I tried to get scraps of rest.

Eventually enough was enough, I was barely expressing any milk and the formula our baby had far outweighed any breastmilk I was able to supply him with. Still despite everything we’d been through, I was still hesitant to give up.

Fast forward, and our baby is nearly four months old. He is thriving on formula, and as mentioned at the start of this piece, he is so clearly contented that complete strangers feel the need to comment. Bottle feeding was absolutely the right choice, and formula meant he didn’t starve.

Recently, blood test results have revealed that my prolactin levels were below the normal range for a woman who’d just had a baby. No matter how hard I tried, I would never have been able to successfully feed our baby.

Back to the point of this piece, which wasn’t to justify why we bottle feed, but to highlight that the advice being given to new mums through the media can be misleading and at its worst potentially dangerous. Had I continued to believe that I wasn’t trying hard enough, and that perseverance would lead to success, our baby could have become very poorly.

World Breastfeeding Week is held annually to encourage breastfeeding and improve the health of babies, but surely part of that should be to make new mums aware that there are reasons why breastfeeding may be difficult or even impossible?

Many Mums are happy breastfeeding, and equally many Mums are happy bottle feeding. Either way their decisions should be respected, and they certainly shouldn’t be interrogated or made to feel uncomfortable.

Earlier this week I saw a poster that asked the public to support breastfeeding mums. To give them a smile and tell them they are doing an amazing job, to not scowl or make a rude comment to her. Personally, I think that statement should apply to any mother, regardless of how they feed their baby. What do you think?