To feed or not to feed

For many expectant mothers breastfeeding is a daunting prospect – will I produce enough milk to keep him satisfied? Will he be able to latch? Will he be – heaven forbid – allergic to my milk? What if I absolutely hate it? These are real fears for new moms and ones that can, ultimately, make or break your breastfeeding experience.

All through my pregnancy I was adamant that I wanted to do things as close to naturally as possible. My birth “plan” had a heavy focus on the natural – a midwife over a gynae, a vaginal over Caesarean delivery, no pain management over an epidural, etc. – but we don’t always get what we want in life, and especially in childbirth.

Similarly, I wanted to exclusively breastfeed as far as possible. Although, knowing the physical and emotional burden breastfeeding places on a new mom, we had agreed I would express as well so that Becs could help out with night feeds. But when Fletcher went straight to the NICU after birth instead of straight onto my breast, things changed and we had to roll with it.

When the NICU nurse came into our room on that first morning and told me my child was starving panic set in. One of the nurses helped me to express a whopping 1ml, at which point Becs signed the consent to give Fletcher formula. Although the nurses continued to stress the importance of breast milk, if I could get any, and praised the delivery of those “drops of gold”, it had taken something meant to be a beautiful and intimate bonding moment between me and my baby and made it something clinical.

When Fletcher came off the CPAP and I was able to try and latch him to feed, it was still a beautiful moment for me – despite the wires and tubes still attached to my two-day-old baby. But it quickly became clear it wasn’t happening fast enough for him. Having become accustomed to the delivery speed of, first the feeding tube and then the bottle, the breast simply took too long and required too much effort. Still, we persevered.

I expressed three or four times a day while he was in the NICU and when he came home we tried relentlessly to get him to feed. But as time went on, and his daily need increased, he ended up getting more bottle than breast. I simply wasn’t producing enough milk to satisfy his hunger – despite the Eglonyl.

I began to dread feeding time. He’d be what we call screaming sad mad (which is exactly what it sounds like), and I’d be desperately trying to aim his wailing mouth at my breast, hoping he’d get a good latch. He’d latch briefly, suck a few times before realizing it was going to require maximum effort on his part. Then he’d start screaming again. And this cycle would continue for up to an hour before I’d give in and ask Becs to prepare a bottle. Some days were better than others, mind you. Sometimes I’d get him onto the breast before he realized how hungry he was and so he’d be sucking before he got “screaming sad mad”, so he’d be OK with putting the extra effort in. But even on those days, he’d need a bottle afterward.

After a month of trying I decided the emotional tug-of-war I experienced every time I tried to breastfeed was just too much. He was gaining weight nicely on the formula and was anything but malnourished, so why was I torturing myself? Guilt. I felt guilty at the thought of giving up because “breast is best” and “they don’t get antibodies from formula” but I just couldn’t do it anymore. My distress at seeing him so frustrated and upset every time I tried to feed him began to outweigh my guilt.

I discussed my feelings with Becs, who was wonderfully supportive and told me all the things I needed to hear – “he gets so frustrated” and “you did your best babe” – but despite all that, it was one of the hardest decisions I’ve made as a mother and I do still feel guilty about it. But every time I see him calmly have a bottle before drifting into that contented sleep that only comes from having a full belly, my guilt is somewhat assuaged.

Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t do it. I’ve spoken to moms who diligently breastfed and they all agree, it was the hardest, most physically and emotionally draining thing they’ve ever done. If you get it right, power to you, but if you don’t do not feel guilty. No one has ever been asked at a job interview if they were breast or bottle fed. As long as they’re getting the nutrients they need and they are loved, what more could you want?

5 thoughts on “To feed or not to feed

  1. Wonderful blog that hits home for me. I became unwell when I had John and ended up feeding him pretty much grey water. He was starving. Lost 2lbs in one week. We had no choice but to formula feed him. It killed me! Even though I hated breastfeeding. I spent the next 6 months trying to relactate. They won’t prescribe pills here. I was buying them off eBay and taking all sorts of supplements. 19 tablets a day! I eventually succeeded, but by then formula had set in for him and he wouldn’t breastfeed. He was exclusively formula fed from 6 weeks to 1 year and he is, by far, the healthiest kid I know.

    I’m trying with Jessica now. I despise breastfeeding. I find it sore, hard work, draining and feel like a failure every day. So far, we’re winning which I’m so grateful for, but I feel so guilty for hating the process. Everyone expects it to be easy. it’s far from!

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    1. Thanks Karen, it was a tough decision, and one I wish I hadn’t had to make, but in hindsight, it was definitely the right call for all of us.

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