Next time you see someone bottle feeding…


I have had 3 sons and each feeding experience was different. My second son was a dream feeder in that he took to the breast with no problems. He latched on fed quickly and seemed satisfied when he’d finished. In fact, he used to finish his feed, come off with milk round his mouth and sigh and incredibly contented sigh that only a well fed and happy baby can give. It was wonderful. I felt amazing but it hadn’t always been this easy…

After a difficult birth with my first son I fed him for the first time and he seemed satisfied but I later found out that this was the pethidine that had made him sleepy and the ‘contentment’ was, in fact, drugs. When the drugs wore off he became crotetchy and restless. This turned into screaming, rage and then utter inconsolable despair. He was hungry all the time and my milk hadn’t come in. We came home and he was still unhappy and we asked the visiting midwife for advice. We discussed bottle feeding him and she said absolutely no and left making us feel terrible. When she came back the first things she asked wasn’t ‘how are you’ but ‘you haven’t given him a bottle I hope?’ and actually waited for us to answer ‘no…’ Post natal depression was just beginning but I didn’t know at that point. It was just awful. I remember being obsessed with keeping him clean –he was spotless all the time. My breasts were sore, my nipples bleeding and I began to dread feeding him. He wasn’t satisfied and I felt useless so I left him on his sheepskin rug on the floor a lot of the time preferring not to hold him. He would wake and cry for food and I would have to make myself go into the room, pick him up and feed him. I would wait for the searing pain through my breast to pass as it did each time but the dread of knowing it was going to happen made me detach from him further. Eventually I didn’t want him near me which then moved onto me not being able to have him near me. I couldn’t bear it. I couldn’t bear him.

I’d watch mothers cooing over their little bundles and appearing to be fully in love with them. I looked at mine and knew he was beautiful but just felt hollow. The emptiness and dread was awful. It’s hard to know that what you’re feeling isn’t normal but not knowing how to do anything about it makes you feel totally helpless. He screamed day and night for 6 weeks and then just during the day for the next 6 weeks. I had people telling me that ‘oh, not sleeping in the day is a sign of intelligence….’ and my reply of ‘He can be intelligent when he’s older, I just want him to sleep…’ had her looking with pity on me as she realised this new mum wasn’t quite on the cloud 9 she should have been. I didn’t fit in at the baby groups –I didn’t feel the way they did and just craved my old life back.

Bottle feeding came slowly. An introduction of a bottle here and there but mainly at 10pm so I could try to get some sleep. I still breast fed and still dreaded it. The pain was slowly passing but there was just something that I felt that I didn’t like. The connection? The intimacy? I don’t know but I slowly phased the breastfeeding out.

Hubbie could help more and did and this gave me a little distance from the baby. Other people could feed him too and I would let anyone who wanted to. I still didn’t feel the way the other mothers did but at least was able to hold him more.

Looking back it was clear to me that the depression was there from the start. Several comments made to me by my midwife pointing out that I needed to get more involved with my pregnancy now ring true. I was incredibly stressed whilst I was pregnant due to having a demanding teaching job plus Hubbie was made redundant and my Father told us he wanted the flat we were living in back as he had sold it made that time one of the most difficult times we have had. Problems were solved, a home was found but I had put my pregnancy at the back of my mind.

I approached son no 2 from a different perspective. We knew he was a big baby and I knew that my milk hadn’t come in for at least 3 days with my 1st son. This time I had the plan of breastfeeding and then topping up with formula if needed. There were a few raised eyebrows at the hospital as the midwives, whilst not questioning me did show that they weren’t happy about my plan. I think they couldn’t tick the ‘breastfeeding’ box which meant a target lost maybe but there was no trust in my judgement at all. Sure enough son no 2 was 1/2oz off 10lbs (I am a size 8 and 5 foot 2) and there was no milk after the first colostrum. He was becoming distressed so I asked for a bottle. Each time he was hungry I breastfed him and topped up. This worked wonderfully and after 3 days my milk came in and he breast fed like a dream. We kept the 10 o’clock bottle so hubbie could feed whilst I slept –sleep is very important for mental health and we had to be careful that I got enough sleep to be able to cope with 2 children in the daytime. Hubbie came in at 7pm and I went to bed at 8pm. I felt great at my achievement but a health care professional did remark that how giving him just that 1 bottle had wiped out any good I had done with breastfeeding him as if there was no point in carrying on as he’d had the dreaded formula. I felt the need to explain about the depression and Hubbie’s and mine fears and wanting to do the best for our baby certainly but needing to be mindful of my issues to. She didn’t seem too interested and was certainly not supportive and this made me feel awful…

I adored feeding no 2 son. I breastfed in cafes, parks, restaurants in fact anywhere that was needed and hubbie was a great support. I only stopped fully breastfeeding because I found it hard to be out with a 3 year old running around whilst I breast fed and so I cut down to breastfeeding in the morning and evening and bottle feeding whilst out. For me, for the family, I needed to get out and about to help keep the depression at bay. I managed 4 months of breastfeeding (with the 10pm bottle) and then a few weeks of bottle in the day and morning and evening breast feeds.

Son no 3 arrived and because of a C-section my milk took 4 days to arrive but as I had read that your milk can come in a day later (I wasn’t told this) I was prepared. I followed the same plan with him as I had no 2 and again, it worked. Again the midwives couldn’t tick the box and I felt that I was letting the side down but for me, for our family there were other issues at stake.

I have read lots of threads in internet forums berating mothers who formula/bottle feed their babies. I was always quite vitriolic in my posts defending to the hilt a mum’s right to bottle feed their child and tried to educate those who looked down on these (me) mothers. I asked them to think of how depression can eat away at a bond between a mother and baby and how what you see on the outside may not be the whole story. We all read the news, read internet threads on forums, we read books and we are the most educated generation on giving birth, feeding babies and particularly breastfeeding. I know that exclusively breastfeeding my babies would have been the best thing I could do for them but my mental health problems made this impossible certainly for my 1st son. Without formula he would have been taken away from me as he would not have been fed properly. Also bottle feeding enabled me to be close to him without having him touch me which was something I couldn’t bear at that time. This, I believe helped me start to develop a bond with him.

We, as women and mothers, need to support each other. Having children is tough; mentally emotionally and physically. Breast is best when it’s possible. Some women genuinely don’t have enough milk, some women may be too shy to breast feed in public –but do at home. Some may be on medication that prevents them from breastfeeding and they may feel terrible that they can’t. Some women may have suffered abuse and cannot breastfeed for these reasons, some women, like me, have depression and just being out with the baby is the achievement to be celebrated. Yes, some women choose not to bottle feed despite all the guidelines, all the literature and all the parenting classes and this may be for many reasons. They may not have seen women breastfeeding around them as they grew up, they may live in an area where most other mums don’t breastfeed either and it’s difficult to break away from the grain when something’s new. Shouldn’t we just support each other, breastfeed in public if we can to show that we can and in a generation or 2 then we will have changed things for the better. I don’t believe that bullying women now and making them feel terrible if they don’t helps to do this. They don’t pass positive stories down to their daughters and will be the first to reach for the bottle when the time comes.

So next time you’re out and you see a mother bottle feeding her child (which could have breast milk in you never know) think twice before the judgements are made. Have you walked a mile in their shoes to understand why they made the decisions they made? If not then take that mental step away and know that there could be some very genuine reasons as to why they have the bottle in their hand and not a baby at their breast.

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About littlewhitecottage

Emma is a qualified teacher with 14 years of teaching in many different settings. From teaching adults and children at a music school to choosing to work in a demanding primary school that was failing (which meant moving from an outstanding school – her colleagues were aghast!) to running her own sewing business for the last 5 ½ years teaching all ages how to sew: Emma loves to teach.
This entry was posted in Family, Read about me, The random thoughts of me, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Next time you see someone bottle feeding…

  1. This is fantastic and so true. It scares me that your first experience was like for like with mine and I didnt know I had PN Depression until my son was 9 months old. I too felt detached and could have easily ran away at any point. Regarding help with breastfeeding….None except for people telling me I must do it and a representative from the NCT harassed me into feeling guilty about not being successful.

    I salute you on yet another wonderful blog. And ever thankful for knowing I wasnt alone. Amazing. Good work again!…..Keep them going!!!!!

  2. Emma, as always I love you blog and can relate to what you are writing about.
    I currently have an 11mth old and have done both myself but it’s not been an easy journey and have had difficulties with both breast- and bottle-feeding. I exclusively breastfed her for 6 months and then she had 1 bottle a week for a few months with it gradually increasing to almost fully formula fed now. I have been critised for doing both.

    Before I had even had my baby I was told, by friends and family, that I would never be able to breastfeed, it was too inconvinent and surely bottlefeeding would just be easier for everyone. No-one took me seriously, but I was determined. Even refusing formula the first night in hospital as she was a bigger baby and had cried for 12hours as I had asked and asked and asked for some help as something just wasn’t clicking like I had expected it to.
    It wasn’t easy and I struggled but got the help from a lactation consultant, and because of her we managed it, thankfully. In my eyes at that point it was either I succeed or I leave. Jane helped me through the first tough 6wks, but that is all I remember, I have literally blocked every out because it was so difficult.
    Alot of people think it must’ve been easy for me, and I can’t have encountered any problems because we nursed for so long.

    I really don’t understand why people feel the need to berate anyone for how they feed their baby, it’s none of their business really. It is such a personal choice, and is often made when mum is most vunerable and needs support for whatever decision she has made.

  3. Rachel strachan says:

    Wow this was brilliant, I suffered the same thing, My breasts were bleeding, but I dint Ferlinghetti detached from my baby I went the other way, I was so over protective I wouldn’t let anyone near her including my hubby, am still suffering today 18 months on

  4. Rachel walton says:

    Hi Emma- what a fasinating read- Im currently breastfeeding baby number 3 whos almost one, but with my others I had very different experiances. My oldest boy was born by emergancy c- section, after being rushed in with heavy bleeding- i hadnt even thought about breastfeeding him, and they just bought me bottles of formula to feed him no questions asked..with my daughter, no 2 I was encouraged to breastfeed,( bordering on bullied) whilst in the hospital..breastfeeding her was difficult- I had little support from health professionals, but was constanlty being told that it was best for baby, i carried on until i developed mastitis and gave up around 2 weeks..i was relieved that i had an excuse to stop..although i did feel guilty and a failure that i couldnt do something that was supposed to come naturally. When i had blake i wanted to give breastfeeding another go, but wasnt as bothered if it didnt work out..I like u bought bottles with me to the hospital as i had a elective section, and much to the distaste of the midwives breast and bottlefed- when i got home and in my own time I decided to exclusivly breastfeed..it wasnt easy but I wanted to do it so i think that my determination carried me through the early months!
    Im about to start writing my dissertation on breastfeeding and postnatal depression, Im wondering if women are more likely to develop PND if they bottlefeed- or if the pressures to breastfeed add to the likelyhood of women developing PND- I will need to do some questionairres (obviously they will be sensitive and confidential) in the Nr future so If anyone would like to help please let me know.(raychholly@hotmail.com) Thanks Emma for the honest insite

  5. It’s been a long time since my sons were babies , having my first child was not quite a shock to my system as I am the eldest of 3 brothers ,two of which are 11 yrs younger so I spent a lot of my childhood ,helping my mother ,as we had to in those days. However when my son was born I was not a confident mum, I didn’t breast feed as I lived at home with my parents and brothers ,so it was ruled out ,the choice was taken away from me. 9 years later when my 2nd child was born I felt more confident but I still didn’t breast feed because I had these issues in the back of my head that was thrust upon me with my first son. I didn’t feel guilty and found it easier to get into a feed-time routine. My belief is every woman/mother has the right to make choices for herself and her family and going with your instinct should be paramount , and should be supported by your health care team. A lovely read as always Emma thanks for sharing xx

  6. @rachel walton…..I will gladly help you…..I have a mixture of experiences and suffered PND with my 1st of 3 kids x

  7. shona alderson says:

    Thank you for a lovely blog, I really understand where your coming from – with my little boy, no one warned me it would be 4/5 days before milk came in as i was having a planned c section, jsut how wonderful fantastic it , it wouldnt hurt and I would love the experince – breast feeding was the most stressful, painful experience, and as this was the opisite to what I’d been told then obviously (to me), I was useless mother – I lasted 5 weeks when my mam took over and gave baby a bottle as i was so tired and distressed, we had soem breast feeds, but more for comfort than feed. When I was pregnant this time I had a new partner, and information and I wanted to try again, this time I was prepared with bottles, the fact it may take a while to settle. Unfortuantly breast feeding just didnt work, I didnt have enough milk, this time though moving to bottles was a positive move, wasnt making me a failure – Id tried, my little girl had 5 weeks of milk, but more importantly a happy mummy, giving a happy little girl xx

  8. Goodness me, it sounds like you had a terrible time with unsupportive midwives. It makes me so sad to read things like this 😦 We all try and our best and that is really all we can do! I have also had 3 kiddies and had too much milk which may sound great but it isn’t as you get mastitas with it if you don’t control it properly. My first son hated it – he used to choke when being fed as it would all rush out, he even got his hair washed by spraying milk when trying to detatch him a few times 😮 He only last 2 weeks before I felt it really wasn’t working. My second lasted a couple of months but it wasn’t until my third that I found out after a lot of internet research how to control my body so it wouldn’t got bonkers with milk that I fed successfully. I however also moved to half bottle half breast feeding. All my kiddies are very healthy so it hasn’t done them any harm having bottle obviously. What really annoys me however is if the NHS want us all to breastfeed why on earth are the weight scales in the books for bottle fed babies, parents feel their children are not growing ‘properly’ when they are being judged against the wrong scale!

    • Oh my life those bloomin’ weight charts! The first Helath Visitor was on our backs constantly for no 1 being off his centile. He was 9lb 1oz and was on a high is one and from 12 weeks he just then gently went down to the 25th. She was then asking us to feed more -he didn’t want more – and then eventually said she was going to refer us to a peadiatrician. The last visit we were supposed to have with her to make this decsion of referral I saw a different Health Visitor who took one look at me, said that no 1 might not be supposed to be a larger baby and that he was clearly following my body shape. She didn;t seem to think there was anything to worry about at all. There was me being relieved but angry and confused as to why I had been told he was not thriving and then being told he was fine. there just didn;t seem to be any consistency!

  9. jennie says:

    I know Emma you had a hard time and I think your account is great. It is sad that you have had such a negative experience of midwives, just so people know we are not all like that and I whole heartedly support mothers whichever way they choose to feed. I breastfed my first child and it was easy but my second child I mixed fed quickly cause he was greedy!!! You have to do what makes you happy and then it will make your baby happy. Bonding I believe isnt just down to the way you feed it is about many other things. I hope there are people out there who have had more positive experiences and remember it is your baby so you do what is right for you both xx

  10. Jen says:

    What a wonderful post Emma, thank you. A very honest account of PND (isn’t it just awful?!), and of the difficulty of making feeding choices when each choice is so loaded and everyone has an opinion. Isn’t it scary how the opinion of one midwife/HV can have such a (detrimental) impact on ones confidence and decisions. F was a nightmare to feed, after a traumatic c-section and 6 weeks of feeding hell… I perservered but what price to my mental health? That said he fed til 15months so on balance the bond we struggled with due to PND was held by the process of breastfeeding, perhaps? S had severe reflux but as it was silent, none of the ‘professionals’ spotted it, so I was forced by the paediatrician to stop feeding her and move to high calorie bottle milk, only to be told by a DIFFERENT paediatrician 10 months later, that I should have kept feeding her myself and she was just a skinny baby! It was only through sheer stubbornness that I managed to keep feeding her (partially) myself for 9months. And again, another crippling bout of PND, partly because I was being toldmi was failing my baby (by the medics, who wanted me to breastfeed), or by the breastfeeding ‘nazis’ who were appalled by the bottle, and my guilt that neither was ‘working’ to make my baby become ‘chubby’. You can’t win!
    My advice to any new mum is DO NOT TAKE ADVICE. Every baby is different and the only ‘expert’ on your own baby and their /your feeding is yourself. Thank you for this post, Emma!

  11. Jennie says:

    My daughter is now 10 years old. I fell pregnant with her three months after a very traumatic and life-threatening miscarriage. I always intended to breast feed as I was led to believe that it was best for the baby. However, breast feeding for me was extremely difficult – I was very, very sore with bleeding nipples and could never really seem to get the hang of it. Like you Emma, I found it very hard to bond with my daughter and actually felt like she didn’t want me, she just wanted to suck on me like a little leech. I must be honest and say that I didn’t feel any bond with her from when she was born right up until she was over a year old. I felt very detached from the whole situation. When she reached nine weeks old I was finally diagnosed with severe PND and told I had to stop breast feeding to go on medication. They believed that a huge factor in my PND was the previous miscarriage. I can’t tell you how utterly relieved I was when the doctor said I had to stop breast feeding. In many ways I felt like it gave me an excuse to stop when really we should feel confident enough to make that decision if it is what is best for the baby and the mother. I had already been giving her one bottle at bedtime of hungry baby feed and she slept through the night once that was in place. In reality, I know that the colostrum which is produced for the first three days or so is what has the immunity in it from the mother and as long as the baby gets that the milk after that is not so significant. I was massively happier after switching to bottles full-time and I wish that health professionals would stop laying guilt on those that can’t or choose not to breast feed for whatever reason. At the end of the day, breast feeding is only best for the baby if it is best for the mother as well.

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