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.