During my pregnancy the only thing I was dreading apart from the inevitable pushing the baby out of my vagina part, was breastfeeding. It is the most natural thing in the world and yet the thought of my baby sucking on my nipples literally made me shudder.
Regardless of my feelings towards it I still knew I wanted to give it a go if only for three reasons, firstly to save money, I am an avid bargain hunter and maternity pay is not my friend so if I could save us pennies by feeding Arlo myself and not having to buy ridiculously overpriced formula then I would be happy. Secondly you get extra healthy allowances on the Slimming World plan, it may sound silly but all the cheese was a big persuasive factor in my books! Thirdly it’s been said that breastfeeding helps you lose the baby weight quicker, I don’t know how accurate this is and many may disagree but if there was a chance it would help me drop some pounds quicker I was in!
I am a firm believer that fed is best. So the whole ‘breast is best’ debate didn’t factor into my decision. As long as a baby is loved and has a full tummy as far as I am concerned it doesn’t matter where the milk comes from.
On top of all of this I had hoped having breasts full of milk would also come in handy for things like; playing a prank on the man (my partner, not my little man Arlo) by using my milk and not cows milk in his tea, and squirting him in the face when he’s being an arse, which is a regular occurrence. Of course I now realise how ridiculous and naive this was, that liquid gold would never have got wasted doing any of those things!
But here I am almost 16 weeks post birth with a formula fed baby. A very happy and content little man, but with a secretly slightly sad disappointed mummy, who sometimes catches herself feeling like a failure for being unable to do the most natural thing in the world.
So what happened?
Arlo came into this world shocked and bruised as you may have read in my birth story, he was fractious, had a swollen head, a bit grumpy and very sleepy.
It all started well (ish) in hospital. He took a long time to latch, but with the guidance of the midwives he eventually fed. Gone was the sickening feeling I had been dreading and instead I was overwhelmed with a sense of purpose as well as being full to the brim of love and pride that I was feeding him myself.
Arlo was very very sleepy, so he didn’t wake for feeds and instead we set our alarm and had to wake him to feed. For the first night I was clueless. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but I didn’t anticipate how hard it would be. How frustrating it would be and how upsetting it would be. When he eventually latched he drank for a good 20-30 minutes. The issue was getting him to latch. He would scream, he would fidget and when he finally latched he would wriggle off straight away. But we persevered and soon he was guzzling away very content. I remember texting my sister so proud that we were doing it. Not even 48 hours old and we were a solid little team.
When we were in hospital I made use of the midwives and breast-feeding support workers. I called them constantly to come and help me and check we were doing it properly. Each time they were happy and I got more and more confident. Although looking back I hadn’t cracked it, I was nowhere near cracking it.
We went home and it very quickly went downhill.
I was so eager to leave that looking back I don’t think I was ready. I was confident with feeding but only because I knew that help was at the other end of a buzzer. When I got home and found myself completely clueless with no one to come running with assistance, I panicked. The issue is I have very big breasts and amusingly small nipples in comparison. As my milk began to come in my nipples seemed to disappear even more and Arlo found it increasingly hard to get a good grip.
I felt broken. Seeing my little man struggle each time just to eat. He was trying so hard and I was failing him.
The first night at home was horrendous. Only once did he successfully latch and feed for around 30-40 minutes. He screamed pretty much all night and was on and off my breasts trying and failing to eat. I found myself crying hysterically and the more anxious and upset I got the more fractious he got. I felt like I was letting our newly formed team down. He needed me to feed him and I couldn’t do it. He fed on and off, here and there, a few times he cracked it and fed contentedly but the majority of the time he didn’t.
I remember one instant when we had not long arrived home, I’d been trying to feed him for 45 minutes. He finally latched and started to feed, then visitors arrived and the knock on the door meant he unlatched and wouldn’t latch again. I cried. He cried. We’d failed yet again.
By the time the morning rolled around and the midwife arrived for our home visit our healthy albeit bruised man had developed a tan and was beginning to look like an extra from The Simpsons. We were told to immediately go back to hospital to be checked for jaundice.
So we jumped in the car and drove the forty minute journey to the hospital. I cried the entire way, I felt horrendous. I felt like I had made my tiny helpless little man ill because I couldn’t get the crack of breastfeeding. My confidence had been shattered into a million tiny pieces with no hope of ever reforming.
I sat in the waiting room crying. We were admitted for observation and I finally got the assistance I so desperately needed but by this point it was already too late. I was distraught and adamant that I could not do this. On the first day after being readmitted I had an amazing breast-feeding support worker and her help was amazing. She sat with me for ages again and again and with her help he was finally feeding. But I couldn’t do it on my own, I still only managed to succeed with a professional hovering over me. We topped him up with hand expressed milk and a few ml here and there of formula both using a syringe.
But of course her shift came to an end and even though he was finally feeding my little man wasn’t getting any less yellow and he was exhausted, he would get so upset trying to latch and would then give up and fall asleep instead so we’d have to strip him down and start the entire process again. The evening fast approached and I unfortunately wasn’t a priority on the ward, I was tucked away on a quiet section of the ward with very little assistance even when I called the bell and went wandering for help. Through the night my partner and I tried to hand express, we worked for about twenty minutes, me squeezing out the milk and him collecting it in the syringe. We got a few millilitres which we were going to use to top our little man up once we’d tried again to feed him. Only we couldn’t because whilst my partner was removing the air from the syringe he got a bit hap hazard and the precious few millilitres of liquid gold we’d spent ages collecting shot out of the syringe and landed on the bed. Cue me crying hysterically and calling him every foul name I could think of. Bless him of course he didn’t do it on purpose but in that moment I hated him.
Day two rolled around post re admittance and Arlo wasn’t getting any better. The lovely breast-feeding support worker I had worked with the day before had a day off and the midwife in charge of my section of the ward was super busy and simply didn’t have the time to sit with me and help. When she did she simply grabbed my boobs and thrust Arlo’s head to them holding him firmly by the head. When he didn’t latch she simply told me the issue was my nipples and she would go and get me some formula as in her words my feeding him clearly wasn’t working. Not the support I needed. Her first response was to grab the formula, she told me again and again that in order for him to get better he needed fluid and because I was struggling we needed to top him up.
I sat crying hysterically on the bed. My son wasn’t getting better and I felt like it was my fault as I couldn’t feed him. I was a mess. The midwife returned whilst I had snot running down my face and I was trying to incoherently mumble to my partner how I felt. At this point the matron like persona changed and she tried to tell me that none of this was my fault and I should keep trying. But the damage was done.
Our little man was ‘topped up’ so much with formula that he simply began to not even try to latch. He was clearly getting used to milky goodness on tap and didn’t want to work for it anymore. The more formula he consumed the quicker he began to get better, further installing my feeling of failure, I truly felt that I had made him sick by being unable to provide him with the sustenance he needed.
When we were discharged for a second time I naively thought that I would be able to express and feed him breast milk this way. I did briefly try to express using a breast pump and top him up but to be honest I was exhausted, mentally drained and I just wanted to know my son was getting the fluid he needed. My milk was coming in but the pump was barely getting 3 millilitres a time, I was constantly hooked up and even set my alarm for every few hours during the night to sit and pump in the hope my milk supply would suddenly multiply. I felt like a cow being milked and hated every moment.
I could feel the dark clouds beginning to surround me and I had a choice, let the darkness consume me and continue to keep trying to breastfeed. After all that is what was expected of me regardless of how utterly desperate and sad I was beginning to feel or stop putting so much pressure on myself and switch to 100 per cent formula. I chose the latter because my child needed me to take care of my mental health more than he needed the liquid gold.
I gave it my ‘breast’ shot but it wasn’t meant to be. Maybe if we are lucky to have another child the outcome will be different. But for now I need to stop beating myself up, my child is happy, content and fed. Time to stop condemning myself, it didn’t work out for us but by no means does that make me a failure.
To all new mothers, mothers to be and mothers in general, fed really is best. Do I still wish I had been successful in my breast-feeding journey, yes. Does formula feeding my child make me any less of a mother, no. Do what is best for you and your baby. If you are struggling but want to keep going then do so, but do it because you want to, not because your partner, your mum, the midwives or whoever wants you to. If the journey isn’t for you then do not be afraid to say so, get the formula, get the bottles and go for it. Whilst I was sad that I’d turned my back on breastfeeding the instant relief I felt when Arlo had his first full bottle of formula and I knew he was full made the brief sadness worth it.