Probably one of the most emotive topics when it comes to motherhood. Yet one that’s often researched and googled in the early morning hours when you have a baby and you’re trying to succeed at it.
The reason for this post isn’t to tell you how to feed your baby. Or to tell you that breast is best- I never want to be the kind of mum that makes my (eventual) success make you feel like a failure.
In fact probability is you’ll be reading this post because you ended your first attempt at breastfeeding by giving up and moving to formula . There’s no judgement from me, because that’s exactly what I did.
Or maybe first time around breastfeeding wasn’t for you and you never attempted it, but now you’d like to try and see if it could be for you with subsequent children.
So this post is to give hope to you if you’re ready to try and breastfeed, but scared of whether or not it’s possible. Particularly so when you know the benefits of using formula from experience.
To give you a bit of background I’ll let you know how breastfeeding was for me first time around.
Little London was maybe solely breast fed for a matter of days if that. I tried using formula to compliment his feeds because I was struggling, but I was always made to feel like I was doing him and myself a disservice by using it, so I only turned to it in real desperation. I was told not to use a dummy with him until feeding had been well established, and the use of a nipple shield would lead to confusion and cause issues.
His latch was supposedly perfect, but my nipples were bleeding. I was told to just push past the pain. But the pain I was in couldn’t just be pushed past- and yes there are varying degrees of pain I’ve since discovered. The pain from him feeding was excruciating. I tried to express the milk instead to see if I could give my nipples a rest but still give my son breast milk. But expressing failed to get any real volume of milk out and I still bled from my nipples into the small amount of expressed milk. After weeks of trying to express because my nipples still weren’t healing and still failing to get even a full bottles worth of milk out of my breasts per day I just caved.
I put an end to the literal torture and gave him formula full time. And we had a happy bottle fed journey for the rest of his milk dependant days. I will never regret the decision because mentally breastfeeding wasn’t doing me any good. And it certainly wasn’t doing Little London any good.
I realised then just how much pressure there was to breast feed. But also how unrealistic it was to expect breastfeeding to be easy in today’s world.
With medical intervention becoming more prominent in the way we birth our children it’s no wonder breastfeeding is becoming harder. Breast feeding is one of the most natural things a woman can do, but so is child birth.
In theory if I were giving birth to Little London in the past I wouldn’t be alive and neither would he. In fact during my pregnancy with my daughter I had to discuss my sons birth with them to decide on a birth plan. My consultant point blank told me my body would never have coped and I would have died if it wasn’t for medical intervention. Obviously his birth ended up being an emergency caesarean and he went straight into intensive care.
Everything that should have been natural was against me. No skin to skin, no trying to breastfeed straight away, no chance to really see my baby until the day after he was born while he was hooked up to machines. No acceptance from my body that I’d even given birth. I was in shock and traumatised.
And guess what… that affects breastfeeding.
Now I’m not saying it’s impossible to breastfeed even if the odds aren’t in your favour but for me it wasn’t a journey my body wanted and I didn’t want to force it.
And I’m also not saying that all mums that have an ‘easy’ birth should be able to breastfeed without issue, because how that birth affects your body emotionally we’ll never know.
With Baby London, I already knew I wanted to try breastfeeding again. What I didn’t want to do was put any pressure on the situation- something I made clear to my midwife. I wanted to breastfeed my way, and if unsuccessful I knew I could turn to formula happily.
That I think was the difference. No pressure and an acceptance that it didn’t matter if it didn’t work out.
Her birth was complimentary of our breast feeding journey. It was an elective caesarean but the experience was hugely different. I felt connected to her birth. I was able to get skin to skin contact and she latched on straight away. In fact from the moment of her birth she never left my side until she was placed into her crib next to my bed on the postnatal ward.
Because of that lack of pressure I gave myself I included things into my hospital bag that other mums probably wouldn’t. I packed bottles of ready made formula, a dummy and a nipple shield along with lanolin. I wanted to make sure I was fully covered whatever the situation.
Medically she did need the formula in the end. Because I had gestational diabetes Baby London’s sugar levels were closely monitored and breastfeeding alone wasn’t bringing her levels up. Not surprising really because it was mainly colostrum so she wasn’t getting that milk she probably required in terms of sugar levels.
The nurses cup fed her in line with breastfeeding (no confusion from teat to nipple), but when left to my own devices on the ward I just made sure to give her a good formula top up after every breastfeed using the pre sterilised teats. To be honest my need to stabilise her sugar levels and make sure she was content was more important than my need to breastfeed (how filling can colostrum really be? Plus I didn’t want to start my breastfeeding journey with a starving baby who would aggressively suck on my nipple and fall asleep quickly at the breast because of how tiring it was for her). But ultimately she was getting a good healthy mixture.
Straight away she took to both nipple and bottle teat. There was no confusion at all, and that made the process a lot easier for me. Instinctively she knew how to feed from me and I just went with it. I let her feed for as long as she needed to, and if I felt it was getting too much for me I’d switch her onto formula.
Of course you’ll hear about supply and demand, and when my milk finally came in (crikey that was an uncomfortable couple of days of engorgement that I didn’t expect) I’d always be checking to make sure there was still milk in there. I’ve never had a situation where I’ve run out of milk, so I didn’t feel guilty for using a bit of formula when I wanted to- mainly at night to help my recovery.
Really it came easily to me this time. It had nothing to do with teaching her or myself how to breastfeed it came down to pure instinct. Midwives and health visitors advised me to do things their way, but I ignored their advice and went with what felt right to me and my body- and yes that included using a dummy from around three weeks old because being used as one yourself isn’t comfortable.
Yes I did get painful nipples, but nothing like I experienced with Little London. You have to just allow your nipples to kind of toughen to the feeding process (and use lanolin after every feed until they’re tough enough to go it alone…). It was uncomfortable but certainly not anything that isn’t manageable. And using a nipple shield on the most uncomfortable side for a few weeks did me the world of good.
During my toughest week I decided to rent a hospital grade expressing machine on my sister’s advice. From the start she’s only ever expressed milk for her son and she feeds him breast milk by the bottle (this is an option if you really want to breastfeed but can’t handle the discomfort. You’ll have to express frequently in the early weeks, but once your supply is established you can reduce that down gradually to two or three times a day instead). The machine arrived about four days later but by then the discomfort I had been in was gone and I never even opened the box. I just sent it back.
I’m now three months into our feeding journey. I decided to continue mix feeding, because it suits me and my lifestyle. So I purely breastfeed in the day, and at night time my daughter is formula fed. I am able to take away bottles when I need to and increase breastfeeding, and if I wanted to I could exclusively breastfeed now but I prefer the system I have going on. It means when I go out in the day I don’t have to worry about sterilising bottles and making up feeds before leaving. And at night time I don’t have to worry about not knowing when my baby will finish her feed when I exhausted. So I feel like I have the best of both worlds really for what I need.
In terms of going forward, I don’t have a plan. I don’t know how long I’ll day time feed from the breast, or whether or not I’ll decide to feed from the breast around the clock. As long as my daughter is happy and thriving and I’m happy with the situation as well we’ll just keep progressing and make it up as we go along.
And really when it comes to trying to breastfeed again after failure first time around, that’s probably the best advice I can give. Just don’t have a plan. Go in open minded, and that way you won’t be disappointed whatever the outcome. Do it your way and just know that your body is smart and your baby is born ready to use its feeding instincts if all goes well. So just go with it as long as it’s a journey that’s making you both happy.