Is Breast Always Best?

I have been intending to write this post for some time. For a while I was too worried that people would disagree and I would get upsetting comments (I’m a sensitive soul). But I now think what the hell, this needs to be said. I know I’m not the only one who thinks this, but it doesn’t really get spoken about and that is the problem.

So here’s the thing. I don’t think breastfeeding is always best.

I can hear the sharp intakes of breath from here. So let me explain myself. I don’t mean that breastmilk isn’t the best milk you can feed a baby. That is undebatable. What I mean is that when a new child comes into the world there is more than just nutrition to consider.

Perhaps it would help at this stage to explain my personal experience.

When I was pregnant I was certain I was going to breastfeed. I wouldn’t say that the books made it sound easy, but they did make it sound achievable for all. In other words, any problems that were encountered could be overcome by taking certain steps. At my antenatal appointments I was asked if I planned to breastfeed, and when I said “yes” a box was ticked and nothing more was said. When my husband and I went to our antenatal classes breastfeeding was covered, but bottle feeding was only touched on with words to the effect of “we won’t be covering bottle feeding, but if you plan to bottle feed you can talk to us afterwards”. I wasn’t planning to bottle feed so I didn’t have that chat.

My plans started to fall apart at the labour. Instead of the low-intervention water birth I had planned I ended up having a highly medicalised labour including the full cocktail of drugs. By the time my perfect little girl arrived I was uncontrollably shaking (and throwing up as a result of one of the post birth injections) and couldn’t hold her for more than a few seconds for fear of dropping her.

In the blur of the next few hours I can’t remember exactly how soon I first tried breastfeeding, or how successful the first attempt was. But I can say that over the following two days in hospital I really struggled to get Penny to latch on, and for her to stay latched on once she was in position. The overstretched midwives helped as best they could. She was cup fed donated breast milk several times and I was shown how to express colostrum into a syringe so I could feed her that. I was also helped by a fantastic breast-feeding consultant who taught me some different positions that worked a couple of times. By the time I left hospital I felt I was over the worst and feeding would now gradually get easier and easier.

But it didn’t.

Once I was home the same problems returned. No matter what I tried I could not keep her latched on. I was helped by the vising midwife and a breast feeding volunteer. According to the midwife she was getting some milk, but I could tell she was not a content baby. By the time Penny was a week old every breastfeeding session would get her extremely upset. I think she was frustrated because she couldn’t get latched on. I’m not talking a little cry here, I’m talking major newborn screaming. This would happen the moment we started trying, so in her worked up state she was even less likely to latch on. I was also getting very upset by all this. I just wanted to give my baby what she wanted. Why wasn’t it working?

From a few days in we considered trying a bottle feed. Just to fill her up and calm her down so we could have a less agitated fresh start at breast feeding. But I’d read that mixed feeding was a bad idea because the bottle teat would make it less likely the baby could latch onto the breast successfully. In addition, I felt I would be failing my baby in giving her formula milk. Formula milk was BAD!

On day nine, utterly exhausted mentally and physically, deep in baby blues and concerned it was going to turn into post-natal depression, and having made no progress in breastfeeding, my husband went and bought a tub of baby formula. We intended just to ‘give it a go’, and potentially mixed feed for a while. The instant difference was astounding. Whereas Penny had struggled for over a week to get any consistent latch on me, she took to the bottle instantly. Suddenly I had a contented baby. An air of calm descended over mother and baby as she lay in my arms gazing up at me and I bottle fed her. Wasn’t this what breastfeeding was meant to be like? By day ten I had abandoned breastfeeding altogether and Penny became a bottle fed baby.

But here is my point. At no point, either before the birth or during those ten days, did anyone attempt to prepare me for the possibility that breast feeding just might not work out. Not a single official source said to me that bottle feeding was ok. In my exhausted state I felt like a failure. I felt guilty. I felt like a bad mum. I was scared of telling my visiting midwife as I thought I would be told off. As it was, she was great. She was really supportive and gave me lots of advice. Gradually I overcame my guilt and realised that bottle feeding is fine. My little girl is thriving and happy, my baby blues passed and I haven’t regretted my decision once.

Every mum’s experience will be slightly different, but I know from my limited research that my experience is in no way unique. It seems that in its efforts to promote breastfeeding and reach certain targets, the NHS is neglecting this simple fact that it doesn’t work for everyone. I am not anti-breastfeeding, I am simply pro-choice. A mother cannot make a free choice when they are not fully informed. There are laws in place to prevent the advertising of baby formula and I do not disagree with this. But preventing NHS staff from discussing all the feeding options with expectant and new mums in a balanced, unbiased way is not beneficial to mothers or babies.

Surely it wouldn’t be too hard to get the balance right?

Just to show I am not alone I have included these links if you wish to read further;

When breastfeeding just isn’t going to happen

Fearless formula feeders

Breastfeeding versus baby formula is not an either or debate

Is breastfeeding inability causing depression?

 

Disclaimer

I am neither a health professional nor connected in any way to either the NHS or companies that profit from bottle feeding. What is written above is purely my opinion based on my experience. I would encourage any expectant or new mother considering how to feed their baby to carry out their own research before making a decision.

 

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About Laura Cooper

I am a mid-thirties first time mum of one. Formerly a secondary school teacher, serial planner and know-it-all . I have learnt that nothing about being a mum is predictable and am now a strong advocate of making it up as you go along.
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