First of all, I would like to thank Millenial Mom for sharing her experience of breastfeeding in her recent post: Breastfeed or Bust: are you even a mom if you don’t exclusively give the boob? Reading this extremely personal post reminded me of how important it is to start conversations about our experiences to help others who have either undergone or are going through similar situations. In light of this, I wanted to explain my reasons why ‘breast wasn’t best for us’/
Why Breast Wasn’t Best For Us
I would like to begin by saying that in discussing my feelings on why ‘breast wasn’t best for us’, (meaning my babies and I), I am in no way advocating against breastfeeding. Rather, I am attempting to highlight an important issue – that some mothers can’t breastfeed, or that breastfeeding is to the detriment of their well being or mental health. Which can then have a huge impact on their ability to bond with their baby.
My experience with breastfeeding was undoubtedly a catalyst for a whole chain of events which ultimately led me into a severe depression. In the hope that I can make even one mother feel better, I want to share my story.
Trying to do It All Right
I was 16 years old when I fell pregnant with my eldest child back in 2001 and 17 years old when I gave birth to her. Being a young Mum, I understood that I would be judged purely on my age. Somewhere along the line, I must have made a subconscious decision to ignore my gut instincts and purely do what I thought everyone wanted me to do. I internalised a belief that even though I was going to be the mother to my baby, my age meant that I was incapable of making correct decisions.
And so whatever I read in a magazine, I believed. Whatever the midwife told me to do, I did without question. If a family member gave me some advice, I acted upon it.
All too real was my fear of being a failure and being judged, and having my child judged as I was a teen Mum. I just didn’t want to get anything wrong.
At each and every midwife appointment, I was asked ‘will you be breastfeeding’. Like an obedient child to a headteacher, I answered yes each and every time without question. I created a birth plan (which of course was, in fact, useless) and stated my intent to breastfeed on there.
My Struggles with Breastfeeding and Why Breast Wasn’t Best For Us
After 12 horrendous hours in labour, I finally gave birth to a healthy baby girl weighing 8lb 12oz. I was extremely nervous but overjoyed to be presented with my tiny baby girl. Various relatives came into the delivery room to see the new arrival. The baby screamed and sucked her fist eagerly anticipating her first feed.
Once everyone left, I tried to feed her. The midwife guided me as she latched on and she fed for ages! As soon as she was off the breast, she would scream. I would feed her again until she fell asleep. And this was the pattern for the following 4 days as I remained in hospital. I’d had pre-eclampsia during my pregnancy and my blood pressure had failed to decrease after giving birth. This situation was undoubtedly exacerbated by my lack of sleep.
Every time I tried to put the baby down, she would scream. I can remember the other mothers on the ward complaining because my baby cried so much. I felt incredibly low and alone. It did not occur to me that my baby was not getting enough milk from me, that she was screaming out of hunger. This was an issue my grandmother tried to raise with me and mentioned it to the midwives on the ward. But they insisted that ‘breast is best’ and I would soon ‘get used to it’. I dared not question them, they were infallible!
Turning to the Bottle
On the fourth day, I was finally sent home. Of course, as I left the hospital, I was registered as leaving a breastfeeding mother. I was hoping that when I brought my baby home things would get easier. They didn’t. By this point, my nipples were cut and bleeding. I was crying in agony everytime the baby latched on to feed. Adamant that I had to continue in this pursuit, I continued to breastfeed.
I fell asleep whilst my mother held the screaming baby. Unbeknownst to me, my mother had brought with her a sterilised bottle and some formula milk. As I slept, my mother fed the baby from the bottle. Lo and behold, the baby stopped screaming and slept. I slept too!
When I woke to discover my baby had been bottle fed, I was mortified! What would the midwife say? I had not considered that my own mother had raised two healthy children and had some knowledge on these matters. And had only sought to help her daughter who was crying through agony and exhaustion.
Breast Isn’t Always Best
The community midwife arrived to check on us that morning. I was terribly upset as I told her I felt like a failure. That because of my failings as a mother, my baby had been bottle fed. I will never forget the relief I felt as the midwife said clearly ‘breast isn’t always best’. She could clearly see that breast wasn’t best for us. She said that formula milk is just as good as breast milk these days. And to ignore those pushy midwives at the hospital who are instructed to ensure that as many mothers as possible leave the hospital breastfeeding. It’s all about the statistics she explained.
My baby then became a bottle fed baby. She felt full and she actually slept! And so did I! However, I was left with the horrible sensation that from my clear inability to breastfeed my baby, that I was a total failure as a mother and as a woman. Every day I felt guilty, why couldn’t I do it? Was there something wrong with me? Was I not putting my child first? My friends could breastfeed their babies, but why couldn’t I?
Initially, I assumed I was suffering from the baby blues. But the baby was three months old and these feelings did not subside. I went to see my GP and he diagnosed me with post-natal depression and prescribed anti-depressants which I subsequently took for 2 years. After counselling and medication, I felt much better.
Breast is Best?
So breastfeeding undeniably has many benefits. I’m not trying to criticise women who do breastfeed, quite the opposite. If you can breastfeed, that’s an amazing privilege that ought to be cherished.
Back in 2001, the words ‘breast is best’ were everywhere! In baby magazines, in the doctor’s surgery, in the dentist waiting room, everywhere! I bought into this mantra without even thinking about it or considering what this actually meant.
Let’s take a look at what that slogan actually means:
The Benefits of Breastfeeding
Current statistics on breastfeeding can be found on the NHS website. It is undeniable that breastfeeding is a natural way to feed your way. That your milk is tailored to your baby is also a primary benefit of breastfeeding. According to the NHS breastfeeding reduces the risk of sickness and diarrhoea and infections.
The above link offers some breastfeeding myth busters. Some of these “myths” may I fact be relevant to my case:
Myth: “Some women do not produce enough breast milk.”
Fact: Almost all women are physically able to breastfeed. Early, frequent feeding and responding to your baby’s cues give you the best start to establishing your supply.
Ok, so what then if you do not or indeed do not feel that you are producing enough milk? You want to continue breastfeeding but you also don’t want to feel that your newborn is starving and uncomfortable.
Another myth they highlight:
Myth: “Breastfeeding hurts.”
Fact: Breastfeeding is a natural way to feed a baby and it should not hurt. If you experience pain in your breasts or nipples, it’s usually because your baby is not positioned or attached properly. Ask your midwife, health visitor or a breastfeeding specialist to watch a whole feed to help spot the problem.
You’ve asked the midwife for help, for 3 days you’ve been asking for help and you’re in agony. What then?
I’m not saying that my situation is the same for everyone else. But what of us women for whom it does hurt and don’t feel like they are producing enough milk. For us, it’s the guilt trip! Perhaps on-setting a sense of failure, a feeling of loneliness and, in my case, post-natal depression. So, breast wasn’t best for us!
I’m not in any way trying to challenge the NHS, who am I to do so? I just want to point out that every woman is different and not every woman is able to breastfeed. That breast isn’t always best for mother and ultimately for their baby. Indeed, breast wasn’t best for us!
Judgement of Others
I felt forced to breastfeed, even when I knew it wasn’t working. Simply so the hospital could improve their statistics. Making me feel terrible about my inability to breastfeed should not have happened.
In their excellent post The Judgement of Mothers: When Breast Isn’t Best Firefly friends discuss the way in which mothers are judged and frowned upon for feeding their babies via bottle. It seems that many of us have had a similar experience, in which due to our ‘failures’ society rendered us, bad mothers. Couple this with your own sense of guilt and you’ve got a recipe for some serious mental health issues.
Speaking to other Mums, I found they had had similar experiences to my own. Midwives were pushing (not encouraging) them to breastfeed. If they refused, they were made to feel guilty, that they were selfish mothers, that breast was best.
Breast Wasn’t Best For Us!
When I gave birth to my second child in 2013 and the age of 29, I felt much more confident in my own judgement. I understood that breast isn’t always beast and thus decided not to attempt to breastfeed my second baby. This time I knew breast wasn’t best for us. I refused to let myself succumb to the same pressures and horrific experience and in this decision, I was actually putting my child first. Babies pick up on their mother’s emotions. If I had to endure the same sense of failure once again, this would have a detrimental effect on both of my children.
With my second child, I point blank refused to even try breastfeeding and ignored any pressures. However (likely because of my more mature years) the pressure to breastfeed was born existent from the midwives second time around. Perhaps the NHS feel less pressured to hit statistics for breastfeeding nowadays and has seen the errors of its ways.
As noted above, breastfeeding does have its benefits. It’s convenient, healthy and natural. However, I have seen some horrific examples of scaremongering:
Myth: Bottle feeding casues autism.
Fact: There is no scientific proof for this.
Myth: Bottle fed babies grow up to become unhealthy toddlers.
Fact: My children are strong and healthy.
Myth: Your baby won’t bond with you if you bottle feed.
Fact: This is just nonsense, I bonded extremely well with my babies, even more so with my first once she was not either attached to my breast or screaming!
Myth: Formual milk lacks nutrition.
Fact: Look at the ingredients on the container, they’re loaded with vitamins and minerals to ensure the baby recieves the correct amount of nutrients.
Myth: Formual fed babies grow up to be selfish.
Fact: Can you believe I actually read this in a magazine! Now they’re just clutching at straws!
Now imagine a woman who is unable to breastfeed for whatever reason, reading this! After giving birth, her hormones everyone, she’s exhausted and at the end of her wits! I was that mother and I hope to prevent anyone else from feeling as I did. The vilification of mothers who bottle feed has to stop! It’s all circumstantial for some mothers, breastfeeding works, however, breast wasn’t best for us.
My eldest daughter is now 17 years old. She is extremely healthy and excelled throughout school. After sitting her GCSEs she achieved an A*, 5 A’s and 2 B’s. She is now studying 4 A Levels and is on course for university and ultimately a fabulous career. She is a wonderful, kind, intelligent and beautiful person both inside and out and has a wide circle of friends.
My youngest daughter is now 5 years old. Like her sister, she is also extremely intelligent. She is extremely sociable and is completing work 2 years above her school year. My youngest is also fit and healthy. Neither have any medical issues.
My point is, bottle feeding my children was not detrimental to their health, intelligence or any aspect of their lives. For my children and me, breast was not best! I do not in any way object to breastfeeding, it’s a wonderful thing! What society needs to do is to stop criticising the way mothers feed their babies. If a woman breastfeeds in public, she’s subject to criticism. If she bottle feeds, she’s judged. Let’s allow women to make their own choices for what is best for them and their baby.
Try as I did, breastfeeding did not work with my eldest, and I wasn’t going to even risk putting myself through another traumatic experience the second time around! So, for both of my children and I, breast wasn’t best for us!