Before your baby is even here you are being asked “are you going to breastfeed?”. Only looking back now do I realise that this is rather an insensitive question to ask. How can anyone really answer that, of course you may have every good intention to breastfeed but until your baby is here, and particularly for first time mothers, you have no idea how your baby or your breasts will deal with the situation.
Some mums find breastfeeding easy and take to it immediately. Others struggle initially, but persevere through several weeks of pain, cracked nipples, nipple shields, mastitis and dedication and are happy to continue for as long as their baby needs milk regularly because it is easy, free and it fits in with their lives.
Others aren’t as lucky. I think any new mum can probably account for that moment when you are lying down having given birth only a short while ago when a health care professional comes and suggests the first feed. That moment when your breasts seem to not be the personal part of your body that they once were as they get pushed around by some strange to assist in helping your baby to latch on.
Breastfeeding, although a natural function of our womanly bodies, can be a painful and emotional battle and one that I do not believe is addressed enough before birth. Some women come to the decision on their own, having had enough of their bleeding nipples, engorged breasts or constantly fractious, hungry baby. My own experience was that my daughter could simply not latch on. No matter what I or anyone else tried it was just not happening for her. I even went down the cutting of her tongue tie route but this made no difference. I continued every feed for 6 weeks to try and help her, 20 minutes on each breast trying to get her to latch on to then go for expressed breast milk in a bottle. At 6 weeks old she was also diagnosed with a dairy allergy and went on to prescribed milk. The bottle feeding suddenly turned my life around and having a newborn baby became a little bit easier. But the guilt I had and the emotion with it was something that I wasn’t prepped for at all.
Moving from breast to formula will certainly be a relief for many, but there are a lot of mums out there who really struggle to come to this decision to stop breastfeeding and are laden with guilt as a result.
These feelings are totally natural and normal, especially as this is a time in a woman’s life when her hormones are running wild, and emotions even more so. It can feel like you are losing something personal and this can be heightened when you are out and about with a mum who is breastfeeding. But actually, one of the biggest things that I noticed was that the more mum friends you make the more you realise that actually bottle feeding for whatever reason is actually quite common. There are some mums who are sharing those same emotions as you and to have someone who understands exactly what you are feeling is a great relief in itself.
What I would like to see happen is more support for bottle-feeding mums as they would benefit from this to help ease any guilt they are feeling and to help them to recognise that they are doing the best for their babies. But at the end of the day, the important thing to remember is that as long as you are feeding your baby, it really doesn’t matter where the milk comes from.