Formula Feeding and my feelings towards it….OK, so maybe this is not the post to write during national breastfeeding week….or is it? I know this subject is a contentious issue, but this is my experience of what happened once I had to start formula feeding. So My breastfeeding difficulties are mentioned in my previous post – please read this if you want to know what I went through!
Battling with the Boob
I will always cherish the two beautiful weeks where I got to sit with my beautiful girl, and exclusively breastfeed her all day, when I thought I didn’t have to undertake formula feeding anymore. This was after all the trouble I had at the beginning. I watched box set after box set, drinking water and stuffing my face with pistachio nuts. I loved that time. I loved being so close to her. I loved feeling I was feeding her, giving her what she needed. I was so, so hopeful that my milk would increase, and it would be OK. I could breastfeed. But no more milk would come. After everything I had been through.
In hindsight, I think I should have continued to give her the top-up formula for longer, as my milk supply increased, in those early weeks, rather than ditch it completely and then struggle to feed her, which I did. I didn’t give myself a chance to catch up.
We would feed for hours at a time. I’d do everything I could – make sure she had both boobs, different positions, checking the latch. By the time we’d finish both boobs it was time to start again. If I was at home, this life was not so bad. As I said, we would watch TV, box sets, sit on the sofa. But I couldn’t put her down for long without her wanting a feed. I couldn’t really go out, as I was terrified she’d want to feed, and when she did, she would not want to stop. I only went out when she was asleep. I used to have to take her to clinic, screaming crying in the pram, and as soon as I had walked the 10 mins there, get her on the boob again quick. I knew it wasn’t right.
It’s a growth spurt, people said. It’ll only last a few days. But it lasted weeks.
It’s your baby telling your body to make more milk, people said. It’ll calm down soon. But it never did. No more milk came.
This is totally normal, people said.
But still my milk did not increase. I felt no letdown, I didn’t feel my boobs were bigger in any way and they didn’t feel fuller. I was confused and puzzled. And she kept wanting to feed and feed and feed. She didn’t sleep during the day, she just fed and fed and fed.
I was so stressed one of my very best friends came down from Leeds to help me for a week. At this time, we were giving the baby one bottle at night, but breastfeeding all other times. She lent me her electric pump, as I was manually pumping but getting less and less. Initially, at the start of breastfeeding, I could express 4oz on a good day. Now I could express 1oz between both breasts. My milk was decreasing. I knew it, in my heart. I know pumps are not an accurate way of measuring anything but the difference in what I could pump initially to now really hit home.
Facing Up to Formula Feeding
So we had to start giving her more and more formula. It broke my heart that I couldn’t exclusively breastfeed.
I felt very, very bad about this. I was desperate to cling to breastfeeding, and I felt a lot of pressure (indirectly; one side of the family were telling me how good breastfeeding was etc, the other telling me to do what I felt was right) about it.
I don’t think anyone who has been in my situation, or indeed has tried breastfeeding and then decides to go onto formula, makes this decision lightly. Everywhere people are telling you how bad formula is. Research, statistics, all floated around my mind like a word soup. I was poisoning my baby! I was ruining her life! I was making her stupid and fat! I was giving her allergies! I felt like the worst mother ever.
My only saving grace was that I was still giving her breast milk. At least once or twice a day, morning and evening, sometimes afternoon. She’d feed a little, but how much she was having was anyone’s guess. She was comforted by it, and at night, a few times, it was an easy way to get her to go to sleep. I was pleased I could still do this, and it counter balanced for me some of the anxieties I had about formula. I wondered how long I could do this.
I combi-fed my baby for three and a half months, although the bottles became more after 8 weeks – we had upped to three bottles a day and then this increased to 4/5. She had my milk for three and a half months, as well as formula. She started to put on weight with formula, she started to look like a healthy baby. And she stopped crying, and she started to be happy, and content. She was much happier with the combi feeding than she was without.
Formula feeding is not the easy answer. It’s difficult, time-consuming and messy. My house started to get more and more covered in bottles, teats, and sterilizers. I hate having to make the bottles up, waiting half an hour for the water to cool, counting the scoops, making sure the scoops are filled just right. I hate having to fiddle about with the bottles, and water, and powder, especially when I am in public, and Bubs is becoming very screamy and crying for her bottle and people are staring at me. I hate having to keep remembering to wash and sterilise bottles, and keep on top of this. I hate having to think ahead all the time and plan when her next bottle may possibly be (she seems to go 3 hours or so between feeds). And I have to buy the milk which is an expense I did not think about. And worst of all, because formula is seen as so bad, there are no offers, no money off, nothing. I know people don’t want to advertise formula but for those of us who have to use it, this just makes you feel even more dirty and nasty. I felt bad just buying it. And I get through a box of milk in just over a week now – about £40 a month.
There are positives: Dan can feed her, My Mum can, anyone can. I can leave her with family so I can get out of the house. I call these positives, as I have to think positively about it, or else I would crack up. I can’t spend my whole life beating myself up about every bottle feed she has.
It is bad enough I feel guilty, and feel bad, when people see me bottle feeding her in public. I see other mothers breastfeeding and I think to myself ‘I wish I could do that’. For me, things were not right from the start, and that tainted everything about breastfeeding for me. It wasn’t right, it wasn’t perfect, I tried to cling to it but eventually it slipped away. I want to tell all those people who look at me in disgust, look at me as if to say ‘tut tut, she’s using formula’ that I tried. I TRIED. This wasn’t my choice.
I decided to stop breastfeeding completely because Bubs would go on the boob, but would hurt me, chew my nipples with her gums, she would suck for comfort as on a dummy, but she wasn’t really feeding. It was uncomfortable. I knew that it was fading away, and that the bottles were winning – it was easier for her to do, after all.
My experience clouded the first few months of my baby’s life, and I feel very angry about that. I started to resent breastfeeding, and bottle feeding, and any conversation about feeding. It was all I seemed to talk about for months, and weeks. Taking control of the situation meant that I could move forward, and start enjoying being with my baby, without all of this anxiety. For me, my relationship with her improved dramatically as soon as I started to increase the bottles. This was because the stress of the weight issues, and feeding issues, were being removed. It wasn’t the only thing we did together. I still carry with me all these emotions: guilt, worry, anxiety, stress, shame, embarrassment. It has made me feel very low indeed.
I don’t know whether Bubs misses it – she never goes to grab my boob, or go to breastfeed, even if I hold her across me – she seems indifferent about it. She loves her bottles though, and she has gone strength to strength as soon as we started to give it to her. For me, I can’t wait until the day she doesn’t need them anymore. As then I can put all this emotion to one side.
I am not saying formula is best, or better, than breastfeeding. I wish with all my heart I could be writing this, with a happy ending, that I went through all that and look, here we are, breastfeeding as we should be. I wish so much that my milk increased. I wanted to be that person, maybe you reading this, being able to feed your child anywhere, with no issue, no bottle, no sterilising. I wanted to feel like I was doing my bit.
I will always remember those two weeks, those 2 precious weeks, when I thought it was true. But I can’t beat myself up forever that I am bottle feeding and formula feeding. I need to let it go, and just enjoy my life. I need to stop worrying what everyone else thinks of me when I get that bottle out of the bag.
More Support Required
Breastfeeding, bottle feeding…I can understand why there is less uptake of breastfeeding, and why there is an issue. As I said in my last post, the lack of support and practical help when I had first had my baby, was the crucial issue here. It was those 6 days in hospital where I had conflicting advice, information and indifference to my situation, that has led me down the path I now tread. If you want people to breastfeed, then give them continuity of support, advice, information. Let them understand what it means to breastfeed rather than reactively latch on their babies for them and leave them to it. Encourage and support, don’t tell them that some babies can not breastfeed and offer formula. Don’t tell me I should do this, and that, and speak to this person, that person. I did it all. I tried it all. I could have carried on trying, yes. And sometimes I wonder if I did do all I could. But in the end, it was my sanity as well as my baby that I had to consider.
I did not choose to bottle feed, I didn’t choose formula. Yet here I am.