Saturday, 20 August 2011

She's Off Her T*ts!

My top three fears when pregnant with my first child were:

1) That there’d be something wrong with my baby

2) That labour would be so painful that I’d need an epidural, which would go wrong and I’d permanently lose the use of my legs

3) That I might accidently poo, while pushing the baby out

My top three fears when I was pregnant with my second child were:

1) Breastfeeding

2) Breastfeeding

3) Breastfeeding

Yes. There was only one thing on my mind while I was packing a fresh tube of nipple cream into my labour bag. Was I going to be able to breastfeed this time around, or was I about to re-live the trauma of my failed attempt with my first child?

There had been no doubt in my mind, when I was pregnant with my firstborn, that I was going to breastfeed. The government’s ‘Breast is Best’ campaign had done its job and I was well and truly educated in the undisputable health benefits of breast milk and the evil of formula milk.

Having attended a talk by the hospital’s breastfeeding councillor, where milk powder had been likened to feeding a child KFC, I’d spent my savings on all the necessary equipment, from a £400 feeding chair, to the best electric breast pump on the market and the obligatory range of peep-hole tops.

However, once my son had torn his way into the world and the consultant had screamed at the midwives for their incompetence, we were hurriedly moved to the postnatal ward and abandoned. Several hours later, still in discomfort from the birth and exhausted after a long labour, it suddenly occurred to me that I hadn’t fed my baby. In a panic, I rang the bell, but no one came. So I undid some buttons, introduced my son to his first pair and he latched on. Eventually a midwife popped her head round the curtain, said the baby looked like he was feeding properly, ticked a box that I was breastfeeding and disappeared.

Within hours, we were home and my baby started crying, so I happily disappeared upstairs to the feeding chair. Two weeks later, we were still there. Only by this time, both of us were crying - me in agony and he in hunger…

Our difficulties, did not spring from a lack of support. From the day following my son’s birth, I was visited on a daily basis by midwives, who would take the time to check that I was breastfeeding correctly and tell me what a wonderful job I was doing.

They listened, as I told them how my son would suck indefinitely, never wanting to let go. That when I couldn’t take any more of the pain and frustration of sitting for an hour and a half, with a baby at my breast, I would pass the inconsolable infant to my husband, just so I could go for a pee. Then he would hand my screaming son back and I would begin the process all over again.

I told them how neither my son nor I, ever slept for longer than an hour and the only place he would settle was in my arms. And how I’d given up attempting to get dressed, my appetite had disappeared and I was so exhausted, that I couldn’t speak without crying. But they just told me to keep on breastfeeding – it was best for my baby.

A few days later, when I decided I couldn’t take any more of my son’s wailing and the pain, I got into the car in my pyjamas, with my screaming baby in the back and was driven off to a breastfeeding support group at the hospital. Once there, I fed my baby, was told by the councillor that I needed bigger bras and was sent home again. By 04:00 the following morning I was so desperate for help, I phoned La Leche League, a support group for breastfeeding women and was counselled down the phone for 40 minutes, while my son yelled in the background. It made no difference.

By now, I was answering the door to the midwives in my knickers with my son attached to my boob. Dignity had gone out the window with my sanity. I was starting to have visions of laying my son down on the floor and walking out of the door - just walking and walking until I could collapse in peace. The cards were flooding through the letter box, ‘Congratulations! What wonderful news!’ and all I could think was, ‘why are they congratulating me? Why did no one tell me that having a baby is horrific?’

Female friends and relatives were directed upstairs to the feeding chair and greeted by a half-naked, teary eyed wreck and a hysterical baby.

And still the midwives came, with their “keep going!” and their “breast is best.” And they’d watch as I’d stamp my feet in agony as I attached my son to my breast, as his suck sent stabbing pains through my chest. To then be told, "he’s not on properly if it’s hurting, take him off and try again!”

Still no one would weigh my now skinny, jaundiced baby, frightened it would discourage me from breastfeeding, if he’d lost a bit of weight.

Then a week in, as I was sitting, listening to nursery rhymes in my feeding chair, I found myself gripped by the lyrics of Mary Had A Little Lamb and before I knew it, I was in floods of tears over the beauty of the relationship between Mary and her baby sheep.

That was when I knew that I had completely lost the plot. I don’t even like animals! Something had to change. I phoned my husband, who by now was starting to suspect I had post natal depression. He told me to do what felt right and speak to the midwives.

But when you’re exhausted, hormonal and scared, you don’t trust your own judgements, so when I said to the midwife that I’d had enough of breastfeeding, they suggested I express milk after a feed and give that to my son in a bottle.

So after each 90 minute stint with a baby on my boob, I attached a pump to it. Now there wasn’t even time to pee, let alone sleep. And I sat and I sat and it pumped away and to my dismay, after an hour, all that was in the pump bottle, was a dollop of yellow puss and a spot of blood. But I persevered and sometimes, rarely, but sometimes, an ounce or two of milk would come out. And so desperate was I to feed my baby, that I fed him the contents of the bottle, regardless of what was mixed in with that milk from my bleeding boobs.

I knew it wasn’t right. But I was so indoctrinated against formula milk, that somewhere in my disturbed mind I thought it was better to have a hungry baby than a formula fed one. And the midwives, the supposed experts backed this up. After all, what did I, a first time mum know?

Then I had a brainwave. Maybe I could get breast milk from another woman! It was better to use some poor cow’s over-active milk supply than feed my baby powdered milk from..well, some poor cows. So I googled ‘milk banks’ and found that any donated milk goes to premature and sick babies, not sick mothers with hungry babies.

So there I was, two weeks on, still in that feeding chair and the doorbell rang, for my daily midwife visit. It was a male midwife, in his late 50s. I was suspicious.

He produced a pair of scales, for my son’s first weigh-in. I was excited to see how much weight he’d put on after all my efforts.

But I could see in the midwife’s face that all was not well.

“Have you got a bottle and some formula milk?” said the midwife.

“I don’t want to give my baby formula milk,” I said.

“If you don’t give your son a drink of formula milk now,” he replied, “I'll have no choice but to admit him to hospital.”

I felt numb. My two week old baby had lost over 10 per cent of his body weight. He was dehydrated and desperate for food.

“What will they do to him in hospital?” I asked.

“They’ll give him formula milk.”

So, terrified that my baby was going to be taken away from me, I watched, as this stranger, poured formula milk into the lid of a bottle and slowly trickled it into my son’s mouth.

Then, for the first time since his birth, my son slept. And all I could do was cry.

I had failed my son. Not only had I unintentionally starved my poor, precious baby for two long weeks, but now some guy had fed him this disgusting, powdered milk concoction. He’d clearly drugged my son with this poison - why else would a feed send him to sleep? It didn’t occur to me that babies always sleep when their tummies are full, because my baby had never had a full tummy.

Sensing my distress, that wonderful, sensible, caring midwife, suggested I continued breastfeeding, but then after each feed, I ‘top up’ with a little formula.

So I did. And it quickly became obvious, as my son hungrily sucked at the bottle of formula milk, that despite all my efforts, I had virtually no breast milk.

But still I couldn’t accept it. It’s like the breastfeeding campaigners had rewired my brain. I was completely indoctrinated. But having put my son through so much distress, I no longer trusted myself to make a decision. So I phoned my friend who had given up breastfeeding after six weeks.

“I need you to tell me to stop breastfeeding,” I said.

“Stop breastfeeding,” she said.

So I stopped. And my son started to put on weight for the first time. Then he began to sleep – not brilliantly, but enough to get by. And the crying became less frequent. And when his nappies became heavy and wet, it suddenly dawned on me, he had been so dehydrated that he hadn’t been weeing. And even when I’d told the midwives that I couldn’t tell if there was any urine in the nappy, they’d just fobbed me off, saying it was hard to tell these days, as nappies are so absorbent.

Now the only place I wanted to walk, was out in the sunshine, with my baby in his pram.

The next day, one of the original midwives came. I told her I had stopped breastfeeding.

“Oh well,” she said, “I suppose it doesn’t suit everybody’s lifestyle.”

I said nothing. What I wanted to say was, ‘no sorry, it doesn’t suit my lifestyle to starve my baby to death, while my mental health deteriorates. Yes, that really gets in the way of long lunches and manicures, you judgemental b****.’ But I didn’t, because I felt ashamed.

That was my last midwife visit. Once the breastfeeding box is unticked, you’re no longer a concern. But she wasn’t the only one to judge.

“Shame on you,” was the response to my bottle feeding, from a relative and retired paediatrician.

It doesn’t help the guilt, that when you decide to bottle feed a baby, you immediately become part of an underground movement. In order to know which milk to choose, which brand of bottle, how to sterilise and all the other questions an anxious mother has, you must seek out another member of this tribe. Why? Because midwives, antenatal teachers and even advertisers are banned from promoting formula milk, just in case a mother falsely starts to believe that Aptamil or SMA or Cow & Gate is better for her baby than mummy’s own milk. As a result, buying a tub of formula milk, feels like purchasing something illegal and dangerous. It’s the aptly named ‘nanny state’ gone mad and it’s having a damaging effect on mothers and babies, at a time which should be the most special of their lives.

Even formula milk websites are forced by law, to show visitors a warning about the content of the site, before they enter a page with information on its products! It seems formula feeding has become something that everyone knows goes on, but no one is allowed to mention.

Despite everything, when I fell pregnant with my daughter, I knew that I wanted to give breastfeeding another shot. During my first labour I’d consumed every method of pain relief possible and would have raided the supply cupboard for more, if the epidural had allowed me to escape from the bed. Concerned that one or more of the drugs may have affected my milk supply, I decided that second time around I was going to go cold turkey. After all, how much could it hurt?

Haha! What an idiot. Let’s just say it stung, quite a lot. But anyway, I managed to push out 7lb15oz worth of child with no toxins in my bloodstream. The baby was then led straight to my breast and all was well.

36 hours later, it had become obvious to me that my daughter was starving, so I made her a bottle. I shed a few tears (mainly because I could have had an effing epidural!) and put the episode behind me.

Or tried to. Everywhere new mothers turn is another ‘Breast is Best’ poster. Every week in the press, there’s another report that breastfed children have a higher IQ, a stronger immune system, more chance of having magic sodding powers. But I know that breast milk is better for my children, I’m aware that I’ve ruined their lives, now leave me and my boobs alone!

Midwives shouldn’t be under pressure to push mothers to breastfeed. They should be trained to recognise that the health of the mother and baby is paramount. The definition of good health, does not mean the use of breast milk - it means a thriving baby and a sane mother, whether this is achieved by a breast or a bottle.

If 80 per cent of women give up breastfeeding in the first six months, I can’t be the only one to feel that breast isn’t always best, can I?


  1. Great post. So sorry that you had to go through that.

    I breastfed my daughter or just 6 weeks and didn't even attempt with my son. Thankfully I gave birth in Germany and the midwives were understanding and didn't pile on the guilt.

    Breast is not always best, not for everyone.

  2. Thanks mmelindor! It's really interesting to hear that there's a different attitude in Germany. I do wonder if it's just the UK that lays the breastfeeding guilt on so thick...

  3. Great post. Particularly the last paragraph.

    I want to give breast feeding a go when my son arrives, I realise of course it takes some element of initial perseverance in those first few days but I also want to be empowered enough that if it doesn't work for us that somehow I can stop the guilt from taking over. I want to breastfeed, but I also don't think there is anything wrong with formula.

    For us, our motto is the only thing that really matters is that he is here at all and I hope that will see me through. That and saving this post because I think it will be a great reminder when post-birth hormones kick in and I feel crap and at the hands of the mafia if it doesn't work!

    Caz x

  4. Hi Caz, thanks for reading! Congratulations on your pregnancy! There will definitely be pressure to breastfeed when you have your baby, but you sound a lot more rational than I was when pregnant! Hopefully you'll get on great with breastfeeding, but if you are struggling, then I hope this post will help. I have two very happy, healthy children, despite them being formula fed! good luck! xx

  5. This was a great post. I'm breastfeeding my second at the moment but I can't say that I really enjoy it. It's a shame that it isn't made clearer to new mothers that breastfeeding is not easy, you do have to persevere, and for some people it just doesn't work out. I felt pressured to breastfeed my first for longer than I felt happy with it, and it was a big relief when I stopped. It's been a little easier with the second, but this time as soon as I'm ready to stop I will.

    You made the right decision, and ultimately a happy mummy means a happy baby which I think is far more important.

  6. What an amazing post. My god those midwives! i can't get over it. You tried and you did everything you could above and beyond the call of duty. There is no way a dehydrated, hungry baby and an exhausted mother can be good. How could they put you through that. You are an inspiration and must never feel guilty. Unfortunately a truck load of guilt arrives as soon as the baby does!

    I tried breast feeding and was adamant I was going to do it all the while I was pregnant. I gave up after a week and switched to pumping the small amount I could manage to produce to give my son and topping that up with formula. My breasts were so large my ducts were so long, it took ages for the milk to travel, by the time it got to my nipple it had dried up, he wouldn't latch on because my nipples were flat and my breasts were suffocating him, he was hungry, we were both exhausted. I pumped every four hours. I set my alarm clock to do it at 4 in the morning even. I did that for a month to give him what i could. It would take an hour and half to get 3oz some times. It was sole destroying.

    No one tells you about combine feeding either. it's like a secret society that doesn't exist.

    A happy mum and a happy baby are the most important things. You made the right decision and you should be proud of yourself and this post for it's honesty and emotion.

  7. An excellent post. My mother and both my grandmothers were unable to breastfeed, and had to give up in the face of lots of opposition from midwives. My aunt was born prematurely, and my grandmother could not produce milk, yet was told to keep breastfeeding. After a couple of weeks my aunt weighed considerably less than the small amount she had when born, and my grandfather went ballistic.

    My mother breastfed me for a short period in which I apparently hardly ever slept, and my mum felt dreadful. After a while, she gave up. After my first bottlefeed I apparently slept for four hours, and from then on things went "like clockwork" and they were able to cope. My mum didn't even try with my younger siblings.

    I was able to breastfeed, although medical advice told me not to feed my son due to the medication I was on. I felt like a complete failure as I weaned him off my milk and onto formula (they had said the first few days would be okay to wind down the amount of medication in his system after the exposure he had had in the womb), mostly because of the amount of "breast is best" literature that every new mother is presented with. I'm sure it contributed to my PND. I had milk, but was told by the doctors that it could harm my son. By the time my daughter was born I was told it would be safe for me to breastfeed, but I remain frustrated at the lack of support there is for people who want to breastfeed but simply cannot, and the overwhelming assumption that it is this wonderful, natural thing which just happens and only lazy people don't "want" to do. Yes, there are people out there who never try, but they are not going to pay much attention to the campaign anyway, which renders it rather pointless to present it as the only option.

  8. Jennifer - isn't it great second time around, when you have enough confidence to go with your instincts and feed for as long as YOU feel comfortable! That's great to hear that it's been easier for you this time. Thanks for reading! x

    Random Woman - Thank you so much! I wish the midwives had been as encouraging as you! Sorry to hear that you had trouble too.Yes, the midwives won't tell you about combine feeding, because they are afraid that we'll prefer bottle feeding and give up on the breastfeeding. Even my friends who exclusively breastfed, were discouraged from expressing the milk into bottles in case it put them off! Crazy and insulting! x

    J.Hill - That's really interesting that the pressure to breastfeed has been going on for generations. You'd think we'd have progressed a little! I'm so sorry to hear that you had PND - I also believe that the breastfeeding guilt can be a contributory factor and one that is never discussed. My depression was purely breastfed related and not PND, but I'm sure that PND would have been the diagnosis had I gone to a doctor in those first two weeks. So glad to hear that you've had a better time with your second child. And you're right - it's a very insensitive campaign! x

  9. I have re-tweeted you and shared your post on my Facebook page I feel so passionate about what you are saying and that no-one should have to suffer the way you did.

    Many friends who are Mum's have commented on there too.

  10. Thank u so much! I really appreciate it. X

  11. How you were made to feel really is heartbreaking, at what should be a very happy time you were not supported and you were badly let down by people who should have known better. However, like you say, there is a lot of box ticking that goes on rather than actually listening!

    I don't think formula is made of arsenic or is comparable to crack and more so i don't think we as mothers need to subjugate ourselves to our babies. We still remain people in our own right.

    However, for what it's worth though, i don't think the term 'Breastfeeding Mafia' is particularly helpful. In fact i would say it's offensive. I think it pitches mothers against mothers. When we become parents it's like everyone is allowed to judge our choices. The term Breastfeeding Mafia is used by what could be called the 'formula feeding mafia'. There are lunatics on both sides! It makes breastfeeding mothers feel as bad for their choice and new mums who don't breastfeed feel for theirs.

    If we supported a little more, judged a little less we might be able to be more confident in making the right choice (feeding or anything else) for ourselves and our babies.

  12. I read your post and cried- my newborn is 7 weeks old and got a few days on the breast- so did my other two- and despite knowing it was right for us- i still feel like a failure deep down (though i have finally learned to hide it better- Thank you for sharing your agony and I really hope it gives a new mum the courage to consider that there may not always be only one way to do things...

  13. Oh midwives and breast feeding, so many of my friends went down the same path as you. one even got her GP to write a letter to her midwife to tell them that she had to stop BFing... Breast is not always best, what is best is a well feed and contended baby... if only all midwives took that on board...

  14. Amazing post, I'm rather anti breast aftermy experience , I was the happiest I could be once I changed over to formula, most of the nurses at Watford scbu were very supportive o what was right for me and the baby, it's a shame not everyone can be the same

  15. Great post. I have to say that the health visitors I had did not give me a hard time about supplementing, and in fact encouraged it when it was clear that both my son and my daughter just weren't putting on the weight they should. The pressure to breastfeed, even in the face of an inability to, is overwhelming though and the guilt! It eats! Much less the second time though.

  16. I don't think anyone should be pressured to BF if they do not want to. However I admire you for giving it a go and I think everyone should.

    What upsets me is that some people decide even before the baby is born that they don't want to BF for vanity or reasons such as 'my breasts are not for my baby'.....
    Ok, formula nowdays is pretty good and has loads of vits etc in it, but the oversexulisation of breasts have made many people forget what they are there for in the first place.
    However, I totally respect your post and realise it doesn't work for everyone. Good on you for giving it a go x

  17. This post made me cry, it was heart-breaking to read the bit when that midwife FINALLY helped you. I'm combination feeding my six-month old daughter (who is my first baby) and agree that it was a total lifesaver. I had a c-section with complications, so I couldn't even try to breastfeed for the first few days, she started off on formula. Decided I did want to try to breastfeed which we managed after the hardest 2 or 3 days of my life which was spent trying and failing to get her to latch on, giving her formula and feeling completely useless. Then a wonderful and patient breastfeeding support worker at the hospital spent hour after hour with us and finally we got started. Without her I'm convinced I'd have stopped trying after a couple of days because it was so difficult she wasn't latching on, surely it's the most natural thing in the world (or so I thought)! But then after 6 weeks of the constant feeding day and night I literally felt like I was going insane and we eventually decided to do formula feeds at night. I felt guilty at first but it made such a huge difference in such a short time - I got some sleep and so did she and we haven't looked back. I don't feel I could have been there for my baby the way I have been if I'd have kept going with exclusive breastfeeding.

    This post is so honest, brave and wonderful. Best one yet! Keep it coming.

  18. Thanks for all your comments!

    Charlotte - I totally take on board what you've said, and I've removed the term 'breastfeeding mafia' from the blog. I think that term is used, because mothers feel a bit ganged up on, rather than because we feel that women who breastfeed are somehow sinister! However, i see your point and I apologise for any offence caused. I also dislike the notion that breastfeeders and bottle feeders are in conflict. As mothers, we should all be on the same team and support each other, how ever we feed our children.

    Tamar - Sorry to make you cry and congratulations on the birth of your baby! You are definitely not a failure! I hope it gives new mums courage too - that would be incredible. They shouldn't be made to feel like we did.

    Frankie P - I echo what you say!How sad that your friend felt she had to tell her midwife via her GP! There's something very wrong there.

    Anon - Glad to hear that moving on to formula made you happy! I've heard good things about the postnatal care at Watford. Maybe I should have gone there!

    Solnushka - That's great to hear that you had supportive health visitors. It seems that the midwives/health visitors who use their common sense over their training, are doing a better job!

  19. Hello, I am a midwife and first time mummy. I am really sad to hear that you had such little support from my fellow midwife colleagues. Like everything in life we have options and choices. Formula feeding is just another option in a whole range of options that mothers need to decide for their children. As a midwife we need to educate women on their options and empower them to make decisions that are right for them. You should never be made to feel bad about using formula milk. It is better to have a happy mummy who can enjoy every precious moment with their babies. Thank you for writing this post. I will forward to it my colleagues to help us reflect on our practice.

  20. I had a similar experience with my first. Breastfeeding was a complete nightmare for me and really affected my enjoyment of and bonding with my baby in those early weeks. I was determined to keep going despite the endless feeds, cracked and bleeding nipples, the fact that my poor baby was obviously so hungry and in so much pain that he could only sleep on his tummy on someone's chest. I didn't so much feel pressure from the midwives to continue, but more from myself and the worry of 'failure'. However, at 6 weeks my son was back to his birthweight (6lb14oz) and I knew enough was enough. I'll never forget his first bottle - he actually smiled for the first time (and no, it wasn't wind!) and slept a comfortable sleep. On his back!
    We took him to a paediatrician just to get him checked, as his weight was so poor (although of course he started to gain quickly once on the formula). The doctor confirmed that my poor baby was showing initial signs of starvation. He also confirmed that the fact that my son was sometimes sleeping for quite long stretches was that he was actually beginning to hibernate, and was sleeping to conserve energy. Shocking!
    I can now confirm that my son is nearly 7 years old, and an unbelievably healthy and very happy boy.
    I'm also happy to say that my experience of breastfeeding with my second and third children was VERY different. Like you Debbie, I was petrified about breastfeeding when pregnant with my second. I bought an AMAZING dvd though called 'Breastfeeding without tears', and got so much confidence from watching it. When my daughter was born, not only did the dvd help so much, but I'm also positive that my daughter was a much more efficient feeder, just naturally. I'm convinced babies differ in their own ability to suck. I managed to breastfeed her for about 5 months, and indeed my second daughter too, who was also a better feeder than my son.
    A happy and healthy mother and baby has to be more important than whether you manage to breastfeed successfully or not. It's obvious.
    I do hope though that my comment reassures mothers who've had a bad breastfeeding experience that their experience with their next child may be completely different. But if not, then so be it!
    Enjoy your babies everyone!

  21. Thank you for your fantastic post Debbie, you are so brave. My experience was so similar. You have inspired me to write down some thoughts that for 14 months now have been going round my head, here is the link Gracias and best wishes, Maria

  22. Fantastic post - I find it so shocking how indoctrinated some midwives are into 'Breast is Best' that they clearly can't see what's happening in front of them. One of my friends had her baby readmitted to hospital with dehydration after ten days of feeding, the baby was really ill and STILL the midwife said she could express milk if she wanted to - insane!

    My MiL is fantastic (truly) and compares women to dairy cows - some are always going to be the champion milkers and some aren't. We might all have the same equipment but doesn't mean we all function in the same way and can produce endless milk.

    I fed my first son and luckily he grew but it left me a wreck, with my hair falling out, completely sleep deprived and thinking that all the other 'happy' mothers were clearly lying. Looking back I should have given him a bottle sooner and got outside into the fresh air. When I expressed I realised I didn't have tons of milk and no amount of bed rest and food helped.

    I really believe all women should be supported in whatever feeding choices they make and no-one should feel guilty about how they feed their baby. Everyone wants to do what's best for their baby and sometimes the very best thing is a bottle of formula.

  23. Hi, I am sorry to hear all the difficult breastfeeding stories on this blog. While I do believe breastfeeding is good if you can persist, I too had a very difficult time at the beginning. I do wish that prenatal classes would include at least 1 or 2 classes on feeding so women can at least prepare for whats to come after the labour.

    The turning point for me was on day 2, I was up from 1am until 5am trying to feed my baby, she would suck for 5 minutes and fall asleep and as soon as I put her down she would cry. The nurses then would tell me that she is hungry, so we would do the whole process over again - for the next 4 hours I did this (it was until 5am in the morning.) I wanted to sleep and I wanted my baby to sleep, so I swallowed my pride and let her drink some formula for 4 minutes. After that she was happy and I could at least have a break to sleep for a few hours.
    Once we were home, it got better. But at her last checkup by the doctor in the hospital we were told she had a slight tongue tie, which was affecting her ability to suck. Once we had this fixed it made so much difference to feeding. There was pain on and off up until she was 6 or 7 weeks, but I had decided in the hospital, that it was up to me and my baby to get it right and to work as a team until we did. I am so happy that we had her tongue fixed and that we persisted.

    I do understand that it is a process, and not an easy one. There does not have to be guilt involved. There are decisions to be made all the way through our babies' lives, this being one of the 1st big decisions, and if you are happy with that decision then thats the most important thing. A happy mum means a happy bub!

    To all you pregnant mums to be, read, read, read... ask questions and do some homework about breastfeeding before you go into labour. It will at least set you up to know what to expect, and if you are able to get the feeding up and running or not, its totally up to you. Enlist the help of a lactation consultant while you are in hospital, someone who will be compassionate and kind - the midwives are too busy alot of the time. And if you are not having a good time of it, know that there are other mums out there going through the same thing. Good luck, and whatever decision you make at the end of the day, is a good decision and it is the right thing for you.

  24. Debbie, so interesting, and I identify with this post on so many levels, even though I breastfed for 7 months (mix-fed for 3.5 months).I finally gave up when I realised that I was no longer producing enough milk but I felt awful guilt even then. Near the end of this period my baby seemed really hungry and much more content when formula fed. I remember trying to breast-feed him one day when he was almost 7 months old, and he screamed after a couple of minutes as there was obviously nothing left. My husband and mum told me it was high time to move to formula and i dug my feet in and said that i knew best what type of milk my baby should be drinking. My husband told me that I was not the only one who had a say about what our baby should eat. I realised that i was becoming a little bit obsessed with breast-feeding for as long as possible. I even remember someone calling me "amazing" when she saw me still breastfeeding after 4 months. I was so lucky that i never had mastitis, the baby latched on fine, and it didn't really hurt. However, we must keep on trying to get across the message that healthy and happy babies is what is most important!!! Great blog Debbie!! X

  25. Brilliant post.
    I tried to breastfeed my first daughter and after a c-section was unsure whether I had any milk at all. I could sense the latch wasn't correct as it was agonising and i was cracked and bleeding after the first day. The midwives were so busy that I almost felt guilty asking them to come and show me, which they did, incorrectly.
    In the end I requested formula just to get my daughter eating, she was just past the point of premature, being born at 37 weeks and needed to feed badly. The midwife kept fobbing us off that we didn't need it.
    As it happened, the midwife on duty the night before had expressed concern about the feeding and suggested a formula feed just to give her something to fill her tummy which I was happy to accept. I signed my consent form to acknowledge I was poisoning my child with formula and my daughter was fed. She left me with a spare bottle and teat.
    So when the midwife on day duty kept telling me to persevere with the feed, and that the hospital wouldn't let me go without being satisfied my daughter was feeding, we resorted to my husband guarding the door to our room while I gave her a formula feed.
    Absolutely ridiculous. Second time around we were much firmer and when my second daughter sucked on me for 12 hours straight without a break after my c-section, with already cracked and sore nipples by 4:30 in the morning I asked for formula and didn't give up until I got my request. Second time around I felt much stronger and was not going to be made to feel guilty or bullied.

  26. Thanks so much for your comments!

    Adel - wow, sounds like you had a rough time. That's wonderful that you found a good breastfeeding support worker - that clearly seems to make all the difference. It's still upsetting that you felt guilty for supplementing, because it sounds like it worked great!

    Anon at 17:30 - thanks for your support! There are lots of women that choose not to breastfeed right from the start. I believe that as long as this is a well informed decision, then they should not be made to feel bad about it. The problem is that the 'breast is best' campaign seems to assume that we would all favour formula milk if the breastmilk message was not laid on so thick!

    Anon at 19:27 - I'm so happy to hear from a midwife that cares!Do you think that there is a difference in the attitudes of midwives who are themselves mummies? Have you felt under pressure to promote breastfeeding? Thank you so much for replying and for sharing with your colleagues.

    Jennifer - What an awful experience with your first baby. To be told your baby is starving when all you've been doing is following advice to breastfeed,is absolutely horrendous. So I'm so happy to read that you had such a different experience with your daughters. I also hope that mothers reading your post will get some comfort from this. I'm sure you're right about different babies having different abilities to latch on etc

    Feisty Tapas - Thank you! I'll take a look at your blog too. Writing it down is very cathartic!

    musings from a mum - thanks for a great comment. Your MIL's response made me laugh! Sounds like you had a bit of a rough time feeding your baby. That's fantastic that he put on weight, but I think the midwives should be looking out for the health and happiness of the mothers too.

    Anon at 08:12 - That's fantastic that you managed to get the feeding sorted! I know it takes a lot of perseverance and that's great that getting her tongue tie corrected helped. I agree that antenatal classes should offer advice on feeding, both breast and bottle. Our feeding choices should definitely be supported, but the trouble is, when women choose to breastfeed, when the healthiest option for the baby may actually be formula milk.

  27. Bev W - Thanks for posting! How typical that you still felt guilt after all those months of breastfeeding. We are so hard on ourselves. I also had my husband and mother questioning what I was doing, but it's such a personal decision and when it's you that's been carrying the child for 9 months and you doing the feeding, you don't really welcome input from family members! So glad you had a mostly positive experience xx

    Futuregirl - It really gets me angry that women have to sign a waiver form when they formula feed in hospital. We really are made to feel like we are feeing our babies something dangerous!And the fact that you had your husband on guard at the door - it's absolutely ridiculous but I can understand it! I also was much firmer with the midwives second time around, but unfortunately, first time mums don't have the confidence to challenge the midwives. Thanks so much for you comment x

  28. No, you are NOT the only one who feels this way. In fact, there's an entire community of women out there who have had similar experiences and come to the same conclusions and would stand up and cheer at this post.

    I write a blog about this - - and one of the features is a Friday series where women share their stories. I'd love to use this as a guest post for that series, if you are interested; I would obviously link back here as well. Stop by and let me know if you'd be interested. And regardless, please know you are not alone...:)

  29. That's good to know! I'll check out your site now...

  30. Fantastic blog. So similar to my own feelings about breastfeeding first time around. I suffered from PND for a year after my baby was born and I still suspect that the fact I recoiled in agony every time my baby came near my body can't have helped with the bonding experience!

    In fact, all the doctors I saw at the time insisted that I stopped feeding immediately and told me that in this country, where we are lucky enough to have sanitary water and safe formulas, the benefits of breastfeeding over bottle feeding after the first few days are negligible. Next time around I know I'll put my mental health and my relationship with my child before the advice of a well-meaning but pushy midwife.

  31. Thank you for a really interesting insight! I have to say I feel very blessed after reading your blog that I am able to successfully breastfeed my son (7 weeks).

    I have to say though that this is done 100% down to good luck as I had nowhere near the 'support' you had. I was very surprised to read about the daily home visits! My hospital midwives were very busy, had a quick glance and said I was doing fine. I saw no lactation consultant. I naievely didnt know I had to wake up the baby every few hours to feed him (I overheard a midwife telling another mother in the next cubicle this) 10 hours after he was born. Until then he had only had one feed which was a very brief feed after he was born. I have no family or friends who could visit (only moved to the area the year before) so I had no one to support me apart from my husband. I had 2 midwife home visists that were also very breif and the second one was just to fill out the final discharge form.

    Fortunately we managed to muddle through together and he is growing well and keeping to the same percentile. I hate to think what would have happened if we hadnt done so. I think the 'breast is best' issue has been heard but now the focus really needs to be supporting mothers and ironing out feeding problems very early on through the availabilty of lactation consultants and midwives who have been extensively trained in identifying and (hopefully correcting) breastfeeding problems.

  32. Anon at 13:30 - I'm sorry you had such an awful time of it with your first baby. I find it fascinating that the doctors went against the trend to recommend breastfeeding for as long as possible. I suppose that's the difference between getting advice from a midwife and advice from a doctor! It would be nice if we were presented with more facts and less opinion sometimes!

    Anon at 20:34 - It's fantastic to hear you were able to breastfeed! But it does sound as though had you experienced problems, no one would have been there to help you. Sounds like there's a real staffing issue where you live! Thanks for sharing your experience. It is really interesting to hear from a 'self-taught' breastfeeder, as I do question if the ability to feed, is to an extent, dependent on our bodies, rather than on supportive midwives.

  33. I find it sad that something so natural has been turned into something so technical. If mothers would keep their babies close to them, especially at night, they wouldnt find themselves so exhausted. What the western world has done to breastfeeding and childrearing in general is sad for everyone involved. My heart goes out to the author and the many people who commented about how they hate bf, or cant wait to finish, or finally got out for fresh air once they stopped. It has become a burden rather than something to enjoy. A great book is Three in a Bed. The title does not do it justice. Deborah Jackson is so thorough with her research. Current Western parenting advice, says Deborah Jackson, stresses the need to minimise the "bother" that children cause; Jackson claims that this culture views the child as a potentially dominating personality that could undermine parental authority when older and emphasises that this tendency needs to be trained out of them early. The author disputes the scientific basis for such claims, and such a culture, and appeals to parents to trust their own instincts. Using extensive research she puts the case for a child-orientated approach to parenting.

  34. I agree it's sad that breastfeeding has turned into something technical. Unfortunately, it felt anything but natural to me, as I awkwardly tried different positions and had to keep re-latching the baby on and the expressing etc. My baby was close to me all through the night, either in my arms or cuddled close to me in bed. Sadly, it made no difference.

    I find it hard to believe that mothers are put off breastfeeding due to a need to retain some level of authority later down the line. I've never met a mother who didn't want the best for her child. But in my experience, society is pushing breastfeeding! If I had trusted my own instincts, I would have given my son formula milk a lot sooner, but instead I trusted what society was telling me, about the need to breastfeed.

  35. You basically just told my story. Only I didn't learn, I drove myself into the ground trying to make breastfeeding work with my first three. My last two I decided from the outset we'd combo feed, I'd do my best as long as baby would go along with it, and it has been a much happier time. I still feel shame and guilt, I still feel like I have to defend and explain myself. If they only knew what I tried, what lengths I have gone to... hopefully some day it will be enough for me that I know. I know I did everything I could.

  36. Hi Debbie,

    Thought you and your readers might be interested to read the article from the Atlantic that my husband sent me when I was in the throes of breastfeeding hell: The Case Against Breast-Feeding.


  37. Wendy - sorry to hear you had feeding problems - I'm glad that combo feeding made it a better experience. I really hope that you stop giving yourself a hard time, as there are so many of us in the same boat and we all have healthy babies! I've really come to the conclusion since writing this, that it's much more important that a baby is well fed as opposed to breastfed.

    Arianna - thanks so much for the link. Im not trying to make a case against breastfeeding myself - on the contrary! But it certainly makes for very interesting reading. I can also see why it might reassure someone feeling guilty for bottle feeding! X

  38. You were *not* given support to BF your first born. It. Is. Not. Normal. to be in pain when feeding. Neither is it normal for a healthy baby to continually feed. Both suggest there was something not quite right with his attachment/position.

    You were failed by people who should know better, but people who should have supported you - midwives, health visitors, doctors.

    It's fine to breastfeed (it makes sense - human milk for a human baby). It's fine to formula feed if you so wish - but you didn't *choose* to FF - you were pushed into it by poor info and lack of support

  39. What an awful experience you had! I totally agree with you that breastfeeding is not 'best' if it sacrifices the mother's mental health. I actually hate the term 'breast is best' as it just creates these rifts between mothers.

    I do have to point out though - you say it wasn't a lack of support but you clearly weren't getting support! There is more to successful breastfeeding than a good latch and the midwives and countless other people you saw should have helped beyond just having a look. You were HUGELY let down by the people who are supposed to be there to support you.

    Formula isn't evil but it IS prevalent. Formula companies spend countless billions in advertising and as a result many, many women see formula as the default. I am sorry you feel such guilt when you visit company websites but the information DOES need to be there. Not every mother is as educated as you and a lot of them don't realise that formula milk is not as good for their babies as breastmilk. It's not a slight to you.

    No, formula is not arsenic but equally it isn't as good as breastmilk and we shouldn't be censoring news for fear of causing guilt or offence. Nobody should feel guilty for their choice on how to feed their child. It upsets me when friends talk of "being made to feel guilty for formula feeding". I don't think that's the aim at all - it is simply to educate.

    Which is clearly what the midwives needed in your case. If not on how to rectify the problems you were having then at least to realise that you needed help beyond "keep feeding". It sounds like an awful, isolating experience for you.

  40. I really really feel for you, because as an independent breastfeeding worker I visit so many mums like you. Who have had a terrible first experience and are SO determined second time (or third, or fourth, or fifth) time around!
    You say lack of support wasn't the problem - I would have to say whilst you had OODLES of support, you had a distinct lack of EFFECTIVE support and a whole heap of passive support:

    Nobody got to the root of WHY everything happened to you - and given the experience from your first baby, I would already be laying money on a sneaky tongue tie ie the frenulum is not visible and the tongue looks normal to the untrained eye:


  41. I feel for you because I really, really struggled with breastfeeding too - although fortunately for me, baby put weight on fine - it was just me in pain!

    Every feed was excruciating - and he fed lots. It was definitely far worse than labour. I was often in flood of tears, baby screaming with hunger and my husband unable to comfort either of us. I persevered because I was so determined - but it just didn't get better - despite lots of people telling my the latched 'looked fine' (luckily no nipple trauma).

    I spoke to NCT breast feeding counsellors, LLL Leaders, MWs, HVs - the lot. They were all helpful and supportive. But unable to help.

    I hung on to the fact that everyone said that come 6 weeks things improve.... Guess what? they didn't! That was my lowest point. And it was only with lots of support and cheer leading that I did mange to continue. By 8 weeks things had started to improve, but the pain continued until at least 12 weeks.

    My 'baby' is now 3.5 years and still feeding (yes, I'm one of 'those' women ;-) My problem now is getting him to stop!)

    My second child is now 11 months old and I had a similar problem when he was born - excruciating pain throughout every feed. We never got to the bottom of it - although my LLL leader thinks it may be down to an over sensitive milk ejection reflex - who knows. I'm now very grateful to be feeding both of them pain free.

    I know I never would have got through that without the help and support of people who had travelled a similar road. However, it did very much make me realise why some women feel they can't continue or decide to mix feed. It was genuinely the worse pain I have ever experienced.

  42. I find this blog really depressing. It is such a shame that someone who was so pro breastfeeding and who tried so so hard to make it work for them was unsuccessful due to such ineffectual support. It is not support to just keep coming every day and saying "keep at it" - I feel you were terribly let down.

    It is sad then that so many others' comments on what you have written tell the same story and that the conclusion is that "breast is not always best". So many stories of people who for various reasons could not feed their baby their own milk - yet in countries with high breastfeeding rates, pretty much everyone is successful. Unless evolution has done societies with low breastfeeding rates a serious disservice, then it has to be down to that fact that we have simply forgotten how to do it right and have to relearn.

    It's no good saying that everyone can breastfeed with the right support, if that support is not in place for everyone, which obviously it isn't. Breastfeeding is wonderful when it works out and agonising when it doesn't but guilt is a pretty useless emotion - anger that the same system that broadcasts the "breast is best" message does not value it enough to have expert breastfeeding support would be more appropriate.

  43. I have such a long post to write about this. I can't believe they hadn't weighed your baby earlier. That's disgraceful. The most important thing is the babies welfare surely. It has become a moral issue and it isn't that. I wish I'd been told about combination feeding first time round. For me it was a good compromise and meant I could nurse my twins and then top up with formula for several months.

  44. I'm really inspired by your story and completely identify with it. I've posted this on MumsNet too but I also had a terrible time trying to breastfeed my son due having had a blood transfusion and him needing light therapy and formula for jaundice. When it all went wrong and I ended up bottle feeding I was on the verge of post natal depression due to the pressure to breastfeed. Once I reached breaking point and there was no going back from bottle feeding I found the support stopped. There are no support groups where you can go to talk about the emotions of it all going wrong and to ask for advice on how to prepare feeds, only support groups to try to help you to continue to breastfeed. I believe this is a really vulnerable time and more support is needed for those who pass the point of no return. If you would like to support me please join my facebook group and I would really love to publish your story on there alongside mine and the other women who are staring to contribute. Please let me know. Hayley

  45. Good for you for trying. The right kind of support can be wonderful and it's such a shame you didn't get it. I managed to keep feeding my son through ten days in special care thanks to the great support I got.