I’m talking about feeding. Specifically breastfeeding. Before I had my little man I had decided that I was going to exclusively breastfeed. I mean why would I bottle feed? Surely breastfeeding was the most natural and right thing to do? I did buy four bottles, only because they were on sale in Lidl and it seemed sensible to have something in, just in case, not that I envisaged using them until he was much older.
But I didn’t bank on what happened after he was born. The neonatal unit for him. Middle of the night surgery followed by three blood transfusions over the course of four days for me. I was so incredibly weak. My little man had his first feeds by bottle by the nurses in the neonatal ward. It still gets to me that it wasn’t me who gave those to him. But then I have to reason that I was in the operating theatre and then recovering. He had to be fed. That was more important at that stage than who did the feeding.
But despite all this I was still determined to breastfeed. I mean, I went to a class when I was pregnant and although it was mentioned that some babies don’t take to it immediately it wasn’t made out to be that difficult. The ladies giving the class wore badges emblazoned with the slogan “Breast is Best”. Breastfeeding seemed like the most natural thing in the world. I wasn’t phased. We were shown videos and photos of happy mums feeding their babies. I was determined that would be me.
However I hadn’t bargained on how difficult it would be. I first attempted to breastfeed the day after the little man was born. He struggled to latch on and there didn’t seem to be much milk there. He was still in the neonatal unit. I was in a wheelchair and could only stand for a few seconds. I now know that breast milk takes time to come through and the fact that I had lost so much blood put me at a distinct disadvantage. Also the little man was (and still is) a very hungry baby, he was a big baby, and was used to the quick satisfaction of the bottle. At days old he just wanted to be fed, he didn’t have the patience to wait for the slow flow of his mum’s milk.
I persisted with the encouragement of the midwives and they were kind but at the same time I did feel the pressure and it felt as though it had almost been forgotten that I had lost so much blood in addition to my little man having been in the neonatal unit for over 60 hours. I was starting to feel less of a mum as no matter how much breastmilk the little man got he always had to be topped up with a bottle. My dignity seemed to go out the window, I mean the amount times I was asked by various midwives and nurses to show them how the little man latched on! Latching on was never the problem for us, it was the amount of milk he was getting. So I continued to mix feed him. I had to. He had to be fed.
However it started to take a toll on me. There were tears. There was the feeling that I was failing at something that to me had seemed to be so basic. I was stressed. I felt I wasn’t good enough to be his mum. Feeding was becoming so difficult. And it felt like that’s all I was doing. I was told I could attend a breast-feeding group. I didn’t want to. I just assumed I’d be opening myself up to more pressure plus how many more people would ask to watch the little man latch on?! But I was so vulnerable in those first few weeks that I felt I had to do what I was being encouraged to do by the professionals. I felt like a school child having to do what I was told.
It wasn’t until my little man was maybe around three weeks old that I felt strong enough to realise that how my little boy was fed was actually my decision. With this new strength I assertively told the public health nurse that we would be mixed feeding as that was what worked for us. I took control instead of feeling as though I was being controlled by well meaning professionals. After all I was a fully grown adult. And a mum (albeit a very new one). The little man was my baby, I was the only one who truly knew how I felt and I knew what was going to work best for the two of us. In order to thrive he needed a happy mum, not a stressed one, and if trying to exclusively breastfeed was going to take so much of a toll on me then it wasn’t right for me or him.
Obviously this is my own experience and what worked best for me and the little man. I fully believe that every mum should do what is best for her and her baby. I can totally see why some mums choose to exclusively bottle feed and why others decide to exclusively breastfeed. And why some take the same route I took. We are all different, we’ve all had different experiences, different births and have babies with differing needs. At the end of the day the most important thing is that a baby is fed and happy.
After all, however you do it, as I’ve heard many times now, “fed is best”!