This experience shared by Jennifer and her little boy Vinnie* shows just how important it is that we treat each other with respect.
Thank you so much J.
The 3 generations of women before me haven’t produced any milk. So, I naturally assumed there was a good chance I wouldn’t be able to breast feed either. My plan was to try (because despite all the research I’d done which shows no difference in formula and breast fed babies, “breast is best” got into my head) but I wasn’t very bothered if it didn’t work. My midwife insisted there was no such thing as “not producing milk” and with the right help I would definitely breast feed.
My baby was born at 2.22am, he latched on and stayed there for 40 minutes. Everyone commented on the length of his first feed. The next day he refused to latch at all. I hadn’t slept in three days, I was sore, attached to all manner of wires and what have you, my baby was crying as he was clearly hungry and I had yet to do a wee.
I called midwife after midwife to help me to breast feed. One lady was especially lovely and gave me lots of advice about the best positions to get him to latch on, as well as a fake boob to use to try to practice expressing by hand if needs be. The problem was each time she said she’d come back to check how we were doing, she didn’t. I understand she was very busy and I don’t blame her, but as someone new came back each time I was rarely given a consistent message. My son became more distressed, I – hungry and tired myself – also became more distressed.
What I remember the most is a midwife who came in and asked me why I hadn’t started hand expressing. I said I didn’t know I was supposed to. My son was in a cot next to the bed screaming. My cold dinner was on a tray too far from the bed for me to reach as I couldn’t walk around. She asked me why I didn’t want to feed my baby. At this point, I lost it. I broke down in floods of tears and she walked away in disgust.
That night I managed to get my son to latch on and he didn’t leave my breast the whole night. The next morning we were back to square one. My baby was screaming and he wouldn’t latch. The same parade of midwives came round giving me more and more conflicting information. They told me I couldn’t leave until breast feeding was established. I missed my other half. I wanted a shower and my own bed. They tried using an electric breast pump, which I sat attached to for what felt like hours, to try to get my hungry child something to eat. NOTHING came out. They told me that wasn’t an indication of anything and to keep trying.
At this point I demanded formula. My one day old baby downed it – and slept soundly for the first time since he was born. At that point I told the chief midwife I wanted to be discharged. She insisted I stay until I established breast feeding. I told her I would formula feed and she quizzed me about how I would do this – did I have bottles and formula (I did, I was always planning to express if breast feeding worked for us). She told me very little else and eventually let me leave.
My son has been formula fed ever since and it was the best decision I’ve made. My milk never came in. My son is happy and healthy. His father has been able to bond with him and when he developed colic I was able to switch to comfort milk and resolve the issue immediately.
Even though I’m happy with my choices, I’ve found there’s been judgement of them, though not always explicit. I posted a photo of my son on Facebook with a bottle of formula in the background the day after we arrived home and I was messaged by a well-meaning friend asking me why I wasn’t breast feeding, and referring me to my local breast feeding support group.
(Some) mothers in my birth group have expressed time and time again their opinion that breast is best, and passed this commentary on to those who formula feed. When I’ve pointed out clear discrepancies and contradictions in pro breast feeding information shared I’ve been told I’m simply “bitter” that I didn’t follow in their lactating footsteps. Even my other half told me in the early days I should have tried harder to breast feed, which was probably the most hurtful thing. I feel like even though I know I’m a good mother and my child is happy and secure and healthy, I’ve still been judged as “not quite as good” as mums who are able or willing to breast feed.
*names changed for privacy