2 – “Breast is Best”

This was the 2nd set of ramblings I wrote when Lily was about 5 or 6 weeks old. Since then it’s been another topic that’s haunted me but I’ll save that for another post!

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2 – Breast is Best

Hi, my name is Karen, and I bottle feed my baby. For this, I get judged, like I’m a bad parent or something. And it hurts. All I want is best for my little one, but I’m constantly reminded that maybe I’m denying my baby the best future, just because I feed her using a 130ml plastic container. Even worse, is the fact I feel I have to defend myself.

I don’t tell them about those long lonely hours sitting in the breast pump room in the hospital. My nipples red raw, being repeatedly sucked in and out of a plastic tube, with not even the merest drop of liquid coming to the surface. The posters around me showing happy, smiley women, with perfect healthy babies latched to the end of their nipples. Their expressed bottles glowing with golden syrup, or creamery a dairy farmer would be proud of, besides long lists of why ‘breast is best’. The repeated plucking and hissing sound of those electric pumps is still with me right now, as is the sight of my dried red nipple being pulled in and out. Sitting in that hospital room in the early hours, alone, just a day after a hemmorage and Caesarian, it really wasn’t good for those ‘baby blues’ kicking in.

I already felt like a failure from not being able to keep her in to term. Not being able to feed her either just made things worse.

Saying that, I still have a strong positive memory, that sometimes makes me feel better and sometimes worse, depending on my level of emotion! That first moment they managed to get Lily to latch on. Having her sucking away on my nipple just hours after she was born, I can still see her little face now. It made me feel complete, like That’s who I was meant to be. But she wouldn’t latch properly and soon grew tired. She was too early they said. It’ll come, they said. The more time went past, the more tired she grew, so they got me to attempt expressing. Friendly ‘special’ nurses and midwives came and went. It’ll come, they said. Just keep trying, they said. Every 3 hours was just another attempt leading to more failure. They said she was getting something from it. I knew she wasn’t. Being so small, they needed to get something into her, so a day later, she was cup fed just a few mils of formula by the nurse. She reminded me of my kitten, lapping from the plastic rim. She was hungry. I couldn’t help. It would come, they said. Persevere, they said.

So every 3 hours began the same routine of trying to breast feed and failing, then trying to express but failing. Then pressing the hospital call bell to get the nurse to come. Lily was small and tired, so nothing would wake her: we’d spend another half hour trying to get her to wake up to feed. Every midwife had their own suggestions – strip her, skin to skin, tickle her feet, change position. They’d all fail, so the nurse would have to cup feed her a slowly increasing amount of formula. Before we knew it, the whole process would start again. I kept trying.

Then came the mastitis. Oh the pain, the heat, the pain. Throw that in to the already pit of failure in my head. 5 days old and I’ve already failed as a mum. But it’ll come, they said.

Even when I got home, my expressing bottles would be swapped for syringes, as the nurses realised the 150ml was never going to be reached. The syringes allowed me to hold 1ml. I’d usually make it to around 0.1ml before the drops stopped coming. I felt like a bad parent, like I wasn’t good enough as a mother, doing what I should be doing. Each health visitor and midwife would give their 2 pence, and again I had to explain I’d tried every trick under the sun, from nurses and midwives with hundreds of years experience between them. Have you tried this, they’d say. Yes, I’d say. With the 3 hourly feed being necessary for my tiny baby, and the feeding-burping-settling process taking over an hour each time, adding expressing 0.1ml to the timing, my days just became disappointing and stressful of a 24hour repeated feeding process. The midwives suggested spacing out the expressing attempts to stop me getting so raw, sore and down about it. I burst into tears on many occasions, feeling worthless as a new mother.

I couldn’t even feed my baby. Breast is best, remember.

So when people ask me if I’m breast feeding, giving me that split second of awkward silence when I’ve a bottle in hand, or unable to give them the answers they want to hear, it’s hard. I shouldn’t have to justify myself. And I can’t go through all of the above, every time. So I just take the judging as it comes. Reading online forums, I find there’s many women in similar positions. It gets me down when people judge you for not being the best mum you can be. My baby is steadily putting on weight, climbing the preterm growth chart. Her skin is healthy and she eats well. The health visitors can’t believe how strong she is, how well she looks. And really that’s what should be all that matters.

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22 Comments Add yours

  1. Rachel Lilley says:

    Well done for sharing Kaz. Sat here nearly in tears reading your stories. It’s such an emotional time and I can see it in your words! Sounds like you’ve been through the breastfeeding ringer! Breastfeeding can be the hardest thing in the world for many mum’s, I’ve had friends with near fatal sepsis desperately trying to battle through and being told ‘don’t worry, it’ll come’! Great if you can do it, no biggy if you can’t, the most important thing is your baby gets fed! Lily is thriving! Well done you! You knew what was best for her and went with your instincts, that’s the sign of a great mum, not whether you breastfeed or not! 🙂 x

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    1. kwillmer says:

      Thank you so much Rachel. That really means alot to me. Really didn’t know if I wanted to share this or not, so thank you xx

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  2. Lauren says:

    Good for you Kaz, a really good insight into the way you can be made to feel when you are emotionally at your most vulnerable and wanting to do the best for your baby. Thanks for sharing, I felt awful when I was struggling to feed and the constant advice just seems overwhelming, it helps to know that you are not alone and it isn’t as easy as the posters or celebrity statements suggest!

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    1. kwillmer says:

      Thank you for your support. I’m overwhelmed with the response from people who felt the same when it can be such a lonely journey. So thank you for sharing your thoughts too xx

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  3. Dawn says:

    We are such a judging society. It’s the same for mums who carry on breast feeding after a child reaches about a year old. Society frowns on them as if they are pariahs but they are just giving the child what it needs and wants. Well done for sharing this and for those that read this STOP JUDGING OTHERS.

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    1. kwillmer says:

      Thank you… I’ve actually started writing a post on judgements as they seem to start from the day you’re pregnant! Thank you for your support 🙂

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  4. Lorraine Long says:

    My advice to my daughter was to “have a go”. If it worked – great, if not – no problem! The mum needs to be calm, rested and happy so that she has the energy to do the hardest job ever – take care of her baby which is a minefield in itself! It’s hard to ignore things when you’ve never done something before and those early days are really tough! Lily is a beauty and is thriving! You both are! You only have to see the pics of the two of you together to realise that you are a fab mum who is besotted with her baby girl – just as it should be. Lily is lucky to have you as her mum! Xx

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    1. kwillmer says:

      Thank you Lorraine. It’s amazing to hear so many people’s stories, and a reminder that not everyone is out there to judge you, no matter how much it feels like it at the time. Thank you x

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  5. Joey says:

    I didn’t even realise that anyone batted an eyelid to bottle feeding. I don’t understand why the method of feeding harms these judgy people personally, nor why it’s any of their damn business. You carry on girl.

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    1. kwillmer says:

      Thank you! The health visitors didn’t seem to know anything about bottle feeding or formulas as we’re meant to encourage breastfeeding. It just made things harder having to learn it all myself when all i wanted to do was fees her and I just needed advice! Thanks for your support!

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  6. Amy says:

    Love, love, LOVE this. I recognise so much of it. The sheer amount of pressure on you to “do the right thing” is ridiculous – my girlie arrived at 35 weeks and struggled to latch, so I too wasted far too much time hooked up to milking machines (missing out on cuddles or much needed rest time)…before realising that actually, the times when I “gave in” to formula were the days when she was most content. And do you know what, I have no doubt that my solely formula fed baby (after 4 weeks I gave up all pretence at expressing) has slept as well or better than a lot of her breast fed peers. At 2, she is happy, healthy and full of life and intelligence. I’d challenge anyone to pick her out of a room full of breast fed children as ‘lacking’ in some way.
    Motherhood is hard enough – but having a loving caring home is what is “best” – breasts or no breasts!

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    1. kwillmer says:

      Thank you Amy. You wouldn’t know your little one was prem at all – she’s just so full of life and always smiling. You’re an amazing mummy to that gorgeous little lady. Thank you for commenting, it really meats alot to see so many others who can understand it. Love to you and your little one x

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  7. Val says:

    Wow what a great post! You’re an inspiration to others speaking out like this.
    Mines a different take on it as I chose to formula feed all 3 of my little ones, no deep or dark reason it’s just what I chose to do. However, number 3 was very very poorly 2 days after being born, whilst still in hospital I told many staff that he hadn’t fed and their response was always ‘oh he will when he’s ready’. Had he been breastfed his intake would have been monitored, we’d have had support until he’d establishe feeding etc but because I’d chosen to ‘artificially feed’ he went under the radar and we went home. (Yes, that’s actually what they called it and what was written on his notes)!! Happily he was treated and recovered from what they found to be an infection in his tummy and was fed through a tube for a week or so anyway!

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    1. kwillmer says:

      Gosh I’m glad he’s OK now. I’m amazed they didn’t keep him in for monitoring as surely it’s easier to monitor his intake when you’re counting in mls anyway? I’m glad he’s OK now. Thank you for sharing this x

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  8. Gavin says:

    Hi Kaz. Thank you for writing that post. Really thought provoking stuff. It seems ridiculous that so much pressure is put into new parents. I can remember going to NCT classes and having a breastfeeding session, and I can remember all 8 couples came out feeling bullied and threatened with being bad parents if we didn’t breastfeed for the next few years…

    Your story sounds so similar to ours, with so many tears of frustration trying to get best feeding to happen. Our daughter was on NICU for nearly 2 weeks, so we saw what seemed like hundreds of different midwives and nurses come along and suggest different techniques for it to work. In the end it did start to work, although that brought it’s own problems. When my other half had to leave the ward after 2 weeks, we were told that our daughter still had to stay in NICU. this meant we could stay in a flat provided on the edge of the hospital campus but my wife had to be on call for breastfeeding 24 hours a day, even though it was a 15 minute walk to get to the NICU from those flats, and she was still recovering from a traumatic birth!

    Thankfully we got home, and kept trying to breastfeed successfully, but the pressure placed in mother’s to “do it right” meaning that it’s a constant cycle of feeding/expressing/feeding etc means that mum just felt like a milk factory, and we had to stop after about 4 weeks! Now out little one is 6 months old and has started teaching developmental goals that most of our NCT classmates who have breastfed haven’t!

    Luckily we had supportive midwives who pointed out what it’s all about. Whatever happens, a happy mother is the best thing for a healthy child.

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    1. kwillmer says:

      Thank you for sharing this and massive love to you both for managing to make the work. It is amazing to hear so many different stories and that the pressure put on mum’s just makes think 1000 times harder than it already is. I’d have loved to breastfeeding as I know that’s the best milk for her but it just never came through and I was made to feel bad as a consequence. Thank you so much for sharing your story too. It’s lovely to have a dad’s point of view too as it’s not just a mum’s journey, it’s both a parent’s journey x

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  9. Gilly says:

    crying, what a heart felt story, you really didn’t deserve that and you’re an absolute star for trying so hard. As long as little Lily is healthy then that’s all that counts, I can’t even imagine how hard it was for you after surgery and complications, you’re an amazing woman. xxxx

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    1. kwillmer says:

      Thank you Gilly. That means alot from an amazing mummy like you. Hope your beautiful little family are all doing well xx

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  10. Catherine says:

    Lily is a beautiful, smiley, happy looking baby who is obviously loved by amazing parents. I can’t tell you how much the ‘breast is best’ thing annoys me. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to breast feed- but that’s all it is, luck. So many of my friends have been in the same or similar positions to you and have gone through the same guilt and judgement and it makes me so angry to see brilliant mums who are doing their best suddenly doubting themselves because instead or supporting and encouraging each other some women choose to judge. People don’t realise how dangerous their judgement can be.
    Apart from anything there’s very little solid evidence that breast makes that much difference as it’s such a hard thing to pin point and prove. Unless you can look at 2 groups of children and prove that the absolute only difference was that one set were bottle fed and the other breast then any results are meaningless. All I know is I was bottle fed and I don’t feel like I’m struggling through life! Keep doing what you’re doing and ignore the haters!x

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    1. kwillmer says:

      Thank you Catherine, your comment really means alot. It’s been so encouraging to hear so many strong women out there who are just there to support each other rather than judge. So thank you xx

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  11. Helen says:

    Kaz, you are freaking amazing! Thank you for writing such an honest post. Very interesting call on judgement, it’s scary how much pressure mothers are put under. In terms of breastfeeding I am lucky enough to be able to breastfeed Norah, but Jesus Christ…it took a while to get there and I would never push anyone to keep at it because sometimes it just doesn’t work out and that’s all there is to it. Even though I was trying to breastfeed I was still judged for using nipple shields that were helping to alleviate the tear-inducing pain caused from Norah trying to latch on to my bloodied and battered nipples. I mean, really…give a us a break! Now I feel I’m getting judged by some folk because, even though I BF, I’ve given up the fight of getting her to take the odd bottle; can’t win! Surely all that matters is that they are getting fed and are healthy and happy.

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    1. kwillmer says:

      Thank you Helen. I’m amazed you got judged for your methods of feeding too! That’s crazy! Not sure who is meant to be doing things right!! Thanks Helen. Norah is a stunning little lady, you are doing an amazing job and I wish so much we were coming to kaunertal to meet her. Lily loves other little babies! Enjoy every second for us x

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