So, “breast is best”, right? Well, yes. But. No. Not always. Ok let me explain..
A diet is what we eat, our chosen menu. So for babies, the best diet they can have is breast milk – agreed. 100%. It gives them our antibodies and is specially created perfectly just for them. We all know why its great and that if we can, we definitely should. The UK have been given a bad name for having a low amount of breastfed babies and so let me tell you straight away – this blog is not to discourage breastfeeding. It is solely is to ease the guilty conscience of women who can’t and give expectant mums a heads up.
There are times when breast milk just isn’t best for our babies. It’s kind of like, for adults, let’s say the best diet for us would be a healthy balanced diet. That’s all well and good but if you’re underweight and losing weight, you’re gonna need some junk to put in that trunk. For babies they may need a formula milk rich in calories. Or, if the person serving your salad had ran through a bush of thorns to give you your salad and there’s blood all over it but there’s a cheeseburger on the table, we’re gonna eat the cheeseburger, right? (I mean I’d chose the cheeseburger anyway but you get what I’m saying). For babies if your nipples are bleeding, ouch for you and ew for them.
So yes breast is best, in an ideal world. But a lot of us don’t live in that world and are faced with hardcore reality.
As a new mum myself I was aware that breastfeeding would be the ideal feed for my brand spanking new baby, and of course we want what’s best for them. We’re obsessed with whats best for them. Naturally, I definitely wanted and intended to breastfeed and I did so for 6 or 7 weeks. But it was SO hard. Like ridiculously. For me and for my baby. So much for it being the most natural thing in the world, it felt like a constant battle (relatable?). Maybe if someone had told me in pregnancy the reasons some women can’t and that that’s okay too, I wouldn’t have given myself such a hard time. And giving yourself a hard time is definitely not what’s best for baby.
Becoming a mother really is a whole new world with so much to learn and adapt to, that you really do not need extra stress or guilt about how you feed your baby. The guilt we feel as mothers for absolutely everything is so heavy (I literally feel bad just writing this as he sleeps, insane!). So I wanted to lift some weight from those with formula feeding guilt. Post natal depression is alarmingly high (1 in 10 women every year according to NHS Choices) and feeling guilty you’re not giving your baby the “best” when you’re new to this strange new thing called motherhood, could quite easily have you feeling pretty low. The little bundles of love have been formed inside your body, come out of your body in some kind of horrendously painful manner (I mean really THEY should feel guilty), require feeding three hourly, nappy changes, constant monitoring, soothing, and mess with your hormones something rotten, so if you’re managing that list, you’re already doing an amazing job.
There’s plenty of information out there telling us that it is best and why; from leaflets to midwives to health visitors etc etc. But what if it’s not right for you? Where’s the information for you to tell you that it’s okay to stop killing yourself trying, it’s okay to formula feed. Well here it is now, from moi. I’m also highlighting some reasons it isn’t possible to breastfeed because when I was pregnant, despite being open-minded with wanting to breastfeed and flexible with the idea incase i couldn’t. I wasn’t actually aware of why I possibly couldn’t or what that would mean.
A huge unresolvable problem with breastfeeding is that we don’t know how much milk they’re getting and the only way to know they’re getting enough, is weight gain. So what if they’re losing weight?! It’s normal for babies to lose weight after the first week but then they should put it back on in in the following two weeks and start climbing that weight chart. If they don’t, it’s perfectly reasonable to switch to bottle feeding. This allows you to see physically see if they’re sucking effectively and how much they’re taking, which enables you to create links to weight loss and make a plan with health professionals. If it works for you, you can express your breastmilk into a bottle so they’re still getting what’s best – then it’s only you that loses out when you’re no longer the only person in your babies world that can feed him or her (you’re allowed to shed a tear).
Despite it being super natural, some babies just can’t latch. This means they can’t attach to the nipple properly for effective sucking. Therefore they may not be getting as much as they need despite being stuck to you for 30 minutes (Yep, just for the fun of it!). A health professional should be able to tell you if they have a good latch and a tell tale sign they aren’t latching properly is in their weight gain. A youtube video called “How to breastfeed – deep latch technique” was recommended to me. It was useful but a little late as I was around 5 weeks into motherhood at this point. No one had told me there was actually a technique. I’d just been sticking my boob in his face and letting him do what he could (poor thing).
3. Expressing is not as simple as it sounds
So an in-between bridge you may cross is expressing breast milk. This allows you to give them the best milk without complications that arise feeding them from the breast. You can express your breastmilk which means they’re still getting those antibodies, but I will warn you it is hard work. You’re doing the time it takes to breastfeed, and then the time it takes formula feeding bottle feeding and sterilising stuff. For example if your baby is struggling to feed you’re having to spend an hour giving them a bottle (usually sucking problems, if not this should take around 20 minutes) and then 20 minutes expressing to a machine and then 10 minutes washing bottles and sterilising everything ready for the next feed. Giving you about an hour to try and grab some sleep before the cycle restarts, 24 hours a day. (Sometimes I think I was just extremely unlucky, hopefully this is a really uncommon problem!)
A lot of women find breastfeeding extremely painful. I can’t go into detail on this one as it’s not something I experienced myself but it’s definitely a commonly reported problem. I did get huge discomfort just as my milk came in, after the colostrum on about day 2, but luckily that was it for me. What I felt then was as if the skin on my boobs was on FIRE. They were physically hot to touch with stinging and burning. It was engorgement. I didn’t want to put my son near me, the slightest touch was hardly bearable and the thought of him feeding on me scared the life out of me, but they were right when they said releasing milk would ease the pain. Other women experience this more often, I think each time your baby demands more milk. Or cracked bleeding nipples, which I’ve heard A LOT and sounds super painful, some to the point they can’t even express or there’s blood in the milk. Lansolin cream is a super popular item used to ease this.
5. Milk production
I do believe the reason I didn’t feel that pain again is because my milk didn’t ever increase again. Unfortunately the reason I stopped breastfeeding was because my milk stopped. I’d never heard of this before and totally thought I was an odd bod that clearly wasn’t made for motherhood (I mean I carried him for nine months and pushed him out of my vagina but my milk stopping meant I wasn’t supposed to be a mum? I’ll blame hormones for my dramatics). However, since then I’ve spoken to other women who had the same problem and nurses who advised me it can be stress related, or from him not sucking properly, or that switching to expressing my boobs didn’t wanna feed plastic anymore (they know the difference?!). So it’s a real thing. Also some people don’t produce enough to meet the growing babies requirements!
So there you have the the main reasons why breastfeeding can be difficult and sometimes not possible. If you’re an expectant mother I don’t want to scare you, and I definitely encourage you to breastfeed for your baby and you. It is a lovely bonding experience and it does provide your baby with the best of everything making you feel good about yourself and getting special treatment most places for being a superhuman. But as much as some people really want to and try very hard to, it’s okay if you can’t. It’s more common than you would think to not be able to, so there’s no reason to feel #guiltitties!