Saturday, 8 August 2020

For the women who wanted to breastfeed, but couldn't...


When I got pregnant, one of the first things I knew without a doubt about my future parenting adventure is that I wanted to breastfeed. I was working as a SCBU nurse at the time, so could rattle off the many benefits to mum and baby of breastfeeding and was, dare I say it, a bit cocky about my knowledge of feeding newborns after helping countless women with their first feeds.

Then my baby was born.

After a 3 day induction, an emergency Csection and a stay on a busy maternity ward with overworked midwives, I was left feeling pretty broken. Nobody can quite prepare you for the hours and hours spent feeding and feeding. And despite all those feeds, he just wasn't putting on weight.

He lost 9% of his body weight in the first 3 days, but then took 5 weeks to regain it. By week 6 he'd dropped 3 centiles on the weigh chart and was looking unhealthy. My (very junior) health visitor told me it was time to start formula and I was just so tired, so bone achingly exhausted, I accepted. Looking back I wish she'd asked what I'd really wanted to do, I wish she'd offered to refer me to a specialist to find out why my baby wasn't thriving on breast milk. But hind sight is a useless tool.

I started formula feeding, my son thrived. I still remember his face after the first bottle I gave him, his expression was pure bliss. I think it may have been the first time his stomach had been full. I pushed the guilt that came with formula feeding deep down and got on with life.

But then World Breastfeeding Week happened...

Now, I'm gonna start this by saying that I absolutely support WBFW, I love reading stories about breastfeeding, I love seeing people share their milestones, I absolutely support that it is needed. The breastfeeding rates in the UK are shite, and a lot of that is due to the shocking support that is offered to new mothers.

But WBFW can bring out a nasty side to some people when it comes to formula feeding.

This year I came across a delightful post from a woman describing her breastfeeding journey, she describes how she struggled with breastfeeding but wouldn't stop because she absolutely would not put her child on formula, because it's "disgusting" and "not for humans".

Comments like that are damaging. There is absolutely no need for formula shaming in discussions about breastfeeding. I doubt women who have successfully breastfed understand the guilt and shame that formula feeders feel, and how that guilt stays with them. I've had messages from women this week whose children are now long past the baby years and they still feel guilty about not being able to breastfeed.

I don't think many women happily choose to formula feed, (if you did, then you do you, I support you 100%), there's so much stigma attached to it. As much as breastfeeding needs normalising and support, so does the guilt that comes from not being able to BF. There's just no need to shame others like that, because demonising formula doesn't help anyone.

You know what does help? 

  • Free, informative, non biased support
  • Lactation consultants available on the NHS
  • Proper, in-depth infant feeding education for healthcare professionals
  • Basically, money invested into our postnatal services

Not a health service that tells women the many benefits of breastfeeding then fails to support them if they run into trouble

If anyone ever wants to chat/unload their own feelings about feeding, my messages are always open on Instagram @aliceandthebaba x

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