This is the million pound question that parents have to ask themselves... but it’s a loaded question because it’s one that you can’t win. Simply, because everyone else has opinions on it.
You are made to feel inadequate if you choose to bottle feed regardless of your reasons.
You are made to feel like a failure if you tried to breastfeed but stopped for personal reasons.
You are shamed for breastfeeding in public.
So that is why you have to make the decision that is right for you and your family and ignore everybody else (even well meaning family members)
A phrase that gets to me is “fed is best” because it diminishes the efforts a mother may have made to breastfeed her baby. That decision to breastfeed was one that wasn’t made lightly and then to struggle with it and have to make a decision to stop and bottle feed can be soul-crushing… I know from personal experience. If you’re interested here’s my story.
I had made the decision that I was going to breastfeed my son, and when he was first born it was going well, he latched beautifully and I thought I was in for an easy ride. Sadly however the next day he started being sick after every feed, unsettled at night and I wasn’t sure if this was normal so I got the attention of a nurse whom after seeing him being sick sought medical advice from a doctor as it looked as though there was bile in his sick.
After being transferred to another hospital for scans they discovered that he had a twisted bowel which needed treating urgently as a matter of life and death. This meant that whilst he was recovering from his operation I was having to express milk for him to be bottle fed. This was such a traumatic time for me both with my own physical health but emotionally too (I struggled with seeing my baby in the hospital,) but having to express was just as difficult because I felt like a cow just sat on the end of a pump having the milk taken from my body and then stored for use later, there were none of the emotional benefits of being able to hold your baby and have that connection. Not only that but I was having to research breast pumps to find the best one for my needs. I think I went through 3 before I settled on the one that worked for me. (You can view my personal choice here)
Even after we were finally allowed to take him home, which was delayed because of my own anxiety I still struggled to care for my son the way that I should have been able to. Having to spend an hour expressing and then feeding him meant that I actually had very little time in-between to sleep. I kept trying to reintroduce the breast but he was struggling to latch after becoming accustomed to the bottle.
A few weeks went by and I was becoming more and more depressed because I felt like I was dying (yes dying) the tiredness and the monotony of my days were taking there toll... I myself wasn’t able to keep any food down and I could barely function. I had to admit to my partner that I couldn’t do it any more, that we were going to have to get formula (something I knew he was strongly against) he was of course upset by this but agreed and went and bought some ready made formula drinks.
To have to sit your partner down and tell him that you can’t do something that should be simple to do (after all that’s why we have breasts) was extremely challenging, I was worried about his reaction, would he see me as less of a woman? Would people think I was a bad mum? I felt like i'd not only failed my son but my partner as well. I thought that I hadn't breastfed for long enough but actually the question of how long should you breastfeed is as personal as the choice to breastfeed in the first place.
But then something happened: my son couldn’t handle the formula, it was too heavy for him and it was making him sick. So I re-offered the breast and he latched beautifully like he had the first day he was born. It was as though he had made the decision that he would rather have breast milk than formula and I was able to exclusively breastfeed from then on. I’ve actually only recently stopped and my son is two.
So yes I know how soul-crushing it can be to have to move from breast milk to formula, my reason had nothing to do with milk supply which I know unfortunately can be a common problem for some mums just simply because I couldn’t get the technique.
But then I also experienced the other side, the judgmental looks from people when you have to breastfeed your child. Because somehow breastfeeding in public has become a form of taboo. The remarks I got from both men and woman about how I needed to go somewhere private as though my son was undeserving of being allowed to eat in a an open and comfortable space, they wanted me to hide away in a toilet, in a corner but he had as much right as anyone to be there and to be cared for.
For me personally I got used to it and never felt that uncomfortable about feeding in public but I know that that isn’t the case for everyone and it saddens me. It saddens me that this can be an influencing factor on whether a mum will choose to breastfeed. Some mums fear having to deal with it that they choose not to, even though they may have wanted to.
If you are unsure about breastfeeding or even how to do it then my advice is to simply try. Don't go in to it thinking I have to breastfeed because there are alternate options and at least if you try you satisfied your own curiosity and won't regret not giving it a go even if you decide to move on to formula.
I didn’t share my story with you today to sell you on the idea of breastfeeding, or to convince you one way or the other. I think that either option has pros and cons but I hope that you take comfort in knowing that any decision you make does not have to be a final decision and that you should only do what makes you happy as a parent. We are all just trying to do what we think is best and muddle through this together.
Have a fantastic day.
I hope to see you again soon.