Is breast best?

Recently there has been an article circulating Facebook about how to safely prepare bottles of formula for a baby. Seems harmless and helpful, right? I thought so, however some people took the opportunity to shame parents for using formula and make people feel like failures for choosing this feeding option. After seeing my friend, who has recently had a baby herself, post a retaliation to the hurtful comments regarding the article, I decided to delve in deep and have a read myself. 

'I feel sorry for parent's who bottle feed, glad I struggled through the hard days and continued breast feeding', 'so glad I breastfed, it's the perfect temperature, right amount and no cleaning up, much easier', 'it doesn't feel right feeding with a bottle there's no bond or closeness there' and other shaming comments. I'm all for breast feeding if that's what you want to do, I'm aware of all of the science behind it all proving your antibodies are passed on, helps both of your health blah blah blah. But the fact is that breast feeding is just NOT for some people. I'm going to share with you some examples of when breast just wasn't best. 

Meet Louise and George

George's mum is the one who initially shared the article with her story which inspired my post. She is a mum who wished to breast feed, produced enough milk and had done her fair share of research about all things baby to allow her to feel fully prepared in her feeding adventure. Her retaliation to the comments about how bottle means you don't get a bond and how breast is better was this:

"Actually you can still feel a bond and closeness when bottle feeding, you can still hold your baby tight, they still hold your finger or your chest, they still stare into your eyes. I wish I could've breast fed and I was fine producing tonnes of milk, however my baby constantly found it hard to stay latched on (possibly because of a VERY slight tongue tie), to the point where in the hospital I had to use a 1 ml syringe to express milk and give it to him every 2 hours because he could not keep himself on. We persevered for his first few days until his blood sugar levels were going down and his movements started to become too jittery, this is when I thought to myself 'why on earth am I doing this?' It was starving him just because I wanted to breast feed and he couldn't stay latched on. Of course the majority of midwives advised me to keep going and if it wasn't for my baby's blood sugar levels starting to drop quickly then I would have. Only one young midwife out of the lot of them agreed with us in changing to formula, which I found very upsetting... but to me the importance of him being fed no matter how I was to feed him 100% outnumbered the importance of staying on the breast. He then tried 60 ml of formula and it was gone within a couple of minutes. For the first week at home I got up in the night and expressed as much milk as I could into a bottle, usually about 2-3 oz so as he could have that on top of his formula feeds in the day. Changing to formula was the best decision I made. With anymore babies I will again try breast but if we have the same situation, then they will also go onto formula. George and I have the best bond in the world and myself and my boyfriend BOTH feel as close as ever to him when we are feeding him his bottle."

Next meet Becky and Oliver

Oliver was a baby on the Special Care Baby Unit with Aria. Oliver's case was unique compared to all us preemies as Oliver was a 37 weeker - so technically not prem. Oliver was diagnosed (eventually) with a rare complex genetic condition called Prader-Willi Syndrome. Now I wont pretend to know tonnes about Oliver's condition because no matter how much I read in his fabulous mum's amazing blog (found here) I am not living it and therefore can't tell you much about it. But do have a read of Becky's blog because it is very interesting and honest and it was so much fun working with her to write this post! 

Oliver's condition affects his muscle tone and also his brain's ability to master the marathon that is 'suck, swallow and breathe' all at once which obviously impacts on his feeding capability. When Bec was on the unit I used to laugh at her and call her a machine for the amount of breast milk that girl produced! I'm serious she could've donated some of that because she nearly filled the entire fridge at one point. I asked Becky what she thought about these harsh comments as she has to feed Oliver through a Nasogastric Tube with a syringe. Her response was so open and honest and really sums up what it's like to feed a baby through a tube (a feeling I know all too well) when you just want to be able to feed them how you'd planned. 

"We don't feed him how we want to but our bond is amazing and now that he's starting to feed from a bottle we feel even closer. I'll be honest with you as well, expressing is draining me and there's 100% no chance that I can continue to do it for as long as I would have breast fed for. I'm spending an hour doing a feed now - 30 mins doing a gravity feed through his tube, 10 mins trying with a bottle before that and then half an hour expressing. It's taken over my life completely and I feel guilty taking him of breast milk because I started off doing it. I had to give him formula for a few feeds when my milk dropped and I cried because I felt bad and I firmly believe it's because of how much breast feeding is pushed by everyone! Expressing was good for me while he was in hospital because it's the only thing that I could do for him but at home it's not and I can't keep up with it. My life's feed at 6 express until about quarter past 7 sleep for an hour, get Oliver up, express at 9, feed him at 10, express at 12, feed at 2, express at 3, and then the cycle starts again at 6 I've no time to do anything and some people just don't understand if they never breastfed or expressed! I'm emotionally blackmailing myself to continue because of the guilt of starting him off on it, I'm now frightened that he won't carry on doing as well if he just has formula when really, formula would probably be better for him in so many ways, most of all I'd be sane and not expressing in the middle of the night as well as feeding so id not be a sleep deprived zombie!!"

Then there's Me and Aria

So my story is different again, but also very similar to both - if that's even possible. Obviously Aria was very early and thus, like Oliver, hadn't mastered that troublesome 'suck, swallow and breathe' task. In fact because of the gestation Aria was born at she hadn't developed the ability to suck at all until she was 6 weeks old (33 weeks gestation).

I have no shame in admitting I never in a million years wanted to breastfeed. Ever. I didn't like the idea of a baby on my boob. I didn't like the idea I'd produce milk. I didn't like the idea it would leak uncontrollably. I did not like it at all. So when I had Aria early and I got the lecture from a very official baby doctor about how breast milk is incredibly important for premature babies, I felt so obligated to do it in order to help her. I remember worrying myself, crying alone in my little private room not knowing how to get milk out of my boobs, not wanting to do that, but knowing it wasn't really a choice, I simply had to do it for her. The first time I hand expressed into a tiny 1 ml syringe was one of the hardest most emotional experiences I've been through. I battled with myself that I just didn't feel comfortable with this 'natural' process but knew it was necessary. I managed to get a whole ml which took me FOREVER as my milk hadn't properly come in being so early in my pregnancy. Then someone came in my room, made me jump and I dropped it. Yep. That's exactly what a hormonal, heavily emotional, new mum of an early baby needs - to drop her hours work of expressing for the first time.

So after that, I hand expressed for a few days until I was advised to buy a pump and express every 4 hours. The most I ever got out was 60 ml, which is better than nothing. But my milk only lasted 4 weeks. I managed to keep going after being prescribed medication to increase it again but that only lasted 4 days as it made me ill. So after 5 weeks of doing something I hated every minute of, exhausted from getting up in the night to do it, sore, ill, and upset from wasting time I could've spent by my baby's side, my milk dropped down to only giving out 1 ml per 30 mins of expressing. My baby was on more donor milk than my own and I realized I had been putting off making the switch because I was worried what other people would say, when in reality I needed to put my baby's health needs before my anxiety of being judged! I asked the nurse who was looking after Aria that day, who happened to be one of the most understanding and kind nurses she ever had, if we could make the switch and she didn't question. She didn't push me to continue. She sensed that I had just had enough and she knew that I never wanted to do this. She went straight to the Dr's and made the switch for me.

After that, Aria's next feeding task was to get her Nasogastric Tube out and be fully bottle fed which introduced us to the most stressful 7 weeks of our lives. Aria was still learning how to co-ordinate her breathing whilst feeding and caught a cold whilst in hospital, which meant she couldn't breathe out of her nose while feeding. She then became scared of feeding and panicked when the bottle was in her mouth. Eventually, after many referrals, a specialist feeding nurse came to assess her and came up with a plan which involved lying Aria down with my legs angled to lift her slightly to reduce her reflux and also open up her breathing pathways, support her head with one hand and feed her with the other. This obviously means that she is not cuddled close to my body. This however does not mean that I or she feels any less of a bond. We enjoy cuddles and closeness every other minute of the day instead!

In all the stories I've shared here, we all tried to provide our babies with breast milk as we were pressured into doing so. Whether we went into pregnancy with that choice in mind or not that choice was basically taken away from us and we felt so guilty to admit that it just isn't for us. Expressing is incredible hard emotionally and physically and I fully admire women who can do it for a prolonged amount of time because my body couldn't cope with the stress, pressure and lack of sleep, then the added worry if I wasn't producing enough that people would judge me when it is literally something you cannot control. Breast feeding is not always best. While it might be best nutrient wise for the babies and it has other health benefits for both mother and baby, the sanity and emotional well being of the mother is being forgotten along the way and we are being made to feel like failures if we cannot provide this. Sometime breast is not the answer, sometimes mums aren't built for it, while they may not fit into that 2% of women who physically cannot breast feed, they mentally cannot do it - AND THAT'S OK. People need to stop shaming mums for their individual choices, if it means their baby is being fed and not starved, does it really matter?



  1. Im not even a mum or planning to be, but i love your blog Molly, keep it up :)


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