Feeding choices is one of those topics that can spark highly charged discussions among mothers. Each woman’s view is usually shaped by the frustrations or difficulties she faced during the postpartum period, often very personal experiences – birth trauma, a premature or unwell baby, structural or supply problems or postnatal depression or anxiety, to name just a few.
Some women find that breastfeeding comes easily – a fortunate match between mother and baby. Some surprise themselves, and despite initial hesitation or hurdles, go on to breastfeed for much longer than they ever imagined themselves doing so. Some women discover, to their great disappointment, insurmountable obstacles to breastfeeding – physical or emotional ones, or both – while others will decide to bottle-feed from the outset. Regardless of the method, feeding is a necessary act of caring for one’s baby and one that (hopefully) reflects a mother and baby’s deep bond.
In this article I share the feeding stories of three Inner West Mums: my own, Ally’s and Sana’s. In writing it, I have no agenda other than to encourage greater acceptance of each mother’s feeding choice and, more broadly, to encourage greater respect for one another’s parenting journey.
Mamas, let’s stop the milk wars here!
We stared in silence as the milk spread slowly across the table – the 4.5 millilitres of liquid gold that the midwife had just spent the past half-hour agonisingly hand-expressing from my breasts. I’d lost 2.5 litres of blood postpartum only days earlier, had received a blood transfusion and had undergone emergency surgery, and now my milk production was delayed. And here, yet another setback: my precious 4.5 millilitres – gone.
‘What do you want to do now?’ she snapped.
It was 3 am. Our newborn baby was screaming.
‘I – I …’ I stammered.
It was my husband who stepped in. ‘We’ll have some formula.’
The midwife shot me a look. Would I dare give my newborn formula? You bet I would. But I couldn’t own that decision at the time. Instead tears streamed down as I signed a form acknowledging the possible consequences of my decision. Hospital procedure perhaps, but a kick in the guts for a new mum who had just gone through the wringer delivering her baby and lacked confidence. All I felt then was how very hopeless at this mothering gig I was turning out to be.
My milk eventually came in – in gallons – and my poor daughter drowned in the stuff at every feed. But still there was the excruciating pain of a poor latch for many weeks. I persisted, and I remain forever grateful for the encouragement of my husband during that time, as well as a handful of close friends and family members – experienced mothers who had breastfed their children successfully and were always there to lift me up and answer my questions. Then one day, when my daughter was around eight weeks of age, she and I reached a happy place – the supply was right, the latch was right. This worked for us, for rather a long time.
On many occasions in the years that have passed, I have reflected on that horrible night in hospital – wished I could go back and tell that cranky midwife the effect her attitude had on my fragile mental state at the time. It was pressure I could have done without.
Over the years I’ve met many mothers, come to appreciate that there is so much that guides one’s feeding choices, and that every kind of feeding has its challenges. The support that mothers receive in those early months is critical – in assisting with feeding, and also in identifying the onset of postnatal depression or anxiety. I feel strongly we can do this part better.
‘I had issues breastfeeding both my children. I spent countless hours with lactation consultants and midwives, reading books and blogs and even watching how-to videos on YouTube. In the end a combination of tongue tie and an anatomical mismatch between my babes’ mouths and my breasts meant that neither of my children could draw sufficient milk whilst breastfeeding.
‘I chose to exclusively express and feed from the bottle to give them both the benefits of breastmilk. Instead of cuddles and games with my little ones after feeds, I had to spend my time hooked up to a milking machine. My downtime during naps was pumping time, and I even woke to pump overnight to keep up my supply.
‘Despite this, on more than one occasion I was judged by people around me. One particular occasion I recall all too well. At a shopping centre, while stopped to feed my daughter, a woman joined me on the chair and admonished me for not breastfeeding. I didn’t know what to say and instead sat in silence. After she left I continued on my way with tears running down my cheeks. I wanted to tell her at the time that it was in fact breastmilk, and that I had gone through so much to give my daughter the liquid gold that I was constantly being told she needed. After doing it all again, that’s not what I would tell her. I would tell her that no amount of breastmilk will replace those precious moments that I missed out on whilst I was busy expressing.’
‘I didn’t enjoy breastfeeding.
‘My son was breastfed until he was three months old, but I didn’t enjoy it. I never felt that special bond other mothers spoke about. I felt depressed every time I had to feed him. I dreaded every feeding session. He wasn’t a bad feeder. He did have a preference for one boob over the other. He would fuss on the boob he didn’t like and not attach. But overall he was a good feeder. He put on weight. He grew. I just didn’t enjoy it.
‘Breastfeeding for me was a contributor to my PND. It made me feel trapped. I’d look down at my son’s head while he fed and time would just stretch out in front of me with no end in sight. My only thought seemed to be “how do I survive this?”.
‘I remember one middle-of-the-night feed in particular. While my husband slept soundly in the next room, my son fed happily on my boob but I had tears streaming down my face. Why didn’t I enjoy this? What was wrong with me? I knew I couldn’t do it anymore. Something needed to change. That was the moment I decided to stop breastfeeding.
‘And it was the best decision I made. I felt happier, lighter. My son took the bottle with no issue. I started to finally feel that elusive bond. At first I didn’t tell people, as I was worried about the judgement I knew I’d receive. But as time went on, I felt I needed to stand up for myself, for what I felt was right for me and my son. The first time I openly admitted that I didn’t enjoy breastfeeding and that my son was being bottle-fed was when my mother’s group started meeting on its own, away from the community nurse. It was such a relief to be able to say it out loud and not be judged. ‘While most of them were still breastfeeding, their understanding of my situation helped me through the darkness that I had felt would be with me forever.
‘My son is now four. When you look at him and his friends, you can’t tell which ones were breastfed and which ones were bottle-fed. They are all healthy, happy, crazy four year olds.
‘When pregnant friends ask me about breastfeeding, I tell them my story. I’m not trying to convince them not to breastfeed. I just want them to know that it’s okay if they don’t.
‘Being a mum is hard enough. Throw in the judgement of other mums on what is best for your baby and it’s a whole world of unnecessary stress. While society can help guide us in our decision, ultimately it needs to be what’s right for mum and baby. Even if you don’t necessarily agree with the mum’s choice of feeding, your support for her decision goes along way. It could just be the light at the end of a very dark tunnel.’
More articles from Ginny:
A Big Shift: How Three Women Transformed their Careers during Motherhood
You Know You Have an Inner West Child When …
Cookie Cutter Kids: How can we teach our children to celebrate diversity?
Running in Circles
Allergies: What’s all the fuss about?
The Early Days
Not water – Tears
No Judgements, please
Triumph or Trauma
Riding the Merry go Round
Friends, Near or Far
When is Enough, Enough?
My ( Child’s) Kitchen Rules