My views and experiences of breast feeding versus bottle feeding.
We've hit our 3 month milestone and I still can't quite believe our little chap is here and that I'm a mother? Even writing it down looks weird to me!
With this milestone has come what I feel like has been a massive decision for us not to continue to breast feed. When really, it shouldn't have felt like such a big deal at all. Before I dive in, I want to be explicit that these are just my views and experiences. Everyone will have their own individual experience with feeding and with it their own choices and support network.
I loved breast feeding him the first couple of months, I felt a strong bond and a big responsibility. It gave me a purpose in some early darker days and every time I felt like I didn't want to or couldn't do it, something took over and it felt right and comfortable for us. At around 10 weeks, things started to change. Fred wanted to feed much more frequently (like every half an hour 🥴) and I at first I put it down to a number of common breast feeding complaints; maybe he was having a growth spurt? Maybe he was trying to increase my supply? Maybe he's just really hungry today? But it went on for 2 and a half weeks. Feeding every half an hour, no sleep for either of us and he spent most of his time in between crying and seeming quite angry with me. I decided to try a bottle one morning to see if it would satisfy him and it really did. He gulped his way through a 180ml bottle and slept for about 4 hours after it. It was a huge relief! But with that came lots of questions about breast feeding and whether or not it was right for us any more.
What I learned when I started to do some research was that a lot of mothers make the very same decision to switch to the bottle when it feels or seems like baby isn't getting the volume that they need or they're just not feeling satisfied any more. It made me feel justified in my decision, but not before I had tried a few other avenues first.
I talked to my health visitor who suggested Fred wanted to increase my supply. She was more interested in the science of it all rather than listening to how it was making both me and Fred feel. I felt like a shit human because I couldn't make enough food for my son and Fred felt frustrated because I couldn't give him what he needed. She also told me I would always make enough milk for him and to keep going...
I text our NCT course leader, who only sent me an image of the breast feeding helpline to call and chat through my concerns.
I called the breastfeeding helpline and left a message because there was no answer. Nobody called me back after 2 days which felt useless. When you have a baby, 2 days feels like a month.
I googled it. I understand that Dr Google is often frowned upon but then what else was left? I was sure to look at approved resources, NHS website (did little to encourage any bottle feeding of any nature - breast is best), healthline (suggested moving away from breast feeding wasn't the done thing) and the list goes on to be honest.
I confided in lots of different people. Not necessarily to get their opinions or views on anything but to chat about it, talk about it like it was my decision, maybe just to get some support or feel like I was making the right choice. The response was so interesting!
Friends with babies were supportive. Especially those who had bottle fed from birth. "Good for you!" "Whatever works best for your family" etc.
Friends without babies were supportive. "Only you know what's right, mother's intuition."
Fellow NCT goers. I had a stand-up argument with one of them about it. She started listing off all the reasons why I shouldn't stop. "I follow lots of lactation experts on Instagram and you should do X, Y, Z. Blah blah fucking blah." I felt like shit. I found myself listing all the reasons back to her about why it was the right thing for us to do. That I'd given it my best shot and it was going on for too long. That I want my body back. That I desperately need sleep and rest. That he needs to be more settled. That he needs to feel satisfied and not fussy. That I need to feel like I can provide for him so that I don't feel like a shit mother. That I need to stop waking up to a soaking wet chest every night. That it needs to be less frequently than half an hour. That I can't stand to look at my breasts in the mirror any more. That I don't feel like a human, I feel like a cow. That I'm not getting enough to eat or drink because I don't have time because I'm constantly feeding him. That I'm drained. That I'm not enjoying being a mum because of it. That I don't spend time with him other than feeding him and I feel resentful. Shall I go on?
It wasn't until another NCT goer overheard this conversation and said she'd been bottle feeding since week 3 because she hated breast feeding did it silence us both. Later that day she text me and invited me round for a coffee and when we got together I felt like a new woman. She felt exactly the same as me but at 3 weeks, not 3 months. She'd been through the same emotional battle, sought help but the main difference was she was supported by her health visitor in her choice to bottle feed.
My point to this story is that you don't have to justify to anyone why you decide to breast feed or not. You don't have to justify anything you decide to do as a mother for the health of you or your child. And I feel sad that it took me a few moments to realise that. I feel sad that I had to go through so much guilt and upset to get to the end result. My first solo bottle feed was heart wrenching. I felt awful putting a plastic teat in his mouth after such a long time on the breast. He took it straight away and without hesitation but it made me feel mechanical instead of the natural, loving feeling I had in the early days. I'm sure there was a hormonal wrench involved somewhere too.
Two weeks later and after going cold turkey, my boobs have almost dried up completely after 5 days. I get the occasional bit of leakage but you wouldn't know due to some awesome bamboo breast pads. Fred is much happier, fuller, continuing to put on weight, sleeping well and much better at night. I'm happier. I'm getting rest which means I can spend lots of time doing fun things with him in the day and not constantly dropping my top to get my tits in his face hoping to settle his griping!
Now I get to look forward to the return of my periods. Lord help me! The almost 12 month holiday from those has been a delight. I've heard horror stories of their return, particularly those with endometriosis. I will no doubt report back in a future blog post. On the plus side, I no longer have to perfectly time or monitor my alcohol consumption! And daddy has a fair share of the feeding responsibilities!
Downsides include sterilising bottles (I felt lazy and almost dropped my bra a couple of times rather than get up and sterilise!), measuring out formula correctly for a day out of the house (but we have mastered it recently) and making a bottle at someone else's house who doesn't have a perfect prep machine. For those not in the know, this machine is a god send, heats the water to the perfect temp for your bottle feeds so no waiting for water to cool or heat up, 2 mins, job done!
To conclude, women should feel empowered to make their own choices around feeding without the guilt of wanting to use formula. Yes breast milk is lovely and has its pros, but it also has its cons. There are also mothers out there who desperately want to breast feed but for health reasons sometimes can't. Does that mean that their babies will grow up any differently? No! There is always an alternative, for the sake of your physical and mental health, make your own damn choices and listen to your gut, or in my case, listen to your tits!