At every stage of life, for every group of people, there are always options available and decisions to make. If you are a teenage boy, it may be which Youtuber to follow. This may seem like a strange example to use, but I just can’t get my head around the fact that this is an actual thing! For those of you who don’t know, a Youtuber is a person that often looks unwashed and unkempt and sits in their bedroom talking about nothing in particular, yet is watched by millions of teenagers. (My sister was recently told by one of her teenage sons that she was old-fashioned for suggesting that they all sit together and watch TV because apparently no one does that anymore.) If you are a stay-at-home-sleep-deprived mum, it may be deciding whether you should have an early night to catch up on missed sleep or stay up and have some ‘me time’ so you can watch something on TV that doesn’t star an obnoxiously opinionated, anthropomorphised pig and/or eat chocolate without hiding behind the sofa. If you are a man, it may be deciding which body part to scratch next. When you are a new mum, one of the first and most important decisions you have to make is whether to breast or formula feed. I should make it clear that I am not trying to trivialise breastfeeding in any way. While I categorically and unapologetically believe that every mum should be free to feed her baby by whichever means she chooses, without judgement or criticism from others, I am a firm believer that breast is best.
Before having children, I assumed that, when the time came, I would be able to feed my children the way I wanted and it would be my choice to make. I was wrong. I only discovered once I had my daughter that I have inverted nipples, which makes it insanely difficult to establish a latch and made breastfeeding impossible; well, for me anyway. While I was disappointed that I couldn’t breastfeed the way I had hoped, becoming a mum for the first time is such a culture shock that you just don’t have time to dwell on all the things that don’t turn out quite the way you imagined. For the first two months, I expressed milk when I could and gave formula the rest of the time. When I was pregnant for a second time, I was determined not to let my deformed nipples get the better of me. This time around I knew what the problem was beforehand and so tried to prepare for it – I bought nipple shields, had done some research (by which I mean I googled breastfeeding with inverted nipples) and had been in touch with the local breastfeeding support group that also sent a lovely lady to visit me once my boy was born. But I still couldn’t manage to establish a latch. After days of being fondled by women I’d only just been introduced to in desperate attempts to establish one, and after weeks of trying it on my own, with a broken spirit, I finally gave up. I was crushed.
The difference was that this time I had read up (thank you Google, once again) on establishing a good milk supply. I pumped every 2-3 hours, day and night, and managed to provide my son with nothing but breastmilk for eight months. To say it was an arduous journey would be an understatement. There were the obvious problems that probably wouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone – Being attached to a pump for hours each day, surviving on less than four hours sleep each night for the first three months because, not only do you have to get up for feeds and nappy changes like everyone else, you have to then stay up and pump for the next feed, having to pump throughout the day when you have two children to look after, cleaning and sterilising pump parts and bottles every day, yada yada yada (it was a choice I made of my own free will, so I am not looking for any sympathy). But there were other issues that I wasn’t expecting and that were, in some ways, actually harder to deal with. I live in a community where the prevailing wisdom on the benefits of breastmilk is lagging by about 15 years. While, in theory, they accept that breastmilk is good for babies, this is based mainly on the religious importance given to it and its convenience because it’s readily available, at the right temperature, doesn’t require any equipment and also helps you lose weight… apparently. In practice, they were very quick to remind me of the perceived benefits of formula, such as it enabling babies to put on weight more quickly, allowing babies to sleep for longer because it is more filling and that some babies just don’t like the taste of their mother’s milk! (Really? How do you know? Has any baby ever told you that?) If this is how they feel about nursed babies, you can imagine what an alien concept extracting your milk and giving it in a bottle is. For them, I had combined all the evils from both forms of feeding to invent my own satanic method. As well as the aforementioned misconceptions they had with breastmilk, here is a roundup of my top 5 favourites ‘problems’ they had with my method:
- “The milk doesn’t retain its nutrients when expressed into a bottle and then fed to a child, so it is of no benefit to them. You’re better off giving formula”
Do they drink milk directly from a cow? That milk’s been expressed too and that gets pasteurised first! If any nutrients are lost by the milk entering a bottle, it is negligible.
2. “Directly nursed babies (I am deliberately not using the term breastfed babies because my baby received breastmilk and so was breastfed as far as I am concerned) don’t get colic or reflux. Yours is suffering unnecessarily because you are using a bottle and he’s not reacting well to your milk. You might as well just give formula.”
My beloved Google tells me that directly nursed babies are just as likely to suffer colic and reflux as bottle fed babies, so wrong again!
3. “You’re restricting your baby’s milk intake because he can only drink as much as you’re able to express.”
Yes, the baby only gets as much I manage to express, but I had an oversupply and was producing so much milk that I was able to donate close to 1000 ounces to a local milk bank. Oh, and my son is the size of a small car, so I don’t think there is any possibility that he ever went hungry.
4. “You don’t get to bond with your baby in the same way.”
Unlike the other comments, which I just found irritating more than anything else, this one actually hurt a little. When my son was a few weeks old, I took him to a baby group and made the mistake of talking to people. I had mentioned my chosen method of feeding him earlier in the conversation and, whilst we were discussing sleeping habits, I told them that when my boy gets tired he just want to be left in his cot to fall asleep on his own and hates being held. I was actually kind of boasting because my daughter was an awful sleeper and it would take an hour of rocking and singing and then having to leave the room with stealth ninja moves to get her to sleep, so I never expected my revelation that my son falls asleep with little trouble to backfire the way it did. One of the responses I got was, “It’s because you give your milk in a bottle. You’ve not allowed yourself to have that bond with your child that breastfeeding mothers usually have and that’s probably why he doesn’t want to be held by you when he’s tired.” I am certain that this mum wasn’t deliberately being a condescending and self-righteous twat, but her assumption that the bond between a mother and her child is restricted because the child does not spend half the day with an overrated part of its mother’s anatomy in its mouth is absurd! I have no doubt that directly nursing an infant does help to establish a unique bond, but that bond can be established in endless other ways too.
5) “It’s the reason you haven’t lost weight. If you breastfed normally, you’d have lost your baby weight by now.”
Sure, okay, let’s go with that. I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that I consume about 3000 calories just for breakfast, anyway.
Last week, I finally made the decision to claim my life back from the pump and switch to formula. I had only ever intended to pump for the first three months anyway and had delayed projects that I wanted to complete because of my pumping schedule for long enough, so I decided to hang up the nipple tearing instrument of torture for good. It was quite an emotional journey that I made and the only other person to observe it in all its unrelenting horror was my husband. He’s the only one that has seen how much of my life I’ve had to sacrifice to pump for this long, watched me battle through 4 bouts of mastitis and witnessed how I’ve learnt to bite my tongue in front of those who make unpleasant comments, knowing that deep down I get upset by the fact that they don’t understand that I only do it for the benefit of my child. I’m not sure what I was expecting him to say, but his response when I told him of this difficult, sensitive and emotional decision will stay with me forever. His exact words were…. “Never mind! Have you seen the remote?”