You might think why am I blogging about this topic as I am no longer a mom of an infant. I can relate as I was once a mom of two infants and I failed at breastfeeding. Even if it takes me back almost 8 years I can remember clearly. A conversation with friends, inspired this post. Let’s just say – there are still some people that are divided on this.
My blog post today is about the breastfeeding vs formula debate. In all honesty there shouldn’t even be a debate. It is all about choice and what is best for your baby. I have great admiration for mothers who breastfeed their babies, in actual fact I find it to be a beautiful sight. They make it look so easy and they seem to be so content to nurse their little sprouts. But for many this is not the case. Failing to breastfeed can be due to many reasons. Medical reasons, baby that can’t latch, adoption or delivered via surrogacy can cause this. So feelings of guilt, failure, and ultimately judgement creep in for not supplying your child with your own milk.
My breastfeeding experience with both my girls wasn’t a success and I don’t feel guilty about it. Being a first time mom, I was well informed. I read every possible book, article and of course googled. Every single article would proclaim that “breast is best”.
At 34 weeks I had an emergency c-section and my eldest daughter, Lea, was born prematurely. The baby wasn’t placed on my chest and was rushed to the NICU. They placed her in an incubator and hooked her up on machines. This was to monitor her heart beat, breathing and other vital signs. As babies only develop their sucking reflex at 36 weeks she was fed through a nasogastric tube. The nurse advised me to try and pump my breast milk as the colostrum was full of protein and protective antibodies. So I pumped my first milk and boy was it painful – as if somebody was trying to squash my boobs.
During the 2 weeks she spent in NICU, my husband and I would make the trip to the hospital every day. I desperately tried to breastfeed her but she just wouldn’t latch even with help from the breastfeeding consultant that came into the NICU.
In hospital they would weigh all premature babies before every feed. Immediately after breastfeeding the nurse weighed her again. Believe me there would be no change in her weight. I felt frustrated and despondent. As her sucking reflex developed while she was in hospital; she would then be bottle fed with either formula or the breast milk that I pumped.
The nurses were very supportive at the NICU. They advised me to rather express my milk if I want to continue giving her breast milk or to put her on formula. As she didn’t latch, I didn’t produce much milk to pump. Even after consuming litres and litres of ginger beer and magical jungle juice.
After two weeks in hospital, she came home and was a wonderful baby. Already in a routine, I made the decision to formula feed her. Yes there was judgement from family members and stares from people. Why I felt the need to justify my decision for not breastfeeding my child – I don’t know. Perhaps to avoid being judged for not breastfeeding. Yes I failed but it was a decision to either feed my child with formula or to let her go hungry.
Luckily she wasn’t lactose intolerant and it wasn’t necessary to put her on a special formula. Formula feeding allowed my husband to mix the bottles and do the night feeds. That was his bonding time with Lea. We monitored her growth on the percentile chart. She put on weight by getting chubby cheeks, arms and legs – that was enough for me. I was never once asked by the clinic nurse why I’m not breastfeeding. I then made a conscious decision to stop explaining why I’m not breastfeeding. My child was thriving, reaching her milestones and was healthy and that was all that mattered.
Let’s just say second time around it was a completely different story to the first baby. Mika was born at 38 weeks also via c-section. They placed her on my breast and latched within seconds. Hallelujah it was a miracle I could finally breastfeed or maybe I was just lucky that this baby could latch. I committed to to breastfeed for 6 months.
Two days after being released from hospital she developed jaundice. Jaundice develop when their young livers can’t process the high levels of bilirubin. This is to help with the breakdown of old red blood cells. Jaundice is also common in newborn breastfed babies. The paediatrician informed us that it wasn’t necessary to hospitalise her as her bilirubin count in her blood wasn’t high. She advised us to let her lie in the sun with just her nappy on. Advised to breastfeed her frequently. This will help to clear the jaundice. Luckily this happened in December and it was very hot. We sun bathed her to help break down the bilirubin. After two days of taking her to the pathology testing centre to have her bilirubin count checked, her jaundice cleared.
However this baby was completely different to the first one, after the jaundice cleared, she then developed colic. To top it off she wanted to be demand fed. She wasn’t in a feeding routine and this made me physically and mentally exhausted. My husband supported my decision to breastfeed. But I knew that he felt excluded as he was not involved in the feeding process with Mika. On the very rare occasion he would bottle feed her with expressed breast milk.
It seemed as if this child was constantly on the boob. I felt like a cow being milked 24/7. The worse was that my milk supply was in excess and I didn’t like it at all. The demand feed become so bad that I hated the idea of breastfeeding my child. But I was going to soldier on and persevere for my child’s sake as this was what was best for her.
We were advised to see the late Dr Roy Gordon, a paediatrician, in Cape Town. On instruction from the doctor, her feed was at 06h00. This made me worry as our appointment was only at 10h00. My poor child screamed blue murder as she was so hungry.
This doctor was different to all other paediatricians. He showed me how to breastfeed her properly without her swallowing gas and not to allow her to drink more than what she should. Let’s just say all dignity went straight out by the window as I had both my boobs hanging out. My husband found him very quirky as he was old school. He had strange and outdated systems. I didn’t pay much attention to any of that – I was there for one reason only – as long as he could work his magic and help me get her into a routine – all was ok by me.
He also gave me a feeding program to start her on which included giving her solids. At not even 3 months, I didn’t see it fit to start her on solids at such a young age. Just for the record, I never returned to Dr Gordon after just that one visit.
There was an immense improvement in her routine. She was in a three hourly feeding routine and her colic eased. Her belly was full and she never struggled with constipation. Although it got better, I was still feeling like a cow being either pumped or sucked to dry.
So after 4 months, I introduced her to solids and also made the drastic decision to slowly wean her off the breast milk. I had to return back to work within the next 2 months and wasn’t prepared to sit and pump at work. So I started substituting feeds with formula to see if she would get an allergic reaction. Thank goodness there was no allergic reaction and the transition from breast to formula bottle was easy as we bottle fed her before with breast milk.
But then the problem was how to get rid of my breast milk as I had loads and it was at a stage where pumping wasn’t helping as I would just produce more. So my very clever husband googled and he then discovered that I need to place cabbage leaves on my engorged breasts. I tried it but let me tell you I stank like old fart. This only gave relief for that moment. The milk was still streaming out like a fountain. The engorged breasts looked like balloons that wanted to pop. The pain was indescribable. I called my gynaecologist who then prescribed Parlodel tablets to dry my milk up. I couldn’t pump or stimulate my breasts. And under no circumstances to breastfeed my baby. My milk dried up within a week.
It’s probably safe to say that I tried breastfeeding both my children. The first attempt was a complete fail and the second attempt lasted only 4 months. And that formula came to my rescue. I tried breastfeeding and it didn’t work for me and do I feel guilty about giving up – not one bit.
Although breast milk is the more economical option, there are no guarantees that you will succeed at it even with all the support you get. Yes there is no beating around the bush that formula and you need to make sure that you mix it as per the instructions on the tin. It is also very expensive and can be an inconvenience with preparing and sterilising bottles.
But that it is a health risk for your baby – well that is completely untrue. It never harmed or killed my two children – in fact they were healthy. We are living in modern times and formula is not harmful or poisoners to babies. It wouldn’t be on the market or used in hospitals to substitute feeds for premature babies if it was. I have first-hand experience that my breastfed baby seemed to have more niggles than my baby who was formula fed from the start.
So my advice to all new mothers or second time mothers who are currently finding it difficult to breastfeed and has guilt hanging over their heads as they don’t know whether they should switch to formula. Do what is best for you and your baby. You not a bad mom if you can’t breastfeed and you surely not a good one if you can – there shouldn’t be a comparison. You still a flippen good mom either way and you are trying your best raise that little human. Stop feeling guilty and forget about the judgement and pressures of what breastfeeding stand for. What comes naturally to some is a struggle for others – make peace with it and move on. Love and bond with your baby, give him/her the best nutrients they deserve whether it is breast milk or formula as long as they are healthy and growing beautifully.
No matter what, you still a great mommy!