Is breast always best?

When I was pregnant with my daughter I thought I’d be the model mum, doing everything according to the latest news story or NHS guidelines. About a month before my due date, we were told that – apparently – it was ok, to eat peanuts during pregnancy. But the seed had been sown and I avoided them until after she was born then gorged on a feast of peanut butter, blue cheese, pate and red wine (no, not on the same plate). I put up with my hayfever without antihistamines, took all my antenatal vitamins and slept on my side. So it was obvious that I was going to breastfeed as all educated, middle class women do. Don’t they?

 When we arrived at the maternity unit I was asked what my intentions were regarding feeding and I told them that I would be breastfeeding, I had no other plans. I hadn’t brought anything else to hospital except for my ginormous boobs, a tube of Lansinoh and some attractive maternity bras. There was a chart in the hallway with a graph showing how many women left the unit having established breastfeeding and what feeding method they had planned to use on entering the hospital. Of those wanting to breastfeed, 96% had gone home successfully breastfeeding. This was going to be easy!

Exhausted from 48 hours without sleep and struggling to move around due to an emergency c-section, when the midwives asked if I wanted to to try to feed my newborn, naturally I said yes. It was most definitely a case of the blind leading the blind. I had no idea what I was doing and she wailed every time one of my giant purple nipples was thrust in her direction. Over the next few days we tried the rugby ball, the upside down, the cradle hold, the laid back. Nothing made any difference. I began to hate my body, I didn’t even want to look at my beautiful new daughter because I was so scared that she might wake up again and cry and cry from hunger. I sat on my bed, facing away from her perspex crib and wept.

The chirpy midwives were so confident that we were going to crack it and never even suggested any alternatives. During my stay I had about 10 different women manhandling me into position so I soon forgot about dignity. I lay like a whale while my nipples were squeezed and rolled to extract the precious colostrum which was then dropped into my little one’s mouth. By the time my milk came in, she had still not latched on and I was getting frustrated and cross – not to mention sore – and my newborn was starving.

In a scene from the appalling 1991 film ‘Return to the Blue Lagoon’,  Milla Jovovich playing teenage Lilli Hargrave is trying desperately to comfort her newborn baby.  Semi clad and revealing her pert breasts, she cuddles the child  and low and behold, the baby finds her nipple and sucks. They have worked out breast feeding! By accident! If only it was that easy.

‘Daisy’ was brought in. This super strength milking machine did what my daughter couldn’t and sucked the milk out of me. I was so pleased to be finally able to feed my child, even if it was from a bottle. The sense of relief was enormous, she lapped it up like a baby kitten and finally I could cuddle her without wanting to weep. 3 days after she was born, I plugged myself into the pumping machine and soon had 100ml of milk. Then it turned pink. My nipple was bleeding, it was so traumatised from the incorrect latching and the non stop attempts to feed ‘naturally’. The midwives insisted I carry on with the other boob. My husband and I decided that we all needed to get home, get into our own environment and relax, try again without any pressure.

When we announced our intentions, it fell on blank ears. “You said you wanted to breastfeed”. Yes I do. “Well you’ll have to stay here until it’s established’. But I’d feel better at home. “We can’t let you go home without establishing breastfeeding. 96% of mothers who wanted to breastfeed leave our unit breastfeeding, we don’t want you to let down our statistics!” Said with a smile that wasn’t meant.

The next morning, my husband announced that we would be going and asked me to be discharged. The same conversation happened again but he was firm, luckily, because by then I was defeated. They said they had to fill in the paperwork. Over the next few hours, we asked again and again and each time, it wasn’t ready. My husband dashed off to the nearest Mothercare and stocked up on a steriliser, an expensive Medela electric breast pump, 3 different types of nipple shields and some Tommee Tippee bottles. At 9pm visiting hours were over. We asked for the discharge forms again. Apparently they were just coming. At 10.30pm, we went to the front desk and said that I was discharging myself and they could post on the paperwork. Finally just before 11pm, the forms arrived and we left.

It was a long drive home on a misty cold night and we got home at midnight. My daughter wanted a feed but we had some preparation to do first. My husband comforted the baby while I worked out all the equipment. Unpack the sterilizer, read the instructions, sterilize the sterilizer, unpack the breast pump, sterilize the breast pump, unpack the bottles, sterilize the bottles, pump. Not even time for a cup of tea. This wasn’t how I imagined coming home from hospital with my first newborn baby. Finally around 1am, she had a bottle and completely drained, emotionally and physically, we all fell into a welcome coma of sleep.

We kept on trying to breastfeed and I kept on pumping and eventually I stopped trying and kept pumping. I pumped for two months and gradually filtered in formula feeds until I gave up expressing altogether.  ‘People like me’ aren’t supposed to use formula though. ‘People like me’ are supposed to use cloth nappies, carry babies around in a sling and breastfeed. Somewhere deep inside a lot of us is a prejudiced and ill conceived notion that formula feeding is lazy, common or inferior because of course, ‘breast is best’ so you must be crazy, stupid or both not to take the natural option. But it really isn’t that simple. For my daughter and I, there was nothing natural about breast feeding.

I’m glad the midwives didn’t get their way. They said I couldn’t leave the hospital until we had established breastfeeding. If that was the case I’d have had to live there for the last 8 years.

We never established breast feeding. My daughter has verbal and oral dyspraxia and low tone in all of her muscles. She was still eating purees at 12 months, choked on lumps for at least another year and dribbled until she was three. She could never even suck a dummy and to this day she won’t notice lumps of food on her lips and can’t work out how to lick them off with her tongue.

She has a full statement of Special Educational Needs, scores 0.1% on the Movement ABC test which is used to identify a child with motor difficulties, she performs below the 2nd percentile in the way she processes auditory, movement and touch sensory information and below the 10th percentile in the way she processes visual information. She has Global Developmental Delay with learning difficulties and did not speak at all until after three years of age.

We still work with her on a daily Oral-Facial Facilitation programme of tongue exercises, sucking and blowing practice, vibration and brushing designed to improve oral-motor control and sensory awareness.

She had no chance. And we should never have been made to feel guilty about this.


For more interesting reading on the ‘Breast is Best’ debate:

We are in danger of ignoring the drawbacks of breastfeeding, says Wolf [Joan B Wolf, professor of gender studies at Texas A&M University], such as the potential loss to women’s earnings. And we are in danger of “holding mothers accountable for all sorts of things they don’t have control over”.

A recent study by scientists at Ohio University sought to disentangle those aspects by studying “discordant” siblings: one who had been breast-fed and the other who had been brought up on the bottle. The results, published earlier this year, were startling: there was no significant difference between the breastfed child and the bottle-fed one when it came to BMI, asthma, hyperactivity or intelligence. Geoff Der, a statistician at the University of Glasgow, who saw the results, said, “In a society with a clean water supply and modern formulas, a woman who isn’t able to breastfeed shouldn’t be feeling guilty.”

A recent study in Social Science & Medicine found that many benefits attributed to breastfeeding—from reduced rates of obesity and asthma to higher intelligence—have been overstated. The study compared outcomes among siblings and found no significant difference in 10 of 11 long-term health outcomes between children who were breastfed and those given formula. Most studies look at children from different families, which makes it difficult to isolate the effects of breastfeeding.

Formula milk is one of the remaining shopping decisions where consumers remain unempowered. We can research the best car seat, the best buggy, and the best weaning foods for our babies, but because we are all supposed to be exclusively breastfeeding, the business of buying and making up baby formula remains a mystery.
Formula manufacturers are not allowed to make claims about their products. They cannot give you cheap offers on first-stage baby milk, and you can’t earn reward points on it. Midwives seldom leave you with any help on how to sterilise, make up and cool a bottle – no matter the vexed issues of storing them in a fridge, heating them when out and about, and whether the water should be hot or cold (and if hot, how hot).

Today’s earworm: ‘Summer of ’69’ – Bryan Adams

Last night’s different dinner score:  4


Cuddle Fairy


17 Comments Add yours

  1. thatgirlcath says:

    So relate to this. I never considered anything other than breast feeding (mainly because of my sizeable frontage) but failed miserably with both of mine. My first chewed me to pieces and I ended up in a&e with an abscess the size of a golf ball under one of my nipples, and I knew it was time to stop with my second when he began vomming my own blood. Didn’t stop me crying my heart out when I opened that first tin of formula. Looking at them now, I know it did them absolutely no harm.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My frontage was also fairly sizeable (36F by the time I was buying nursing bras!) so I assumed it would be easy. But when I realised it wasn’t going to happen, I was so bloody relieved that I could feed her by any means – I didn’t really worry too much about it being formula. I was formula fed and I think I turned out ok 🙂 BUT once I started getting out and about and going to baby massage and other playgroups, I did feel the eyebrows raising at me. I seemed to be the only one with a bottle (of MY milk!) except for a teenager who had twins. I didn’t always want to have to justify why I was bottle feeding so I did end up feeling a bit embarrassed which is just ridiculous.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Allie says:

    So many things make such a greater difference in a child’s life, why stress over which healthy, safe food source they get in the first year?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Luckily by baby 2, the advice seemed to have changed a little. The midwives said that a happy mum made for a happy baby so they would support us with any feeding route. And as soon as they can move, it’s play do and old crumbs going in their mouth anyway!!!


  3. Pamela Burn says:

    My story is so similar. Logic fails to prevail in Baby Friendly Initiative hospitals and it’s hurting both mums and their babies at the most vulnerable times of their lives. I’ll never forget having to beg for midwives to supplement my baby with formula after 36 hours of no latch and witnessing what was my obviously ravenous baby, fretfully crying. I was pumping nothing and had been repeatedly told that the colostrum I’d expressed wasn’t enough but because the WHO code insists babies should receive only breastmilk, there was deliberately no plan in place to resolve the situation. The hospital staff would let my baby starve.

    I went onto exclusively breastfeed for 4 weeks during which time I developed a recurrent abscess under my areola. My baby’s weight went down the centiles on the chart and I was admitted into hospital and then went through repeated procedures to try to continue to breastfeed.

    Stopping breastfeeding was the best thing for me and my baby and yet my experience still takes up an unnecessary amount of head space 2 years on. I see more and more stories of parents being treated appallingly because of their feeding choices.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is completely disgraceful – it makes me so cross. I have a friend who developed thrush on her nipples and the midwives insisted she kept breastfeeding. Then she got terrible mastitis and they still wanted her to keep going. It’s just such a horrible start to your parenting journey, when all you want is to enjoy your tiny baby and snuggle up with them but instead you’re in pain, they aren’t happy and all for the sake of what? some antibodies? Apparently the placenta carries maternal antibodies from the mother to the foetus so babies are born with all the maternal antibodies they will ever have.


  4. Breast vs bottle-feeding – just the first of (too) many parenting decisions that mothers are made to feel guilty about. My 3 are all in primary school now, and oh my, the parent-shaming and scorn is still flying around thick and fast, just about different topics. On some days it makes me question my worth as a mother deeply. On other days I hold my head high and accept that I can only do my best. (Well, I do until my offspring get home and start chuntering about my parenting skills too, hehehehe)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I just think that as long as children get a lot of cuddles and a few boundaries they should do ok…everything else is just a matter of personal choice. But there’s still a lot of tut-tutting that goes on – it’s basically just bullying under the guise of ‘natural parenting’.


      1. Yes. And the opposite. Example, the tut-tutting about me this term has been my continuing decision not to own any electronic games (DS, Nintendo, X-box, etc). OK, maybe in this day and age this is a little unusual. But to actually be *criticised* for choosing not to buy or use these? I sometimes find it a bit bewildering


      2. Oh yes! We didn’t let our first watch TV at all until she was a toddler and then only a tiny bit (this is still pretty early considering in our day we wouldn’t have watched any!) Even the grandparents were saying that a bit of telly never hurt and she might enjoy it….well she has the most amazing imagination now and I can’t help but think that lack of TV might have contributed to this!


      3. I completely agree. It was when my eldest’s extensive imagination was cited as evidence for the ‘damage’ our ‘old-fashioned’ upbringing was causing, that I realised that maybe the critics had it wrong and not us 🙂 TV and electronic games are grand and brilliant fun, but I prefer them not to be the default entertainment setting.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Lizzyt says:

    Thank you for this, my first was unable to latch and had severly high bilirubin which required supplemental formula to save her life. I felt like such a failure! I never produced enough no matter what I did and thankfully I had good nurses and pediatricians who supported formula use. Now I encourage all new Moms to do what is best for them and their baby no matter what. We should not be made to feel guilty, fed is best!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly! Our babies need love, warmth, nutrients and shelter. The way you provide these should be a personal decision and besides formula milk is excellent quality and there’s no way to guarantee the quality of your breast milk!!!


  6. thefrenchiemummy says:

    Love this post. It’s a personal choice and we should not be made guilty if we don’t breastfeed. I was lucky the midwives were not too pushy or maybe I came across as stubborn? It didn’t work out for me and I never felt bad about it. My baby is happy and healthy. It’s just a fashion and another (and unnecessary!!) pressure we put on mummies. They have enough on their plates! Well done for writing about a not easy subject xx


  7. This is a brilliant post. I think I would have ended up with PND if I continued trying. I was dreading both of mine waking up to feed. It was such a relief to pump and bottle xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I remember that dread…it’s so horrible and alienating. My instincts were to love and nurture this little creature but when I was ‘failing’ at the most basic form of nurture I just didn’t want to go near her. It’s quite upsetting looking back at it. xx


  8. Wow, I see what you mean about how our posts are similar, but yours is written so much better. I loved this, I felt like I was there with you and just wanted to hold your hand.

    I’m glad your husband persisted with leaving the hospital, I can’t imagine your experience if you hadn’t left at that point. It seems like it was already bad enough. Also, I was the same. How embarrassing. Within 24 hours of Oscar being born I think I had about 6 or 7 different people coming in and feeling my nipples, squeezing stuff onto a spoon that I didn’t even know existed. I was in excruciating pain with my nipples every time I fed him, but I persisted because I wanted to be a perfect mother.

    As soon as we switched him to formula he flourished. Next time I am not even going to bother.

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I am going to follow you on twitter. Loved it X

    Liked by 1 person

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