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.
*THIS IS MY PERSONAL STORY AND IS NOT INTENDED TO BE A PIECE OF ACADEMIC RESEARCH OR INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM*
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