Breast isn’t always best.
Breastfeeding may be a natural way to feed an infant, but to many mothers, it’s anything but.
From my son’s first moments of life, midwives swiftly attached him to my breast and in an instant I was expected to know everything there was to know about breastfeeding and how to feed this tiny creature.
In reality I was clueless. I’d decided to breastfeed my child prior to his birth, but nothing could really prepare me for the physical and emotional rollercoaster ahead. For starters, I’d assumed a hungry baby would simply attach and suckle with ease. After all, that’s what I’d seen other people’s babies do. Yet what I didn’t yet know, was breastfeeding was a skill, not an instinctive task instantly acquired after you’ve given birth.
As it turned out, my son wasn’t interested in having my breast shoved into his mouth to feed. It seemed way too much work and because some bright spark had initially placed an oversized supply line from my breast into his mouth, my incredibly intuitive child came to know the difference.
A supply line is a tiny tube which is attached to the breast. One end is placed inside the baby’s mouth along with the breast so that when the baby suckles, milk flows into the infant’s mouth. The only thing is, the milk isn’t breast milk. It’s formula, and comes from a bottle at the opposite end. Its primary objective is to encourage a baby to suck and, ultimately, feed.
The problem in my case however, was that at the tender age of a day old, my son found out that milk would flow with ease into his mouth, requiring very little sucking at all. In fact, once the siphoning action commenced, he could essentially lie back and swallow. And lie back and swallow he did.
This went on for several days, which did nothing for my milk production. So concerned about his ability to get proper nutrition, midwives retained the supply line for the duration of my stay in hospital. It was great while I was there because I had a content and quiet baby, but when I returned home with my minimal milk supply and no idea how to breastfeed properly, with a ravenously hungry baby in tow, the nightmare began.
I ultimately had two choices that could end my son’s and my own misery; either continue breastfeeding with what little milk I had, or start omitting the breast and swap to the bottle. So being brainwashed into the concept of ‘breast is best’ by every midwife in sight, and despite feeding my son formula whist in hospital, I chose to persevere.
I began by ditching the supply line, an unwelcome move to my son. At first his ability to suckle to feed was a real struggle. He’d start sucking, get bored and hungry, then thrash his head around in frustration. I’d try and attach him again (which was no picnic) after which, his response was to suck with even more vigor, expecting the milk to suddenly flow down his gullet as it had before so seamlessly in the hospital with the aid of the line. During this time feeding him took up to two hours and as he required feeding roughly every three hours, this left me with just an hour window to sleep.
A few weeks later after endless tears, both his and mine, nursing severely sore breasts, I knew I had to cast the ‘breast is best’ guilt aside and feed my son with a bottle. The pain became unbearable as my hungry child tried to devour my breasts despite getting minimal food, and until then, the determination to give my baby the best start in life had centered on breastfeeding him. Regardless of feeling like the most unnatural, hopeless and awkward task in the world.
To my relief, the two hour feeds which had dominated my life instantly became a fifteen minute affair, restoring some normality back to my life. I was ecstatic I could finally put my aching and endlessly exposed breasts away. It was never something I felt comfortable doing in front of others, so breastfeeding had confined me to the isolation of my home where more often than not I’d sit on my feeding chair in tears enduring non-stop suckling.
Pushing through the feelings of guilt didn’t come easily. Even when I feared I wouldn’t produce enough milk, I was laughed at by midwives and doctors who told me I’d produce as much milk as I needed. My screaming child, losing weight instead of gaining it, told me a different story.
Looking back it’s ludicrous to contemplate I could’ve literally starved my son had I continued breastfeeding simply because I listened the the ‘breast is best’ message. While it’s all too easy for medical professionals, fellow mothers and even family members to offer advice, as a mother, you have to do what’s right for you and your child, listen to your instincts and feed your baby in a way that works for you, whether that’s breast or bottle.
Comment: Do you think there’s a lot of pressure on new mothers to breastfeed, regardless of the difficulties?