As a mum who’s been shamed several times for daring to bottle-feed my new babe-in-arms, I’m thrilled for all future mums.
I’m not arguing that breast isn’t best.
I read the studies proving how it boosts a child’s immune system until my eyes bled, looking for one piece of information that might stop the guilt.
When Will, now 15, was born, I was an impressionable 25-year-old. Who was I to question what professionals told me?
Only it wasn’t quite as simple as getting a milk-swollen boob out.
Why wouldn’t he latch on? Why were my nipples so sore and cracked? And why didn’t he take enough milk?
And did I look anything like those natural mums who effortlessly breastfed their babies into a milk-drunk slumber? No, instead, I looked like a stressed, tired, guilt-ridden young woman whose entire being felt beaten.
I felt like a cow while I tried hand-pumping some of this magical elixir out for my first-born, and felt even worse when I could barely produce a thimble-full.
The reason I felt that way is because I was made to feel I had no choice.
'It lowers risk of infection in tot'
“If a woman chooses not to breastfeed, of course that should be her choice. But time and again we see that women want to breastfeed, but struggle to latch the baby on, get sore nipples or breasts or worry about milk supply.
“If they had the support to help them through these very common issues it’s very likely more women would continue for longer and hopefully enjoy the many positives about breastfeeding.
“Breast milk contains exactly the right ingredients to continue a baby’s growth and development. It helps their brains develop, boosts their immune system and reduces their risk of infection.
“It also helps a mother’s uterus to contract and women who successfully feed are less likely to suffer with postnatal depression. Plus it can help burn up to 500 calories a day.”
Thank goodness for the winds of change now pointing out that a woman’s choice should be respected.
My decision to introduce formula for night feeds at the age of four weeks and move exclusively to formula at six weeks was frowned upon by the health visitors, who asked, “Are you sure you’ve tried your best?”
I knew I had given it my best shot.
My second son, Ally, was born in December 2007, at 6.12am. By 6.12pm, I was back from St Michael’s Hospital in Bristol and struggling to breastfeed.
The sense of failure came flooding back, but – older and wiser – I decided I wasn’t playing that game again.
My nipples were cracked, sore and bleeding, I told the attending midwife, who uttered the words: “A little bit of blood won’t hurt him.” I think she missed my point. We’d stocked up on bottles and formula in anticipation, so on went the kettle. I wasn’t going to risk my mental health this time.
When a childless relative came to visit a couple of days after I’d given birth, she spent 20 minutes quizzing me on why I wasn’t breastfeeding.
After all, she quipped, “It doesn’t look that hard”.
It was just the kick in the teeth I needed at such an emotional time.
When my third child Eric came along, I told myself I’d give the breastfeeding another shot.
After all, every child is different and maybe he’d be the one to turn me into a breastfeeding guru. I requested a move to Weston General Hospital to take advantage of its superior breastfeeding knowledge. It was hard and painful. One day another mum told me about nipple shields.
I relied on these silicon saviours to feed little Eric, and he seemed to thrive. But I had not been recommended them by the midwives.
Ironically, Eric, now seven, is the child with eczema, allergy-induced asthma, hay fever and the one who is floored by a virus any of my other boys would barely notice.
At the age of 35 when I gave birth to my fourth offspring, I was done with any guilt or added emotional turmoil.
After Bear, now four, was born blue — meaning medics had to help him take his first breath — I boldly told the midwife I intended to bottle feed so I could focus my energy on enjoying him.
I’d been there, got the milk-stained T-shirt and was done with that. I could hear one poor, new mum being encouraged to keep breastfeeding, her screams of agony piercing the hospital ward until I could take no more.
I followed her to the toilet with a piece of paper, which simply bore the words “buy nipple shields”.
Today she would have a choice.
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For those that can breastfeed in the UK, which has the lowest rate of breastfed children in Europe, you should be commended and feel lucky that you are able.
For those who find it hard and give up, well done for trying.
And for those who simply don’t want to, don’t feel guilty, because 153 years after formula milk was first made, mums have finally been given a choice — and one that should be respected.
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