Choosing To Formula Feed

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Zach was born with a severe tongue tie which meant that he couldn't latch to breastfeed. We spent two days in hospital trying to establish feeding with the help of a specialist but we were unable to make it work. We were referred to have his tongue tie cut at another hospital as ours didn't cut ties as severe as Zach's. I decided to express my milk using a breast pump and bottle feed so that we could go home as otherwise he was being fed by syringe and at the time was being topped up with formula to stabilise his blood sugar levels using a cup.

When I was learning to use the breast pump in hospital I asked how much I should pump. The midwives had all been impressed by how much milk I was producing so I knew I had a good supply but I didn't know anything about how much I should pump and what quantities I should be feeding. One of the assistants on the ward told me that I would pump what Zach needed and that I should pump until I was empty and this is advice that I followed.

As a result I significantly increased my milk as milk is produced on a supply and demand basis. I had a massive supply for a tiny newborn baby who wasn't drinking any where near the amount I was producing. I was pumping every three hours for about 40 minutes which was exhausting, especially at night when I needed sleeps and Zach was also waking often to feed.

I was constantly full of milk which was incredibly uncomfortable. I tried to reduce my milk supply by only pumping until I was no longer painfully full, but this meant I ended up with swollen breasts and hard lumps where I had blocked ducts.

I felt awful, both emotionally and physically. I was exhausted to the point where I would sleep through Zach crying, and be unaware of what was happening through the night. Thankfully Jono took care of Zach through the night, taking him downstairs when he was crying to let me get some rest. I was still recovering from birth with two sets of stitches which were becoming increasingly painful as the pain relief from hospital was wearing off. And my breasts were so sore. I felt like I was letting Zach down, that as his mother I should be able to breastfeed him, and I should have been able to be there when he was crying at night. Expressing also meant that I was unable to leave the house for very long as I needed to pump. Whilst breastfeeding in public is acceptable as it rightly should be, taking out my breast pump was not really an option. Can you imagine walking into Starbucks and seeing a woman with her breast pump expressing at the next table?!

Throughout pregnancy you are bombarded with people telling you to breastfeed. Breast is best. At ante-natal classes I was told that if I wanted to breastfeed I could - everybody could. But it wasn't the case for me.

I spoke to both my doctor and my midwife and it was agreed that I should reduce my milk supply and combination feed - moving towards formula feeding. I am so grateful that they talked to me about using formula; they told me that if given him the colostrum which had the most nutrients in and they encouraged me to do what was best for both me and Zach.

I began reducing my milk and introducing formula and I suddenly went from having too much milk to not enough very quickly. I thought that because of how much I had it would take me a long time to reduce it but within a week I was  barely producing any which was far faster than I had expected.

As a result Zach moved very quickly to formula causing him constipation and again I felt like a failure. I felt as though I had chosen to formula feed because I was too selfish to continue pumping and caused him to be in pain, but in reality it was for the best and the constipation was also due to the brand of formula we had chosen (We began using SMA which turned out to be far too think for Zach, we moved to Cow and Gate and he returned to normal within hours). By the time Zach had his appointment to cut his tongue tie we had moved onto formula almost exclusively - if he had been able to have the procedure sooner we might have been able to establish breastfeeding.

The guilt I felt, and still to some extent feel, because I chose to formula feed is something I'm sure a lot of other mothers experience. Whilst I understand that in terms of nutrients 'breast is best', sometimes it isn't best for the mothers. I am a far better mother now we formula feed as I am I longer in pain, I am able to leave the house, I can sleep when Zach sleeps meaning I have the energy to be there when he needs me.

Whilst formula was the best decision for both me and Zach, I wish there was less stigma about it. When I'm out in public feeding Zach with a bottle I get judgemental looks, whilst women who breastfeed are told they shouldn't feed in public. It seems society wants mothers to hide away, only feeding their babies in private.

Women should be given the chance to make decisions about what is best for their babies and themselves without judgement and allowed to feel confident and proud of their choices. I've decided to ignore the judgement looks I receive and hope other mothers can do the same.

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