Stuck In The Middle: When You're Neither Breast Feeding or Formula Feeding Your Newborn

Thursday, January 14, 2016


Next month marks a year since I became a mother, and looking back at those first few weeks with our son there is just one thing that stands out - the difficulties we faced feeding Zach. I've spoken before, albeit briefly, about the fact that Zach was born with a severe tongue tie. Despite giving birth in one of the best hospitals in the country they were unable to perform the surprisingly simple procedure to fix the problem meaning we faced a two week wait for an appointment elsewhere. Although a fortnight is by no means a long time, to two new parents with a dependent newborn it felt like a lifetime.

I remember so clearly attending the ante-natal classes and being told that there was "no such thing as being unable to breastfeed". If we wanted to do so we would be able to, and although it may be difficult it was certainly not impossible. Despite thinking that it must be more complicated than that, I had it in my head that I would give breastfeeding my best shot, and that there was no reason not to try. I bought some bottles and pre-made formula as back up and I thought I knew, to some extent, what I was in for.

So when I gave birth to my beautiful baby boy, and he was placed onto my chest, I tried to initiate breastfeeding with him. No matter what I did, or what position we were in, Zach could not latch. It was then that the midwife looked in his mouth and discovered that his tongue was tied, and although of course not my fault, I remember feeling this overwhelming guilt that I was unable to feed my baby. That I had let him down. 

We spent the next couple of days in hospital expressing my milk by hand, which let me tell you is the last thing I had imagined doing. I had many different people come to my bedside and have a go at milking me, and although by that point I had already lost all dignity and couldn't care less, it wasn't what I wanted to be doing. That first night saw Zach shaking uncontrollably due to low blood sugar as a result of being unable to get enough milk, and it was then that he had his first taste of formula. I couldn't believe that after essentially being told that everyone could breastfeed here we were giving him formula when he wasn't even a day old. 

But, we plodded on, and we left hospital armed with a breast pump and bottles, and for the next two weeks I was to express my milk for my boy. No big deal, I thought. But then came the first night and I realised very quickly that it would be fare more difficult than I had imagined. Feeding a baby every three hours exhausting, but add pumping to the mix and it gets a whole lot harder. After trying to do the two at the same time we quickly found ourselves out of sync and I was having to express at a different time to Zach being fed meaning sleep was near impossible.

What I found the hardest though, was the lack of advice. I found myself stuck in the middle, with very little information relevant to my situation. I was unsure as to how much milk I was meant to give Zach. He never seemed to be satisfied with how much we were giving him, and I was concerned about 'over-feeding', but the only figures I could find were for formula. I rang a breastfeeding helpline, and tried to explain that although I wasn't technically breastfeeding I was feeding my son my breast milk, and that I needed help. The quantities that they told me were massively different to the advice we'd been given when we were still in hospital, and I felt more lost than ever. Thankfully though they suggested that he may be drinking so much milk purely to suck on the bottle teat, and so we introduced a dummy and the massive appetite vanished instantly.

Leaving the house became a massive problem, because although you can breast feed or bottle feed in public you can't exactly whip out your breast pump in the middle of a cafe. If I was away from the pump for more than three hours I found myself in a lot of pain as I was full of milk, and this had a massive impact on my decision to ultimately move from breast milk to formula. The appointment to have Zach's tongue tie cut was in a city a few hours away from where we live, and unless something changed I wouldn't have been able to go due to needing to express. In the days before appointment I actively tried to reduce my (massive) milk production, and thankfully I was able to go to the hospital and be there for my son.

Although my experience was short lived it had a massive impact on our first few weeks as a family. I don't imagine for one second that I am alone in my experience, and it is that which I feel is the problem - there is not enough help for women in situations like mine. There are plenty of 'breastfeeding support groups', but I have to wonder why they aren't called 'baby feeding support groups'. I felt very isolated in my situation, and although my midwife was fantastic, I believe there could have been more support available.

The best place I found for advice was the blog Exclusive Pumping which has a lot of helpful information, and if you are in a similar situation I would definitely recommend giving it a visit. I hope that in future there will be more help available for women, no matter how they feed their babies. The important thing is that they are fed.

4 comments

  1. What a challenge, you were a superstar. I found the lack of a consistent message very hard when trying to do combined feeding due to poor weight gain.

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    1. It's all so hard isn't it with the confusing information we get given! xxx

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  2. I found that there is so much pressure around breastfeeding, and a hell of a lot of advice around it too that the whole idea of simply 'feeding' your baby is lost and with that so is vital advice. It is such a shame that when you needed advice relating to your own situation that it was so difficult! You are an absolute trooper for all of that pumping, I hated it as I found it so undignified and like you say its not easy to milk yourself in the middle of a busy cafe! x

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    1. It's so hard to know what's the right thing to do, so much conflicting advice and it's so overwhelming as a first time mum! xx

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