Breast is best…Apparently!

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In preparation for Amelia’s arrival my aim was always to try breastfeeding, but without putting too much pressure on myself. I had seen many women feeling really frustrated or like they had failed by not being able to breastfeed for one reason or another. I really didn’t want to be in this position having reassured so many women that it was ok and that they shouldn’t beat themselves up about turning to formula.

There has been a big drive to encourage breastfeeding in recent years and you cannot avoid the propaganda. Breastfeeding does have proven benefits – protection from illness, cheaper, possibly reduces allergies and for the mother – reduced risk of breast cancer and possible help with losing baby weight (if that’s at the forefront of your mind!). New research comes out all the time with possible new benefits – increased IQ as one such possibility. I am wary over this potential benefit due to the high number of confounding factors.

I looked at breastfeeding from the following view, though I may be wrong – I was formula fed. I am well with no health concerns, I don’t suffer allergies and I have made it through medical school. So in the grand scheme of things there are other ways of keeping baby healthy and on the right track if you struggle to breastfeed, cannot breastfeed or just feel it’s not for you. I cannot fully appreciate why anyone can take such strong views either way.

In advance of her birth, I had not made any financial investment towards breast or bottle-feeding since I didn’t want to waste money on an endeavor that might not work out. I had been given a breast pump and a steriliser by a friend, and my sister had purchased some bottles for me. So when the midwife asked me if I wanted to try breastfeeding her shortly after her birth I gave it a go. With a little help she was latched on and doing what she should do. We opted to go home later that evening and at the changeover of midwives they rechecked I was happy to go. I sensibly thought I better have another go at feeding before we left in case there were any issues. Nope – everything was fine! So my parting question to the midwife was “How often should I feed her?” The response was “Don’t worry she will let you know when she’s hungry!” So off we went.

Well the first couple of nights when she did sleep she slept for a few hours. We couldn’t believe our lucky stars – what a good baby (apart from the need to mostly sleep in our arms!) The midwife checked her latching on at the visit on day 1. All was fine! Then at day 5 she was weighed – she’d lost 10.2% of her birthweight. In addition to this she had become a little jaundiced. The midwife advised that she would have to re-weigh her the next day and if she had lost any more weight she would have to refer her to the hospital. I re-clarified how often I should be feeding her since she didn’t seem all that hungry. The midwife advised that in the day I should be feeding two hourly and at night definitely not leaving it more than six hours. The night feeding was more related to milk supply and keeping this going. She suggested I download an app to monitor feeds and nappies (especially when there was a massive discrepancy between the number of nappies Daddy and I thought we had changed each day). From this point on I spiralled into insanity and crazy behaviour. My life revolved around the app and remembering to start it when I started feeding. This period lasted a good couple of weeks until the health visitor reassured me that Amelia was gaining weight and doing ok. Until this time was over I was debating whether to give in. At night Amelia would cluster feed for two hours from 10pm on and then still be hungry. The midwife had suggested topping her up at night with some formula. I saw this as a potential sign of weakness and it took a couple of days of people reassuring me that it’d be ok before I gave in and bought a few cartons of formula. It took another day or two to try it. She would gulp the full 200ml carton down, even after two hours of suckling.

Feeding itself was a long process. I would start feeding and it would take about an hour before she would have finished. I would then have only an hour to feed myself, wash, sleep, have a break before starting again. I felt like a feeding machine and it did get me down. I stopped going out because we didn’t have time between feeds. It reached breaking point when the midwife discharged me from her care and I broke down in tears at the thought of not seeing her again. Luckily I had enough insight to know this was not rational behaviour.

There is much so more to say about the breastfeeding. Though I end here looking like a crazed woman, rest assured it does get better and I will tell you about it another day!