N.B. – This is a personal account of my bottle feeding and breastfeeding experience. By no means is it intended as professional advice for those on their motherhood or parenting journey.
I didn't plan to bottle feed, especially when my baby got off to such a great start with breastfeeding.
My birthing hospital offered a lactation office available for walk-in appointments. Nurses there showed me how to hand express and how to help my baby latch on correctly. I was also lucky to have an attentive maternal child health nurse who taught me the different positions I could breastfeed my baby in.
But a few weeks after we settled in at home, my breastfeeding dream hit a snag.
My baby stopped wanting to latch on properly. This meant I needed to repeatedly pull her off my breast – often up to 10 times each feed - to reset her latch. My nipples were cracked and bleeding. And when bubs did breastfeed properly, searing pain would shoot around to my back.Some days, my partner would arrive home to find me in a heaving, sobbing mess as I helped my baby to latch on to my boob for the umpteenth time.
Breastfeeding had me at breaking point!
My partner was the one to assure me that I’d tried my best to breastfeed. That I wasn't a failure. That it was okay for me to bottle feed our bubs. Despite a weight lifting from my shoulders, a heavy feeling of guilt and shame settled in my gut.
Where did these feelings come from? Was it the breastfeeding posters I saw in hospital? The leaflets I was sent home with that didn't readily promote bottle feeding? The advertising campaigns that touted that breast was best?
Eventually, I realised I didn't need to feel guilty or ashamed about bottle feeding.
If you’re fighting these same feelings as you read this (at midday in your pyjamas with baby vomit on your shoulder as you nurse a bundle of joy who's not keen on the idea of breastfeeding effectively)?
Here are 5 tips that helped me decide that bottle feeding was best for my baby and me.
If your heart is set on breastfeeding and you have access to a lactation consultant, use them. If you have access to a maternal child health nurse, ask them all the questions you need to until you feel you supported with the right advice. Remember, there’s no such thing as a silly question when it comes to the health and well-being of YOU and your baby. And you’ll be forgiven for asking the same question multiple times, after all, everyone knows that the brain fog and sleep deprivation has set in by now.
Unconditionally, whether you choose to bottle feed or breastfeed. If that's your partner, and they’ll support you whether you decide to continue breastfeeding or decide to bottle feed, that's wonderful. You might have a close friend who doesn't have children but will give you a cuppa and the time to listen to your feelings, worries and some gory details of your bleeding nipples. Or, you may strike up a new friendship through mother’s group. It doesn't matter who you lean on, so long as you feel supported regardless of the decision you make to either continue breastfeeding or to introduce bottle feeding.
Something that’s not discussed enough is the strain that parenting can put on you, and how the struggle of breastfeeding can have a major impact on your mental and emotional well-being. Don’t be afraid to shop around looking for a counsellor or a psychologist as some will have more specialised experience in antenatal health than others. You might also feel supported by another parent who can share their perspective and experience of mental health in early motherhood.
You just laughed out loud at that, didn't you? But if getting a couple hours of sleep means asking a friend or family member to come over while your partner’s at work, that's okay. Maybe you could take a catnap while bubs is having theirs. Ignore the dishes. Ignore the pile of unfolded laundry. Ignore the need to rummage through the fridge to put together something that resembles an evening meal. These are things your partner can help you with when they get home. It is amazing how a two hour nap can rejuvenate you or, at the very least, make you feel like you can string a sentence together.
When my partner helped bottle feed our baby, I witnessed the most amazing connection develop between them. After all, I’d had some 9 months to build a connection with our little bundle before she was in my arms and ready for a feed. The fact that my partner could now share my joy of looking down on that sweet face while feeding bubs helped ease any guilt I felt about my decision to bottle feed.