The aim of this series is to get beyond the mother-blaming which goes with the abstract way breastfeeding is pitted against bottle feeding to show that, in reality, it is a lot more complex. Mothers usually use whatever methods seem right at the time to do their best to feed their babies, often in the face of a tremendous lack of support and an absence of shared wisdom, or even interventions from health professionals which are experienced as unhelpful.
If you would like to contribute to this series, please send in 200-700 words about your own experience feeding your baby to email@example.com. Submissions can be published anonymously.
Last week I had a text reminder that my one year old son had an appointment at the hospital. I was slightly confused at first as to what this could be, then I remembered that, nine months earlier, my GP had referred him to a paediatrician because of concerns over his low weight.
That took me back to the first few months of his life and the emotional anguish I felt over my son’s feeding. My milk came in in the first week and I thought everything was going okay until his routine eight week check, when the doctor told me his weight was at the very bottom of the dreaded growth chart in the little red book that carers now receive to keep track of their children’s health matters.
I had had very painful blocked ducts before then, with pebble like lumps in my breasts, of which the GP and various health visitors said that nothing could be done about. This meant that I had cried my way through our feeding sessions, until I eventually softened the lumps somewhat by literally beating at them with my fists. But I had still thought that my baby was getting the milk he needed.
The doctor had suggested I supplement breast feeds with bottle feeds and take him every week to baby clinic; and after that appointment began the long process of trying to get my son to take a bottle, and the dread and anguish of the weekly public weigh-ins. I would have had no idea that bottle feeding would be so difficult, and neither, did it seem, did the doctor or various health visitors and nurses, and well-meaning friends, who would say in a very blasé way, “why not just give him a bottle?” At most, I managed to squeeze about three 1mm syringes down his throat as a ‘top up’ to his regular two hourly breast feeds.
Every Tuesday I dutifully took him to baby clinic, and every week, I nervously got him undressed in the doctors waiting room. And, having put him on the scales in front of a room full of other mothers and babies, I would turn the figure over in my head, trying to calculate in which percentile on the chart he would be while I waited my turn for the health visitor to come over and show me in the red book. Every week, the same torment of telling the same story to a different health visitor, each with, not only different, but often contradictory advice, as I saw my son’s weight line fall on the chart to 0.4%.
I had to pump to encourage my milk supply; I had to stop pumping and concentrate on feeding my baby; I had to supplement with a bottle (no matter me explaining he wouldn’t take one); I had to feed on demand; I had to wait until he was really hungry so he would have a good feed; perhaps he had tongue tie? Perhaps his latch was wrong? Perhaps he had a health issue that meant he wasn’t growing?
From that point on, I was either feeding my baby or expressing milk to try and increase my supply, with, perhaps, 15 minutes in between to do everything else, but the whole time obsessing over how I couldn’t feed my own baby. I googled every manner of feeding problem, and read over and over the scant detail of official websites and the anachronisms of mums’ chatrooms trying to find answers. I was convinced I didn’t have enough milk to nourish him and that he was literally starving. The feelings of helplessness and failure that this made me feel were intense and all-consuming at that time.
Soon after I rang the hospital to cancel the paediatrician’s appointment, I had my son’s one year check. He was at the bottom of the weight chart, but the health visitor looked at me and said that she wasn’t worried, he was just tall and slim, like his mother.
Photo: Torbein Rønning
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