This week I’m delighted to have the amazing Tattooed Tea Lady telling us her #bottlefeedingstories. This is an incredibly honest and moving read, and I’m honoured to get to share this here.
I’m Sophia, a 28-year-old first time mama to my 1 year old little girl Willow. You can usually find me over at www.tattooedtealady.com writing beauty reviews, sharing my favourite restaurants, snippets of our life and my journey as a first-time mama, including all the ups and downs that come along with family life.
Our plan had always been to breastfeed and although I posted about feeding on my own blog whilst pregnant, sharing my views on ‘Fed is best’ and what our plans were for feeding, I never seriously considered that breastfeeding wouldn’t work out. I even had a date in mind, a goal to aim for, which was breastfeeding for her first year as a minimum, and maybe even after she turned 1 too.
When Willow was born, we started with breastfeeding in the hospital, but faced many unexpected difficulties and struggles and by two weeks old we had to supplement with formula and within a few months, Willow was on formula full time.
Had you given much thought to breastfeeding before/while you were pregnant?
I knew when I was pregnant that I wanted to breastfeed, although this was more so because I knew realistically, it was best for my baby. I have anxiety and I had mixed feelings about breastfeeding, but I wanted to do it for my baby to have the best start in life. I’ve never had an issue with formula of course, but if I could breastfeed then that was the path we wanted to take.
I had a goal in mind of breastfeeding for at least a year, which was a difficult goal to share with others as many people kept reassuring me there was simply no need to breastfeed after the first couple of months and a year was far too long, but I knew the statistics, research and facts when it came to breastfeeding and I knew that a minimum of 1 year was a good goal for us to aim for.
We even attended a breastfeeding workshop run by a local breastfeeding support organisation and by the time I reached my due date I really felt like I was set for breastfeeding success. I bought a nursery pillow, I set up a box in each room of the house that I was likely to be feeding in with essentials for both baby and me, anything at all we may need whilst feeding and I was ready and raring to go.
What was your opinion of bottle feeding?
We all know that breastmilk is far better for our babies than formula, but, that doesn’t mean I begrudge anyone the choice to use formula. Before we were in a position where we needed to use it ourselves I still had an extremely open mind. I think that ultimately, it is down to each individual family, mother and baby which way they chose to go when it comes to feeding and if that is formula, then that is their decision to make.
I know a lot of people have very negative views of formula companies and the way in which they advertise their products, but it’s not something I’ve ever had the time to consider in any real detail and even then, I do not believe that a mother’s choice on how to feed her own child should be punished because of marketing tactics. Some women are unable to produce even a drop of milk, some prefer the ease of formula feeding or combination feeding, some women simply prefer to bottle feed from the get-go and in my eyes, any of those options is fine. We can, and should, only make choices about our own actions and families.
Were you offered any classes on breastfeeding by your healthcare team/midwives? Did you take any classes of your own i.e. NCT?
We didn’t take part in any antenatal classes as such; I considered NCT classes but they were far too expensive for our budget, although had we been able to afford them they are something I would have really liked to do. We weren’t informed of any free or NHS funded antenatal classes in our area, but having told my midwife that we did plan to breastfeed, she told me to check out ‘Charnwood BRAS’.
It’s a local volunteer run organisation that provides information and support for those wanting to breastfeed and/or currently breastfeeding in our local area. We went along to one of the workshops a few weeks before I was due and I felt like I left with a whole wealth of information. As a couple, about to become a family, we felt confident and happy in our choice to breastfeed.
What support did you receive to start and continue breastfeeding? What support would you have liked?
If I look back on our experience now, I honestly don’t feel like I had that much support after I had my daughter in being able to successful breastfeed; and if you knew how many midwives and health visitors came out to us in those first few weeks, you’d think I was ridiculous to say so. The problem is, it’s all well and good coming out to us and latching my daughter onto my breast, but that doesn’t help me in the issues I was having; being unable to latch her myself, being unable to find a comfortable position for us both as I recovered from my emergency caesarean, the anxiety I felt every time I wasn’t unable to latch her on myself.
It felt like an impossible task and all anyone could tell me was ‘you’ll get there, keep at it’, which is not a helpful statement when you’re struggling, you’re running on empty after no sleep for several days in a row and you have one very hungry and upset baby.
Misinformation was also detrimental to our experience, as no two midwives, health visitors or even official health websites seem to offer the same guidelines and advice when it comes to breastfeeding. I was having to resort to YouTube videos just to learn how to latch my daughter and how to massage my breasts to help stimulate milk production. I felt completely isolated and even when reaching out to Charnwood BRAS, who I completely appreciate are run solely by volunteers, all anyone could ever tell me was ‘stick at it’.
I would have loved for someone to come around and talk to me, for longer than a rushed 10 minutes, to talk me through positions and latching and explain why things might have been going wrong. I would have loved to felt like I had a proper support network and that I wasn’t just another clueless mother wasting NHS time.
Did you have a personal breastfeeding goal?
If everything had gone to plan I would have loved to breastfeed for the first 12 months, then see where we were from there. For me personally, although I completely support any mothers who choose to breastfeed after the age of 1 and understand the worldwide age for those who do breastfeed is older than the average here in the UK, for me, I felt a little odd when considering breastfeeding a baby that could walk and talk. That is completely down to my own anxieties however and not because I feel mothers shouldn’t breastfeed after any age.
What triggered your move to bottle feeding? Would you consider it a choice or a necessity?
When I was pregnant and we knew we wanted to try breastfeeding, I had said to my partner that we should get a box of formula in, ‘just in case’. During our Charnwood BRAS breastfeeding workshop, we mentioned this to the team and they told us this was an extremely bad idea and it would cause us to give in, and so we decided that yes, they were right, we wouldn’t get a box in ‘just in case’. As it turned out, that was the worst advice we could have followed.
I had what I would call a traumatic birth. I was induced after two failed sweeps at 12 days overdue. Two days later, after a 19-hour active labour, I was told that I would not be able to physically birth my daughter as I have a high, curved cervix and she had not dropped enough. I ended up having an emergency caesarean and did not once get offered skin-to-skin in the three days I was in hospital afterwards; unfortunately, I was far too medicated on painkillers to even realise until I got home, with those first few days being a very foggy blur. These factors together, I think, really influenced my breastfeeding journey and the fact that I struggled to produce milk for my daughter.
It took almost a week for my milk to come in, and it only came in on one side; my left breast was producing milk whereas my right breast was completely dry. Even then the amount I produced on my left was minimal and midwives and health visitors became very concerned as my daughter was not gaining back the initial weight she lost at birth, in fact she lost more. This made my anxiety spike and in turn, my anxiety further inhibited my milk supply.
10 days in after going 7 hours without a feed, due to my limited milk supply and difficulty latching, I sent my partner out to find formula. The situation we were in was dangerous, my daughter was starving and our little family was under incredible stress. Formula feeding is a choice – but in that moment, it was a complete necessity for the health and safety of my daughter.
How did moving to bottle feeding make you feel?
I cried, for weeks I cried with every bottle of formula we gave her, because I felt completely useless and a disappointment to my little family. The ‘most natural thing in the world’ was something I couldn’t do for my daughter. I felt hatred towards her formula, because I should have been able to do something as simple as feed my daughter and I couldn’t.
Did you experience any backlash for bottle feeding?
Yes, but only online, and only from a handful of people thankfully. I had reached out via my social media channels sharing the struggles that we had faced with feeding and that we were combination feeding. I also shared a post on my blog, ‘My Breastfeeding Journey’, which went into our experiences so far in more detail. For the most part I was showered with incredible love, support and shared experiences, which was a tremendous help in making me feel like I wasn’t alone.
On the flip side, I received a few private emails and direct messages over on Twitter, from a couple of pro-breastfeeding, very anti-formula bloggers. Although I am sure they meant well, the messages were very blunt and along the lines of I had to keep at breastfeeding and by giving my daughter formula I was poisoning her. It left me feeling uncomfortable sharing our feeding situation online and when my daughter moved onto formula full time, I didn’t share this information on my blog or social media for several months due to fear of the backlash I would receive.
Do you have any advice for other new mums in your situation?
Every individual situation is different and so I wouldn’t want to try and suggest anything on a whole, but just to remind new parents – not just new mamas but new dads too -, that it’s OK. If you have decided to breastfeed and it doesn’t work out, it is OK. It can feel like the end of the world at the time but it isn’t, not really, and you will move past it. The most important thing is your baby and that they are fed, healthy and safe. That will always be the most important thing in your baby’s life.
If you choose to bottle feed from the get-go, combination feed or go onto formula full time at any point in your journey, please know that it is OK. Feeding your baby and giving them what they need to survive – whether with breastmilk or formula -, is what matters and ‘fed is best’. Be kind to yourself, mama.
Thank you so much to Sophia for sharing her #bottlefeedingstories
I’m sure a lot of people reading this will share Sophia’s sentiments – there’s nothing wrong with formula but she really wanted to breastfeed. This series is highlighting that a lot of women share this sentiment, but also that there’s a shared need for better support for Mums who are having a tough time.
You can follow Sophia here: