Sunday, 25 August 2013

Breast of Bottle? It's your CHOICE!

Frequently the issue of breastfeeding arises on Twitter.  This normally is followed by an extremely heated debate between the two differing views.

On one side of the argument you'll have those adamant breastfeeders who think anyone who goes within 30 feet of a bottle should be shot.   That's their choice.

On the other hand you have the bottle feeders who decide that formula is a great option. It's more expensive, of course, but it is also very convenient for their lives.  That's their choice.

Can you see what I'm getting at here? It's a choice. Everyone has one.

To help you understand where I'm coming from, here's my experience.

When I was almost 33 I had my first daughter.  It was rammed down my throat about breastfeeding.  The antenatal class even had a new mum come in to show us what it was all about.  Not once did the midwife mention a bottle.  My ex-husband was not keen on the idea of breastfeeding at all and, quite frankly, nor was I.  I had made up my mind about bottle feeding and was very comfortable with my decision. To be straight with you, the more the midwives prattled on about 'breast is best', the more I was determined to show them all the middle finger and do what I wanted.

My daughter was born in 1998 at 34 weeks.  My world changed.  She was in special care for a week before being allowed home. It was a long week but she did extremely well for a prem baby.  The special care team asked if I was breast or bottle feeding. I said bottle. They never batted an eyelid and started feeding her like that.  My first feed with her was magical holding the tiny little bottle with just millilitres of milk in it (she was topped up through a tube in her nose) as she tried her best to drink it.  It took a long time. I held her and took in every second of her feed, watching this perfect little person whom I loved wholeheartedly.  So, you see, breastfeeding had nothing to do with it.  My moment was perfect, like nearly every other new mum.

Within a few days I wanted to try breastfeeding her.  My milk had come in and I looked like Lolo form Eurotrash!  I knew I could try now as I had the milk.  Because she was so tiny, I wanted to do what I could to help her grow and leave hospital.  I tried.  She cried.  She didn't want it. It was hard work. She cried some more and I gave up.  I did not want her distressed, this little soul in my arms.  She liked her bottle and that was fine by me.  The hospital said would I like to try and express?  Yes, I'd be happy to try that.  They set me up with the electric expressing machine. I now know what a cow feels like.

I expressed for around 8 weeks.  That's all I could manage but I'm proud of what I did. I also have no regrets whatsoever about her being bottle fed.  My husband and I could take turns to feed her, meaning one got a full night's sleep while the other fed.  Family and friends loved feeding her and we even had a few hours out to celebrate an anniversary leaving her safely with my sister, knowing she would be fed an happy.  She started weaning at 12 weeks.

One thing stood out for me from this time was that I never knew you could feed a baby before your milk came in.  Shocking huh?  Something fundamentally missing from the antnatel class I went to then.

I had my 2nd daughter in 2008 when I was almost 42.  I already knew I was going to try and breastfeed. Why? Well, I was more in control of what I wanted to do, felt less pressure (which always makes me do the opposite) and it just seemed an easier option.  She took immediately.  After 2 weeks the midwife who visited me at home told me she wasn't gaining enough weight so I should "top-up with formula".  What?  Talk about turnaround!  I was gobsmacked.  I refused and said I would keep on feeding. About the same time I got mastitis and my nipples cracked and bled. It was agony to feed - absolute on fire being stabbed by a red hot poker agony.  I almost stopped but being as bloody minded as I am, wanted to carry on for a while.  I gave myself another week and if I cried in pain with every feed still, I would happily give up.  I bought some nipple shields.  The midwife didn't recommend them.  I didn't care.  They were fabulous.  My mastitis got better and along with lanolin, my agonising nipples healed up.  I carried on using the shields for another couple of weeks then one night she wanted a feed and I was too lazy to go and get them from downstairs so just put her on and all was fine. It was fine from then onwards until I finished breastfeeding at 6 months.

My 3rd daughter was born in 2010 when I had just turned 45.  I breastfed her.  She was hard work. She wanted to be fed morning, noon and night. She would stay on for nearly an hour at a time and then when I finally thought I would rest for a while, she'd sleep for around 15 minutes, wake, cry and want to feed again.  She was putting on weight just fine so I knew she was getting enough. I went for the usual weigh-in at the local clinic.  She was around 3 months old at the time.  The midwife told me to cut down on what I was feeding her as she was getting big.  I was open mouthed and just pointed to my boobs.  "Oh" came the response. I said how ridiculous these people were and left.  I never went back. I carried on breastfeeding until she was 6 months told too.

Why 6 months?  Well, as far as I am concerned, they were weaning from 20 weeks and by 6 months were getting a good, varied diet and so I didn't need to breastfeed any more. I put them onto formula then and they loved it.  Both drank formula milk up until they were 2 and both stopped asking for it at that point or rejecting it.  S (2008) has never drunk milk again.  N (2010) dislikes milk on it's own but will drink a 'milkshake' (tiniest bit of nesquik in a glass of milk and she's fine).  They are both growing well.

How are they now?  J (1998) is a tall, slim, intelligent girl who eats just about everything (except mushrooms!), enjoys being active and has a huge amount of friends.   S is bright, happy and about to start school. She's a terrible fuss-pot with food.  N is happy, loud and about to start nursery. She eats almost anything.

So now you have my story.  You see, what I object to is one side bashing the other constantly trying to make them see their point of view. Remember those arguments over politics?  Did you ever think about switching parties because someone told you you were wrong or argued so hard that you just gave in and did what they wanted? No, I bet you a pound to a penny you dug your heels in hard and stuck to your own view all the more.

So, I don't mind either side of the coin.  Breastfeeding worked for me but so did bottle feeding.  I have experienced both.

Now there's a great pro-breastfeeding article here and it gives some good information.

However, one thing caught my eye - feeding up to and beyond the age of 2.  Yes, 2.  They call it 'extended breastfeeding'.  This is the age when your children can eat a full meal with you at the dining table, drink from a cup, run around the garden and are probably riding a bike with stablilisers.  Do you really think it's necessary to stick them to your boob a couple of times a day then?  I'm sorry but for some reason that makes me shudder and it seems a large majority of the population would agree.  Apparently beyond 6 months gets a bit of a no-no from our society (personally I don't mind that) but move to beyond 1 year and the disapproval gets stronger.  I can understand why.  However, again, it's a personal choice and I'm sure the people who do it have their own reasons.

But...if you've seen Game of Thrones and the scene where Lysa Tully is breastfeeding Robin Arryn who is around 8 or 9 years of age, would you think that acceptable?  Come on....be honest.  That is extended breastfeeding though isn't it?  No?  Well, what's the difference. Do you see what I'm getting at here. When does it become unacceptable to breastfeed your child.  Difficult question and probably one that will be answered in a totally different fashion depending upon your culture and circumstances.

Yes, I understand tribes living on the plains of Africa extended breastfeeding.  Let's face it, the balanced diet and good nutrition we expect in the Western World is not the norm for them so any additional benefit has to help the child.

I met a woman at an NCT class in 2008 who was still breastfeeding her 3 year old and was worried about how that child would react when her baby sibling was born as she would have to share/lose the breast.  I have to confess I thought this was a particularly strange situation the woman had allowed herself to get into.

On the flip side, bottle feeding information is rare.  Even midwives no longer tend to show how to bottle feed at antenatal classes which could lead to babies being put in danger as a Telegraph report showed here.  Surely health professionals have a duty of care to support whichever method a mother chooses?

Why should any mummy be penalised for their choice of feeding methods.  We all want happy, healthy children don't we?  Let's get supportive of whatever method a mother chooses.

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