I was always adamant I’d breastfeed Ella for as long as, and if, I could. And, really I stuck with that.
I guess the ‘breast is best’ you hear all the time really makes it an issue for parents. Because why wouldn’t we want the best for our children?
As Ella had to go to special care straight after delivery (read the birth story here!), we didn’t have that magic moment where the baby just turns and latches on straight after it has been born. It actually makes me broody for another just to have that moment! Not long after she was born, the midwife came in with a small syringe to help me collect some colostrum that could be sent up to Ella. Hand pumping it a couple of hours after delivery was so difficult! It took ages just to get some tiny drops, but she assured me that it would make the difference to Ella and would encourage my milk to come despite her not feeding from me. I then had to set an alarm every 3 hours to do the same. It was so frustrating. I just wanted to feed my baby myself!
The next day, while we were having first cuddles with Ella in special care, the nurse suggested I try feeding her. I was really worried that she wouldn’t latch on after no feeding within 24 hours of delivery. But she did and we luckily had no issues at all between the two of us with getting a good latch.
She was a textbook baby when it came to feeding within the first few days. Then on day 6, that changed! She was great in the morning, fed every 2.5-3 hours. Then in the afternoon, she just wanted to feed all the time. Midwives and health visitors really push ‘on demand’ feeding. Whenever the baby wants to feed, oblige it! I had read elsewhere though that babies will display the signs of wanting to eat if they’re tired, or need reassurance, or generally just want to fulfill the suckling urge. But nothing seemed to comfort her in the afternoon and evening except the breast. It wasn’t really an issue in the first couple of weeks when it was great to spend the time bonding with her. But once Sean went back to work, I felt awful that he’d come home in the evening and barely get a cuddle cos she was stuck to me. And, while you’re warned about the nipple pain (that does go after a few days!), no one tells you how exhausting breastfeeding is! It literally feels like the life is being sucked out of you!
When she was about 3 weeks old, it became apparent that this constant feeding in the afternoon and evening wasn’t right. One day we hit cracking point! She fed none stop all afternoon. At 9pm, she was still crying with hunger. She would suck and pull away screaming and keep repeating this. I came to the realisation that I wasn’t creating enough milk to satisfy her needs. So, that night, at 9.30pm, I caved. We gave Ella a bottle of formula. And she wolfed it like it was the first meal she’d ever had! She then slept for 6 hours straight, compared to the usual 3-4 that she was doing at night.
In some ways, it felt like a huge relief realising what the problem was and how easily it could be fixed. But, at the same time, it was upsetting that I couldn’t give her what she wanted. There’s part of you that can’t help but feel like you’ve failed your child.
From there on in, we gave her a bottle of formula for her last feed every night. It was a lot better for my milk too, as I’d be full again in the middle of night and she’d only need one night feed.
As the weeks went on, it seemed like my milk was depleting at other feeds, and she fussed on the breast but ate with no problem on the bottle. At about 8 weeks, every feed during the day was being finished with a top-up of formula to make sure Ella’s needs were met. I realised that my breastfeeding days were soon to be over! At 10 weeks I was reduced to doing night feeds only and one during the day. And, in the 11th week, my milk had all but dried up!
Ella has been solely formula fed ever since. I’ll not deny, sometimes I feel it’s so much easier. I know how much she’s had. I can keep her to a routine as a result. And, she started sleeping through the night when she stopped breastfeeding, because formula is not digested as quickly and I knew she’d had enough calories in the day that she didn’t actually need feeding at night. Plus, you don’t have to hide under blankets to feed in public!
But, I definitely miss breastfeeding too. When I go to baby groups and see women breastfeeding, I can’t help but feel a pang. And the guilt worsens when I get a bottle out while they’re doing it. We could blame society at making us feel like this, but I don’t think it has anything to do with society. I think it has everything to do with what is natural between a mother and child.
But then I remember that Ella is a much more content baby now she has the calories she needs. She wasn’t as happy when she was breastfeeding. She was frustrated and she couldn’t settle. Her needs come way over my emotional needs. And, Ella definitely didn’t need an exhausted frustrated mum and needed more milk! So, I’m really glad I did what Ella needed. And I’d definitely do the same again!