I will admit that before I had Hunter I did hold some judgment around parents who fed their babies formula. Further still, I did nothing to help the stigma of bottle-feeding babies, even if the bottle was filled with breast milk. I don’t know where that judgment was born from, and I would like to take this moment to apologise for those ill feelings; how stupid and naive I was.
My brothers and I were breastfed and I have grown up around women who have been all about the boob. Mothers breastfeeding their babies is all I have ever really known, it is all that has been celebrated around me when it comes to feeding ones child. Not only that, but I have always found breastfeeding to be one of the most beautiful things any human could do. There is something so magical about a mother nurturing her child. It should come as no surprise then that I have always wanted to breastfeed.
A few weeks before Hunter was born my colostrum came in. From the get go I wasn’t worried about my supply, I was born for this.
When Hunter was born at a tiny 2.8kg, the midwives and I quickly realised that his mouth was teeny tiny as well. Over those first few hours he was able to latch, but he struggled to draw my nipple far enough towards the back of his throat to be able to stimulate the flow. To ensure that he was getting enough to fill him up, I expressed (squeezed my boob really fucking hard) into one of those little plastic cups you pee into when you take a urine test and fed him with a plastic syringe.
After a few days (with a few home visits from my midwife) I got him latching better and I cannot explain how it felt to look down at my son and know that I was able to provide him with everything he needed. My boob was about fifty-seven times larger than his perfect little head, but we managed. Until we didn’t.. Randomly, he started having difficulty latching again. I started to get stressed, which of course didn’t help anything, and called my midwife. When she came over and watched Hunter trying to latch, she produced a nipple guard. I didn’t know they existed and Mum was beside herself, “I wish that we had these when I had you!” A nipple guard is a soft, plastic cone shaped thing that you place over your nipple. Not only does it protect your nipple from chafing and all the other kinds of damage, but it also makes your nipple longer and therefore, easier for Bub to latch onto. All of a sudden, Hunter was able to feed again. I was expressing in-between feeds because I found that feeding him with the bottle during the night was a lot easier for me as well as settling him far better.
Also, fun fact? When the midwife came over she was teaching me all about breastmilk; research shows that breastmilk is different each and every day, producing exactly what your Bub needs for that days development. And, when it is a hot day, there will be an increase of water in your milk to ensure that your baby is hydrated. Our bodies are just fucking incredible.
Every couple of feeds, I tried to get him to latch without the guard, but he still struggled. It seems as though he had very quickly become used to feeding with the guard. As he grew, obviously the amount that he drinks increases. He became so restless because he wasn’t getting the milk from me fast enough. Just as he had become used to using the guard, he started to become used to how easily (and how quickly) he was able to get his feed from the bottle. Using the guard, although incredible because it meant that Hunter was still breastfeeding, presented its own problems. Whenever he needed a feed it wasn’t as simple as getting my nipple into his mouth; first I had to position and place the guard, then I have to hold it in place while I expressed some milk into the tip of it, and then I had to try and get him to latch. With the guard, he also wasn’t stimulating my milk production because he as no longer feeding skin-on-skin.
Once his feeds increased and he was demanding the milk at a faster rate, I knew the he wasn’t going to be able to get what he needed from me. So, as much as it broke my heart at the time, I made the decision to exclusively express feed. He was far happier feeding with the bottle and we were able to monitor how much he was eating, but it also meant that a lot of (all of) my day had to be planned around when I could express. I expressed every morning and always tried to have a spare bottleful of milk in the fridge. For the most part, my supply was good enough that I was able to get a really good amount of milk first thing in the morning which took a lot of pressure off me. So long as I had 150ml ready to go, which was about two feeds, I was happy. Then recently, overnight his feeds went from between 70-90ml to 120-150ml. His feeds effectively doubled and my body had no idea what to do.
There were a couple of weeks where I was going feed to feed. It got to the point where I was trying to get him to sleep JUST so I could express to ensure that he would have a feed for when he woke up. I was only expressing about 30ml at a time, and then I started stressing that I was only expressing 30ml at a time, so then I would produce less. Not only that, but for about five weeks, Hunter was in agony. He would scream from about 2pm-8pm every night with bad wind. I tried cutting things out of my diet so that he wouldn’t have it in the breast milk, but nothing worked. It was exhausting and heartbreaking having him cry so much and seeing him in so much pain. Pete and I did everything we could each and every night to try and help him, but we couldn’t. We saw the doctor because I wanted to know whether there was a reason for his pain, and not only that, he was only doing a poo once every ten days or so. It turns out that he is quite possibly lactose intolerant (which a lot of babies are) as well as having reflux (which is hereditary – did anyone know that?! Pete and his mum both get bad reflux, so it explained a lot).
Everything came to a head at the beginning of last week when my supply was so low that I knew I was going to have to give him formula just to tide him over. I went to the pharmacy and sought help (because I was completely oblivious as to what to buy). In the end, I bought him Ovi, a goat milk based formula, which I was told would be far gentler on his tummy. The first bottle I gave him of the formula, I cried. I felt like I was letting him down. Surely, I thought, my body should be producing what he needs WHEN he needs it. I felt like a failure. That night after having the formula in the afternoon, Hunter didn’t scream. He was calm and happy and back to being our beautiful, sweet, delicious little man. Initially the formula was only going to be for those times where my supply was low, so during the night I still gave him breastmilk.
He screamed. The pain was almost instant. Once again, I couldn’t settle him. He would sleep for five minutes and then be writhing in agony.
The next day and overnight I only fed him formula to see how he would be.
He was like a completely different baby.
After the first feed he slept for four hours straight. When he woke up from that sleep, he was talkative and happy. He was so chilled and most importantly, he wasn’t in any pain. When he was ready for another sleep, I didn’t ned to do any rocking or any pushing in the pram, I simply put him down and he went straight to sleep. I couldn’t believe it. He really was a completely different little guy.
It was really difficult making the decision to only feed him formula. For a day or so I felt really torn. I still felt like I had failed him, but I was also so relieved and happy that he was no longer in pain. It has been a week now that Hunter has been purely on formula and he and I are both happier. The stress of having to find pockets of the day to express has been completely eradicated, Hunter sleeps solidly and soundly and only cries if he is over-tired.
And, I can wear my pretty bras again.
Once again, I want to take this moment to apologise for the judgment I held around breastfeeding. I had no idea it was this complicated or layered. I am a firm believer that every mother should only do what feels right for them and what works for them and their Bub. Breastfeeding is hard and I tip my hat to every single mother out there whether you feed from the boob, or the bottle, or the tin. You’re all killing it, mamas.