There’s no arguing about the scientific benefits of breastmilk for babies. What I want to know is whether it is always best for mummies and what affect can it have on their mental health? What is it like to deal with the pressures of feeding baby all by yourself? And what are the consequences when it just doesn’t work out?
I feel very fortunate that breastfeeding has worked out for me and my baby has taken to feeding without any trouble; but that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been any issues.
Problem 1: Those negative opinions of breastfeeding
Before my baby arrived, when I told friends and family that I wanted to feed him myself the responses I got, I felt, were quite negative.
‘Yes, but get some bottles in, just in case‘…said with a knowing look;
‘What about when other people need to look after him?’… in other words, when I want to have him;
and ‘You won’t know how much he’s had, doesn’t that bother you?’ (What I now know is that the milk induced coma is a good clue that he’s full!)
I felt like I had to constantly repeat that there’s no point in going forward with a negative attitude. I want to do this, I need to try for myself as much as the baby, that I’ll deal with whatever issues arise at the time. And I’m so glad I stuck to what I wanted to do.
However, even after his arrival the negativity continued…
‘You must get him used to the bottle, remember you’re going back to work’,
‘When can he have a bottle so I can have him?’
and ‘You can’t always be around’.
I’m not sure if it was the fact that my emotions were still quite raw and perhaps irrational, but my inner ‘Alpha Mummy’ kicked in (http://pregnantchicken.com/monkey-baby/ brilliant post on Pregnant Chicken.com)… I just wanted to scream: HE’LL HAVE A BOTTLE WHEN I’M READY!!
Problem 2: Doing it all yourself (and giving in to the bottle)
I absolutely love breastfeeding my son. It has helped me to build such a lovely bond with my baby, gives me a massive sense of pride and achievement knowing that I have met all my baby’s needs and gives me extra ‘me time’ with my baby that’s so special.
However, six weeks in, another broken nights sleep and I literally fell apart. A compliment from my husband – I cried. Baby didn’t poo for a day, (therefore something awful must be happening) – I cried. I forgot the milk – and cue the tears. My husband then took charge, whisked me off to the shops – steriliser, manual and electronic breast pumps, bottles – he was going to do the night feed. I should have been elated, a whole nights sleep after weeks. But no, guess what… I cried.
In my mind, feeding baby was my role as mummy; being mummy means I feed him, so if I’m not feeding him then what is my role? How do i be mummy if someone else (even his daddy) has my job? Had I failed? What if my milk dried up over night? Why couldn’t I cope? Was it just pangs of mummy guilt? I felt redundant.
After expressing two bottles, we went to sleep. It felt strange being told at 2am to ‘turn over and go back to sleep’ – it felt even stranger being welcomed back into the ‘human world’ the next morning. I realised it’s actually okay to allow Daddy in on this bit of special bonding time and get some sleep in with the bargain. Now each Friday is ‘Daddy boob’ night.
Every now and again, I do a bottle for ease when we’re out and about… I still always get pangs of mummy guilt when I see the bottle, as well as mummy envy whenever anyone else feeds my baby… Alpha Mummy wants him back!
Problem 3: Formula
I haven’t used any formula milk…yet. I say yet because I’ve not decided how to proceed when returning to work (baby will be 7 months old by then). Is it possible to express all the milk he’ll need to cover 3 days a week or would I be setting myself up for an emotional fall to even try?
The problem with formula is again the negative attitudes of others (usually in this case, healthcare professionals). I know many mummies who formula feed their babies, and why not? They have a multitude of reasons for using formula, all valid, from baby weight loss, to trouble with getting baby latching on. If both mummy and baby are happy, healthy and stress free using formula milk then why should they be made to feel (as one friend put it), like they’d been put on the naughty step?
How to save your mental health?
Do what’s right for you. Sounds simple enough but it can be hard to accept what it is that’s ‘right’ for you, even to yourself.
Sometimes doing what’s right means not listening to others – be it friends, family or professionals. And that also means you might need to assert that Alpha Mummy a bit more often. Let’s face it, we’re meant to eat 5 a day… everyday. We’re meant to do 30mins exercise… more than once a month. There’s lots of times when we listen to the advice, take it in, process it and then change it, mix it up and make it fit within our own lives. How you feed your baby is another one of those occasions.
Turns out, it is right for me to express, to use a bottle to allow Daddy some special ‘Daddy boob’ time. It also aids in making trips out and about that bit easier and allow myself time to recharge my batteries. But I fought it all the way, trying not take that step, not let go of ‘my’ role as mummy feeder. I’m still weary of telling people that I am expressing, in case they see no reason to not ‘take’ the baby for a day out – hello Alpha Mummy – I’m ready to scream…I’M NOT READY!