Mummy stuff

Question of the day: Is breast really best?

We are having a couple of exhausting days. Lots of screaming – or should I say shouting? barking? – as soon as I try to put little L down for only a second. The only thing that seems to sooth her is my nipple in her mouth, her little body clutched closely to my chest. We went from feeding every three to four hours to nonstop feeding. And as quickly as my sleep deprivation increases, my sanity goes out of the window with every new feed. Only a few weeks into little L’s life and I already feel like a failure. Why can’t I give her what she needs?

With the breastfeeding police lingering in every corner, I clumsily sneak out my mobile phone, look around twice to make sure not to be overheard and dial N’s number. ‘I have a confession to make’, I whisper. ‘I HATE breastfeeding.’ N laughs out loud. ‘Oh really?!’ She doesn’t sound surprised. ‘No, you don’t understand, I really think breastfeeding sucks. I HATE it. I wish I had a breast infection to have a reason to give up.’ N chuckles ‘When I was in your position, I was thinking exactly the same.’ I am astonished. Everybody makes it sound so easy, so natural, as if they were offering their nipples 24/7 without batting an eyelid. ‘You can give some fennel tea in between, and as soon as they hit four months, you can start to introduce solids. Hang in there, time will pass quicker than you can say nipple confusion.’ N’s words are as comforting to my sore soul as Lansinoh to these overused body parts. Apparently, I am not alone.

The more I think about it, the more gutted I am. With maternity units and children centres plastered in breast-is-best banners, and midwifes across the country mildly encouraging (‘Formula… you will die of breast cancer at an early age…!’) the new mum-to-be, I never felt like having a real choice. I was bullied into a decision, and I am mad at myself that I never even asked the question: Is breast really best? So I set out to find some hard facts to either underline or disprove the buzz phrase. Turns out there aren’t any. No scientific study with a relevant sample size to underline that breastfeeding lowers your child’s likelihood of having allergies later on in life (but one study that suggest the contrary), only a lot of ‘maybes’.

I am willing to believe in all the maybes and to give it another try. If we can go back to 3-4 hours, my breasts will be yours, little L, for another five months. If not, formula it is. Feeding on demand is o.k. with me. But that means FEEDING, not soaking my nipples because you are bored. I admire all women for their determination to feed every 1-2 hours. And for their fierce believe in things to improve. I admit to being a bit jealous on Mummies that seem so easily to be able to sacrifice weeks, months and sometimes years of their own needs for the wellbeing of their offspring. But that just isn’t me.

*** And the sun set. And it was night. And it was day again. ***

Overhanging our situation like the sword of Damocles, the formula tin was sitting on the dining table all night. I didn’t touch it, I swear! Little L decided to go back to four hours in between feeds at nights. With more time in between, I started to enjoy nursing again. Feeling much more rested (Big M did all the nappies to make me have most of the night), I introduced fennel tea in between feeds today. Not only does it quench her thirst, but it seems to have cured those tummy aches as well. I am not quite the Uber-Mummy I hoped to be, but I am a happy Mummy with a happy baby!


  1. Honey – I feel for you. I’ve been there (as have all Mothers)! Strangely I found breastfeeding with my first pretty easy – no sore nipples, no hassle – in fact I did it out of laziness really because I couldn’t imagine that bottle feeding was easy at all. But then with my second I hated it. It was a terrible shock actually – my boobs were in a horrible state – cracked nipples, bleeding, etc, and Edie seemed to want to feed non-stop day and night. I do remember sitting up all night with her stuck to me just crying and crying (me) – she was fine! I didn’t feel like a failure as such – just very confused. Why had it worked with the first and not the second? I think moving house when she was two weeks old and having a toddler to look after at the same time probably had something to do with it! I was completely miserable and desperate. And I was scared of bottle feeding because I’d never done it – not only did I not know how to use a steriliser – but I didn’t even have one! But I can’t tell you what a relief it was when I gave her a bottle. She wasn’t traumatised at all and in fact I think she was getting more milk…

    Bottom line is, you have to make it work for you – whatever decision you come to. If you’re unhappy then that’s no good for either of you. And no one has a right to judge – everybody’s situation is an individual one. And every baby is different – I know that because both of mine couldn’t have been more different…

    Don’t be hard on yourself and either way (breast or bottle), your baby will be fine. x

  2. The main thing is not to stress about it all. I didnt like breast-feeding so I gave up. Ignore the breastfeding Nazi’s. As one health visitor said to me, the WHO really encourages it due to the dangers associated with water in the third world. The doctor told me when I was in a state about carrying on with it that there is a lot of propoganda and a whole industry around promoting it within the NHS. Two doctors at my surgery who recently had babies have chosen not to breastfeed themselves.
    I gave up after a couple of weeks and felt so much happier. My children havent suffered. I wasn’t BF but I have 3 university degrees and 5 A levels. Im allergic to shellfish- but then so are several members of my family. Just make sure you enjoy your baby, I was so distressed trying to BF baby number 1 that I ended up in such a state I cant remember the early days and got post-natal depression. I was feeding every hour or so for 3 weeks continuously, turned out he has silent acid reflux and his condition was medical. All those that were putting pressure on me to demand breast- feed were actually adding to the problem and making it all worse. So, make up your mind, do what you want and make sure you are happy. I dont suppose little L will care one way or the other whether she was BF.

    Not heard the fennel tea thing, I dont think I would do it personally, favouring cooled boiled water. However, I would try a dummy if she is very sucky as often its just the sucking reflex.
    Im sure you are an Uber- mummy!

  3. Good for you for sticking in there. It really isn’t easy, it’s a lot more stressful than most people think. But I believe it gives the best start for your baby. I gave up breastfeeding just before she hit 5 months, mainly because she was getting her teeth in and biting me, and I was planning on going back to work anyway, so i decided to stick her on the bottle. I’m still glad I started with breastfeeding though. Good luck!

  4. We had a similar situation. Almost constant feeding, from 5pm to 2am, and even at 5 months, still feeding for an hour each feed, every 2.5 hours. I know I wouldn’t stick with breast feeding a second time around if it was a repeat of this, but was determined then, and had hubby around to take over the screaming baby when I was close to losing it. I got lots of support from drop ins, other mums, breastfeeding initiatives but never lost the feeling that something was wrong, that the constant screaming couldn’t be right.

    I opened the first ready made carton of formula on our first weekend away, when Cubling kept the house (2 other couples with babies) awake all night. She was 12 weeks, I was devastated, exactly that failure feeling you’re talking about, but really, looking back, all I can say, what was the fuss about? How dare I see myself as a failure, after carrying a baby for over 42 weeks and producing a healthy girl, going through long labour, looking after a newborn who was more than demanding, why are we so critical of our own mothering? Is it not better to stop the crying for food with available formula?

    As much as I would support breastfeeding, if it makes for screaming baby and struggling mum, breast isn’t best anymore.

    From then on I would always offer a bottle if nothing would settle her past 10pm, and that was workable. And I didn’t feel I was starving her. I would only ever top up with formula so it wouldn’t reduce my supply. As I said before, we had the last nursing session at 23 months so it didn’t exactly lead to the beginning of the end. In fact, I continued to breastfeed BECAUSE I topped up. It’s important to get the balance right for what’s right for you (and baby – I’m sure I starved her a few nights before opening that first carton), not what the breastfeeding police says!

    If you’re interested in my blog posts during the time (because what you’re going through sounds very similar), it’s on my old blog’s from April 07 archives.

    Oh, and try a dummy. Never worked for Cubling, but it did for others.

  5. Hi there Met-Mum, I sent you a message via British Mummy Bloggers about this as couldn’t fit everything I wanted to say on Twitter! Sorry to hear you’re having a tough time on the feeding front. It does all get easier with time but it can sometimes be a bit of a slog getting there. And together with lack of sleep, it often feels torturous.

    Basically, I really don’t think there’s a right or wrong way to do the feeding thing. Possibly breastmilk has the nutritional edge (in terms of containing maternal antibodies and micro-nutrients that can’t be mimicked in formulas). BUT, that doesn’t mean you should feel guilt-tripped into feeding your baby if it’s not working for you.

    You could either supplement with a bottle, if your nipples are getting wrecked (they honestly do toughen up, hideous as that sounds. Even 2nd time round, it took about 3 weeks for mine to be pain-free. Despite having fed my first baby for a year, I still had to ask an experienced midwife to help me with positioning Baby no 2, as it was so eye-wateringly painful. She watched him feeding, made a few adjustments and we got there in the end). Or if you think it’ll be easier and make you happier, just go on to bottle. Little L has had the benefit of all your current antibodies already from these early weeks of breast-feeding so she’s already off to a really healthy start.

    I stuck with breast-feeding because I just couldn’t be bothered to sterilise bottles, mix up the formula and then cool it down to a non-scalding temperature, when I had it all ‘on tap’, ready to go. But if you’re not enjoying breast-feeding, I really wouldn’t torture yourself any more. Yes, your baby is super-important and undeniably precious but YOU are pretty important too. Happy Mummy=Happy Baby.

    Anyway, good to hear the fennel tea helps. I do vaguely remember giving my firstborn that too and if it’s working on L, keep it up!

    My most valuable lesson (and it took me 6 long, long months to realise it) was that it’s always best to follow your instincts, no matter what the books, your midwife or your friends say (or fellow bloggers!). So just go for it, you’ll know what to do!

  6. Oh sweetie, you are going through a tough time now but you will look back on it and realise it is over quicker than it takes to say it. I know that right now you don’t believe me, but you will soon find out by yourself.
    You are not a failure! you are a mummy who is discovering her baby. The 2 of you are getting to know each other and it takes trial and errors before it all runs smoothly.
    Trust me you are doing great to stay away from the formula winking at you, I wouldn’t have been so brave! 🙂

  7. Oh for pete’s sake. There *is* no “breastfeeding police.” No one is making you do anything. If you hate it and want to give up, do it. No one can live your life for you and you shouldn’t go on doing something you hate out of fear or guilt.

    That said, I think your expectations of how often a baby is meant to be feeding is a little skewed. L is a newborn. It is perfectly normal for newborns to feed a LOT. Every 2 hours is normal. If that’s too much for you then supplement with formula or switch, whatever. But don’t blame it on the ‘boob nazis’ for making you feel bad or refute facts with bogus research to make yourself feel better. Make a decision and then don’t be afraid of what anyone else thinks.

    I’m sorry if that’s harsh but it really gets my goat that people can’t just say they dont’ like it and that’s that. They have to try to relieve their guilt at not liking it by saying breast really isn’t any better than formula or that the boob nazis guilted them into it. Be a grown up and own your decisions.

    Unsubscribing now. Good luck to you.

  8. I agree with the comments that you should knock it on the head if it’s really that bad for you. But having said that I had problems feeding my third and the nurse showed me he wasn’t latching on properly and we had to open his mouth wider before he latched – he needed to be taught! With my first she fed and fed all the time and a nurse suggested using a dummy. I didn’t want to stop breastfeeding so I let her have a dummy to suckle. It worked, she still fed well, it gave me a break and I just ignored the dummy police!

  9. I think it’s all been pretty much said already.
    Do what suits you and your baby. Don’t beat yourself up about it but don’t look for excuses not to do it.
    Breastfeeding isn’t for everyone. I loved it with my first (hear that? I loved it!), but second time around I had a nightmare with mastitis and savoy cabbage in my bra
    I did dummy’s too. Both mine had them to soothe until they were 1 then I weaned them off it.
    Again, it’s not for everyone, there is no right or wrong answer, just what’s right for you.

  10. The thing that really annoyed me about the breast feeding was how everyone else was apparently coping really well.

    Ask anyone and they were “great”, or “managing really well”. It’s now two years down the line and some of them are admitting it was hard or they didn’t like it and I just wish to goodness they’d been more honest at the time- that way everybody wouldn’t have had to think they were the only one who was finding it hard.

  11. Thank you for the comments and the suggestions – I am now a sling-using, dummy-offering, tea-giving breastfeeder. (The dummy works wonders!!)

    I guess I was pretty naive. Never thought this would be so hard work! And I never thought that making a decision that effects my baby would be so hard, too.

  12. Don’t worry about not being the uber mummy that you hoped you would be. All you can do is the best that you can – don’t beat yourself up about the rest. You’ll be a better mummy for not feeling guilty about what you didn’t do. Little L – she wants you – not an idealised version of what you think you should be.

    as for breast vs. bottle – totally up to you. In 6 months you won’t even remember what you were so worried about.

    It does get better. Promise.

  13. Pingback: Three months and counting - Metropolitan Mum

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