When Formula Wins

It is hard to explain pain. The kind that cuts into your heart. Eats away at you. That's exactly how I feel every time I think about breastfeeding. It never happened for me, you see. I longed for it. I did try, I tried my hardest, but it didn't work out for us.

I went into labour on my due date, the 18th September 2014. It was the last thing I expected, nobody has their baby on their due date! During my pregnancy I had read every book I could find and dissected every piece of breastfeeding information I could possibly try to remember. I was ready. I didn't prepare for it to go wrong, I had no formula back up in my hospital bag. This WAS going to work, I'd convinced myself.

My beautiful tiny 6lb 11oz baby boy was delivered on September 19th, and put straight to my breast. It hurt, but I expected that. The rush of love I felt for my baby was incredible, beyond any words could ever explain. I winced through the pain, that was probably my first mistake.

It didn't take the midwives very long to notice that I was uncomfortable though. Peer support workers were by my beside every hour. I tried and tried, and the pain just seemed to be getting worse. I was self-conscious. Nobody had ever seen me this way before, and suddenly every nurse in the hospital had seen my breasts. I could have cried, but it was worth it to make it work.

By day three my baby wasn't gaining weight and I was in agony. I can't even begin to describe the pain that cracked nipples bring. This was on top of the hormone rush, the stress that I couldn't do it, the exhaustion of being up every hour trying to feed my boy day and night as well as adapting to life as a parent was beginning to break me down. But I didn't admit it just yet.

Every known again a feed didn't hurt so badly, and the little bit of hope inside me did her crazy success dance. But the next feed hurt me again. The midwives told me that I needed to express after every feed to increase my supply. So for one week in hospital I fed, then pumped every single hour. I literally must have sat down for about twenty minutes before my baby wanted another feed. I didn't expect this. But more than anything, the pain shooting through my nipples was becoming unbearable. Why wouldn't my boy latch properly?

The breastfeeding support workers even struggled to get him to open his mouth. I was desperate to go home. Desperate to sleep. Desperate to feed without pain and desperate for help. On my last night in the hospital I sobbed my heart out at 3am to a midwife. I couldn't take it anymore. I couldn't feed my baby. I held him in my arms and told him how sorry I was.

I felt like a failure. I had given up. Other mummies could handle it. But I couldn't. Why did it have to be this hard? Why did it happen to me? There was so many questions I couldn't answer. That night I gave my son his first bottle of formula, and sobbed all of the way through the feed. My partner had to hold me all night. A part of me changed that night, and she never came back.

It's not that I have ever been bothered about how other people feed their babies or that I am against formula. I just wanted that bond, I just wanted to do that for my baby. The next morning I went home, and was told to not touch my breasts or stimulate them at all. Over the next few days I couldn't leave the house. The one time I did I broke down crying. I couldn't talk about breastfeeding or think about breastfeeding. It was even painful to give my boy his bottle. I have to say a huge thank you to the midwife who came to my house about a week later, as I feel like she pulled me out of a potential depression. I had never heard of exclusively pumping before, but she suggested that I do it. My mother was there, and my partner who both told her how emotional I was. There and then she got me a pump for my severely untouched, engorged breasts and she stayed with my until I emptied them. I then gave my baby his first bottle of breast milk. I started to cry.

It wasn't quite breastfeeding. But it was a light at the end of the tunnel.

Over the next few weeks people didn't understand what I was doing, some said it wasn't possible, others were against it and others were incredibly supportive. But there and then I decided I would express until my son was at least six months old.

Alongside expressing I still attempted to breastfeed in the comfort of my own home. My amazing breastfeeding counselor came to see me at home so often that I've lost track of just how many home visits that she had to do. I think so highly of her she has helped me unimaginably. For three months I still tried to breastfeed, it never did work. It never stopped hurting. He has been checked for tongue tie but he doesn't seem to have it. It is a mystery, but that's life.

My boy is 11 months old now and I still exclusively express! I have gone beyond what I imagined I could do and I am thrilled, yet I have days where I am still overcome with sadness about our failed latch. The sadness is hard to describe, but it almost brings me to tears. I miss those first months, even when it hurt, it was the best feeling in the world. But he's strong now, healthy and beautiful and better yet I still give him my milk. The point in this post was to just ask people not to judge. If mother's do not breastfeed you do not always know what they have been through. It doesn't matter how you feed your baby. As they say though, everything is not always black and white.

I love all of the beautiful mummies out there. Breastfeeding mummies, exclusively expressing mummies AND formula feeding mummies. All of these emotions that I have been through are normal, so I hope I can help another mother who is feeling this way. It does get easier, but you have to be strong. That's one of the things that being a mummy is about.

Boneata Bell


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