Pen Pal: What A Shame
Vicki, from www.confessionsofanicumum.com, talks about the shame of formula feeding her son Elijah, a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit mini. She had a lot on her plate, formula feeding should not have added to this. Frank is about fighting the stigma and uniting mamas; Vicki is a great voice for this cause.
I am going to start off being completely honest. When I was pregnant with Elijah, I didn’t want to breastfeed. It didn’t seem like the right fit for us. I wanted Greg to be as involved as he could be, and we even planned for him to do the first feed. Then I came across a problem: How? I needed advice on the available options; what were the best bottles and formulas? What would be the best position for feeding to reduce wind and reflux? How to correctly prepare and sterilise everything? I had to do the rounds with my friends to get the answers to my many questions. Whilst I fully understand that, ‘breast is best’, you must also do what is best for your family. But once we had made our decision we were left to get on with it.
During labour, the midwife saw my intention to formula feed in my birth plan. She asked if I was sure, when I replied yes, she gave me a look and moved on, offering no support. I felt shamed. This was how I was planning on feeding my child, why was there so much stigma surrounding it? Like a sixth sense, our decision was the right one. Elijah was admitted into NICU. He was found to have a heart defect called Tetralogy of Fallot. He couldn’t feed for three days in case it put too much pressure on his heart. At the same time, I was getting a blood transfusion for a post partem haemorrhage and had been warned by the Doctors that breastfeeding would make me even weaker. Despite this I asked the NICU Nurse if breastfeeding would help Elijah, she said no: It wouldn’t fix his heart. They supported our decision to formula feed. In NICU there was no stigma, no judgement.
Elijah thrived and was discharged nine days later with open heart surgery planned for six months time. Looking back at those first few months of our feeding journey I now realise there was no one on hand to help me except my mum friends. Had I been a breastfeeder with a feeding difficulty, I am sure an expert would have come to see me. Against all the odds, Elijah has always been on the higher percentiles for his height and weight.
Now, pregnant with my second child, I may consider breastfeeding; but I am also happy to formula feed. I will not be bullied into feeling guilty for this. If the baby is thriving, I am doing my job. For a first-time mother it can be daunting but I have gained a lot of confidence second time around. I was recently in the waiting room to have a scan and a father-to-be commented on the number of adverts for breastfeeding. Leaflets, posters, pictures, it was even on the TV. It was overwhelming. There was not one scrap of information on formula feeding. I know the NHS is not likely to run huge campaigns that ‘glamorise’ it, but surely, we should have access to the information? If they are so against it, why provide it in hospital especially without any support?
'Breast is best' has been scientifically proven. But, I believe the stigma around formula feeding needs to change. My son is the 4th generation of our family to be formula fed, and he is clever and healthy. Elijah has survived a neonatal stroke, Tetralogy of Fallot and open heart surgery all while being formula fed. We are all in this together, and we need to support, empower and not judge anyone for their decisions. After all; #feedingwithheart is the most important part.
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