Pen Pal: Feeding On The Fence

Pen Pal: Feeding On The Fence

We are delighted to share Joanna's story on her struggles with feeding. She was challenged on her feeding believes from the get go, but instead of wavering between two mind sets, she sat proudly on the fence, seeing the beauty in both breast and bottle. 

How do you start a post about breastfeeding? Most people sit on one side of the breastfeeding fence and if an article supports their views they’ll read it. If it doesn’t, they won’t. Simple. Except it isn’t that simple. What if you are on the fence?

I think breastfeeding is a wonderful thing, and when it works it’s really rather beautiful. It therefore won’t come as much of a surprise to know I intended to breastfeed. When things got tricky, to say I would have given my right arm to be able to breastfeed my babies is stretching it a bit. But I would have seriously considered sacrificing a finger or two. 

Now to say I wasn’t able to breastfeed isn’t strictly true. I was able to – a little bit. My body made a small amount of milk and to say it didn’t would not be correct. But I wasn't able to exclusively breastfeed; not if I wanted my babies to regain their birth weight and continue to grow…something highly recommended for survival.

The common theme with all my babies, was a failure to gain weight despite constant 'feeding'. This meant all three of my daughters required supplementing with, and ultimately switching to, formula. During pregnancy my breasts weren’t tender and after my babies were born there was still no change. My supply was pathetic, despite everything. Eating, drinking, resting. You name it, I did it. I even took Domperidone in an attempt to stimulate my milk supply. Ironic - taking a drug in my quest to do something that should have come so naturally.

I was so terribly angry with my body for letting me down. And it was my body that let me down because I had about as much support from my family and from professionals as it is possible to have. Don’t get me wrong – I love my body and I’m incredibly grateful to it. Some things it does very well. Getting pregnant? Fine. Being pregnant? Great. Giving birth? Pretty awesome actually. But breastfeeding? Crap.

Looking back now, I was tied up in knots over my difficulties to breastfeed, and I wonder was I right to worry?

But what are the scientifically-proven long-term risks of not breastfeeding? Given all three of my daughters have largely been formula fed, I feel I should be prepared for what my body has predisposed them to. At the moment my daughters are three of the brightest and healthiest kids I know. While breastfeeding is wonderful; for me the benefits are somewhat overstated. For some children, the milk they have in their first year of life maybe the highest quality food they ever get – be that formula. Rather than this obsession over breast or bottle, we could focus on the diets of toddlers and young children. Buying and cooking healthy food should be within the realms of possibility for everyone.

I don’t want to discourage anyone who is struggling with breastfeeding. The early months can be challenging for many reasons. I write purely about my own experience with a poor milk supply. There may be those who doubt their milk supply when actually it is adequate and I hope that I do not undermine the confidence of people such as this.

I write it more for those who have watched their baby fail to gain weight for week, after week. I write it for those who know in their heart of hearts that their baby is hungry and that he needs more than they have.

To those women I would say you are doing your best. There is so much more to being a mum than breastfeeding. There are an almost infinite amount of things that you will be able to do with and for your child in the future that will make this episode seem like a dim and distant memory. 

For more on low milk supply, check out this article written by Dr Alison Stuebe. As she points out: 'Lactation is part of normal human physiology, and like all other human physiology, it can fail.'

Thank you Joanna for sharing your story. Joanna has also published a full version of her story over at #dontjudgejustfeed. If you would like to share your own story then please get in touch via Your Voice.

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