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November 2, 2012

Breast is best – or is it?

This is a bit of a random introduction to the blog and I honestly didn’t plan for my first post to be about boobs! However, after hearing recent news reports that Britain has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in Western Europe, costing the NHS millions of pounds, it brought back my own ‘issues’ around breast feeding and I decided to air my few little thoughts on why the rates might be so low!

Throughout my pregnancy, I didn’t really have any preconceptions or plans on how I’d bring up my child or whether I would breast feed or not – my plan was just go with the flow and see what happens…

So when the time came and my son began to breastfeed with no issues (and I know I was lucky), I just thought I’ll carry on for as long as I can. Though there were initial problems such as only feeding from one side due to bruising from forceps, it was all going quite well and I felt it was easier than getting up in the middle of the night and heating bottles etc.

The midwives at the hospital, the ones that visited my house after the birth and my local Little Angels group were all supportive but when I asked any questions around when to introduce a bottle I got pretty much the same response: ‘the baby will get confused and could refuse the breast if you start to introduce a bottle”- so basically don’t bother!

So when after a couple of weeks I decided to get my haircut and leave my son alone in the hands of his father for the first time, I expressed milk, invested in some ‘top of the range’ Medela bottles and left him to it.

It was when I returned and my boyfriend told me my son had refused to feed, that the nightmare began… you see, though I’ve heard it from almost everyone I talk to since, no-one felt it necessary at the time to mention to me that the this ‘nipple aversion’ can work the other way round – and your baby might REFUSE TO TAKE A BOTTLE… for NINE WHOLE MONTHS… And there begun months of stress and pain!

Now, don’t get me wrong, I did find breast feeding a really bonding experience and I’m really thankful that it was relatively easy for me to do it – I know that babies refusing to latch on causes a lot of stress. But, honestly, I think that being unable to bottle feed my son was every bit as stressful – if not worse!

In the weeks and months that followed, I tried every bottle known to man… well every bottle I could find in Boots and Mothercare – NUK, Medela (including the £15 a go ‘Calma’ teats), Tommy Tippee, Asda’s own brand, Avent… the list goes on… and eventually as time passed, this turned into trying sippy cups, straw cups etc, etc. You get the point…

I know a lot of people at this point would suggest just refusing to feed my baby and eventually he would take a bottle but after withholding one feed and him refusing any other substantial feed; I just couldn’t face banning him from eating! He was only tiny anyway and I’m a bit of a wimp like that. But I did try everything else people suggested from different positions, to allowing every man and his dog to have a go at trying to feed him, to cup feeding and so on… he was very stubborn.

All in all this lead to a nightmare few months. Not only was I unable to leave my son with his dad or my parents for a few hours or overnight, but he started teething at four months and literally didn’t stop – they came one after the other and I ended up with bite holes and weeping wounds that I wouldn’t wish on anyone! But with what I felt was no other option than to carry on, I had to just ride through the pain.

There were other issues – as my son got older and bigger, I can’t describe how awkward and uncomfortable I felt whenever I had to go anywhere and feed him in public. None of my family or friends had breast fed before for any length of time so it was strange enough when visiting them – and I am the first to admit that its mostly down to my own insecurities, but I am just not one of those people that feels comfortable whipping my boobs out in the park, supermarket, local Italian restaurant etc. and just expecting people to deal with it! I still find it really strange seeing someone else breast feed so to do it myself was a strange and often uncomfortable thing. And most places are still so ‘un-breastfeeding friendly’ it’s a joke! Alton Towers – one of the leading amusement parks in the country – and I found myself trying to find a staircase hidden out of view or hiding in a corner in a restaurant just so I could feed my son. The main expectation I have to say is the breast feeding rooms in The Trafford Centre which were recently revamped by Laura Ashley – worth a visit!

My final point is that breast feeding is meant to help your baby fight off infection, yet my son has been riddled with lots of coughs, colds and sneezes, and was even hospitalised with measles at eight months. Now, I’m not claiming to be an expert on any other this and I’m sure there are lots of research papers that can prove me wrong and say that in the long run Hari is less likely to get eczema or become obese later in life, and his teething was definitely the cause for a lot of his coughs and colds, but he certainly doesn’t seem vastly healthier than his bottle-fed mates!

So I know I have rambled slightly but getting back to the point – it’s commonly argued that the people feel pressured into breast feeding and that people in the UK don’t embrace breast feeding enough, but there’s much more to breast feeding than just if the baby latches on your fine and if he doesn’t, you’re not. There’s plenty of other issues and struggles and when my baby didn’t take a bottle there was no real support or people to turn to – every health professional I spoke to was like ‘oh yeah that happened to me’ or ‘oh yeah that happens sometimes’ you’ll just have to wait until he is weaned.

Luckily after nine months, one day my son just randomly started taking a bottle – I genuinely think the stress it was putting me under was drying up my milk and he wasn’t satisfied. But for others I know the problem didn’t rectify itself and there was little support for those breast feeding mums who are finding it hard.

Is breast best… not always!

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