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Why Breast Isn’t Always Best

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Throughout both my pregnancies and during the aftercare period I was constantly being told Breast is best. I’m sure a lot of Mums or Mums to be will relate to this. Every visit to the midwife I would be asked how I intended to feed. The first time round I wasn’t sure. My own mother didn’t get on well breastfeeding my brother and didn’t produce any milk for me. So I was realistic and prepared for both just in case I couldn’t or didn’t like breastfeed (I know it’s controversial, but some just don’t like experiencing the act of breastfeeding).

First Attempt

With my daughter, the midwives encouraged me to try breastfeeding shortly after birth, but I couldn’t get her to latch. They offered advice and even took a hands-on approach to help me get her to latch. But all it did was stress the baby out. So they told me to leave it for now and to try again later. Which I did and each time I was left with a stressed out baby that was crying so hard she turned an alarming shade of red. But because I had started trying to breastfeed, the midwives wanted me to continue so every time I asked for formula they just told me to try the breast again and I’ve already told you how that went.
No matter what I tried, and I tried everything except an aerial approach, I could not get her to latch. I was reluctantly given a bottle of formula after we lost our temper with the staff, they actually threatened to call security when all I wanted to do was feed my child. She was almost 8 hours old at this point, it was ridiculous.
On the ward, again they pushed the breast but she still wasn’t latching. One of the nurses showed me how to hand express and fed Luna by syringe. In the morning the hooked me up with a breast pump and again encouraged me to keep trying to get Luna to latch but the end result was still a stressed out bubba.
It was then I overheard the Mum in the next bed ask why she can’t just express all the milk, just for the nurse to say it wouldn’t be possible. And I got thinking, why couldn’t it be possible? If breast milk is the best option and you have a child who won’t latch, isn’t expressing the milk a workaround? The short answer is yes. It’s a process that has its pitfalls but I’ll talk about that in another post.

Exclusively Expressing

So that’s how we moved forward with Luna. It took a while for the health visitor to wrap her head around the idea of Exclusively Expressing but it meant Luna was getting breast milk and that’s the important thing right?
We were mixed feeding until I got settled into a routine, after that she was getting solely breast milk. But it wasn’t long before the health visitor started to have concerns. Her weight gain was slowing up and she wasn’t growing as fast as expected. Each visit to the clinic Luna, while progressing, would drop a few percentiles and this would result in a string of questions about how much and how often she was eating.

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In my research I had found there are enzymes in the baby’s saliva that are absorbed by Mum during a feeding session that help tailor the milk to the baby’s specific needs. I thought this was maybe why she wasn’t growing as expected. But Also in my research, I found that if she wasn’t getting everything she needed she would have been hungrier more frequently.

Second Time Around

With Rowan it was very different. He latched straight away. But he was sick regularly after feeds, more regularly than Luna had been. We didn’t work out what the problem was until he caught a cold from the older child of a friend (heck we all got ill). Rowan had a blocked nose and couldn’t stay latched as he had to take breaks to breathe. It was during one of these breaks I saw my milk spray the length of my sofa. My let down rate is quite fast, too fast for Rowan to control the flow. He had been getting too much milk too fast and it had been coming right back up again.
While he had his blocked nose we decided it would be easier if I just expressed the milk and fed him from a bottle so he could take all the breaks he needed. This worked out really well but it also revealed something I wasn’t aware of. I get Lactation headaches.

By this time Rowan was 6 weeks old and almost every day I’d had a low-level headache. I honestly thought it was just because I was tired. I was getting up a couple times throughout the night and then up with Luna, I wasn’t having naps like I’d been able to with Luna because I now had her to take care of. But when I’d gone a full day without feeding from the breast the headache was gone and it stayed away. Of course, I went a googled it. I couldn’t believe it was possible for breastfeeding to cause headaches, but there you are. Since then Rowan has been fed expressed breast milk.
But we still have the same issue with Rowan. The Health Visitor is concerned that he isn’t growing as expected, he isn’t putting on weight as fast as he should. Yes, he has had an issue with his skin and been on medicine and his doctor thinks that may have had an effect. But he is now being monitored and will be getting regular weight reviews.

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The same thoughts go through my head. Surely if he wasn’t getting what he needed he’d be hungry more often. The Health Visitor always says if I think he’s looking for more milk I should offer it to him. That’s great advice, but it also makes me feel like they think I’m purposefully not feeding him enough. I offer him a 210ml bottle every 4/5 hours and he usually leaves 30/40ml. You can’t make a baby take more than they’re willing to.

This has been my experience with breastfeeding. Health Professionals sing its praises. It gives your baby a better immune system, it’s a low-fat diet that will decrease your baby’s chances of becoming obese and a whole bunch of other things. Both my children have been raised on breast milk and neither have hit their projected growth targets. Is my milk just shit or is the way they evaluate progress flawed?
Luna is a walking talking bundle of trouble. For all the targets she’s missed there is nothing obviously wrong with her in terms of development. Yes, she is short compared to most children her age that we meet, and their Mothers make a point of pointing that out. But I’m not about to ask these women “did you breastfeed or use formula?”, that just seems like too personal a question.

Breastfeeding, however natural an action it is, is a controversial topic. There was a large period of time during the last century where formula was actively favoured and breastfeeding was pushed out as old-fashioned. As a society, we need to relearn what it means to breastfeed and acknowledge that it’s not as predictable as formula fed rearing.

If you breastfed, how did it go for you?