This is my first post in a while. I have been dealing with some health issues and getting used to some anti-depressants, which have really brought me out of a very hard place. I am enjoying my boys a lot more, and have much more enthusiasm for the everyday stuff. There’s still a way to go yet, including starting some counselling, and also getting my youngest to sleep through the night without any need for night feeds (Any help greatly received!).
That brings me nicely on to the topic of this post, which I’d hoped to have written in time for National Breastfeeding Week, but I suppose there’s always going to be a need for this discussion, it seems.
As you know, I have two sons. From pregnancy to birth, and beyond, they couldn’t have been more different. My first pregnancy with Khaya was romantic, easy, beautiful. My second with Nathi was harder. I felt heavier more quickly, and uncomfortable. I did have less symptoms than the first time around, though (which included carpal tunnel syndrome – Why?!), but I just didn’t enjoy the second pregnancy as much. I remember saying how sick I was of being pregnant when I was about 33 weeks in. I’m sure looking after a toddler added to it!
Khaya’s birth was a doddle. And yes, I really mean that. I’m sure I still think of it in the romantic way I always have, and that there are some more painful details that I’ve blocked out, but it was a quick, easy and problem-free birth. I was able to cope with the pain, which was something I didn’t think would happen. I used gas and air, and no stitches were required. We managed to stay in hospital for only 24 hours, and everything really was great.
That was until we got home and tried to continue with the breastfeeding.
My mum was staying with us to take care of the ‘other’ things that needed to be done around the home. My job was to focus on the feeding. It didn’t go well. Khaya wasn’t very good at latching on, for whatever reason that’s still unbeknown to me. It was horrendous. We were all crying – Khaya cried so much so that he actually lost his voice, which is something that really haunts me (and which I had blocked out until my mum reminded me of it not too long ago). I tried expressing into pipettes to feed straight into his mouth so that he didn’t have to latch on to my nipples. That worked for a while, but he wasn’t getting enough. Despite two home visits from the local health visitors, his weight loss went unnoticed until we took him for a heel prick test at a local health centre when he was five days old. They weighed him as a matter of course when we arrived, and the midwife who did the test sat us down and told us that because Khaya had lost over 15% of his birth weight, we would have to immediately take him to A&E at St. Thomas’ Hospital (where he was born). I will always remember Olivia the midwife – She was one of the kindest people I have ever met. I think I still have her number somewhere…
|This was a very poorly Khaya having his nails filed by his Baba at the |
hospital while we waited to be admitted to the postnatal ward.
So, we went to A&E, and they told us to go to another department, and we waited for ages before we were seen, then we got given some formula and a teat, and we fed Khaya. His skin was very yellow, and he had no energy (see photo above). He just slept all the time. He really wasn’t well. After some formula, he instantly started to perk up. We waited for AGES for someone to come and collect us to take us to the postnatal ward. We finally got there at around 11pm, I think. We stayed for two nights, and Khaya was given some phototherapy treatment for his jaundice. He also had a high level of salt in his blood, meaning he was dangerously dehydrated. The nurses at the hospital were so great. They taught me how to feed in different ways to get him used to breastfeeding again, and also showed me how to express my milk. I did everything they said and tried so hard to keep my supply up. My partner even bought a snazzy electric breast pump for me. But, it became tough to express breastmilk and feed him formula simultaneously. Bottles constantly needed washing and sterilising, I had to find time to express enough so that my body continued to produce enough milk. I was in pain. I was feeling completely guilty – I had failed my infant son. My partner really wanted it all to work, so I was always so afraid of telling him how I really felt. It was one of the toughest times I’ve ever been through. But, I made the decision to give up the breastfeeding once and for all after a particular occasion when I had expressed for 20 minutes and only managed to produce two drops of milk. I realised then that my body had given up before I had. Khaya continued on the formula, and has been completely healthy and happy ever since. He rarely gets ill, and he is very bright (as well as tall for his age!). I read articles promoting breastfeeding which say things like ‘formula-fed babies aren’t as successful in adult life’. I apologise for my language, but that’s utter bullsh*t. And I have many formula-fed friends to prove that!
Fast-forward to December 2016, when my second son was born. I’ve already told you about the birth in Swaziland, but I’ll quickly recap… My sac ruptured in week 34 of my pregnancy, I didn’t go into labour naturally, so I was induced twice, it didn’t work, so I had to have an emergency c-section. Again, in the hospital, I was encouraged to breastfeed. We had bought some formula just in case it didn’t work again, as we didn’t want Nathi to go through the same thing as Khaya. It took a while for me to produce milk after the birth, what with my unprepared body going ‘Oh, OK, we’re doing this now, are we?’, as well as having to take 24 hours to recover from the effects of the anaesthetic. It was, again, hard at first. Nathi was tiny, and he struggled to latch on, just as Khaya did. At this point, I assumed it was me that was the problem, as one does when history repeats itself. But, with the help of the wonderful staff at the hospital in Swaziland, and these AMAZING pills which made my milk supply literally overflow, we finally got the hang of things. It did, however, take a good three months to get to a point where I didn’t want to kill myself from the intense pain I felt every time I fed him. It was one of the worst pains ever. I thought it was mastitis at one point until I read the symptoms and realised I didn’t have any of them. I still don’t know what caused that pain, or how normal it is. I remember dreaming of the nipple shields that were sitting in a cupboard at home in the UK. Throughout the 11-hour plane journey home, I had to constantly feed Nathi to soothe and calm him. I was bleeding by the time we arrived in London. It was a lonely flight, as my partner and Khaya had to stay in South Africa for, what ended up being, six more weeks (which included Khaya’s second birthday).
As soon as we got home, I went to the cupboard to dig out the shields. What a difference they made. Nathi still uses them today. I went to a couple of support groups, as I thought he was tongue-tied because of the pain I was feeling, and they were quite helpful. I don’t think Nathi was ever tongue-tied, though, and the midwives said that it was perhaps just a case of ongoing thrush in my nipple which was causing the pain. Nevertheless, it all calmed down and became much easier for us both. I actually started to enjoy it. In Swaziland, they’re very open about breastfeeding in public and accept it everywhere, but I was worried about what it would be like in London, especially after that Claridge’s incident which was in the press a short while ago. I have, to this day, never had any problems from other people while breastfeeding in public in London, or anywhere else in the UK, actually. I am discreet, of course, but even at times when I haven’t been as ‘covered up’, people still seem to accept it. I’m sure other mums have had different experiences, and I have already lined up my comebacks for whenever/if ever someone confronts me during a public feed. I feel very strongly about the fact that mums, new or otherwise, should feel as much freedom as anyone else while in public. Why should mums be feeding their children in private? Nobody else has to eat in private. If anyone finds it sexual to see a breast being used for its intended purpose, then surely that’s their own problem, not that of the mum. It’s no wonder so many women suffer with post-natal depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues, when the world seems so intent on making them think they have to hide away at home when they have children. It also doesn’t stop when the children grow up. I get so many looks, comments, conversations started about my children and how I’m raising them. If my toddler has his dummy in his mouth while he’s in his buggy, I feel I need him to wear a badge that says ‘This is what I use to go to sleep. It’s my comforter. And it’s now my nap time. Mama couldn’t do the shopping at any other time’. And, recently, I overheard a not-so-discreet woman on the bus telling her friend on the phone ‘Ugh, it’s just, y’know… I hate kids on buses’. My son was making a noise. God forbid. You’re on public transport. I can’t take two children in an Uber by myself without car seats, so I have to use the wonderful bus system instead. It’s easier with a double buggy. I’m always considerate of others, even when they don’t seem at all appreciative. I really do go out of my way not to get in other people’s way.
|My boys sleeping on the train. With dummies. Peaceful, right? Nuff said.|
Everyone is entitled to their opinions, of course, but I really think that people have to be more open-minded about another person’s plight. You don’t know what they are going through. I bet many people see me and don’t think I look like someone who has a history of depression and has found the last two-and-a-half years almost unbearably hard. They don’t know that I get up twice, sometimes three or four times, every single night to feed my baby because that’s the only way he will go back to sleep. But, then again, I don’t know anything about them. They could have had a child who had a horrible accident because they were using a dummy, or they might just be in that group of people who just don’t like kids.
So, anyway, back to the breastfeeding debate (I’m sorry for digressing slightly back there)…
I have many thoughts about the pros and cons of both breastfeeding and formula feeding. I should know. I’ve done both. And I can only conclude that it should be up to you as a parent to decide what’s best for you and your baby. You can listen to others (including myself) for guidance but, ultimately, it is your decision. Yes, breastfeeding is super-tailored to your baby’s needs, and provides many nutrients and antibodies, but that’s no good if you’re only able to produce three painful and useless drops per pump. It is hard to get it right, and it’s even harder to know when to quit if it’s not going well. But, again, this is up to you. If it’s causing your baby to lose too much weight, then it’s not working, and you may need to top up with formula just so that you know they’re getting fed. If it’s painful, then it may just be a phase and it may get better, so it’s worth getting through it (and seeking medical advice, of course, in case it’s something serious). I’m so glad I persisted through the pain, but at the time, it was hell. A good friend of mine recently quit breastfeeding after her third bout of mastitis, which led to stays in hospital each time. I thought that was pretty sensible of her. I often have to remind myself that nothing is forever. That helps me get through tougher times.
Breastfeeding is so easy. You just whap out a boob. Formula feeding is more expensive, and you have to sterilise bottles all the time. Formula feeding isn’t painful. Breastfeeding is harder to move on from (I am currently finding it difficult trying to wean Nathi on to formula and reduce the feeds, as he relies so heavily on them for comfort). Breastfeeding limits one’s wardrobe (I can only really wear nursing vests or bras when feeding, which make my boobs look terribly low and flat under my tops. The good bra only comes out on (rare) babyless evenings out). Formula is sticky. Breastmilk sometimes has a funny smell, and drips on to your clothes when feeding. Your boobs feel like they’re going to explode when you don’t feed for a while. Night feeds are easier when breastfeeding – You just have to roll over and attach the baby to your breast, not go to the kitchen, wash and sterilise a bottle, boil the kettle with fresh water, fill the bottle and cool the water in a bain marie of iced water, add the formula, shake, check the temperature, press the teat down to check it isn’t going to squirt everywhere when baby starts drinking…
In the long run, it really is all the same thing. The children can still all grow up normally. They can all be healthy. They will all have the same opportunities. They will all develop, thrive and succeed. Do what’s right for you and your baby. As long as they’re getting fed, it won’t matter to them how.