I think I’m in quite an unusual position to share my experience of breastfeeding. I’ve covered the whole spectrum exclusively breastfeeding, pumping, combination feeding and bottle feeding plus we’ve needed to figure this out for my daughter and my twins.
There is so much written about breastfeeding v bottle feeding. It can be a really polarising topic with strong opinions on both sides. It’s a debate that I don’t want to wade into, I’m simply going to share my experience of feeding my three babies. For me there were pros and cons to both approaches and at the end of the day we went with the approach that worked best for everyone at the time.
Feeding my daughter
I was 100% sure that I was going to exclusively breastfeed my daughter. I hadn’t bought bottles, formula or a steriliser before she was born. We watched a video in my antenatal class which emphasised how natural breastfeeding was. I think there was a brief follow up discussion about technique but not in any real depth.
I remember feeding my daughter as soon as she was born. The midwife more or less clamping her on and left me to it. I went home from the hospital only a couple of hours after giving birth. With hindsight I don’t think this was a good idea. I had no idea what I was doing when it came to feeding my newborn. I clearly remember a conversation with my husband where I said something like don’t worry about feeding, I’ve watched a video it looks quite straight forward. It took about half a day to realise this was very misplaced confidence.
What I know now that I didn’t know then is that breastfeeding is a skill that you both have to learn. As natural as it is it takes practice. I really struggled, I didn’t really understand how to get a good latch. I knew that I needed help but I found it quite hard to access help from the overstretched health visiting team. When I did speak to a health visitor I got really frustrated to be told that if it was hurting then I wasn’t doing it right. It really hurt most of the time. My daughter didn’t seem to enjoy breastfeeding all that much. I wanted it to be a tender bonding time with my baby, instead I started dread every feed. After about 3 weeks I went to a breastfeeding drop in session hoping that someone could help me figure out how to do this. As much as they were very supportive and encouraging I didn’t really feel that they gave me the information I was desperate for. How do you do this without it hurting! I persevered exclusively breastfeeding for five weeks in total.
At this point I bought a good quality electric breast pump and decided to try pumping breast milk to give to my daughter in bottles. Luckily I had a plentiful milk supply and found that I could pump a good quantity of milk. My daughter also took to using a bottle very easily. I felt reassured that my daughter was getting the health benefits of breast milk. I was getting very stressed and upset battling with breastfeeding and it was a relief to have another option. It also meant that my husband could help with some of the feeds so I could get some extra rest. The down side was that it very time consuming and I had to be really organised to pump milk at regular intervals throughout each day. There was also the faff of washing and sterilising bottles and the breast pump. I pumped milk until Sofia was about 5 months old then I slowly switched her over to formula.
Feeding my twins
My plan when I was pregnant with my twins was to formula feed. I decided that any breast milk that I managed to give them was a bonus. I didn’t put any pressure on myself this time around. The boys had completely different ideas and latched on very easily from day one and were very keen to breastfeed. They lost quite a lot of weight in the early days so their feeding had to be supplemented with tube feeding but I carried on breastfeeding them at the same time. I had much better practical support in hospital. A nurse watched me breastfeeding the boys on a couple of occasions and suggested a couple of tweaks that made it much more comfortable. If I’d had this kind of help with my daughter I wonder if it would have made the difference?
I didn’t want the boys to leave hospital with feeding tubes in. They had started to get strong enough to pull them out and they needed to be put back in by a nurse (hardly practical in the middle of the night when at home). Instead we started supplementing their breast milk with bottle feeding. Combining breast and bottle feeding was the happy medium that we needed.
Once we were home we fed the boys based on a set routine and at each feed one of the boys had a bottle of formula and one had a breastfeed. We alternated who got what at each feed. We had to write down who had what, when to keep ourselves organised. In terms of milk supply this worked out as the equivalent of exclusively breastfeeding one baby. I’m not sure I could have coped physically with doing more than this. My husband worked full time so there was a lot of time that I was looking after the twins and my daughter on my own so this approach fitted in with that. When my husband was home he could do the bottle feeding while I did the breastfeeding. This especially helped with the night feeds and was a way to feed both boys at the same time and get back to sleep quicker.
We combination fed the boys until they were 6 months old. It wasn’t really a conscious decision to stop breastfeeding. The boys more or less decided they wanted to stop once they had started eating solid food. I was a bit sad that breastfeeding was coming to an end but was also really proud that I had managed to breast feed the boys as much as I could and for as long as I could.
How was your experience of feeding your baby/babies? What worked for you?