We are just coming to the end of World Breastfeeding week. My news feed over the last few days has had a whole range of posts popping up around the subject of breastfeeding. How you feed your baby always proves to be such an emotive subject. People have very different and strongly held viewpoints.
I feel that I kind of have a foot in each camp. We have done a bit of everything, having breastfed and bottle fed all of our children. I exclusively breastfed Sofia in her early weeks. I found it quite difficult to get feeding established and found breastfeeding quite painful. I then chose to express and exclusively bottle fed Sofia breast milk from bottles. This obviously involved the time to pump milk and sterilize bottles and giving over half of our fridge to carefully labeled pouches of breast milk. I felt happy to do this as it seemed like another way to get my daughter to drink breast milk. When my daughter was older we supplemented expressed breast milk with formula. When she was 6 months old I stopped expressing and formula fed Sofia.
The twins had their first few feeds of breast milk. Then due to medical issues the twins needed to be tube fed. I chose to give them formula via their feeding tubes for the first few days of their lives. This was mainly as I wasn’t in the best medical state and I didn’t feel physically able to pump milk through the day and night. Once they were stronger I combination fed the boys so they had a mixture of breast milk and formula. They had breast milk up until about 6 months old. At this age they discovered the delights of actual food and milk of any sort of milk was quickly sidelined!
I feel like I have gone through a whole spectrum of emotions around feeding my babies. I had moments of crying in desperation because I couldn’t get my obviously hungry daughter to latch on properly. I had some snuggly post breastfeed moments too. I have had bonding moments while bottle feeding that were nothing to do with what variety of white stuff was in the bottle! I was proud that Sofia had a lot of breast milk in her early months. I also felt really relieved that I wasn’t the sole source of my twins milk supply. I needed my husband to be able to help me to feed them especially during the stage where we were doing night feeds.
I have had some great breastfeeding support, particularly after having the twins. This is probably because I was in hospital for 7 days after having them and there were lots of people on hand who offered to help. A nurse on the recovery ward when I had my twins gave me a couple of tips that really helped me get feeding established. I have also had some frankly rubbish breastfeeding support. I have experienced being enthusiastically applauded for trying to exclusively breastfeed my daughter when what I was asking for and needed was practical help with technique.
In hindsight I think I personally would have benefited from someone telling me during my first pregnancy that breastfeeding takes some skill and practice to establish. I didn’t really realised in those early days that my baby and I both needed to learn what the heck we were doing! Breastfeeding may be completely natural but my experience is that it doesn’t always come naturally. The boys on the other hand were pretty clued up and did seem to know how to latch on straight away. Having two really different experiences of trying to establish breastfeeding has made me realise how breastfeeding can be a completely different process depending on your baby.
I also don’t think it is an either or choice between breastfeeding or bottle feeding. All three of our kids have had a mixture of breast milk and formula. I don’t really remember combination feeding ever being mentioned in my antenatal classes or being presented as another option. For us it was the middle ground that we needed.
Ultimately I firmly believe that fed is best. My belief is based on my mixed experience of feeding our 3 kids. I feel like we have lived the pros and cons of breastfeeding and bottle feeding and the middle ground in between. People make their feeding choices based on so many different factors and combinations of factors – medical reasons, social reasons, practical reasons and more. I think sometimes the right support and information can make all the difference, sometimes support and information are probably not the deciding factor. I considered various different things when I decided how to feed my daughter. I considered a different mixture of factors when making the same decision for my twin boys. Obviously there was two of them to care for, my health situation was different and we had their older sister and her needs in the mix as well.
When the boys were about 5 days old a very kind nurse said to me something along the lines of “No one who is giving you their advice and opinions on feeding right now is going to be in your home at 4.00 am in the morning when you have two hungry babies that need to be fed.” I think she gave us some golden advice when she said focus on what is going to work for you, your kids and your family and stick with that. This is exactly what we did and I’m pretty happy with the mixed up approach that we took.