Monday, 17 October 2016

Breastfeeding Advice vs. Breastfeeding Reality: Combination Feeding

This is a hugely controversial subject and I'm not looking for a debate but really feel the need to share my experience.

As a pregnant woman you are asked again and again if you'll be breastfeeding or bottle feeding. Again and again and again. After about the 5th antenatal checkup where half the appointment was taken up talking about breastfeeding, I remember thinking 'when are we going to start talking about.. oh, you know.. like.. the baby... and me... and the birth, and all that stuff?'

I had no problem making my choice! It was going to be breast of course! I didn't need the drip feeding of reasons why- I instinctually knew it was what I wanted to do!

The NHS has a fantastic support system in place for feeding issues. It really does- you are NOT left to struggle alone, there's always a professional available on the phone day or night, and support groups on every street corner! In fact, it seemed like complete overkill until I did start to have issues with baby feeding- I couldn't work out what all the fuss was about... you just stick your boob in their face when they cry don't you?

For a lot of women, yeah that is all you do! 3 out of the 6 women in my antenatal class are exclusively breastfeeding with no difficulty.Great stuff! But the other 3 of us haven't had it so easy and we have really needed that support system... and I'm so grateful for it!

But I also have an issue with it.

The government and the NHS actively discourage bottle feeding before 6 months. Ok, so I guess they would re-phrase that as actively encouraging breastfeeding... but in reality it amounts to the same thing.

I can't speak for women who have made it clear they will be bottle feeding, or women who can't breastfeed, but as a women who was open to breastfeeding- it was made perfectly clear what I was supposed to be doing.

And that was fine with me! That's what I wanted to do!

Unfortunately for me and my baby Robin that's also where the problem lay.

I struggled. Oh my god I struggled. Robin wanted to feed NON-STOP. I had such badly cracked nipples by day 3 Robin had my blood in his nappy and I was in so much pain one night that my partner had to make an emergency trip to Tesco to do what we had both sworn we weren't going to do: buy formula. I was in such a state that he took Robin and the formula and camped out downstairs. When I did feed Robin formula myself I cried. I resented it. It was made even worse when after about a week of combination feeding, Robin started refusing my breast.

Then at 2 weeks old, Robin went to the tongue tie clinic where we discovered his tongue was 100% tied, meaning he couldn't use it properly to suckle, and he had to have it cut. Believe me, this was more traumatic for me than him! But then followed a few days of messed up mealtimes as he had to re-learn how to suck... and a good week and a half of grumps while the wound healed!

This was when I really started having to call in that support network. I was SO reliant on the advice I was given in those difficult early days: I really had no idea what I was doing, all I knew was that I had a very unhappy baby who was crying most of the day and night... and I didn't want to bottle feed him.

So I listened to the advice I was given, I looked into combination feeding as an option... and the overwhelming message was that I needed to ditch that bottle! One profesional told me just to stop the bottle feeding completely. Cold turkey. Another told me to take a few days to do absolutely nothing but breastfeed: camp on the sofa and don't go out or do anything, until I'd 'got my supply up' and 'established breastfeeding'.

I did everything I was told and it was NOT fun. I didn't have the time or energy to do a bloody thing! If it wasn't for my partner coming home from work to cook me dinner and take Robin for as long as he was able, I wouldn't have slept, eaten, or showered. It sounds crazy, like I threw my life away... but it was what I'd been told was the important thing to do: not forever but just till we'd established a pattern.

Sadly though, the only pattern we established was that Robin would feed from one side for aboout 10minutes, get grumpy, feed from the other side for 10minutes, get grumpy, I'd switch back and repeat this process for anything up to 2 hours till he started screaming, at which point I'd do everything I could think to calm him. Sometimes it would work, and he'd fall asleep in my arms, but more often than not he'd just cry until it was time to feed again. 24 HOURS A DAY.

I didn't know what was going on! Neither of us were getting much sleep because he wouldn't sleep for more than about an hour, unless he'd had a bottle. But I'd been advised to, and was trying to cut out the bottles! The health visitor had commented that he was 'greedy' so I'd only been letting him have a teeny bit of formula, if at all. At one point we got it down to 30ml in two days... but that did mean breastfeeding solidly all day!

Did he have colic? Reflux? An allergy? Was he in pain? Did I have a supply issue? Was he just a difficult baby? I kept going over and over these questions, but every time I brought them up with a professional I was just told he's totally normal, everything's fine, just keep doing what you're doing. You're doing really well!

But I wasn't! I was falling apart at the seams!

And this is when it slowly started dawning on us that maybe Robin was just hungry. In hindsight I can't believe it took so long for the penny to drop! The thing is, that had been my instinct all along. I kept repeating to the professionals that I didn't think I was making enough milk for him, but it was always the same answer: "it's supply and demand, the more you feed, the more you make, you make exactly enough milk for your baby's needs, you don't need to worry because he's clearly feeding fine, just keep going."

It was only really after his 6 week weigh-in that I decided once and for all I was going to ignore the advice and start feeding him regular bottles as well as breastfeeding. Despite being one of the tallest babies for his age (90th percentile) he was also one of the lightest (25th percentile, down from 50th). The health visitor wasn't worried about his failure to gain weight... but to me it was the evidence I needed to finally back up my concern that he needed more than just my breastmilk.

He didn't react that well to the increase in formula to be fair: he got a bad tummy and was poorly for almost a week, but with a switch to goats milk based formula, and some dioralite prescribed by a fab doctor, he quickly got better and when he did... WOW the change in him has been mind-blowing!
At last I was able to relax about giving him formula. The GP helped back me up. She was the first professional I'd spoken to who actually congratulated me on giving my baby formula, and told me outright and confidently 'the poor child's hungry. Give him more formula. You're still breastfeeding so he's still getting the benefits of it, it won't harm to increase his feeds, give him as much as he wants.'

It's such a contrast to everything I'd been told so far! Yeah, it sounds like common sense, but trust me when you find yourself responsible for this precious little life and the only thing you care about all of a sudden is making sure you're doing the best for them, you take what you're told VERY seriously. I had been told BREAST BREAST BREAST. I had been told my supply would decrease if I combination fed. I had been told my baby would find it confusing. That there was a higher risk of bacterial infections. That he wouldn't be getting the nutrients and immune boosters that would give him the best start in life.

You only have to read the NHS advice on combination feeding to see how biased their stance is.…/…/pages/combining-breast-and-bottle.aspx
Where is the positive information about how to combination feed? It's conspicuous only in its absence! And that's not the only biased advice: everywhere you look there are reasons not to bottle feed.

So what about those of us who need to? I know so many women who have been unable to exclusively breast feed. It's not uncommon!

I'm left looking back at all those weeks my baby was screaming in hunger (now I can see it was hunger, at the time I couldn't) while I stood frazzled after another sleepless night of constant breastfeeding, desperately trying to rock him calm... and I'm thinking... why didn't someone just say 'he's hungry, give him a bottle' instead of actively trying to STOP me from giving him one.

Now he breastfeeds for as long as he's happy, switching sides until he starts headbutting me and getting frustrated (which is actually hilarious to watch) and then he has as much formula as he wants! Typically it's 90-120mls about 6 times a day (he's 7 weeks old).Before he guzzled it like it was his first meal in weeks; both his little hands and feet clenched, and he would cry the second the bottle was empty and refuse to be put down. Now he savours it, he drinks slowly, taking breaths in between sips. He pulls away when he's had enough, and calmly lets us burp him, melting into our arms. He falls asleep, or if he's not sleepy, he entertains us with smiles and coos, and will happily sit in his rocker, or lie on his playmat.We've never had this before.

It's a sad thought really.

Come on, bottle feeding really isn't so bad, especially if you can breasfeed as well. I think it should be more accepted, especially by the feeding support professionals.

Bit said.

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