“I was so proud of you for bottle feeding” – how often do you hear those words? I was told this the other day and for the first time, I felt proud of myself. I wasn’t made to feel ashamed of the choices I made, I felt confident. The pressure as a mum to breastfeed is unbelievable, and the guilt for not doing so is almost unbearable. So much so, that I felt the need to lie to people, or to explain my way out of why I wasn’t exclusively breastfeeding. Some people simply don’t have a choice. Others have a choice, and still choose not to. We are all doing what is best for us. So long as mum and baby are happy – so long as baby is fed and healthy – why does it matter? There is so much to feel scared, guilty, or unsure about as a new mum, why add to these feelings, and make someone feel even more guilty over the way that they are feeding?
Stanley was diagnosed with a cleft at our 20 week scan, so we knew prior to his arrival that breastfeeding may simply be impossible. As such, I hand expressed colostrum antenatally so that if he couldn’t latch on when born, at least he could have this via a syringe. As we anticipated, he really struggled to latch on, but we had a jolly good go at it over his first few weeks. Life pretty much revolved around feeding when he arrived – it could sometimes take a good couple of hours to feed him with his special squeezy bottles, and if he wasn’t being fed via the bottle, I would be expressing, or attempting to breastfeed. We had so much wonderful help with breastfeeding, and expressing, but it was so difficult, and Stanley would get so frustrated. We used a combination of pretty much everything during this time – he was syringe fed, cup fed, bottle fed, breastfed, and fed with formula! But eventually, after a few weeks we accepted the fact that formula feeding with his squeezy bottles were the way forward. Everything else was just too much. Formula feeding was less stressful on everybody. I felt so incredibly guilty making this decision, and prolonged making the decision because of the guilt, but when I finally did, I also felt a sense of relief. Things suddenly became easier, mostly because I was more relaxed and Stanley was spending less time frustrated! At this point, I told myself that if I was ever in a similar position again, and breastfeeding wasn’t working out (for whatever reason), I wouldn’t put us through that stress again – at least not for as long as I did with Stanley.
I also expressed antenatally before Nora arrived (as a result of being diagnosed with Gestational Diabetes, and colostrum helping with blood sugars)… and I also hoped that I would exclusively breastfeed. However, with the rush of her arrival, we forgot to take the expressed colostrum to hospital with us, and as such, when she failed her second blood sugars, a midwife asked us if she could give Nora some formula. My response? Of course! This poor midwife appeared almost reluctant to ask us about formula feeding, as though we would have been offended by her suggestion to do such a thing! If it is going to help her blood sugars… why the hell wouldn’t we want what’s best for her? Yes, in an ideal world we would have remembered to bring the colostrum to hospital… but that’s life. Here started the guilt again (I am learning that feeling guilty is a permanent feeling when you’re a mum)! Both me and Carl (hubby), were feeling incredibly guilty about forgetting the colostrum… perhaps her blood sugars would have been okay if only we had remembered to bring it. As a result of this, I was combination feeding from the offset with Nora – breast, bottle, syringe, cup, formula, expressing… doing all that I could! I did this for the first couple of weeks, but breastfeeding just wasn’t going as I had hoped. Nora was struggling… I was struggling… it was painful… and so I made the same decision to stop. I expressed what I could manage, but since then, she has been purely formula fed.
Despite what we went through with Stanley, and telling myself that I wouldn’t put us through the stress again, I still did (albeit for not quite so long). I still felt incredibly guilty about making the decision to stop expressing… to stop trying to breastfeed… guilty for giving up on her and not providing her with “the best”. It’s tough, especially with the pressure from other people. I was repeatedly questioned on my choice of feeding Nora (by one midwife in particular) whilst in hospital… it felt as though I was doing the wrong thing. After giving birth, with hormones all over the place, and already feeling guilty over a number of different things… you simply don’t need the added pressure from others.
What a relief it was when I finally met a community midwife that, in response to telling her how Nora is being fed, told me: “stop! I don’t need to know anymore! I don’t care what you’re doing, so long as you’re happy and baby is ok“! Funnily enough, this midwife had a grandson with a cleft, so perhaps she had more awareness of the struggles of feeding and what we had to go through. But, why don’t more people have this outlook? If a new mum can’t, or simply chooses not to, breastfeed… make her feel proud too! Whatever you do, whether you have a choice or not, you are doing the best for your little one… and so long as they are happy, who cares!
Sleeping. “Is she good for you?” A question that I, along with all other parents of newborns, are repeatedly asked. This question usually translates to: “is she sleeping for you?”. I have also had (in Nora’s mere 3 weeks of life!): “Is she sleeping through yet?”! She is 3 weeks old, and I am glad that she isn’t sleeping through… she needs her food! It scares me to hear people proudly announce that their baby slept through the night from birth. Newborn babies need feeding regularly, and particularly in their first few nights. People thought we were crazy when Stanley was born… we set our alarm during the night to ensure that he wasn’t going too long between feeds (not that we needed an alarm!)
Co-sleeping. Before Stanley arrived into the world, I was convinced that we wouldn’t co-sleep. The thought of it petrified me because I thought that this was one of the most unsafe things that we could do. How my outlook changed when Stanley arrived! I now know that it can be safe to co-sleep, so long as you follow the advice, and as such, we spent much of Stanley’s first year co-sleeping. He simply wouldn’t settle elsewhere (possibly because of the amount of skin-to-skin we had). Stanley pretty much became another limb during the day, and so how could we expect this to change at night?! When Stanley transitioned to his big bed, we started to lay with him until he falls asleep. The time it takes for him to fall asleep (and us being in his bed) has gradually reduced… and the time at which he wakes up and runs through to our bed has gradually got later. To start with, he would sometimes wake up before midnight and end up in our bed, but now… he sleeps through usually until 5 or 6am. With Nora, we knew of the likelihood of co-sleeping again, but wanted to make it a bit easier (and possibly safer) on us all this time. As such, we bought the Snuggle Nest. We are in love with the Snuggle Nest! It fits nicely between us in bed, and is easy to carry around the house, or take out with us. We even manage to squeeze the four of us in bed with the Snuggle Nest (admittedly it’s a bit of squeeze!), and Stanley loves it! Stanley loves climbing in with Nora, and he loves to press the button for the music when Nora starts to cry!
Crying. (Not!) surprisingly… Nora cries. Mostly, this is when she struggles with wind and reflux (or if we’re not quite quick enough with milk!) – but this doesn’t make her a “bad” or “difficult” baby. Yes, it can be hard, especially when you can clearly see that she is in pain, but this is not her fault. This doesn’t make Nora difficult – this means it is difficult for her, and difficult for us to see and not be able to help. She is a new baby, getting to grips with lots of new things, and this isn’t easy. The sensations that she feels are all new to her, and as our GP said, some babies just make more of a meal out of things than others: “oh look at me everyone… I’m having a poo now, and I want you all to know about it!” So yes, she cries, and sometimes a lot(!), but this is just part of being a newborn baby… not that she is “bad”.
What do we do in response to Nora (and Stanley) crying? We cuddle them, and make sure that they know we are there for them. No matter what the reason… whether Nora is crying for food, or attention… or Stanley is crying because he’s been told no, or is scared… I want them to know that we will always be there for them. So, I am always there for a cuddle, no matter what, we love them all the same.