Happy breastfeeding! You’re never leaving.

Just wait for me to adopt a defensive foetal posture before I say this.

Ok, I’m ready.

I really dislike breastfeeding.

Bear with me a minute. I know the benefits. I believe in them. That’s why I keep plugging (nippling?) on. But I am not a glorious earth mother overflowing with milk and honey. I have little babies and what I give them doesn’t make them larger. Oh, I dream of thigh rolls, chubby hands and wrists and endless double chins. They never arrive. If you graded my milk on a McDonald’s menu scale, it’d be one crappy lettuce leaf from one of those salads that nobody gets because nobody goes to McDonald’s for salad, do they?

Me and breastfeeding, we have a history, and it’s less of a misty Mills and Boon romance and more a War of the Roses. A couple of years ago I arrived at a doctor’s office with a tiny, jaundiced seven-week-old, and sobbed all over a doctor I’d never met. She was so, so kind. She sent me off to hospital knowing that it would terrify me further – which it did – but did so as gently as possible. They were all lovely, the doctors and midwives and nurses, but they all had to tell me that the only thing wrong with him was that he was hungry. Ravenously hungry. That was why he was ill.

He’d been hungry all this time. I was horrified.

It felt like a stinging failure, then, and so did the remedy they suggested to fatten him up quickly (topping up with formula milk). But despite feeling like I’d fallen at the first fence of motherhood, I started to love the certainty of that bottleful he downed after every feed. BAM, there’s another five ounces. I could see it turning into chub before my eyes. He was full, and happy, and he slept. After a while, I started to wonder why it felt like a failure at all. Why was it a badge of honour, exclusive breastfeeding? If I wasn’t making enough – and clearly I wasn’t – and we were lucky enough to live in a situation where extra food was just hanging around on supermarket shelves, then why on earth was I being advised to sit at home week after week, trying pointlessly to make more while Henry went hungry? Why was it that I told other mothers about his formula as though I were apologising, when secretly I only rejoiced in that double chin?

Two years on, we are back in the Wars of the [boob]Roses. If you gathered together a hundred babies in order of size then Teds, bless his skinny chicken legs, would be second-smallest. I have spent these four weeks feeding him every time he squeaks, on sofas, on beds, hour after midnight hour. I am sore and exhausted and anxious for him. There is something about sitting in mess, wearing half a t-shirt and trying to fill a ravenous boy, that makes me feel like I’ll be tidying and refereeing tantrums and endlessly breastfeeding for the rest of my natural life. He’s holding onto his weight gain for now. For now. I am keeping a steely eye on him, and me.

Because, this time, I know that the reason every health visitor gives me different advice is because every baby is different. I think about that poor girl sobbing in a doctor’s office, and part of me is angry that I ever allowed it to get that far. I do not want to feel like I need to apologise, because there are no tests to pass or fences to leap, with newborns. It’s only important that your baby is fat and happy, and you are sane and happy, and there are more ways than one to make it so. This time I am more inclined to listen to my gut. My gut says, do everything you can to fill that baby up.

I will, because I think we should throw away the badges of honour. I don’t want one. I just want a double chin.


17 thoughts on “Happy breastfeeding! You’re never leaving.

  1. I could hug you, really I could! I hated Breast feeding too and didn’t continue trying more than a few days of agonizing nipple chewing with my first, I had mitigating circumstances but one, that sounds like excuses and two, didn’t we all just give birth?!
    In the hospital when I asked a nurse to move to formula she really and truly said the following to me.. “you do know formula is dangerous for your baby?” I gave this 60 something woman a right look and parroted it back to her, this woman who probably birthed in the 70,s at the height of the bottle-feeding frenzy, she apologised and said she had to say that. Ridiculous! It’s formula not poison.
    With my second I lay my head on my bought from home pillow and watched my hubby give Jake the first feed. It was a blissful bit of teamwork.
    I wish so many breastfeeders were not so evangelical about it all. Let the question be, is your baby feeding well? Not how.

  2. Children really are so different. It’s crazy how different they can be…and not just from different mothers. No, children from the SAME mother (and father) can be so different with their needs.
    Our first was “normal”; she nursed every three hours, took a bottle of expressed milk from my husband when I worked part-time. Easy peasy. She was 20 lbs by 12 months.
    Our second was a chubster! BIG boy (20lbs by 6 months!!) Guess what. Same mama and same milk. He nursed more often – more night feedings, but overall, not a huge difference.
    Our third has been kind of small despite the frequency of feeds. He will be two years old in Sept. He still breastfeeds on demand, including in the middle of the night.
    Had I not been able to nurse him every hour or two for the first several months, I would not have been able to breastfeed without the use of formula. All of situations are different. Definitely no judgement from me even though I am very much pro-breastfeeding because of the amazing benefits to mom and baby. Formula isn’t poison. It can be extremely important. 😀 xoxo

    1. Wow, thank you for this – I love hearing from people who’ve had lots of experience and come out with their sanity intact 🙂 And I completely agree – each baby is different, your circumstances change, and you just always have to do what works for all of you. Thank you! xx

  3. Hear! Hear! I had exactly the same issue with my skinny little Samuel. He cried and cried because he was hungry and I tried and tried to fill him up but I couldn’t. I came to hate breastfeeding. I felt like a failure when I started the formula top-ups because I’d put so much pressure on myself, but now, a few months’ down the line, I have absolutely no idea why. He’s happy and he’s chubby and that’s all that matters. And if I’m lucky enough to have a second baby, I’d do it all again in a heartbeat for that double chin. Such a brilliant post – your blog is fantastic.

    1. Oh, this all resonates so much. So glad your little Samuel is thriving. One of the nicest things about having a second baby is that I can look at my toddler and see that he’s just fine – feeding him the formula had no negative effects on his health, weight or anything else. So this time around I worry a lot less. Thanks so much for coming!

  4. Such important life’s lessons in a blog post. Thank you Rachel. I now know what to expect and why babies can be cranky or get jaundice. Ofcourse keeping them filled is the main goal. Regardless of how you achieve it. Right now I’m banking on my own body source, if it is not sufficient, I will definitely not hesitate to go for the next best thing.

  5. I think this is a very brave blogpost to write when people are highly emotional about breastfeeding. I am VERY pro-breastfeeding and am fully prepared (and have) to support friends and family as well as sticking up for complete strangers who wish to breastfeed in public HOWEVER….I didn’t breastfeed. I tried twice. Twice I failed. It was too painful after 2 C-sections. I had to reduce pain somewhere. I do think my anatomy wasn’t quite right and my babies weren’t naturally good at it, I don’t know. I can speculate all I like. I did ensure they had the first days worth and I expressed a pathetic amount for about 4 weeks with my first, which helped my guilt a bit. SEcond time around though I just never had the time to express. Great post. X

    1. Yes! Completely agree. I am very pro-breastfeeding but find it immensely difficult. And you have to draw a line somewhere when it’s not working – for your family’s sake as well as yours.

      Thank you so much for sharing!

  6. I love the fetal position bit in the first sentence. I hated breast-feeding my first because he was tongue tied and his Ped wouldn’t clip it. The first week – I’ve never hurt so bad. Then it got better, and I felt like a hero. I reserve the right to sing the praises of breast-feeding, but I will never belittle a woman for using formula. The formula companies irk me because they use terribly unethical tactics, especially in developing countries…stepping off soap box…but I’m a formula Mom too. When my second was four months old I ran out. I worked and prayed and counseled and cried and tried everything. I had a handful of friends I didn’t know about before who I found out had run out too. Finally the Spirit let me know I’d done enough, and I went to the store and bought my daughter some food, knowing it was the right thing to do. I LOVE how you said, “It’s only important that your baby is fat and happy, and you are sane and happy, and there are more ways than one to make it so. ” I say super kudos for giving what you can first. It’s hard not to switch to formula entirely before you have to. Whatever you choose, you rock, and both of your boys are lucky to have you!

    1. Thank you so much! I love, love hearing other people’s experiences. There’s so much variation, which I think makes it even sillier to think that there’s a one-size-fits-all way of doing things.

      I lasted for eight months, mix-feeding with Henry, until he decided he didn’t want to feed from me any more (by then he was eating food too, of course). Edward is worse – I’m already getting to the stage where it’s not really helping either of us. I think you have to do exactly as you did: everything you can to find something that works for both of you.

  7. confession: nursing for me was much like pregnancy and labor — a means to an end. i wanted the wee one badly enough but powering through the not-so-nice bits were just part of the gig. jayden detested nursing, chelsea was fine with it and ethan loved it. but they were all very much finished well before the doctor-recommended year mark so i was pleased to let them wean themselves and we moved on to an easier way of living days and nights. so happy that you are honest and confident in how you approach your reality as many mothers are not, which leads to so much frustration and heartache.

    1. It’s such an easy trap to fall in to, isn’t it? Because we all want so much to do a good job, and we’re so susceptible to feeling like we’re not.

      You know, the more women I talk to, the more I find didn’t like breastfeeding very much. I think we may be the majority.

  8. Very interesting article. More and more women seem to be choosing not to breastfeed these days. It is obviously a major and emotional issue for many new mums.

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