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It is health that is the real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.

Mahatma Gandhi.

I Don’t Feel Guilt for Not Exclusively Breastfeeding

Baby domA lot of pregnant women put a huge amount of their time into their birth plans and getting educated about their birth options. As much as this is really important, it’s also just a few days. What is often overlooked is the first few weeks of motherhood with a newborn. These first few moments and weeks are incredibly important for the breastfeeding journey. There are so many things that influence a breastfeeding journey, latch issues, supply issues, alertness of baby and mum, health issues, tongue ties and deciphering 10 different midwives/nurses’ opinions. Also, don’t forget the now grandmother’s opinion and how she did it. You can read my pregnancy and birth story in previous blogs but because of those reasons, our breastfeeding journey was challenging. Dominic wasn’t able to breastfeed let alone bottle feed because of how premature he was and so that in turn affected my supply. Even though I was pumping around the clock it’s not the same for increasing supply when you give birth very early, are medicated and most importantly, unable to hold your baby. This greatly affects hormone production and therefore supply. We managed to at least give him breast milk but there was a long road ahead until we could successfully breastfeed. Now you probably think this blog is about the importance of breastfeeding. Actually, it’s not. It’s about the importance of a mother’s mental health around breastfeeding. Many women, they struggle in the early days to breastfeed and often for a combination of the reasons above. 

Breastfeeding is very hard, the first 3 months, a mother’s supply is established and so it can be quite hard to find the solution for you, your baby and your situation. It’s meant to be this beautiful bonding experience in which you nourish your child. In many cases this is true but if you are reading this thinking, I’m more stressed and anxious than blissfully bonding, then read on because I’m talking to you.

I did multiple online breastfeeding courses, I personally knew lactation consultants, I have a world of friends and family who successfully breastfeed for years into their children’s lives and I honestly didn’t really consider it could go a different way. I am so grateful for learning all I did in pregnancy about breastfeeding because it made my decisions reasonably guilt-free. Maybe it was learning to surrender in pregnancy that helped me through my decision process. I’ve been raised to love and look out for myself and stay educated and I knew I hadn’t given up without trying all I could. Some mother’s out there will judge what I’m going to say next because they perceive it as selfish and I’ll tell you why later that it’s the ultimate unselfish act. I ended up bottle feeding because it was too overwhelming for me to breastfeed. I chose myself over the benefits of breast milk for Dom. 

I was asked while being given a spinal block in surgery “what formula do you want to use?” I hadn’t even considered formula as an option, certainly not what I wanted to decide whilst I was being stabbed in the spine with a needle! Unfortunately for us the whirlwind of a premature baby really left us with what’s medically necessary trumping our ideals. Add a few medications, lack of sleep plus the rushed circumstances, I didn’t have time to research and make an informed decision. Lucky for me I’d already done research on goat milk formula vs cows milk for clients. I chose goat milk and one that was easily accessible given the situation. I chose to not push for breastfeeding, this was to help Dom gain weight faster and so he didn’t have to work too hard to fill his belly as well as regulate his environment and grow. Breastfeeding is actually quite tiring for any new baby and so tube feeding was our best option so he could rest and better battle the life outside the womb that he was too young for. 

My dream was to exclusively breastfeed Dom for at least a year because I knew the many health benefits. What I didn’t realise was the health sacrifices for myself and consequently, this affected my family’s health. Not just Dom but my husband too. Postnatal depression is something so rife and only just becoming a regularly spoken about topic. I, fortunately, wasn’t postnatally depressed but I sure would have been if I kept up on the path I was on, forcing something that was clearly not working. I could barely turn on the pump anymore, I was asking Ryan to do it coz I just couldn’t press the torture button anymore. I was up all night crying and getting so mad with myself and Dom because he refused to latch and it was painful and tiring. I was in turn mad for being impatient but there really isn’t any nice way to put it. Anyone who’s ever struggled to breastfeed will tell you, it’s soul-crushing. For the most part, I was frustrated at Dom because he could do it but refused because the bottle was easier, this affected my supply and he was so small I couldn’t push him too hard. I tried different teats, bottles, positions, and times of the day and all I got was more confusion and upset. I went back to my books, and I spoke to consultants, trying to find answers. Eventually, I handed him the bottle and went and pumped, he instantly was a happy baby. Not a problem in the world but a few hours later I’d try to latch him and the whole world would know about it. It wasn’t blissful, it wasn’t calm and I certainly wasn’t bonding with my baby. I was resentful towards him for not “getting” this beautiful natural thing. 

So the reason for this blog is to remind mothers out there that yes breastfeeding is important but your mental health, in my opinion, is much more important. If you aren’t enjoying it for whatever reason then find a solution, for you, it might be pumping, it could be a formula, it could be half and half because that may suit your supply better but either way, you are going to bond and love your baby way more when you let go and just enjoy feeding them with a bottle and not have that few hourly fights, day and night, trying to breastfeed. Definitely give it a red hot crack but if you are a couple of months in and still anxious and crying while feeding your baby then think back to this blog, and hear my voice saying it’s okay to bottle feed. You will feel the benefits, the relief and the healing can take place. Motherhood is hard enough. You don’t have to be a super heroine you just have to learn to surrender, that some things aren’t going to be what you ideally thought they would have. You are definitely no less of a mother for making that decision. I’d argue you are a strong mother for making those tough decisions. Belting yourself up emotionally behind closed doors is not something you’d ever encourage your child to do, yet here you are. Choosing your health over your baby seems selfish but you can’t pour from an empty cup, its an incredibly strong thing to do. Start the lessons now to your child, they are listening, practice what you preach. Teach them that mummy looks after herself so she can give to the family. 

That’s why it’s the ultimate act of unselfishness because you can show up for your family 100 times better if you aren’t anxious and confused. If you are confident in your decisions and are at peace with your baby when feeding, they will recognise this and be calmer too. This removes emotional trauma to bub and yourself when you are gazing into each other’s eyes, calmly letting the time pass as you give your baby a bottle. 

If you have any concerns or burning questions please come and say hi at the Karrinyup Wellness Centre and I can help connect you with a lactation specialist or a tongue tie specialist or maybe we can work on your baby’s neck or cranium issues. 

Bye for now!

Yours in health
Dr Shinae Brownrigg

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