After a wonderfully supportive response from sharing her feeding story over on Instagram, Hanna aka @mooncat_15 has kindly decided to write her full account; detailing the struggles, the continued challenges and what she has learnt along the way.
“A first time mother, eager to get everything right, I was only in my second trimester when I began to fear that I was less bonded with my unborn baby than other mothers. I heard expectant mothers gushing about feeling their baby’s kicks, nudges, and rolls, and about how close it made them feel with the precious child that they were not yet able to meet. I had an anterior placenta, and not just any anterior placenta, but a very large one. It covered the entire front of my uterus, significantly muffling foetal movements, to the extent that I only felt a handful of subtle kicks throughout my pregnancy. The difficulty I experienced was not simply that I felt I was missing out on something so natural, but that I feared I would not be able to detect a potential problem with my pregnancy if one were to occur. Not even yet a mother, I was already questioning my abilities as one.
It astounds me just how much pressure we can put on ourselves through pregnancy and motherhood. There seems to be a growing trend that ‘natural’ is best. Many of us strive to avoid inductions, epidurals, and caesarean sections; we want to exclusively breastfeed our babies; we want to do what ‘nature intended’. However, pregnancy, labour, and motherhood are unpredictable – things do not always go the way we envisioned them. We need to remember that that’s okay.
During my pregnancy, the decision to breastfeed seemed like an obvious one. I diligently attended all the antenatal classes. I carefully read all the leaflets, factsheets, and posters, distributed throughout the hospital at every location that a pregnant woman might attend. These resources taught me all about the benefits of breastfeeding, both for the baby and mother. During the classes, we were even warned of the financial impact of formula feeding. The decision to exclusively breastfeed was portrayed as a no-brainer. ‘Why wouldn’t you breastfeed?’
Despite the potential issue not being touched on in any of the hour long classes or in any of the extensive reading materials, I was aware that some women are physically unable to breastfeed. Having noticed little to no increase in my breast size or tenderness throughout my pregnancy, I expressed my concerns to a midwife during my third trimester. I was met with only smiles and reassurances that “every woman can breastfeed”. Had I been more prepared, perhaps the breastfeeding grief that I experienced would not have hit me as hard as it did.
From day 3 postpartum, I was supplementing with formula, owing to a very low milk supply. I will never forget sitting on the hospital bed in tears, trying to express breastmilk into a tiny syringe. The paediatrician asked me to express 30ml, and I couldn’t even manage. It was excruciating, exhausting, and even humiliating. I simply could not understand why my body was not working as it should be. Upon my discharge from hospital, lactation consultants, midwives, and GPs were all veryencouraging – “your milk will come in soon, you will see, you just have to keep at it”. So I did. I tried every avenue, determined not to be defeated – frequent pumping, fenugreek, domperidone, dietary changes, absolutely anything that anybody could think of.
Breastfeeding was, at times, physically painful, and sometimes brought me to tears. Despite this, lactation consultants assured me that my son’s latch was fine, and so I continued to push through the discomfort. I now look back with some regret, as I realise just how much of my energy and emotion I was putting into this gruelling combination feeding schedule. A breastfeed could take up to an hour, which was immediately followed by a formula feed, then 30 minutes of pumping. If there was any spare time left between feeds, I would fill it by pumping some more, remaining hopeful that my supply would increase. After 3 months of this routine, my milk supply eventually dried up, and Oliver became exclusively formula fed.
The breastfeeding grief that I felt was compounded by frequent reminders that I was not providing my son with the “best” form of nutrition – social media posts, the back of the formula tin, even the information that came with my bottle steriliser. Despite this, I knew that Oliver would be happier without the stress of inefficient breastfeeding, and that I was doing the best thing for him. FED is always best. However, even this knowledge could not prepare me for what was to come.
Since 7 weeks of age, Oliver had been a fussy baby at both the breast and bottle, showing symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease. GPs and paediatricians reassured me that this was normal and that he would soon grow out of it. As a first time mother, I trusted in this, and had faith that things would improve over time. Unfortunately, by the time Oliver reached 3.5 months of age, his feeding issues had progressed into a bottle aversion. Feeding became extremely difficult, exhausting, and heart-breaking all at once.
The need for a mother to nourish her baby is not only logical, it’s instinctive. Being unable to provide my son with adequate nutrition without causing him distress was devastating. We struggled to obtain a diagnosis for Oliver, with the majority of health care professionals assuming that we were just overcautious first time parents.
Conversely, others acknowledged the bottle aversion, but actually questioned the bond that I had with my son as a result. While I knew that their accusations were entirely unfounded, through all of this, it was difficult not to feel like I was failing at motherhood. I had finally come to terms with being unsuccessful at breastfeeding, but had never expected to be unsuccessful at bottle feeding.
It wasn’t until we showed videos of Oliver’s feeds to a specialist that we were able to reach a diagnosis and commence treatment. Oliver is now on medication for his reflux, as well as a hydrolysed formula for suspected cow’s milk protein allergy. Unfortunately, he is still not fully over his aversion, and to this day at 5.5 months of age, the majority of feeds are still challenging.
Sometimes I find a new distraction for him that works – a talking toy, music, a different rocking motion, a new location. However, their effects are unfortunately mostly temporary. Feeds can take an hour, sometimes have to be abandoned when they have barely begun, and do not fit the typical bonding experience that other mothers speak of.
I would have loved to be telling you that Oliver’s feeding issues are now resolved. In fact, I was actually putting off writing this until I could. However, I want to tell my story regardless, because I want any other mother struggling with feeding in any way to know that she is not alone. I want to reassure her that feeding does not define her bond with her baby or her worth as a mother.
With each day, I am learning that there is so much more to the mother-baby bond than just feeding, in the same way that there is more to it than our experiences during pregnancy and labour. We bond with our babies every day in so many different ways – cuddles, playing, reading books together, shared smiles and giggles. Feeding comprises only a small percentage of the time we spend together.
I no longer feel like I am failing at motherhood. In fact, I feel like I am succeeding in spite of the obstacles. Oliver is otherwise a healthy, loving baby, who smiles, laughs, plays, and is so happy. The countless precious moments that we share outside of feed times by far outweigh the challenges. Our bond is untarnished.
Feeding by any method, however simple or however challenging, is irrelevant to the relationship a mother has with her baby. No matter how you feed your baby – bottle, breast, or tube – you are doing something amazing, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.”
Hanna, you are an amazing woman. You have clearly shown strength and resilience during such uncertain and daunting times with your darling son. New mothers and babies are so vulnerable; society, in particular healthcare professionals, need to recognise that the current communication and assumptions surrounding infant feeding is damaging, even harmful for some babies and mothers.
We continue to work towards change so that every mother has an individual, tailored approach alongside education on all methods of feeding.