Saturday, November 19, 2011

The truth about failed breastfeeders

Our lovely second boy was born just over a week ago and really has been a pretty great baby so far...except that he won't breastfeed. He can't attach, he won't suck, and consequently I'm not making much milk, but he's a big and hungry baby (born 9lb 2oz). So I've had to face the fact that this little guy is going to be formula fed plus whatever I can pump out, which in the absence of a sucking baby is not a great deal.

When I'm at my most rational, this is all fine with me. I had the same situation with Leo and I can now see that he has turned out healthy and happy which is all that you can ask for in a child. However, when I am feeling a little bit more fragile (which is not an uncommon side effect of the sleep deprivation that comes with a newborn), any question or comment about why I'm not breastfeeding instantly has me wanting to burst into tears. This is not to say that I can't recognise that the questions from family and friends are well-meaning or just genuinely curious about why my one-week-old baby is having a bottle. It's just that it is perhaps a more emotive subject for me, and I assume other failed breastfeeders, than would be instantly apparent. Because of this, I just dread anyone even raising the topic with me even if I know the intention is in no way sinister. I think it's sort of in the same vein as asking people who are desperately trying to conceive why they haven't had kids yet - but obviously that issue is more sensitive again.

The thing is, I really wanted to breastfeed and I promise I gave it a red hot go. I know as well as anybody that breast is best and that it is the cheapest and most nutritious way to feed a baby. I won't go into graphic detail but it's fair to say that pretty much the only thing I did in my four days in hospital was try to get milk out of me and make the baby drink that milk. I know that I am reading into people's questions more than is intended but I can't help feeling that there is always a suggestion that there is more that I could have done and if only I would persevere it would happen.

With Leo I went to two breastfeeding clinics, spoke to five lactation consultants, took prescription medicine and herbal supplements, and expressed milk every three hours to get my supply up (which really messes with your sleep) - and now I know that this sort of perseverance doesn't necessarily make it happen. It also results in you being more tired and stressed than you would otherwise be with a newborn. Not to mention that on top of this you are spending hours sterilising a mountain of breast pump and bottle feeding paraphernalia.

I guess all I am trying to get off my chest (pun intended) is that for new mums struggling to breastfeed, and no doubt short on sleep, regardless of the intention, it is worth steering clear of lengthy discussions around the benefits of breast milk. The truth is that we know the benefits of breastfeeding and we want to do it but if we can't achieve it, at least we can move forward to raising a happy, healthy child.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Eleanor, I am a friend of Vicky's and have met you a few times in the past.
    Very well said!
    I too struggled with breastfeeding number two too, not for want of trying...She had some sort of protein allergy, and was terribly windy and failed to put on weight. I managed to express for 8 weeks, making about 25ml a day. Bubs went back on the boob about 4 weeks ago, and I have just begun a course of Motillium to inc my supply... and yes, it has been stressful and time consuming, and not at all what a new Mum to two needs... there are so many other things to have to worry about!
    Good on you for persevering... what else could you have done!
    Oh and love your blog... you write really well!