Breastfeeding: Breast is best, but don’t be a tit about it!

Breastfeeding is heavily championed by parenting groups and medical professionals. It’s a subject of huge controversy and I’ve seen close friends at each other’s throats discussing it. Breastfeeding is up there with religion when it comes to causing arguments and woe betide anyone who uses the internet to discuss it. Well buckle up folks, I’m opinionated and brazen enough to say what I think on the matter, from public breast feeding to the use of formula…

I want to start by saying that breastfeeding is ideal as far as the baby is concerned. Everyone knows this, no one can argue that fact and that’s not what my main issue is here. I have a big problem with how that fact is “marketed” and constantly shoved in every new parents’ face. Bully tactics are employed and, frankly, women are made to feel ashamed if they are unable to, or choose not to, breastfeed. As if they don’t have enough to worry about already. I’ll begin with our own experiences on it.

If you want to skip through our hospital-hell on breastfeeding click here to jump down to my opinions on public breastfeeding or click here to jump to my thoughts on breastfeeding vs formula feeding.

The first supper

In the minutes after Evelyn was born, and after some skin-to-skin time with Kate, the midwife helped her to latch on to Kate. It took a while but eventually the midwife was happy that there was a successful latch – Kate asked her to check again as the latch “didn’t feel quite right” but this was brushed off by the midwife. I suspect she put it down to inexperience, understandably, but it was a busy night for them and they needed the room. I wouldn’t know if something was correctly latched on to my nipple or not and at this moment Kate and I were as inexperienced as each other on the matter.

Kate was moved to the maternity ward with Evelyn – with her being born in the early hours I had to leave to give the other mums some privacy. I went home to try and get some sleep and be ready to come back as soon as I could the next morning. I’m a very still sleeper so the next morning I was able to literally slide sideways out of bed and it was already made – bonus. Good day so far, total man-points: 1.

newborn baby with father
It’s like falling in love all over again

The start of it

I got to the hospital to see Kate looking worried, tired and deflated. “What’s up?” I asked, “is everything ok?”.

“Not really” Kate said, “They never told me how often to feed her and I don’t think she’s latching on properly when I do try and feed her, she’s too lethargic. I’ve not slept, and she’s not fed at all”. Evelyn had slept most of the night, which was worrying. A nurse had come and confirmed her latching on again, despite Kate continuing to claim it didn’t feel as though Evelyn was latched on properly.

We had expected cries when the baby was hungry, but maybe the amniotic fluid was still filling her tiny stomach. She had thrown up most of the fluid now so surely it would become more obvious when she needed feeding. We remained hopeful, but Evelyn remained quiet.

I considered telling Kate about my cool bed-slide to cheer her up but decided it wasn’t the right time.

The patronising crochet boob

I voiced our concerns to the nurse, who had someone come in and talk to us about breastfeeding in a style suited to primary school kids. She was armed with a crochet breast and she wasn’t afraid to use it. We got nothing from that conversation. After explaining that Evelyn hadn’t fed properly since the early hours of the morning prior, the nurse expressed a couple of drops (literally) of colostrum from Kate and fed it to Evelyn. It didn’t look enough to be satisfying for her. It was such a little amount that I doubted it would reach her stomach – imagine trying to swallow a single drop of liquid – impossible! The professionals were happy though so who were we to argue?

Crochet breast
Very informative. This one is available at Etsy if you’re interested

The nurse expressed more colostrum into the syringe and fed Evelyn that day, in between failed breastfeeding attempts. Surely a newborn baby needs more. I was starting to get anxious now. It was time for me to leave, so I kissed Evelyn and Kate, skipped the nurse, and went home.

As a dad it was very confusing for me – I literally couldn’t fix this for Kate or Evelyn. No power tools or gadgetry would make this situation any easier. I figured the best thing I could do was what my intuition told me, and that was to listen to everything that was being said. Learn as much as I possibly could.

“They’ve taken Evelyn away”

At 23:30 I got a text message off Kate: “They’ve just taken Evelyn way. I have no idea where and they wouldn’t tell me anything except that they would be back in a few minutes. They were in a rush.”.

I was livid at this. How dare they! Taking a newborn baby away from her already-worried mum and not explaining anything was a ridiculous thing to do. All sorts raced through my mind – how were we sure that the woman was even a nurse! She left in such a hurry that it almost sounded like an escape. They brought Evelyn back 10 minutes later though and explained that they had given formula to her as she wasn’t feeding and was worryingly weak.

Right. That’s what we’ve been trying to f*cking tell you, genius. Kate literally said that from the first few minutes she was born but you’ve patronised her, told us it was all ok, then sent in the tit with the tit to show us. Also, why not give Kate the option of feeding Evelyn the formula, or at the very least take 5 seconds to explain what they were doing? We found out later that the nurses considered it a “perk of their job to have a cuddle with the babies in the staff room”. Are you actually f*cking serious? What is this?!

Frustrated man
Are you serious?

At least she’d been fed…

We did find some comfort in the fact that Evelyn had been given some nourishment, finally. She woke up hours later and was formula fed again, this time by Kate. I felt helpless at home but I’m glad I was away from the hospital, I could calm down before I went the next morning.

Kate spent that entire night trying to feed again, but Evelyn never took a single drop. Surely that was dangerous? The nurses just gave Kate that “keep persisting” line. Infuriating!

“We want to keep our daughter alive. Are we on the same page here?”

I had calmed down by the next morning, but still wanted answers so I asked the nurses what Kate had been asking them since Evelyn was born. I expected the same resistance to this question as Kate had got since the birth.

Me: “How long can Evelyn go on like this without feeding before it’s too dangerous for her and we have to give her formula? She’s not latching on properly.”

Nurse: “Oh just keep persevering.”

Me: “Ok, will do. But how long?”

Nurse: “She will be fine. Just persevere with trying to breastfeed and she will become established.”

Me: “Ok, will do. But how long – you know, like in number of hours how long? How many hours does Kate try and breastfeed her for before we have to give her formula?”

Nurse: “It’ll be fine, just…” –> I switched off at this point. This was pointless to the point of being irritating.

“Just persist. Persevere”

We were getting ambiguous answers, I can’t believe no one would answer us. Am I being unreasonable here? It’s a simple enough question, right? All we were getting was “persist, persevere”. A newborn is supposed to feed every two hours, it had been six!

What’s worse is that they wouldn’t allow us to keep the curtains around Kate’s bed closed, so they were forcing her to attempt to breastfeed with a room full of other people, a lot of them men. She wasn’t comfortable. None of this was conducive to adapting to new circumstances.

You can’t leave until you’ve established breastfeeding

Ok, I understand this one. They want to see that the baby is being fed properly before they will allow us novice parents home. So far though, it’s one-nil to us on that front. Kate knew Evelyn wasn’t feeding, but the staff were saying that she was. Evelyn’s screaming told us otherwise. A scream that would abate when she was put to the breast, only to arch her head back and scream more when she got no milk.

What made it worse was that they were refusing to give us any formula as a backup. We’d told them we wanted to breastfeed – that was best right? Wasn’t that what was best for our baby? Well it doesn’t seem it right now because it’s not working and she’s starving. It seems to us that this choice we had made was more of a sentencing. It was as if they were saying “you’ve made the choice to breastfeed, you’re not having a safety net of alternative nutrition for your newborn until she’s dangerously weak”.

Evelyn hadn’t fed again all day.

Barbed wire jail
We weren’t allowed to leave until we performed the impossible

The trolley dash

I’d had enough. I decided to take action myself and stole a couple of the ready-made formula bottles from the nurse’s trolley on the way back from the gents. They were the small ones with the teat already on. We fed Evelyn, left a few drops of the formula on her lips and told the nurse she had fed.

Listen, I’m not proud of this – but at the same time I am. It needed to be done, the staff were verging on incompetence with their advice and Evelyn was being starved to the point of being dangerously weak, then rushed off to be cuddled and fed by staff who thought it was an employee benefit to be able to do so!

It was necessary for us to lie and deceive in order to be able to get out of this madhouse. I understand if you think this was reckless, but at this point it became more about keeping her alive. We needed formula, but we were flat out denied it.

A few more of these sneaky feeds and they were happy that she was established. We could escape this prison of a hospital.

Home sweet home

We got home and stocked up on formula, having decided to combination-feed when necessary until breastfeeding had been successful and established. I spent £130 on an electronic breast pump to ensure milk production was efficient and constant. Kate was still trying to breastfeed a lot – prolonged feeds lasting an hour at a time all ended up with Evelyn arching her back and obviously in distress. A bottle of formula fixed this every time.

Kate was expressing 1oz after 90 minutes of being attached to that woman-milking machine. That’s not enough. A couple of times she was able to express enough to be able to feed Evelyn, and that felt good as she was at least getting some breastmilk, but this happened around six times at most over a one month period.

We contacted a support group, who had someone come out and help us. She was efficient and knowledgable, and as disgusted as we were about our hospital experience. She tried her best to help us, but after examining Evelyn she told us that she was tongue-tied (ankyloglossia). This was preventing her from latching on properly, and we were told that this was the reason behind our difficulties. She told us it was ok to stop trying to breastfeed – and the amount Kate was expressing was not enough. She was satisfied that Evelyn had been given at least a few feeds of breastmilk, but recommended that we give Evelyn formula going forward.

Baby and engagement ring
Much more settled at home

Relief

Kate cried. Tears of relief were flowing and washing away the frustration and confusion that had built up in the month since Evelyn was born. I was relieved, happy we’d got to the bottom of it and that Kate could relax and stop putting immense pressure on herself. Despite wanting to breastfeed, we had no issues with formula feeding and at least this way I could help out a lot more in terms of giving Kate time to pamper herself and get a bath etc.

I felt a lot more useful, more like a team rather than simply an observer. We formula-fed Evelyn from that point forward, and the lift in mood was palpable – even for Evelyn, who was now at least feeding regularly! I can’t help but blame the hospital staff for this, the support wasn’t there, only pressure.

Shortly after we switched to formula only, I returned the breast pump and stocked up on formula.

Baby on bed
Hunger satisfied, she was able to sleep!

Right, now that’s out the way let’s move on to the topics that are likely to get me into a lot of trouble on the internet…

Breastfeeding in public

You don’t have to wait long until breastfeeding makes the newspaper, tv or a viral article online. It’s a very touchy subject, and for good reason. There are heavily divided opinions on it and people get very militant in their statements on the matter.

Public breastfeeding

Let me be perfectly clear on this. If a woman is breastfeeding her child, leave her the hell alone. Do not look at her with disgust – if you think it’s disgusting then you are a repulsive idiot and you don’t have the IQ to understand any explanation I can offer, so move on.

You hear a lot about this. The most common statements are “It’s natural, it’s beautiful” or something similar. It just is what it is, it’s a woman feeding her baby and it has nothing to do with anyone else. If you want to make a fuss over it then that is weird and, quite frankly, a bit creepy.

However, in the interest of being absolutely honest here, I do think that breastfeeding women should make reasonable effort to cover up if at all possible when the baby is not attached. To clarify, I would deem a boob out and no baby attached for a length of time to be unreasonable. In the past I’ve not been totally clear on this and it’s been misunderstood, so I’ll use an anecdote to explain what I mean.

Before you send death threats…

Indulge me. As a young student I worked at an amusement park and there was a lady sat on a bench next to the ride I was operating. She slipped her vest to the side to reveal what any 19-year old lad would describe as a nicely-rounded breast. I was shocked and amused at the same time and, again being honest, I enjoyed the view. The lady gave me an incredulous look which I didn’t quite understand – she was the one sitting in public with her boob out!

She reached over to the pram at the end of the bench (which I hadn’t even noticed) and lifted her baby out of it. It dawned on me that she was about to feed the baby – I remember thinking “shit…I feel completely inappropriate now” before moving on with my day. She had to stand and take a step towards the pram to get the baby out, that’s how early she prepared herself. Thinking back now I think she was inappropriate in the look she gave me. She sat on a bench in public and released one boob – it wasn’t immediately obvious that the baby was there. It was weird – the baby wasn’t even in the equation so as far as I was concerned she was just exposing herself.

This is what I mean about reasonable efforts. I do not mean slipping into a sleeping bag every time you need to feed your child.

Cafés and restaurants

Again, this often makes the news. Women are asked to leave, cover up (unreasonably so) and even have it suggested to them that they should feed their baby in the toilets. This is disgusting. No woman should have to feed her baby in the toilets – it just doesn’t make any sense! These women are quite literally keeping the human race going and they’re being treated as second-rate citizens because of it? Get a grip.

However (there’s that word again), I do think that these staged breastfeeding demonstrations are a little bit ridiculous. What do they achieve in the long run? It’s not educating the ignorant on the issues that breastfeeding women face, it’s just reiterating their prejudice to them. If someone asked a person suffering with Tourette’s to stop swearing, how effective would it be to have hundreds of people surround them and shout profanities? Not very. Surely it’s best to educate them on the issue? It’s the same here – they find breastfeeding offensive and that is the issue that needs resolving. Why do they find it offensive when it is the most natural act for a mother?

Breastfeeding and the use of formula

I’ve seen women on Facebook groups lower themselves to the most vulgar of language when arguing about this. I’ve seen one mum say that she wishes harm on another mum’s child. I’m baffled by people’s reactions to this whole subject.

Yes, as stated a few million lines up, breastmilk is the best thing for a child. But what about our situation where breastmilk just wasn’t available? Some people say it’s not ok to give formula but when the alternative is starving a baby, what do they expect exactly?

The attitude towards formula is so strong that it’s illegal for shops to include stage 1 formula in any offers or discounts. I’ve witnessed someone on social media post a picture of Superdrug offering it as a discount, with a picture of their letter of complaint. Get a grip – does it affect you in ANY way whatsoever? Go home to your 34 cats and write all the atrocities you’ve seen today in your diary, like mixed-race couples or a gay couple holding hands. That’s how ridiculous you are.

Social media comments on formula-feeding

These are some actual comments I’ve seen on Facebook surrounding this (not people on my friends list, but public groups):

“If you’re a cow then I suppose you’re going to give your baby cow’s milk”

“If you can’t breastfeed then it’s nature’s way of killing off the weak”

“Why not buy the breastmilk? You can get it imported, and if you can’t afford it you shouldn’t have a child”

“Hand the baby to someone else for feeding times. It takes a village to rise a baby, not one couple”.

Seriously, f*ck these people. These are the people we mean when we say the internet is full of weirdos and sociopaths. I cannot imagine how happy they are with their lives if they’re so repugnant towards other people.

Wrap it up

I’ve gone on a bit longer than intended here. I may break this up into two posts in the future, but for now I’m posting it as it is.

For info: I was formula fed – I never had a drop of breastmilk. It wasn’t my mum’s choice or fault that that be the case. I still turned out ok, I think. I’m of reasonable intelligence and, granted, I may put my shoes on the wrong feet sometimes, but I’m happy being me.

One final thought around breastfeeding and child-age: Stop breastfeeding if your child starts bringing their friends home for dinner.

Stop breastfeeding if your child starts bringing their friends home for dinner. Click To Tweet

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8 thoughts on “Breastfeeding: Breast is best, but don’t be a tit about it!

  1. The breast is best campaign has really been an unbelievably cruel machine designed to make parents feel like failures. I ran an infant daycare and I had multiple first time parents cry in my home because they couldn’t breastfeed enough/at all but were told they had to keep trying by what I assume were well meaning professionals. I applaud parents who can solely rely on breastmilk but there is a reason wet nurses existed before formula was invented. Not all humans are the same! Just like we wouldn’t criticize a person for having bad eyesight, we shouldn’t criticize a mom who is unable to breastfeed. I’m so sorry you three had to go through all that and I’m glad you finally had someone else come in to help you. That birthing place should be ashamed of what they put you all through. #bigpinklink

  2. This is a fantastic post! I enjoyed hearing a father’s point of view on it. I breastfed both of my children until 12 months. My first, because after a traumatic labour I felt I’d ‘failed’ my first test as a mother & needed to make it up by feeding. We struggled big time but finally we got a decent midwife to explain how to us properly and I managed it, and even enjoyed it after a while. Possibly even loved it. My 2nd was badly tongue tied & I had mastitis twice in his first 2 weeks, so we had to take him to have it snipped. My husband took him & I sat outside crying but the minute he came back, he latched on perfectly & all was good. It was quite a journey & I was a pro at stealth feeding. I had so many people strike up convos, only realising I was feeding when they tried to see their faces. At the end of the day, you have to do what is right for both Mother & baby. 🙂 Thanks for being a part of the #bigpinklink

  3. This is such an intelligent post – I love it!

    I had no real issues with latch/feeding/supply – despite having a c-section but I had the same issue with them trying to take my daughter away to cuddle. The support on offer was super poor and we just got lucky that the latch worked and we could go home after 2 days.

    I don’t blame you for what you’ve done with taking formula and lying, I would have to! Whatever it takes and you both know your child better than anyone else.

    Who cares how a baby is fed? Yes breastfed might be nutritionally best but fed is better than not fed and that is all that matters.

    My daughter was only breastfed for 6 weeks before cows milk protein allergy was diagnosed and we moved to a prescription milk. I had to tell a few fibs along the way to get them to listen to me too. What a shame that first time parents aren’t trusted more to know when something isn’t right!

  4. This is what exactly happened to us. I was not producing enough milk even after a month with my baby not gaining much weight and was crying all the time (she was hungry!). We wanted to give formula but the midwives were not having it ( we called them breastfeeding mafia). Once we met the Health visitor, she advised we should do what we feel is right. We bought formula and that night for the first time my baby slept straight for 6 hrs and gained weight in the following days. Message to take home, not everyone can breastfeed and they should stop pushing mothers esp first time moms!

  5. This is a fantastic post and it is so interesting to read a breast feeding story from a dad’s point of view. I really felt for you and your wife. I had a very similar experience with both my children. I was basically told that I should either be expressing, giving skin to skin or trying to get the baby to latch. One breast feeding professional told me that I needed to aim to express 6 times a night. The need for sleep didn’t concern them. It was ridiculous. Eventually for the sake of my health and particularly my mental health my husband asked me to stop trying. I believe that the term “breast is best”, although factually accurate, is hugely emotive. It makes new mums feel guilty and inadequate at a vulnerable time. Great post. Hugs Lucy xxxx

  6. I agree and empathise with all of this! So much of it id have loved to have said myself but as a “failed” breastfeeder I wouldn’t want to come across as bitter and resentful. The “Us and Them” divide is crazy when it comes to breastfeeding! Fab post. Thanks for sharing your experience. Sounds like you all did a fab job.

    1. Thanks Bella! Yeah the “us and them” mentality is spot on! I don’t understand why though. I saw a post written by a man the other day saying that women quit trying through lack of education. What a ridiculous thing to say!

      I think we should concentrate on our own child, and just leave other parents to parent as long as the child is safe. You don’t see other people getting involved in which religion the child is, or what culture they belong to. It’s so strange how breastfeeding kicks all this off!

  7. I have to say, maybe I just stay away from dramatic forums of arguements, but I’ve never seen any bullying tactics regarding breastfeeding. It seems from your post that the issue is lack of proper support from midwives. Why do people think that breastfeeding information is ‘designed to make mums feel like failures’ – why exactly would the NHS have an agenda to make mums feel like failures?! As I said, it seems lack of support from midwives is the issue – something I definitely agree with, as I had to seek out my own support after leaving hospital. As for breastfeeding in public, I can promise you when you’re exhausted and have a screaming baby, your priority is to feed the baby. I assure you that no anxious, exhausted mum, self conscious of her post pregnancy body and most likely already nervous of feeding in public, wants to draw any more attention to herself by deliberately flashing.

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