Struggling to accept the idea of bottle feeding your baby?
In my experience, if you’ve stumbled upon this page it’s most likely because you’re an advocate of breastfeeding and want to encourage more mums to do it, or you’ve had a terrible experience and are seeking some reassurance that being unable to, choosing not to or switching to bottle feeding doesn’t label you as a terrible mother who’s ‘poisoning’ her child with formula.
Breast is best
If you want to be a good mother, it seems breastfeeding is the ONLY way to feed your baby. It’s encouraged at ante-natal classes, in reports citing the multitude of benefits for mother and baby, and nationwide at the plethora of drop-in clinics, support groups and lactation consultants on hand to help.
The benefits of breastfeeding means it’s the first choice for 73% of new mothers in the UK, according to the NHS. They claim key health benefits for your baby include a reduced risk of infections, SIDS, type 2 diabetes, diarrhoea/vomiting, obesity, childhood leukaemia, and cardiovascular disease in adulthood. For you, it means a lower risk of breast and ovarian cancer, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease and obesity. What’s more, according to Bridget Halnan, infant feeding lead and Fellow of the Institute of Health Visiting, “Formula milk doesn’t provide the same protection from illness and doesn’t give you any health benefits.” A report I recently read on the NCT website even went so far to say that breastfeeding can lead to better IQ and could save the NHS £40m a year.
With so many advantages and support on offer, it’s enough to make you wonder about the other 27% of mothers who are bottle feeding their baby. And what about the 90% of mums who switch to bottle feeding in the first six weeks? Do they just slack it off? Aren’t they wracked with guilt, knowing they’re practically poisoning their babies, as a lot of breastfeeding supporters may have us believe? I certainly know plenty of mums who’ve tortured themselves over this and I really feel for them.
Bottle feeding or breast feeding, it’s a personal choice
The truth is, whether you breastfeed or bottle feed your baby is ultimately a personal matter and I don’t think anyone should be judged for their choice. For every woman who’s chosen to breastfeed, whether it’s come easily to them or they’ve pushed through the obstacles along the way, I think it’s wonderful and the health professionals will agree. But for those who don’t, for whatever reason, I’d like to offer a bit of moral support if you’re feeling judged or beating yourself up for not doing what the majority of experts claim to be ‘best’ for your baby.
Why bottle feeding is right for me
I think what puts me in the unique position to offer an alternative perspective on the subject of breastfeeding is that I quite simply don’t have a choice in the matter, making it much harder for people to judge me (although as a mum, there’ll be plenty of other opportunities!) Let me briefly explain. I inherited the faulty BRCA2 gene from my mum, which puts me at a much greater risk (between 45-90%) of breast and ovarian cancer compared to the average person – you can find out more on this at Breast Cancer Research UK. Having lost my mum and aunt to breast cancer in their 40s and 50s, and having discovered (thankfully benign) lumps in my first MRI scan when I was 36, I took the (not-so-light) decision to have a risk-reducing double mastectomy with reconstruction. I was well aware at the time it meant I wouldn’t be able to breastfeed my future babies, but I figured it was a small price to pay if it meant I’d still be around for them further down the line.
There are advantages of bottle feeding your baby
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going against the experts and saying formula feeding is better. But it is still a bit of a taboo subject and far too many women are judged for not breastfeeding, so I’d like to share my unique perspective on why you shouldn’t beat yourself up if you can’t, choose not to or make the switch to formula.
Top five benefits I’ve found in bottle feeding my two babies:
1. Your other half and other family members can get involved
The close bonding experience mothers describe when breastfeeding their baby can be shared with other members of the family. And let’s face it, when it comes to the 2am night feed, who wouldn’t be happy for their other half to take over?
2. You know exactly how much milk your baby has had
Quite quickly, both of my babies put themselves onto their own schedule as they fell into a 3-4 hour cycle between bottles. This made it much easier to know that, if they were crying, we could eliminate hunger as one of the reasons. It also meant we could plan the day around when we’d need to feed them.
3. A well fed baby makes for a happy baby
My first baby started sleeping for a good 5-6 hours at night from the age of six weeks – result! But in case you’re reading this at 4am after being up for the last three hours with a screaming baby and muttering what a right smug cow I am, my second baby was less cooperative. He’s now five months old and still wakes up every 4 hours to be fed. I can’t imagine how I’d ever be able to keep up with his food intake if I was breastfeeding him. The little chubber.
My nephew feeding his little cousin
4. No frozen cabbages in my bra
Clearly I can’t relate to this, but most mums I know who breastfeed say it hurts. A LOT. I’ve heard tales of bleeding, nipples literally peeling off, women in so much agony they can’t leave the house for fear of appearing unable to cope in public. And while this may be the case for just a number of unlucky mums, I can only imagine how frustrating and demoralising it must be. Add to that a healthy dose of sleep deprivation and all the unsolicited ‘advice’ given by some other mums and experts, it’s no wonder so many women switch to formula six weeks in.
5. Like G&T, formula is in constant supply at our house
As long as you don’t forget to buy formula in the weekly shop (yup, been there and sent the hubby to the 24hr Tesco), you don’t have to worry about an inconsistent supply of breast milk. With so many articles helping you troubleshoot the reasons behind your low milk supply, from ‘insufficient glandular tissue’ to ‘hormonal imbalance’, it’s clearly a source of anxiety for many. And that’s before you even consider expressing, or being able to pop out on your own for a few hours without passing over a crate of precious breast milk along with your little bundle. It sounds exhausting, and enough to drive you to gin. Which, given I don’t breastfeed, is a little guilt-free pleasure I have been able to enjoy following both pregnancies.
Let’s support each other
When it comes to breast or bottle, I’d like to close by asking you to be kind to yourself and others. I’d like to read fewer stories of mothers being criticised for breastfeeding in public places but I’d equally like more opportunities for women to openly admit they are using formula, without being judged. At the ante-natal class I attended, the agenda item was ‘breastfeeding’, not ‘feeding your baby’ and it was just assumed everyone would choose, or at least attempt, the former. With so many new emotions and unknowns to fathom out when you become a mum, let’s make this one less thing for us all to worry or judge each other about.