Most women fail at breastfeeding and this failure by its very nature is contagious. Not only does a mother’s failure influence her peers, it also impacts on the future confidence of the mother herself. This unfortunate fact means that mothers often create a legacy of formula fed offspring. In the UK for instance, mothers are less likely to breastfeed second or subsequent babies if they failed with their first (National Feeding Survey 2010). It appears that where breastfeeding is concerned, we follow the aphorism: “Once bitten, twice shy.”
However there is a rare breed of mother that goes against the grain. She lives her life by the rules of another aphorism: “When you know better – you do better.” She is the mother that acknowledges her mistakes and channels the power of regret into improving her future actions. Tonii is one such mother. She failed to breastfeed her first premature baby, which made her even more determined to breastfeed her second, also premature, baby. Here is her story which perfectly illustrates that it’s never too late to be who you might have been.
“My waters started leaking at 33 weeks and I shortly gave birth to my first baby in April 2009. She was 6 weeks premature weighing 4lb9. Of course, I had planned to breastfeed.
When she was born I was so disorientated after three days without sleep, I don’t fully recall what happened. After being checked my daughter was handed to me. I vaguely remember lying there trying to lift my head, and her being near my breast. The next thing I recall is seeing a midwife feeding her a bottle of formula. I think they said she ‘had to be fed immediately and if I couldn’t they had to’. I don’t recall consenting to it.
After an hour or so, we were put on to a postnatal ward where I was told we would remain until my daughter was feeding every three hours.
I asked for help once. The response: a midwife grabbed my breast and shoved it into the baby’s mouth.I felt violated. I remember thinking – if a male did that he’d very well be sacked. I don’t know why she thought it was a good idea.
We cup fed her colostrum as well as working on latch until my milk came in. I would try to wake her – she would be tired. She would feed for five minutes. This was apparently not good enough. The hospital staff treated her like a full term baby. They would have me trying for around an hour. My daughter would go back to sleep only to be woken again two hours later – still tired and unable to feed. I woke up several times to a midwife feeding my baby formula without my consent! I felt as though they were undermining me, implying that I couldn’t do the job myself for some reason.
In the end I told them I would express so that they could discharge me, which they did the day I said that (day five). Once home, I scrapped the three hourly feeds and allowed my daughter to wake on her own. She woke herself four hourly which resulted in her being able to feed much more effectively – instantly she went from five minute feeds to twenty minutes – not bad for a four pound baby.
Six Week Growth Spurt
At around six weeks she hit what I now know to be a major growth spurt. My health visitor insisted my milk had dried up. She said that if I was struggling and my daughter was feeding more frequently, this was evidence that I had lost my supply. My mother lapped up this idea. She had breastfed me and her middle child for 6 weeks – at which point she was (ironically!) told by a health visitor her milk had dried up, and my youngest brother for two weeks, who she says her milk dried up with due to his large size (10lb born). She believes this (despite me stating otherwise). She would say “oh you must just be like me mine went at 6 weeks too” and “are you sure she’s getting enough? Your milk will probably dry up soon”.
To make matters worse, my daughter’s father wanted to spend time with her and was trying to make me pump days-worth of milk alongside feeding her. I simply couldn’t pump that much. He was fond of playing mind games. He would be outwardly pro breastfeeding and say he wanted me to breastfeed, yet he also wanted to take her away from me and expected me to be able to express days worth of milk at a couple of days notice. He would also refuse to come in the room when I was feeding, and looked away which made me feel embarrassed.
So I gave up. I didn’t know anyone who had breastfed, so I assumed the health professional must be right.
Second Baby: Second Chance
In 2011 I gave birth to my second child. Again, my waters broke early and he was born six weeks premature, and again weighing 4lb9. He was struggling to breathe so was taken to neonatal.
At first he was tube fed expressed breast milk. The hospital staff never once insisted he must be fed formula. I received amazing support expressing, I was encouraged to have skin to skin to keep my supply up, and a couple of days in I was able to start initiating breastfeeds alongside his tube feeds.
All was going great. He never lost an ounce of his weight.
Then we were transferred to a smaller hospital and here is where the problems began. The hospital staff insisted that my son must be fed three hourly 27mls. They would do this procedure where I’d feed him and then they would make him vomit by pressing on his chest so they could see how much he was feeding.
This time around I knew better and I was furious.
I decided to tell them I would go back to expressing. They insisted that this was not good enough – that he would not take the milk and wanted to give him formula before they would discharge. I told them that I would sit there day and night. And I did. I made sure no one else fed him. After 48 hours of him draining the expressed milk they had to concede I was right.
Then they started showing interest in my daughter. A nurse asked why my daughter lives with her dad. I explained that she lives with her dad due to her specialist medical and school needs and she sees me at weekends. The nurse then asked me a few more questions. I answered honestly, explaining that it was our own arrangement. She said she would have to ring social services to check that I was telling the truth and that my daughter hadn’t been taken from me(!)
Despite feeling this is sexist (I know men do not have to prove this sort of thing if they are a non-resident parent) I agreed and I even gave the number of my local social services myself – who confirmed that they have nothing to do with me and that what I was saying was correct and true. Social services instructed the hospital to discharge my baby unless they had valid medical reason to keep him which they now hadn’t thanks to my insistence on feeding. Phew, I was free!
Once we arrived home I began offering the breast at every feed and he took to it easily. By six weeks we were exclusively breastfeeding.
Interfering Health Visitors
At sixteen weeks a health visitor visited my home and decided my son wasn’t heavy enough (although his weight gain was consistent) and demanded that I had to supplement him with formula to ‘fatten him up a bit’. I told her it wouldn’t be happening.
I then didn’t hear anything from a health visitor until my son was a year old, when one turned up while I was out and began grilling my partner because there were toys on the floor and this was apparently ‘dangerous’. When she came back, and I informed her that I didn’t want her services. She told me she would be reporting me to social services as she was concerned by the fact that I didn’t want her in my home. A social worker visited a few days later but didn’t share her concerns and informed her that health visitors are an optional service.
My son is now 19 months old and is still a breastfed baby.
I’m incredibly proud of this. It angers me so much when ignorant know-nothings brand about false advice. I don’t feel a victim because of my daughters feeding – I could have done more and I’m at peace with that. Here’s a photo of my daughter using sign language to communicate with me. The things on her ears are cochlear implants. She was born profoundly deaf and diagnosed at a year.
I am currently pregnant with my third and no way in hell will another so-called ‘health professional’ be allowed to ram their pro-formula agenda down my throat. I plan to make it well known that if formula is even mentioned I will be making official complaints. I will not be undermined as a mother for doing what is normal for my baby.
With regard to other mothers, I prefer a woman who says ‘I don’t want to breastfeed’ to one that makes up reasons she couldn’t and adds to the already numerous myths that undermine breastfeeding. I think everyone should at least try.”
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