Breastfeeding is amazing, and it’s also really hard work. I have had two babies, and I have breastfed them both, and both times it has been challenging for different reasons. This is my account of my experiences of feeding my two babies.
My first baby had a terrible birth; labour was extremely long, her neck got twisted up in the umbilical chord, and she was pulled out very quickly. Needless to say, she was pretty munted when she came out, and had no interest in latching or feeding. This inability to latch continued for what seemed like an eternity. We put her on formula, and I pumped and pumped to get my milk in, and then from day eight we ditched the formula and I just used a nipple shield, in the hope that she would eventually be able to latch on. Finally, with the help of a lovely Lactation Consultant - when my little girl was about three months old - I got her latching. It was a very frustrating and demoralising first three months with a newborn baby for me, but I was super-determined to persevere and get her fully breastfeeding. I breastfed her until she was 10 months old, when my supply dwindled so much that she decided she no longer wanted to breastfeed, and we switched exclusively to formula and bottle-feeding.
So when I became pregnant with my second baby, I said to myself that I wouldn’t put myself through that stress again; if he came out unable to feed, we’d just put him on formula. No pressure, no angst – just do it.
And then my second baby had a pretty sweet birth. Active labour was short, and my waters didn’t break until about half an hour before I pushed him out, so he was pretty much in a spa bath throughout most of the ordeal. He came out, cried, and then began rooting around for food. He latched, and fed, and hasn’t stopped feeding since. He is a hungry, hungry baby who loves to breastfeed, and I have lots of milk, and this all makes me very happy. It’s been a much more positive experience than I had with baby number one. But now at over three months old now he still feeds every 2-4 hours at night, and every 2-3 hours during the day, and I can’t deny that I find it very tiring.
It’s been three months of constant feeding, and I know that’s just how it goes for babies and for breastfeeding mums. The broken sleep, the being camped out on the couch, the leaking and the spraying, and the sore nipple from a slightly dodgy latch when you were feeding awkwardly out in public; it’s just part and parcel of breastfeeding. My baby is growing beautifully too, so maybe I shouldn't really complain..but the sleep deprivation is pretty hard-core, so I'm going to anyway.
Fortunately, as well as breastfeeding constantly, my baby will also take a bottle and drink formula. So every evening, I go to bed at about 7:30pm (and I try my hardest to go to sleep) and my partner feeds him whatever I’ve managed to express, and then tops him up with a bit of formula. And then at 11:30ish I take over, and continue to breastfeed him through the night.
Splitting the night up between us two parents was my midwife’s suggestion, and it was a really good one. Without those hours of sleep before midnight, I would most likely be a totally depressed zombie. I am definitely a bit zombie as I am now - and I’m quite grumpy at times because of it - but overall I am actually enjoying my second baby. I feel sad now to say that I didn’t really enjoy my first...and I think that was partly because of my focus on exclusively breastfeeding, and the consequential sleep deprivation. I didn’t even understand the link between sleep deprivation and post-natal depression until after I had baby number two…which explains a lot about my moods and general mental health during my first baby's first year of life.
So, when I see/hear arguments (usually online) which are essentially breastfeeding vs. formula feeding, all I can think is; but BOTH ARE AMAZING!!! Celebrate them both! It is truly awesome that my body produces a complete food for a tiny human. And it is so great that humans are intelligent enough to have created baby formula, another complete food for tiny humans. I know many women who've struggled with breastfeeding; whose babies wouldn’t latch, whose milk supply was low, who needed a break from the constant demand, who went back to work soon after having a baby that so they couldn’t exclusively breastfeed. Formula not only keeps babies alive and healthy, but it gives us parents – especially women - choices and options. I know formula is expensive (actually, I find breastfeeding not very cheap too because I eat SO MUCH, which is one of the greatest thing about breastfeeding, in my opinion :D), and I know that formula companies are problematic (I remember in great detail that video about formula use in India from 4th form Social Studies...), but I do think that we need to accept that it is actually a good thing in itself too.
So, yay for breastfeeding, and yay for formula-feeding!! It’s helped me keep one baby alive, and is keeping me sane whilst feeding the other one.