‘Bottle or Breast, FEEDING is always best.’

This topic is potentially one of the BIGGEST out there when it comes to parenting, babies and all things new mummy related, so definitely one I wanted to add my own contributions too. This is a topic quite close to my heart for a number of reasons, but primarily I want to be a voice of reassurance in a world of opinions and quite often critique. No matter what you choose, Bottle or Breast, either feeding is always best.

‘Will you be breastfeeding or bottle feeding?’ was one of the first questions everyone wanted to know the answer to, from my first midwife appointment, my friends who had already had children and even members of my family. It wasn’t even something I had thought about this early on. As someone who had been experiencing terrible sickness for the first 16 weeks of pregnancy and still adjusting to the concept that we were about to start a family, how I was going to feed my baby hadn’t been a priority thought. But it is definitely a question people are keen to hear your answer and offer their personal experiences. This is brilliant, everyone is so eager to be involved in your exciting journey into motherhood and are chuffed to bits for you. However, this bubble of respect can turn sour and quickly be replaced with opinions and critique depending upon your choice. I have been fortunate to be able to breastfeed and have bottle fed also. With both choices, I experienced not only positive but negative comments as well.

Mae*, 1 day old.

With my first, we didn’t have quite as smooth a sailing experience as we had hoped for. Once the sickness had settled, the planning soon began as to how I wanted to raise her. Did I want to introduce a dummy? Was I going to co-sleep? Would she have puree or would we try baby led weaning and of course, the question, should I breastfeed or use formula? I personally, opted for breastfeeding. I knew the benefits of breastfeeding and that the professionals push more towards breast than the bottle. But, for me, it was the closeness you could achieve through breastfeeding that led me to this decision and this special bond I had heard so often that could ‘only be achieved through breastfeeding’. As my due date drew nearer, I was so excited to be able to hold my baby close and provide her with every need myself, not relying on formula, not having to leave her to wait for food whilst I made up a bottle and not having to worry about bringing enough on trips out. Little did my pre mum life know, that, where children are concerned especially birth, things do not always go according to plan.

With my daughter, unfortunately, we actually endured quite a traumatic birth, which even two years later, I still struggle to come to terms with. Hence, my detailed YES/NO listed plan was completely and utterly thrown out of the window. I don’t actually remember one midwife looking at it once. My daughter and body had other ideas than my much desired natural birth. This was my first reality check into motherhood that things don’t always work out the way you expect, there can be complications, safety elements and the need for intervention. It just so happens, my labour with my daughter was the latter and we needed an incredible amount of intervention. In the end, my beautiful oh so loved little girl was here safe and sound. Even though my labour didn’t go to plan at all, I am so grateful to the hospital staff for helping us through it and ensuring my daughter arrived safe and sound, a healthy 5lb 11ounce bundle of joy all wrapped up in a tiny precious ball. She was perfect. I, however, was not doing so well and had quite a few months road of recovery ahead of me. 

A few days later, we were allowed home and cue our first visit from the community midwife. Up until this point, my husband had been caring solely for Mae due to me being so unwell, hence she had immediately been placed on formula. I was devastated. My first conversation with our community midwife was for my preference for our daughter to be breastfed and at this point, my milk had come in. But, to my disappointment, even she advised strongly against and to prioritise my recovery. Looking back now, I am glad I trusted her judgement though I found her advice difficult to hear, after experiencing a completely different birth with my son, I now see how bad a state I was in and I needed to focus on my health. From birth to her visit, I had barely even held my daughter. I couldn’t hold her for more than five minutes after the birth, I couldn’t make it through the nights in hospital independently the nurses had to care for my daughter for half of it and even now home, I still couldn’t manage more than a short cuddle before handing her to my husband. Unbearable doesn’t even come close to how it felt. This little bundle of joy I had been with for every breath 9 months long, dying to meet and yet, just days into motherhood, I was already feeling like I had failed not being able to feed her independently.

At the time, I found this incredibly hard, especially taking in everybody else’s viewpoints. Not everyone was fully aware of our labour and recovery, hence the decision to bottle feed. But, this did not stop the comments, even from health care professionals. My daughter suffered severely from colic for the first 4 months of her life, 24/7. It was relentless. Instead of support and a listening ear, I received a lot of comments on how she wouldn’t be experiencing it if she was breastfed. For a mum who wanted so badly to breastfeed, this was absolutely crushing to hear. When you’re already coming to terms with experiencing severe guilt, the last thing you need to hear from healthcare professionals is that it is your fault your baby is suffering.

But, no matter the negativity and opinions, I am so glad we bottle fed our first child. Not only was I able to recover quicker without breastfeeding, but it actually helped my husband immensely to bond with our daughter. Their bond from the start was incredible and I strongly believe a large part of that is due to bottle feeding. My husband took care of our daughter round the clock for the first two weeks of her life whilst he was on paternity leave. He did every nappy change, every feed, every clothes change and every wash. He was amazing and I am so grateful to how strong he was when our family needed him most. Being able to feed our daughter, brought them closer together. He was able to experience her eyes full of love, looking up at him. Her whole hand wrapping around his little finger. Those ‘just been fed’ sleepy cuddles you don’t get at any other point than with a newborn. Watching their bond grow every day is something I will never forget and a memory I will treasure always.

My husband feeding our 2-month-old daughter, 2016.

Georgi*, less than 24 hours old.

With our second child, Georgi, my body felt in control the whole time, from pregnancy right the way through to his birth. I hadn’t made a birthing plan this time around, I think from pure stubbornness than anything else, with a ‘what’s the point’ attitude. But I am glad I didn’t because it meant I didn’t fixate on every detail. It meant I could focus on the moment and accepted that what will be will be. I knew from last time, that we were in good hands and the midwives could do everything in their power to ensure Georgi arrived safe and sound. Second time lucky, I had the birth I had dreamed of with Mae, all natural with a little bit of gas and air to take off the edge. Instead of 10 people in our room, rushing around, we had one midwife the whole time looking after us and she was absolutely amazing. As soon as I gave birth to Georgi, I was able to have him skin to skin on my chest with no time limit or him being whisked away to be checked. Then, when Georgi was ready, we tried to feed him and he latched on. I was so overjoyed.

Then we came home and the honeymoon period of our newborn was over. Reality hit that I somehow had to juggle breastfeeding and dealing with my 1-year-old, who was also adjusting to the sudden arrival of a baby. The first week I have to say was the hardest of them all. Juggling hormones, toddler tantrums and a baby who fed every 1-2hours, plus the fact I still didn’t really have a clue what I was doing as a new breastfeeding mum. My hat goes off to all you new mums out there adjusting back into life at home, with the addition of a newborn. The first week of my breastfeeding journey was such a rollercoaster. In the hospital, any question or concern you have with breastfeeding, you have support there and then. At home, there isn’t someone on call to just come and check positioning, whether they are latching properly or if they are eating enough. Though the community midwives and health visitors really do help you during appointments, they aren’t available every second of the day. You move from one feed going brilliantly, you think you’ve got this, to the next feed seeming impossible and during this all, your breasts are sore and really painful to accidentally brush against let alone feed. Though this is not what everyone experiences, I really did go through some discomfort in the start and honestly questioned whether to continue feeding or go onto formula. But, I am so glad I continued. I managed to feed for the first 5 months of my son’s life solely through breastfeeding and only had to stop due to reoccurring mastitis. It felt amazing being able to provide for him wherever we went. Once I got used to feeding, I felt more confident about doing it in public and I actually felt more free and flexible than I would have with a bottle. I wasn’t having to use a hand to hold a bottle, so could also have a book out with my daughter. I didn’t have to worry about packing enough bottles, waiting to heat one up and then checking for the right temperature. On the other hand, my son was a very hungry baby and fed every 1-2hours day and night, so we did co-sleep, otherwise, I wouldn’t have had any sleep at all. Though breastfeeding felt amazing for me, it wasn’t the best option for my husband. My husband is someone who, as above, get involved in everything. We aren’t a household where he goes to work and I deal with the babies, cook and clean, we share everything equally (though I do try to get out of taking the bins out if I can help it). So, for our son being solely fed by myself, my husband didn’t have that same bond he gained quickly with our daughter. It wasn’t until Georgi was around 8months old, that he reached out for my husband and not me.

So, you see, there are ups and downs to both sides of the bottle and breastfeeding. I honestly do think it’s down to an individual family and their circumstances. You can plan no end before your baby is here, but you just cannot predict how the birth will go, whether you can breastfeed, whether your baby will take to breastfeeding and whether or not you’ll even enjoy it. What suits one family, doesn’t suit another. What works for one baby, won’t work for another. I really do believe that as long as the baby is receiving all its needs – love, warmth, and food, does it really matter how they are fed? Just the other day, I read about a children’s centre who was hosting a party just for breastfeeding mums. There is too much segregation between families who choose breast or bottle feeding. There is also too much pressure within society to breastfeed. Not everyone can and it really can impact on a mother’s health, I know it impacted on my mental health causing guilt and feeling inadequate. Why should we separate women based on their preferred method for feeding? Whichever choice you make, I think you mums are doing an incredible job. Those first few months, with feeding around the clock and adjusting to family life are the hardest. But, your baby will grow so quickly, I urge you to embrace every moment. Ignore what people say about feeding, your baby will thrive whichever you choose and through the love you provide. Become the new age of mums, accepting others choices in how they feed and raise their babies. Become a united front and a supportive network to each other, ready to face the rest of society together.