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My feeding story - When formula (and some wonderful support) made breastfeeding happen. By Zoe

My story is not what you’d think. Breastfeeding has been a journey for me - with lots of ups, downs and hurdles along the way. So, I want to write this to inspire other mums to reach out for support. You don’t have to give up on your dreams (but equally you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to! Happy mum, happy baby!!)

Doing my birth plan was so exciting! I loved my pregnancy and was so excited to give birth. The whole experience seemed magical to me and I knew whatever birth I had, I wanted to have that beautiful moment where my gorgeous baby boy was placed on my skin - to let nature take its course! So, yes, I wanted to breastfeed - and I was determined to get off to a good start!

So Ethan’s (my gorgeous baby boy) birthday came along and I was so lucky to have the most beautiful water birth (thanks to hypnobirthing and Kat’s help with this!). It was a dream and everything I could have ever hoped for. I caught my boy in the water and brought him up to my chest - immediate skin to skin. However, I was then told I needed to go off for ‘embroidery’ so my partner, Simon, took over and did the skin to skin - fair enough, I was happy with that.

Now here is where my breastfeeding journey goes off track - right at the start. Because I had such a wonderful birth I was on the biggest oxytocin high you can imagine. I was totally in love. With Ethan. With Simon. With the bloody midwives, even! I was so happy and on a high that when the midwife plonked Ethan on my chest to breastfeed I naively just accepted the fact that she walked away - I didn’t ask for help (despite my birth plan stating I wanted help). I wasn’t offered any.

So, my first feed? Not observed. I was left to it. Great, I thought, at the time. I was too loved up to care. Then another midwife told me they’d need to observe a feed before I went home. Great, I thought again, that’s reassuring. Then another midwife came in with my discharge notes and told me it’s time to go home. I questioned this. Doesn’t someone need to watch me feed!? To which the midwife responded, “well if he’s had a wet nappy then it should be okay”. Great, I thought again! I was too excited to get home with my family.

It’s only when I got home I realised what a mistake I’d made. I had no idea what I was doing with breastfeeding. I had no idea if Ethan was latched on. I didn’t know if he was hungry. I didn’t know what position to get in. I didn’t get why he wasn’t drinking at my breast like a straw! Cue a number of panicked phone calls where I was just referred back to some crappy brochure that looked like it was from the 1980s. Hand express, they said! What the hell is that!?, I thought.

Now I won’t spend my time going into all that happened after this but basically, from time constraints to unrealistic expectations on a new mum, I felt utterly lost and like that’s it, I can’t breastfeed my son. Dream over. Oh well. So my mummy instincts kicked in. I wasn’t going to let him starve or dehydrate - he would have formula. And for that reason, I think formula is incredible and I’m so grateful for it. What wonderful stuff that keeps our babies healthy! When it came to his 5-day check he’d only lost a few oz’s and was deemed to be a healthy weight.

However, despite Ethan being on the bottle I still had this yearning to breastfeed. I felt deep down it could still work but I needed help. This is when I contacted Kat at Mama Magic. Immediately she said yes, she could help - and she came round THE NEXT DAY! On a Sunday! Marvellous! I was so happy she could help me at such short notice.

I’m not going to deny it, that first visit with Kat was still kind of disheartening. Although Kat is amazing and cheered me right up (and made me realise how formula is not the devil!! And there’s nothing wrong with feeding your baby the bottle!) I still felt like I had a huge mammoth task ahead of me. Why was breastfeeding so hard!!!? However, after Kat’s initial visit (where she showed me some positions and helped me understand a good latch and the suck, suck, swallow) she kept encouraging me, telling me ‘one feed at a time’ and making sure I was enjoying myself, letting the oxytocin rush, rather than stressing myself (and Ethan) out.

So that’s what I did. My bottle-fed baby was offered the breast at every feed - on Kat’s advice. And slowly but surely he started to show interest. Did I mention at the start he basically had zero interest?! Alongside this, I continued to pump so I could build a milk supply. This helped massively with my peace of mind, knowing that I was still telling my body “milk is needed!”.

As we went on, feeds suddenly became a bit easier. The more he latched on, the less I needed to pump. I even mastered the sideways lying down position (feeding in bed, what a difference that made to night feeds!).

Kat was there on WhatsApp to cheer me on and I loved sending her updates… and likewise telling her when I was frustrated.

Don’t get me wrong, this journey wasn’t without its hurdles. There were times where I felt like we were one step forward, two steps back. But I never put any pressure on myself and only did what I enjoyed. If it wasn’t working, I turned to formula to feed him - he was happy and content and we could try again on the next feed.

About 5 weeks in, Kat came to see me again (I wanted some help with babywearing). And she took the opportunity to assess my feeding - and she said it looked a lot better and then gave me some tips on posture and positioning so I could be comfier. That again helped me loads. And I kept going. At this point I was using the bottle less and less… but I still had my trusty formula for reassurance or simply when I’d had enough and it wasn’t working. I remember Kat saying it sounds like you don’t need the bottle anymore.

I’m now 7 weeks in and I can proudly say that the formula comes out very rarely now. I don’t say this with any distaste for the stuff - it’s partly because of formula that I had the confidence to carry on trying breastfeeding. And I’d never hesitated to go back to it if breastfeeding didn’t work for us again (and wasn’t working for me mentally!). I had a feeding assessment with the NHS Infant feeding lead this week and I was told I was doing brilliantly and they were impressed with my approach - and that I’d made it work. Ethan is doing great now and is pretty much exclusively breastfed. So no, reaching for that formula did not scupper my chances of breastfeeding.

The thing is there is a lot of scaremongering out there with breastfeeding. From dipping supplies to incorrect latches, it’s a lot for a mum who wants to feed her baby. I find that for a health system that pushes breastfeeding so strongly we have very little support to actually make it happen. Especially during Covid! This can leave women feeling like they have failed their babies - and that is SO unfair. I think there are huge benefits to both breastfeeding and formula feeding and my message to any mum struggling out there is that YOU DO YOU! Be flexible. Follow your mummy instincts. Try what feels good for you and work that way.

I love breastfeeding now - it’s incredible. It’s cosy, comfortable, empowering (I love feeding in public! Go mamas!!) and not to mention I can eat my dinner while feeding him. But it’s because I took the pressure off myself, with Kat’s help and advice that I feel this way. I would never have loved it if I had listened to a certain health care professional who told me “lay off the formula if you want to establish breastfeeding”... well, what can I say!? I didn’t lay off it and I still got there with a healthy, happy baby.

I still will give the odd bottle of formula too. I had a bad night the other night and was exhausted. Dad took over and I told him to make a bottle. Did my supply dwindle overnight? No. Yes, I had to hand express for comfort - but it was fine. I was happier for getting some sleep and my baby was breastfed a few hours later. And honestly, I will continue to have this attitude now. After all, as much as I love breastfeeding in my local cafes (again, go mamas!) I’m not sure I have the confidence to whip ‘em out in front of my 83-year-old grandad when I visit him tomorrow.

Thank you Kat for all your breastfeeding help and support. I would never have got here without you. Mamas, if you’re reading this - don’t get taken in by all the scary oppressive breastfeeding advice. Speak to someone kind like Kat. She will work with you to get you there in a way that suits you and your baby. X

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