By Kate Calacouras
“Really, you’re not a great mum if you’re not breastfeeding.”
That was the support I received from the rather unhelpful person on the Australian Breastfeeding Association’s hotline. It wasn’t what I needed to hear. I wanted practical advice on how to make enough milk for my son.
But I just shrugged my shoulders and hung up. I was in such a vulnerable place at the time, and I didn’t have the energy to be angry about the advice I had received. But I’m angry now.
There are too many women who persevere with breastfeeding because they’ve been told it’s by far the best thing for their baby. And we dismiss the idea of bottle feeding because of it. We do everything we can to help us breastfeed our babies because we don’t know that not offering formula could be risking both our health and our baby’s.
My firstborn was around six weeks old when things came to a head, but we’d had feeding problems from the start. He was induced because I was losing a fair bit of blood, and I’ve since been told induction can affect supply issues, but I wasn’t really aware of this at the time. All I knew is that I wanted to breastfeed because it was the best thing for my baby.
So I battled on. Through a week in hospital where he couldn’t shake his jaundice because I couldn’t feed him enough. Through weeks of him screaming in hunger while I tried to express more milk for him.
My routine was to breastfeed him for up to 45 minutes on each side. Way too long I have learned since – the poor kid would have been exhausted trying to get something out. Then, after at least an hour and a half of breastfeeding, I would offer a few millilitres of expressed milk while I sat on the fucking ‘cow machine’ breast pump for an hour. Most of the time I would be lucky if I could eek out 15ml.
I went to the doctor, who prescribed motilium to increase my supply. And still, he was hungry.
At one stage I took him to the paediatrician for what I thought were unrelated issues. I’ll never forget when he looked me in the eye and said “your son will die if you don’t give him formula.”
I needed that shock to jolt me. It was okay to give him a bottle. A fed baby is best.
And yet I continued my ridiculous routine – breastfeeding for way too long, then offering expressed milk, and finally a formula ‘top up’. It’s hard to tell how much ‘top up’ formula he needed – babies eat different amounts each day – but I’m guessing he received about half of his food from formula.
I stuck with this regimen, trying to give him at least some breastmilk, for five and a half months. During that time he was a terrible sleeper, and I was an exhausted wreck. I spent most of my time trying to feed or express, and the rest of it walking around the streets trying to get him to sleep in his pram.
As soon as I made the decision to stop breastfeeding I felt a weight had been lifted. I felt far more connected to him, probably because I could actually spend time with him, and not worry about how I was going to get another 10ml of ‘liquid gold’ out.
I would have loved to have exclusively breastfed him. As soon as I dropped feeds, he started picking up more colds. I wish I could have given him the extra immunity breastmilk provides. But for us it wasn’t to be.
Bottle feeding does have its drawbacks. Formula is expensive. Sterilising bottles is a pain in the arse. But without the wonder of formula I wouldn’t have my son here.
By the time my daughter came along two years later I was in a different headspace. I still wanted to breastfeed, but was much more prepared to go to formula if she needed it.
And our journey was very different. It did involve formula, although this time at nine months, and not because she was starving but because I had to go back to work.
I really hope more women start taking up the mantra ‘fed is best’, rather than blindly trying to breastfeed at all costs. I would have loved a long breastfeeding relationship with both my children, but the truth is they’re both happy, healthy kids now. And my biggest feeding issues are trying to convince them to eat a vegetable once in a while.
Kate Calacouras lives in Sydney, and is mum to 3-year-old Sam and 1-year-old Edie. You can contact her on twitter @katecalacouras
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