Mothers are strong human beings. We have grown and birthed a child, whether vaginally or via caesarean section, we have endured pain like no other. Physically we are shattered, yet our drive to nurture, nourish and protect our baby keeps us from faltering. Yet it appears many new mothers are completely blindsided by the very common issues that can arise when trying to nourish their baby. It’s almost as if we were told it would be the most natural, easy and gratifying experience between mother and child. Oh wait, we were told that. Welcome to your next new arrival; emotional turmoil as feeding doesn’t go to plan.
I’m unable to speak from experience at the challenges of breastfeeding, but I can assure you that almost every new breastfeeding mother will stumble across one or two or all of the problems I am about to mention. Mastitis, breast engorgement, insufficient lactation, blocked milk ducts and flat or inverted nipples and breast abscesses all sound painful and/or inhibiting right? These are just a few of the conditions and specifically relate to the mother. What happens when your baby is struggling to feed? An unsuccessful latch can be caused by a multitude of conditions; tongue tie, cleft lip or palate problems, receding jaw, neurological or sensory issues, premature birth (this can result in the baby being too little and/or weak, as well as a delay in the mother’s milk arriving). Then there are allergies, intolerances, the mother’s previous health conditions to consider as feeding factors. Honestly, it can be a minefield trying to establish a successful breastfeeding relationship and it’s therefore imperative that a mother is fully supported and educated.
I mentioned earlier that I was unable to speak from experience, so I’m sure you’re wondering how I know about the difficulties mothers are facing. Well, women contact me everyday saying so. They described the frustration at the misleading information they were given which led them to have the expectation of a pain-free and hassle-free experience. Some mothers connect with me because they agonisingly tried to breastfeed but hit insurmountable problems. Sadly these issues are often insurmountable due to cuts in breastfeeding support services. Some mothers find solace in reading my experience because they were also physically unable to breastfeed; there are an abundance of conditions and medications that prevent a woman from doing so. We all come together to share our emotions, heal and connect with others who have similar stories. Of course we have our supporters who choose to bottle and formula feed, and these women have made a choice that suits their family. They know that formula is an incredible substitute for breastmilk and they are confident in their journey. I love hearing from women who are educated and empowered by their choice to use formula. But this article isn’t about that. This is about highlighting and raising awareness for the often unspoken condition known as ‘Breastfeeding Grief’.
I knew I wasn’t physically able to breastfeed but still developed the depression and anxiety from not providing breastmilk or connecting via breastfeeding. I resented my body and doubted my ability as a mother. I felt incredibly alone, which is a bizarre and unsettling experience for a new mum. We need support and reassurance more than ever at this daunting stage. Even though people were always around, I internalised most of my anguish due to the fear of being further shamed. I had an internal ache, almost like a sensation of pressure with my urge to create the milk I knew wasn’t there. All I could produce were tears.
It took time to overcome these moments of despair. It was only through education on formula and shifting my focus away from what my body couldn’t do, and onto what it could do. The dark days started to disappear when I learnt that I could nurture, connect and comfort my baby as effectively as any breastfeeding mother.
As my knowledge and presence builds within the infant feeding community, I like to challenge the current pressures we are exposed to as pregnant women and new mothers. When it comes to the statistics used for the health and societal benefits breastfeeding advocates claim, I say wonderful if true, but please provide a study where results haven’t been affected by environmental, socio-economic or genetic influences. We have leaflets, campaigns and social media overload us about how breastfeeding produces special bonds and is highly beneficial to mother and baby. I’m not one to deny that these of course happen and occur, but it’s ludicrous to imply that these don’t happen and occur when formula and bottle-feeding.
So am I implying there are benefits to formula feeding? Yes I am.
Formula is good, safe nutrition for babies who would otherwise go hungry. It can be the saviour of sanity when a mother is at breaking point. It prevents babies with allergies and intolerances from becoming severely ill. It can act as a supplement when there are low supply issues and the baby would fail to thrive. It enables women to choose how they want to feed their child and allows fathers to have an active role in providing food for their baby if they want to.
Do I promote bottle-feeding? No. Do I encourage a struggling breastfeeder to just use formula? Absolutely not, get whatever help and medical support you need to have the outcome you want. Do I want people to stop feeling guilt and shame for being unable to breastfeed? Yes. There is no need to waste precious bonding time yearning or grieving for an element of motherhood that really is so small. We all want what is best for our children and in my opinion a fed baby with a happy and doting mother will always thrive.
Breastfeeding Grief and all the pressures that fuel this condition need to be addressed before we have a huge influx of mothers spiralling into post-natal depression as a direct cause of their feeding journey.