I totally get why people don't breastfeed their babies, either by expressing, or by breastfeeding directly. It is hard work. I used to judge people who said they formula fed their babies because they didn't have enough milk. However, when your first baby is born it can be an incredibly stressful time and breastfeeding is something that can take up to six weeks to learn. Nobody tells you that before the baby is born.
Breastfeeding support workers are friendly, but not very helpful, in my experience. My baby was in special care for two days after an emergency c-section. This was highly charged, and I was in hospital for six days. I felt uncomfortable. The breastfeeding support worker saw me in the special care ward and came across as quite tense and pressured. After I got home I called for a breastfeeding support worker to visit as I was set on no-formula. She arrived when my son was asleep and had just fed so he wasn't interested in feeding. Again it felt a tense experience. Lip service.
I didn't want to give my baby formula, so I decided to express my milk and feed him like that. I felt very stressed out with the whole breastfeeding experience. He is now six months old and is growing really well on the expressed milk, and now a tiny amount of pureed food. Occasionally we have given him organic formula when he's had a growth spurt and starving. That worked in reality, so much for the exclusive breastfeeding. That seemed a better option than having a starving screaming baby.
Many people I have met over the last couple of years simply gave up breastfeeding, and now I understand the pressures and stress, so don't judge. There are some drawbacks which I am experiencing expressing milk for my son:
1. It's impossible to diet --- I have a very hungry baby who drinks every single ounce of milk I feed him. So when I saw the reduction in the amount of milk after cutting back on my calories, I quickly realised I had to focus on weight loss after he wasn't solely reliant on milk. It wasn't fair on him. I now get why people formula feed their babies to get their bodies back.
2. It is difficult to find places to pump milk --- pumping milk in public places can be totally gross with the only option filthy public toilets.
3. You stress over milk supply --- whether pumping or breastfeeding directly you stress that your baby is getting enough milk. Your milk supply fluctuates depending upon so many factors. If you formula feed your child you don't have that extra stress.
4. It affects your hormones ---- your hormones are affected if you breastfeed which is annoying. For example, my oestrogen levels are super low just now. Apparently it needs to be low so you can breastfeed. You worry that this alteration in your hormones will affect other hormones too.
5. You stress over your diet --- like when you are pregnant you have to be ultra careful what you are eating is the most nutritious so it creates the healthiest milk. Out goes the caffeine, alcohol, etc, etc.
6. Your baby needs more feeds during the night --- people who formula feed can give their babies a massive milk feed before they go to sleep to keep their babies asleep longer. If you breastfeed you only have the milk that is available, you can't make more milk just for the evening. Therefore you have to get up two to three times a night when your baby is hungry. The truth is waking up numerous times in the night is exhausting, even if you wake up for a few minutes at a time.
Even with all these stresses, I am still feeding my baby breast milk and hope to continue until he is at least one year old. I understand that breast milk is better for him. I want him to have the best start in life, and I don't want to look back and regret not giving him that experience. However, I don't judge people anymore that formula feed as I understand how difficult it really can be.
Lorna Balfour is a new mum based in London.