As a new mother, feeding your baby can be one of the most challenging aspects of adjusting to motherhood and every feeding journey is unique. While some parents breastfeed without any problems and continue with other children, others choose not to for to all kinds of personal reasons and opt for combination or bottle feeding. Whichever stage you are at, know that you are not alone. Every mother and child has their own feeding journey, but hearing other peoples' experiences can help you learn to listen to your body, your baby and do what's right for the both of you.
We have spoken to seven different mothers all with completely different feeding journeys that we want to share with you. Advice from a mum to a mum-to-be.
From a mama who breastfed, combination fed and bottle fed
Rewind seven months and I thought feeding would be a walk in the park, prenatal classes made breastfeeding sound easy, my mum, sister and multitude of friends had done it, how hard could it be? We started breastfeeding fine, we got great help at hospital, NHS midwives rock! We got home, everything seemed great. Then the bombshell a week later, baby had dropped 12% weight and something was up. Hospital grade breast pump hired, feeding every two hours, we were all exhausted! Turns out baby was severely tongue tied and not feeding well and my supply was falling. Then came the top ups and post lactation consultants help, we were on the path to combination feeding but I still wanted to breastfeed so would top up every feed apart from over night! At babies age that was a lot of bottles to wash up and we used the ready to use formula as only 40mls max top up!
I still persevered with breastfeeding and looking back now I should have thrown in the towel but I wanted the ease of breastfeeding, being able to go out without loads of ‘stuff’! After four months I was flagging, we were in no feeding routine and I seemed to be breastfeeding, bottle feeding or pumping every minute of the day, it made me a little crazy! Everyone kept saying ‘just give the baby a bottle’ and still I battled on with breastfeeding. Then someone objective was really honest with me, ‘the baby’s confused’ they said, ‘keep pumping but let baby have a full feed at once!’ That was it, I knew what I needed to do. I’d always known it but felt like a failure for not breastfeeding. Since that day I carried on pumping a bit but to be honest my supply was poor and after a few weeks we were 100% bottle and formula. We got into a four hour feeding routine and baby was a lot happier and more to the point so was I!
Still now I see women breastfeeding and feel a mix of jealousy and sadness that it never worked for me, I sort of mourn the idea. However, if I knew then what I know now, I would not have made myself as miserable trying desperately to make it work.
Tip to a new mum:
If you want to breastfeed give it a try, get as much help as you can and don’t be afraid to ask. I hope it works for you but if not, it’s more than ok, the most important thing is that you and baby are as happy as can be! For bottle feeding I recommend a milk mixing machine, I’m fortunate to have two with one upstairs for night feeds, it was a game changer! Feeding should be bonding time for you and the baby, don’t let pressure of the outside world tell you how to do it.
From a mama who breastfeed for two years
So my day job is as a neonatal intensive care nurse; I’ve had huge amounts of experience in infant feeding, supporting families and training over my many years of work. Due to this I have always known I would breastfeed my children and it was something really important to me. During pregnancy I didn’t focus on feeding at all as most of the basic information I already knew, I did spend time chatting things through with my husband and making sure he knew what breastfeeding would mean for both of us. Fast forward to 41+5 weeks of pregnancy and our son Henry arrived. It wasn’t an easy labour and Henry was a whopping 4.56kgs/ 10lbs 1oz!! He fed within about an hour and I remember waking him to feed regularly, although those first few days are a little hazy. Once we were home and feeding really got going I knew something wasn’t right, his nappies weren’t as wet as they should be and I was more sore than I thought I should be.
So on day three we went to our local birth centre for some more support. The team there were amazing and really helped with positioning and attachment, they also gave me nipple shields to allow healing. Over the following couple of weeks feeding just got better and better, I stopped using the nipple shields and feeding was pain free.
I breastfed until Henry’s second birthday, I put him to bed that evening as I had always done and he didn’t ask for a breastfeed again. Although I loved breastfeeding it wasn’t always easy; cluster feeding was hard core and more intense than expected, we also dealt with bottle refusal meaning I felt very tied at times. However I stuck at it and all my previous experience at work meant I knew that cluster feeding was normal, I knew my milk supply was good and felt confident feeding anywhere. I’m so lucky to have had the experience I did as I had amazing support from my husband, family and friends throughout, without them I wouldn’t have made it past those initial weeks.
Tip to a new mum:
- Know where to get support and seek it out before baby arrives.
- Read all that you can and have the basics, get your partner involved so they know what to expect and how they can support you.
- Know that it’s going to be tough at times but so worth it, believe in yourself and your ability to feed your baby.
- Those first few days/ weeks are tough so spend all the time you can feeding and being with baby, get to know one another. Leave the cleaning/cooking etc to others….ask for help!!!
From a mama who asked for help until it was right
My breastfeeding journey has been a bit of a rollercoaster. For the first two days after birth my daughter wouldn’t latch on and I had to hand express into a syringe to feed her. After an hour and half session with the lactation expert who was doing the rounds on our hospital ward I finally got the hang of it. But after her day ten weighing, I was told she wasn’t putting on much weight. After that it was check ins every couple of days with midwives and health visitors trying to work out what was going on. Between the two of us we had a whole host of problems during the first few weeks: tongue tie, engorgement, blockages, nipple plebs and vasospasms. So I kept asking for help, from the health visitor, NCT, friends and the la leche league. When the infant feeding team suggested combination feeding, I wasn’t sure but very quickly found that it made us both more comfortable. A full baby is better than a non formula hungry baby.
Tip to a new mum:
My top piece of advice is if things don’t feel right, ask for help. There’s lots of help out there, keeping asking until both you and your baby are comfortable. Second tip, invest in a leak proof water bottle and hot drink cup so you can keep hydrated through your feeds!
From a Mama who bottle fed
Storksak Mama @sherinaleona
Every person's journey with breastfeeding is different. So, I went into it with an open mind. I did all the courses and spoke to my friends who recently had babies. So, I thought I was prepared for whatever came my way. I told myself, if I couldn't breastfeed for whatever reason, that would be fine. I would do whatever was best for my baby. But when it comes to it, it can be a very difficult to know when to let go.
During the early stages of labour we discovered that our baby was breech. We took the decision to have an emergency cesarean, rather than risk birthing him breech. All went well, and he came out a very hungry little man, latching perfectly and gusselling away. However, by the next day, he would latch fine, but immediately start crying and coming off the boob. We tried everything the mid-wives suggested - different holds, skin to skin, removing layers of clothing, so he was cooler. Nothing seemed to help. In the end, a lactation consultant came to help, but he seemed to get more distressed the more he tried to latch. She eventually suggested giving him a bottle to give us both a rest and checked in on us regularly. He was so much happier and calmer drinking from the bottle. After several more attempts at breastfeeding, and trying to pump and hand express I decided that it would be best if we kept him exclusively bottle fed. As it was so heart-breaking watching him get so upset at the boob, and pumping was not working. Even the hospital grade pump had no effect.
A few days later, we took him to see an osteopath to check his head and neck. As during the pregnancy his legs had become wedged up by his head in his breech position. She informed us that he would need to have regular appointments to re-shape his head, and that the nerves in his neck where not aligned with his spine, so could be causing him stiffness and some pain. It finally clicked then, that he may not have been nursing as he was in pain. By then I thought my milk production had stopped, and I felt it was too late to try again. I was gutted we did not know this sooner. In hindsight, we may have been able to re-establish my milk supply or find a way to keep it going without a pump.
Tip to a new mum:
So, my advice to a new mum, would be to make use of the breastfeeding helplines and support networks. In the heat of the moment, it is very easy to forget they are there, and they may be able to offer you solutions that you haven't thought of.
From a mama who has breastfed all four babies
When I was pregnant with my first I took the approach of wanting to breastfeed if it worked for us. Thankfully it did. My mom was an amazing support even though she didn't breastfeed long herself. She wanted to be the support for me that she wish she had, and she was exactly that. She reminded me to focus on the baby and myself and not worry about anything else. I fed on demand, showered when I could and made sure we got outside everyday. Anything other than that wasn't a priority. That really helped my daughter and I establish a bond and system that helped us nurse for one whole year. I did the same with my next three babies, nursing a little longer each time. I'm so grateful I trusted my body and my baby and have a supportive mother and husband who helped set me up for success in our breastfeeding journey. Breastfeeding can take some patience and perseverance but I promise, it is worth it for you and your baby.
Tip to a new mum:
My favorite saying is often the hard thing and the right thing are the same, and this is no different.
From a mama who persevered through clutter feeding
When I was pregnant and asked my feeding preference… I didn’t really have one, although I knew I wanted to try breastfeeding but wasn’t going to be hung up on it if it wasn’t working for us. When my daughter was born she took to the breast immediately and had a good latch so very quickly we then started on our breastfeeding journey. The first 6 weeks were so tough consisting of cluster feedings and growth spurts. There were times where I felt this wasn’t normal as the feeding was relentless and I was running on very little sleep. I called the national breastfeeding helpline at one point and they reassured me it was all very normal behaviour.
After the cluster feeding behaviour, around 12 weeks was the turning point for us to feel in a bit of a rhythm. The feeding was going amazingly, my daughter was gaining weight well and I felt very empowered to keep going as my baby was very content and happy. Why change a good thing going? Breastfeeding is one of the most difficult but rewarding journeys I’ve ever been on and I’m super proud of what we have achieved. The bond we have because of the closeness of breastfeeding is unbreakable & fills me with pure joy and love. My daughter is now 7.5 months and is thriving so we have no signs of stopping yet. It’s our journey together and we make the rules.
Tip to a new mum:
My top tip for anyone embarking on a breastfeeding journey is to not give up. I think all of us who have breastfed before or currently breastfeeding will know it can be relentless and at times you will feel so overwhelmed with the responsibility however I promise you that those long days do pass and you will look back and forget you ever had those feelings. If you ever feel like it’s too much please speak to a breastfeeding advisor first before stopping as they are there to help you on this journey.
From a mama who combination fed
Firstly, I would say my breastfeeding journey was more emotionally difficult than physically for a number of reasons. I had birth trauma (two and a half day labour, natural birth with assisted forceps) and my dad sadly passed away when I was in three weeks postpartum. I believe these experiences played a significant factor in my journey and stress itself effected the amount in my milk supply. On top of this, I struggled with unsolicited advice from others who all had opinions on the ‘right way’ to feed my baby (which is very common on our Asian culture). It literally drained me mentally, constantly doubting myself “Am I feeding her enough?” And getting anxious if she doesn’t finish the bottles formula or doesn’t feed on time.
I thought my breastmilk supply was low, hence I wanted to give bottle formula a try just to reassure myself that she was getting enough. I got really anxious and obsessed so much so that I had an alarm set every 2/3 hours on my phone to feed her - this was set for 24 hours, even at night. But the feeling of having someone attached to you constantly and not having space was getting to me too, even though I loved my baby and loved feeding her, it made me feel guilty that I was thinking this way when it’s my responsibility.
Another thing I struggled with is the constant judgements from others when I said we are bottle feeding as well. They would say “so you don’t get good supply of breastmilk?” and “breastmilk is best for babies? You should only breastfeed.” On reflection, I am glad that I ignored this advice even though the mental strain was at times too much and persisted with combination feeding as it was the right thing for me and my baby however the mental strain.
Tip to a new mum:
From my experience I learnt that the more pressure we put on ourselves in postpartum, the more it affects our breastfeeding journey. I would say my tip would be take it day by day and don’t put pressure on yourself. Don’t wait for others to appreciate your hard-work, give yourself praise and well done for creating such a beautiful life.