Ok this is a difficult post to write without causing the usual debate which 99% of the time turns into breast vs bottle war. I don’t want or intend this to become a one side is better than the other argument.
Also before I continue – I’ve done both breast and bottle, this blog post is just my opinion and how feeding my baby affected my PND. I respect any mothers decision, if you chose breast – brilliant, if you chose bottle – brilliant. You’re feeding, loving and caring for your baby that’s really all that matters in the end.
So when I had my first baby I bottle fed. During my booking in appointment I was given the usual question ‘how will you feed baby?’ And at 8 weeks I hadn’t thought about it hugely. I said I didn’t know and nothing more was said. Fast forward to one of my later appointments I was given a DVD about breastfeeding (which I admit I didn’t watch but should have) however again no conversation. I chose bottle in the end – why? I hadn’t taken much time to educate myself which looking back I should have, I was also slightly anxious about ‘how will I know how much milk my baby is getting?’ And also to be completely honest, at the time I just didn’t like the ‘idea’ of having a baby feed from me – I couldn’t get my head around it.
However – my baby came along and within a couple of weeks I felt I’d made a huge mistake. I felt so upset at myself for not at least trying it. My motherly instincts had kicked in and it felt like something I should be doing, something I desperately wanted to do and it felt really painful to have missed the opportunity.
So when I fell pregnant with my second baby I was determined to breast feed. I wanted to do it and I couldn’t wait. When my son came along it turned out to be a lot harder than I thought. Yes it was painful, and uncomfortable but I did enjoy the closeness of it. However he just wasn’t getting the milk he needed, I couldn’t physically produce it, he was constantly hungry, and I had him latched on all the time. If this had been my first baby I’d have probably persisted but after a week or two I stopped and went to bottle.
The reasons I did this were, firstly I had a 15month old who didn’t yet walk, I was struggling to care for her during the day and she had completely rejected me since my baby was born; secondly my mental health which was already terrible was taking a nose dive. The lack of sleep, my PND, the stress of breast feeding, looking after a young non walking toddler, and my husband returning to work was just getting too much. I had no outside help either as everyone I knew, my parents and friends worked. I was completely alone during the day, and it became a huge struggle.
Reluctantly, I soon decided that if I switched to bottle it might ease the situation. It was a tough decision; I was struggling so much with my mental health, I knew in my heart it would help me and allow me to care better for my children but I was still so upset about the decision. Mostly because of the pressure I had put on myself and the pressure I was feeling from outside sources such as media, HCP, and the constant breast vs bottle debates online – I felt a failure.
I had received quite different treatment from HCPs regarding the feeding of my babies. During my first pregnancy, I felt a sense that the midwives weren’t impressed I was bottle feeding – maybe it was my anxiety about the situation which made me perceive it that way, or maybe because I had different midwives. But then I had my second baby, breast fed from the start and people were so attentive, they wanted to talk about it, help me and I felt I had approval – again maybe because I was doing what I felt was expected of me was why I perceived this experience differently. So when it came to telling the midwife and health visitor I wasn’t continuing with breast feeding I was frightened. Luckily they didn’t seem to be bothered or question it, so we went ahead and switched.
I couldn’t bring myself to feed my son his first bottle, I watched and cried while my husband did it. My son quickly drank it all and fell asleep. He started sleeping better, maybe because he was finally getting the amount of milk he wanted, we were also getting more sleep which was so helpful as lack of sleep is a trigger for my mental health to decline.
Now he wasn’t attached to me 24/7 my daughter could share my time and she started to come back around to accepting me. Things had improved for us.
I have to admit though it was a difficult decision. I was conflicted that maybe I was being selfish, only thinking of my struggles rather than my sons feeding needs – but then I had to remind myself that my mental health affects both myself and my family. I had two children relying on me, and only 4 months earlier I had nearly ended my life so making this decision was the right thing to do in this situation. I couldn’t risk spiralling into deep depression and becoming suicidal again. Stopping breast feeding had taken one pressure off, and although it added a sense of failure that soon faded as I began treatment. I felt I could start to cope better with day to day tasks.
When I had my 3rd baby I thought it through and spoke about it at length with my husband and decided to bottle feed from the start. I was already experiencing anxiety throughout my pregnancy and starting to struggle that I decided I wouldn’t put that extra pressure on myself. I had to take care of my mental health and I felt confident in my decision this time round. My midwife completely understood, accepted and most importantly supported my decision, I finally felt that I was doing the right thing.
Sometimes breast feeding isn’t the best option for the situation. I never judge a mum on her feeding choices, and I urge you not to either. Breast feeding doesn’t come naturally to everyone, it can be really difficult; sometimes there are other factors in that families life that we don’t know about as to why mums can’t.
I completely agree that breast milk is best for baby and if my mental health wasn’t suffering as badly and the situation had been different, I definitely would have – but – sometimes there are reasons for mums to bottle feed; I’m just giving my experience to put another perspective out there, so maybe it will stop another person being unfairly judged.
No mother should judge another’s choices, we should be supporting each other; we have so much pressure from outside sources, we are all under the same scrutiny, so let’s encourage and help each other. We are all trying our best and all want the same which is providing the best thing we can for our family – all of which are personal and individual to each person and situation.
If you’re bottle feeding, because for one reason or another you can’t/don’t want to breast feed, and you’re feeling guilty, please don’t. Your baby is being fed and loved and that’s the most important thing.
For my personal situation the worse case scenario would have been – I could have forced myself to persist with breast feeding, continued to decline mentally, become suicidal again and ended my life. I know it sounds extreme but that’s how desperately low I was at the time.
Surely a mum bottle feeding her baby is better than a baby having no mum here to care for them.
I end this blog post with the same request as when I started – I haven’t done this as a breast vs bottle debate, I’m just offering a different perspective. Maybe there might be one other mum who finds herself in a similar situation I was, making that difficult decision; who reads this and feels a bit better about her choice.
Love to all mothers, whatever your parenting choices are, bottle/breast, pre made purée/homemade purée, co-sleeping or not …. the list is endless, let’s stop comparing & shaming – let’s start supporting & empowering each other xx
Xx Sarah xX