The following is a testimony about having experienced the bond of mothering a formula fed child, and of experiencing the bond of a breastfeeding baby. It is written by a mother who formula fed 5 children, and finally got the support she needed to breastfeed her 6th and onwards. I've always believed that only mothers who have done this - raised a child fully with both methods - are qualified to speak to us of the differences.
The courage shown here is even more remarkable when you read of how she now feels about her 'ff' kids. And how much it hurts her that she didn't make it for them.
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Whilst we often hear health benefits cited as a reason to breastfeed, many supporters are hesitant to discuss bonding; despite sound scientific evidence. This is hardly surprising, because whilst many formula feeding mums can acknowledge their child might have more colds or minor infections – the suggestion they may not be effectively bonded with her infant is likely to provoke a hair raising reaction in most quarters.
Bonding is of course a complex issue and fathers/aunts/ siblings/grandmas etc bond with baby too. Unlike illness, beyond the science aspect – for most parents it’s extremely hard to quantify. You can’t measure feelings, nor compare to what someone else is feeling. Formula feeding mothers love and care for their infants and cannot understand how this would be different if they breastfed.
The only people who can truly compare bonding between breast and bottle fed babies, is mothers who have done both. Even one of each is not really reliable, due to all the other possible influencing factors.
As a mum of eight; five formula fed and three breastfed – I want to share my experiences with you in this article, as you can imagine it has taken a lot of soul searching on my part to ponder the question; what is the big deal about breastfeeding and bonding?
If breastfeeding is considered just as a method of transferring milk into baby, then on the surface there does not seem to be that much difference. One could argue that bottle feeding mums have the advantage as their babies can look straight into their eyes, something that most newborns correctly latched on will not manage to do until they are older.
As a breastfeeding mum it can be easy to feel just like a milk machine and that is all baby wants you for. Everyone else can get a cuddle and the minute baby gets close to you, all baby wants is milk and will not settle until you feed him. You may be sore, you are probably leaking milk everywhere and well it can all be rather undignified to start with. A far cry from the rose tinted pictures of mum breastfeeding baby happily that you imagined! Rather then looking adoringly down on your newborn, you are probably busting for the loo, as you haven’t managed to get off the settee for the last few hours!
I am deliberately painting a negative picture, because breastfeeding can be blooming hard work to start with and that’s when all is going well. Throw in a baby who is not latching well, thus causing mum to be in pain, mastitis, thrush, cracked nipples etc and it can be a relief to go over to bottle. You often hear it don’t you, I only started bonding with my baby once we had switched to formula and the pain stopped. I was dreading feeding him as it hurt so much...
I can relate to that, because I have been there, done that. It was a relief at the time, the regrets come later. When you raise your head out of its sleep deprived state, when you ‘have your body back’ when your baby is not in your arms constantly anymore, when those chubby hands are caressing a plastic bottle instead of your breast. When baby gets excited at the sound of the bottle lid coming off, rather then you lifting your top. When your baby, breastfed for six weeks simply doesn’t smell like your baby anymore after just one bottle of formula (given on the advice of health professionals) causing you to break down in tears at the loss of your baby and the inevitable route to full formula feeding yet again!
When you stand with your seriously ill baby on your shoulder and you look at a breastfeeding display in the children’s ward, citing all the things that breastfeeding protects against, all the things that are making your baby so ill and you know that you have failed that baby.
If only you had tried harder, the pain wasn’t really that bad if only, if only, if only...
Of course none of us have a crystal ball, breastfed babies do get ill and hindsight is a wonderful thing. And of course you love your baby. You would challenge anyone who dare suggest that you could love your baby anymore were you still breastfeeding. But still, you see other mothers breastfeeding and you are simply green with envy. You justify it to yourself that they obviously had a much easier ride then you. Their baby could not possibly have been as hungry as yours. They do not have other children to take care off. Their skin is not as sensitive , whatever was the problem or was perceived to be the problem you have a justification for having to give up.
And at the end of the day it’s just milk right. You love your baby just as much, you know your baby just as much. A happy mother = a happy baby! Formula is not poison, ok breast milk is best but formula is good enough...
Putting aside the obvious health issues here, you are deluding yourself. It does matter, and it matters a great deal - but you do not know that, because you have been robbed of your nursing relationship before it even started. And how could you know really? You simply do not know what you are missing, as you have not been able to experience it.
Now fast forward a few babies. Quite a few babies in my case. You seek and find the right support whilst you are still pregnant. You listen, you learn, you surround yourself with other happily breastfeeding mothers and it is beginning to dawn on you that actually they did not have an easier ride then you. They had support when it mattered! So you grow quietly hopeful that maybe, just maybe you will be able to feed this baby yourself. Maybe it will not all end in tears, regrets and recriminations.
And then your new baby girl is here, born at home surrounded by all your loved ones and she latches on beautifully, so far so good. There is no pain, as you both know what you are doing. You have the confidence to co-sleep from the start, making night feeds so much easier. You have your breastfeeding counsellor on speed dial, lol, but really you do not need her as it just works. And you fall hopelessly and utterly in love with this little bundle. You treasure every moment you have with her at the breast. You love that drunken sailor look she gets all the time. You love the fact that she only wants you and all you have to do is lift your top and let her disappear under your jumper and she is happy.
And you simply cannot bear to be parted from her. Even when she is fast asleep in her basket you need to move her from room to room with you or you feel as though your right arm has been cut off. You know when she will want feeding as your milk will let down seconds before she wakes up. You put her at the other end of the bed to give yourself some room to sleep and you wake up seconds before she does and you realise that you haven’t moved but your newborn has managed to wriggle across until she is right next to your boob! You cannot stop sniffing her because she smells SO good. So familiar and sweet and you get such a kick out of seeing her grow. Knowing that it is all your milk that has caused those chubby dimples. And then you get the first smile as she is coming off the boob, your milk dribbling down her chin. And then the first raspberry blown that has you both in fits of giggles. Chubby hands stroking your breasts, a little mouth contently glugging away and you just feel on top of the world.
Your older children imitating you by breastfeeding their dolls, suggesting baby needs feeding so they can get on with their play and then your toddler coming up to you and asking to have some too. So you end up with both of them at the breast and of course your toddler does not know what to do, but you feel such a rush of love and it heals so many wounds, wounds you never even knew you had.
The conversations you have with your teenager, as to why she was not breastfed, did you not love her enough? Ouch! How do you answer that one???
And through it all those breastfeeding hormones are working their magic. Everyone around you is surprised at the change in you. The kids and your husband are commenting on how much calmer you are. “Mum you are a much nicer person you know!” From a friend:” What has happened to you, you have really changed!” (Incidentally that friend ended up breastfeeding her last baby for 3 years, having f/f the first 4!)
And what about you? You gain a new self belief. You at long last feel comfortable in your own skin. You are WOMAN hear me roar! Your milk has superpowers it must have. Your baby grows into a toddler and tells you so, so it must be true! And you discover another thing about breastfeeding that you never knew. It is such a brilliant parenting tool when you have a toddler. How on earth did you ever manage without it before?
There are hardly any tantrums, you have the perfect tool right there, strapped to your chest and you use it willingly and gladly. And there is such joy, such indescribable joy. You are finally doing what you were meant to be doing. It’s natural and all of a sudden you are the one who other mums come up to and tell their breastfeeding story of pain and failure and justification and you see yourself and how you used to be.
And you feel sad, so very sad that these mothers will not be experiencing the joys and the sheer magic of breastfeeding. And you get angry too, angry at the system that lets mothers down, angry at the health professionals who robbed you of your own nursing relationship with your older children and you vow to do something about it. You become a breastfeeding counsellor yourself and you have come full circle really.
Breastfeeding it makes a difference it really does!
Doris O'Connor, LLL Leader. England, UK
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I'm printing this to say two things about this situation: one thing to the mothers, another to their friends and family.
No mother who tried, and didn't make it, failed. They were failed. Failed by the system around them. Not enough support. not enough knowledge. Not enough courage by the health care professionals. Not enough. If you've been failed like this - go straight to angry at the ones who let you down. Do not pass guilt, do not enter the labyrinth of getting angry at those women who made it, and have the courage to keep telling you breastfeeding is worth it. Write complaints to the hospital, complain to the midwives, complain to your MP, demand better treatment.
Even if the actual breastfeeding went well, you may have been failed by indifference in your family, in your support. Comments about not putting yourself out, getting enough sleep, letting others take feeds. Every comment ever made like that, wears you down. Don't blame yourself, and don't beat yourself up. Guilt is a useless emotion. Allow a moment of regret, and then move on. There are better things around the corner.
If you are the friend or family of a woman who has been failed - keep the above words in your heart. Let in the devastating loss that this mother felt at the time, and remember it. Honour your friend, or wife, or sister, when she tells you she's devastated that the breastfeeding didn't work out. Listen to her. Acknowledge her loss. Don't demean her by telling her it doesn't matter. Don't lie to her by telling her there are no risks to the formula she must now use. Don't dismiss her tears and longing. Give her your strength by accepting the magnitude of the loss, and comfort her in it. Stand by her as she grieves. If she came to you and told her a family member had died, would you tell her it didn't matter as she had lots of others?
Women suffer immense loss when breastfeeding fails, and most know it deep inside. And they are often surrounded by an eager team of supporters who unwittingly make that loss deeper and sharper, by constantly denying it exists at all. "It doesn't matter!" "Look at how healthy mine is, and he's never had a drop of breastmilk!" "Formula is fine, those fanatics are just crazy." "Now you can share the feeding."
Every comment another nail in the coffin of letting the mother grieve for herself, letting her come to terms with it on her own.
And more importantly, every comment preventing anything changing. No outraged friend to pick the phone up and call around for help. No support in writing letters to the hospital demanding to know why the midwives didn't give a pump when the tongue tie was found. No threats of letters to the Chair of the PCT complaining about the lack of basic care when she was told to put up with pain and cracked nipples. All of the action that could be taken, to prevent it happening again, swallowed up in telling the Mum it didn't matter, and no problems, formula is fine, no matter.
Don't demean her loss: honour it. Stand by her grief, don't deny it. It does matter. It matters a great deal.