Our first story in our Mini Series on Breast and Bottle Feeding Awareness is by marketing agency director and mum of 3 Liz Estall.
I’ve had three pregnancies and three healthy babies. I’ve been very fortunate in that regard. However, circumstance, maturity and experience have resulted in three completely different feeding set ups.
The one where I put too much pressure on myself.
For a multitude of reasons after my first baby I had severe postnatal depression. The ins and outs of which warrant their very own article.
One thing I will hold my hands up to was having very high expectations of myself. I was dead set on breastfeeding. I think on a superficial level I had really bought into the ‘breast is best’ mentality. I had no experience to base this on. In my mind it was just a universal truth, irrespective of individual circumstance.
Immediately my baby was born he was placed on my chest so that I had the skin to skin I’d said I wanted in my birth plan, that is said to help encourage milk production. After a minute or so I asked someone to take him off me. I didn’t know what to do with him.
Everyone around me was absolutely gushing over this baby, giddy, smiling, laughing, taking pictures and texting relatives. This was my first moment of panic. I could see that he was a perfect baby and I could see that he was cute but I just wasn’t interested in him like everyone else was. I waited for the wave of euphoria and relief that you’re supposed to feel when you finally meet your new bundle of joy but it never came. In truth, I just wanted to be on my own.
I didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing with him. The normal hormones or endorphins or whatever it is that take over under normal circumstances just weren’t there. I went through the motions, picked him up when he was crying, fed him and then just held him and started into space. Mechanically there was nothing wrong with my ability to breastfeed. There were the usual teething problems at the beginning (poor latch, engorgement etc) but beyond that it was all relatively easy. I just didn’t feel anything and I certainly wasn’t enjoying it.
Fast forward 6 blurry horrible weeks of colic, sleep deprivation and acting “normal” to when, I must have just basically broken and ceased to put on a convincing enough front anymore, I ended up at the GP.
I took antidepressants and had session after session of counselling. I gave up breastfeeding and switched formula feeding. The relief was profound. Feeling psychologically “well” meant I bonded with him giving him his bottle.
I loved giving him his bottles. There was something therapeutic about mindfully measuring out the scoops and the familiar smell of the powder. Looking back, it was the positive association that came from finally doing what felt right for me. I watched him gain weight steadily, settle into a feeding schedule and never felt like I was depriving him of anything. I was so much happier and he was a happy baby. By the time he was 10 months old I was a lot better and back to some sort of normal.
The one where I expected a lot less of myself.
I was pregnant for the second time and was on high alert for signs of depression, still taking antidepressants but really wanted to have another stab at breastfeeding. I wasn’t 100% whether I would want to try again but, at very least, I wanted to keep my feeding options open. So I switched to an SSRI that is thought to be one of the safest for breastfeeding about halfway through my pregnancy. This reduced the risk of my becoming depressed again but whether I would or not was a mystery to me at that point.
Before she was born my husband and I made a pact. He would feed the baby from a bottle of expressed milk from 10pm until midnight so that I could have a block of sleep and be ready for what the rest of the night threw at me.
From birth she slept like a dream and it was nothing like what I’d mentally prepared myself for. She took a bottle and it didn’t affect her latch or cause nipple confusion that I’d been warned about by midwives and the health visitors. Everyone around me was very supportive. By four months old that bottle of expressed milk became formula and then we we’re in a mixed breast and formula feeding set up. Which was perfect for us. By seven months old she was completely formula fed, eating solids and that was that.
The one where I just went with the flow.
Baby three was what I now call a “happy surprise”. It was as though as soon as we’d decided two was enough, thrown out all of our baby gear and I’d started to feel ready for the next chapter of my life I missed a period. I feel so awful saying it now but I was so disappointed. I felt that other people were disappointed in me for being careless.
To compound how disappointed I felt I had morning sickness from hell all the way through my pregnancy. I was sick at least once every single day for 40 weeks right up until I was in labour. I had sciatica that, towards the final weeks, made my legs give way from beneath me. I couldn’t walk properly, couldn’t play with my children, couldn’t work and generally feeling very sorry for myself. Whether or not I would breastfeed was just not a big deal to me.
I knew by this point that I could make anything work!
I knew exactly what I wanted for my labour. At home, no pain relief and no fuss. I decided to start off breastfeeding as I had with the other two and see how I got on. No pressure. He was born so alert and his latch was perfect. He slept well, he didn’t have colic, he was beautiful and I was smitten. The other two loved him and it was perfect. Just like that… after all that!
He’s 9 months old now and I’m still breastfeeding him. His diet is solid food, water and breastmilk. It’s the best set up for me. It was one that suited him, me and my family and that made it perfect for us.
And here’s what I learned.
Regardless of all the above the one thing that is consistent is how happy and healthy my children are. They are loved, they are thriving and, as a family, we live a life full of balance. Healthy diet and occasional treats, lots of exercise some days and other days spent watching cartoons. We skip bath time sometimes to make life easier. We promote balance and place importance on whatever we need to depending on what’s happening in our life at that time.
What made a difference to me was removing the pressure. However, these days, how we feed our children is a real sticking point. So much so that it doesn’t feel like just another debate. It often feels like it’s the debate in parenting style. It can divide a room into two camps. People who feel shamed for breastfeeding and those who feel judged for bottle feeding. I think we should ask ourselves why this is. For me nothing has summed it up better than this article.
I am just a different mother and a different woman altogether these days. All I feel is love, support and solidarity for other parents and the unique choices they make their home environment happy and manageable. Pressure to be perfect is counterproductive and unrealistic expectations set you up to fail. Mum/parent guilt can eat away at your self-worth and is, ultimately, a thief of happiness.
My new style tells me to lose the pressure, drop the guilt and trust my instincts as a mother. It sounds like such a cliché but you have to make the most of whatever situations you’re in because they’re not little for long!
By Liz Estall.
Content and Images by Liz Estall.