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Enough of the guilt: Breastfeeding isn't always an option or the right thing to do

I refuse to be judged any further than I have already judged myself on the matter, writes Jennifer Ryan.

Jennifer Ryan IT-working mother of two and blogger

FAILURE TO THRIVE. At first I wasn’t sure whether it meant I was failing to thrive, or the baby.

In my defense, reality and logic are very very hazy and foggy right after you grow and produce a human. Obviously it referred to Alex in this case, but it actually described me pretty well at the time too.

Before I delve too much further into this topic, it is worth mentioning how divisive a topic it can be. People have their own opinions and experience in this matter and these will shape what they think of it now, and it can shape what they think of other mothers who do or don’t breastfeed too.

I want to make it clear that primarily, my intention is not to judge or divide, but to celebrate the fact we all have choices – and importantly to recognise that sometimes we do not have the luxury of maintaining these choices. Similarly, I refuse to be judged any further than I have already judged myself on the matter. And that was a lot.

I struggled for weeks

On my first baby, I struggled for weeks. On paper, it should have looked perfect. He latched on perfectly, but he just wouldn’t feed. Then he spent two days in the care unit being fed formula (not related to breastfeeding I should point out).

In a haze of confusion, exhaustion, stress and based on varying pieces of advice from people who knew what they were talking about, I combination fed with formula and pumped around the clock for the first 7 weeks of his life. At that point, I admitted defeat and moved solely on to formula.

On my second pregnancy, I thought I knew all the traps leading to my failure to breastfeed. This time I was sure it wouldn’t happen again.

As before, the latch was called “perfect” by the midwives. At first it all seemed to be going perfectly. Great, I thought, we’re OK. He was doing everything he should in the nappy department, a sign that all is well. And it was – yes, it was still very much a learning curve of latches and timings and positions, but I was feeling so confident that it was really working this time. And then the midwife came in with her weighing scales.

What if it happens again?

Alex was born on a Friday. By the Sunday, he had lost 10% of his birth weight. This was the first kick. Don’t worry, I was told, this can be normal. Keep going. So I tried to keep going but the stress was creeping in. An elevated version of it… the memories and stress of my first attempt kept coming back.

What if, what if..what if it happens again. I don’t think I can do it. And all the time I kept seeing those words: “failure to thrive”.

On I went. I had no idea if he was getting anything from me. My milk had not come in yet, but I knew there was colostrum there from doing some hand expressing, so on I went. Requests to see a lactation consultant were almost laughed at – this is a bank holiday weekend and the busiest time of year to give birth (people like getting pregnant around Christmastime it seems), there’ll be no lactation consultant here until Tuesday.

The midwife was back with her scales and this time she also had a little kit to test his blood sugars. “If it’s low, you’ll really have to give him formula,” I was told.

No, I don’t want that. I want to keep breastfeeding him. But she looked at me as if to say, well I want to win the lotto but that’s not going to happen either, is it? She did the tests and weighed him again, and yes, he had lost more weight and his blood sugars were too low. The second kick. She went off to get the formula and I just sat there and cried. Failure to thrive.

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Was I harming my baby?

At this point I really started to question myself. Was I harming my baby by insisting on this need to breastfeed? Did I really know better than qualified medical nurses? My instinct was telling me to keep going, but my determination was really shaken and I was just full of doubt that I could do it.

I was told my supply was low. I was also told that the fact I was on fertility drugs for so long (two attempts at IVF and three frozen embryo transfers equals a lot of drugs) could have played a part in that. I was pumping and getting virtually nothing. So yet again, the more I had to give him formula, the less I had of my own milk. Your body will only produce what it thinks you need. Alex was two-weeks-old at this stage, and I had to make a decision.

Did I just give up? I honestly don’t know. I hope not. And I tortured myself for weeks with guilt afterwards. Some might say I took the easier route – I think formula feeding is actually more work with the making of the formula and the sterilising routines – but in a way I did take the easier route for me.

My baby was no longer failing to thrive. And neither was I.

Jennifer Ryan is a 30-something IT-working mother of two. She works Dublin and lives with her husband, two boys – Rian and Alex – and two dogs making a household of 6. She writes about IVF, fertility and motherhood in her blog The Scenic Route thescenicroutebyjen.com 

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About the author:

Jennifer Ryan  / IT-working mother of two and blogger

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