This is an over-done debate but I thought I would weigh in on the subject. It is an emotionally heavy subject. Some would think that I must think “breastfeeding is the best and only way!” given that I chose to relactate when Cameron was 4 weeks old.
Although I cannot dispute the well-known facts surrounding the benefits of breastmilk… Life is not black and white like that. In particular, motherhood is not that simple.
I’m sure that most mothers want to provide this for their babies but (as I know all too well) really complex and difficult things happen post-birth… mentally, physically, hormonally, emotionally and in your living environment. These things can alter what you intended on doing and can make some things difficult.
At the height of my battle with anxiety attacks I was sent to the hospital in an ambulance because I was suicidal and delusional from sleep deprivation. I was given sedatives which meant I could not breastfeed (I was already on anti-depressants since the day before after attempting to get help which I could breastfeed with).
I remember screaming through the heavy sedatives and having to be held down to the bed while I begged for my mind to shut down and let me sleep. It doesn’t even feel like it was me. I didn’t sleep… not until a few hours later where I drifted off for 1 hour and 40 mins before waking up in a panic with excrutiatingly painfully engorged breasts that were leaking down to the knees in my nightgown.
Cameron was fed formula that entire time and I outwardly acted as though this wasn’t an issue to me when, at the time, it most certainly was (even though I suggested it). I felt like a failure. I felt like less of a person – less of a mother. I imagined Cameron felt like I was punishing him and like he wished he had a different Mum. Admittedly, I was dealing with postnatal depression and anxiety which really over-dramatised what I was feeling but it still was my reality at the time.
I chose to relactate because I had guilt associated with formula feeding… this is true. But I’ve since grown from that experience. I am very thankful that I did relactate because it is much easier (no sterilising, getting up at night, cost of formula, measuring it out, warming bottles, burping him as frequently as I did have to)…
But also because I love it. However, I was blessed with that choice, the support required (from my husband and family), a baby that slept well, the ability to relactate fully and the resources I needed. Not many people have those things.
Ultimately I am pro-feeding-your-baby. I think that if you can breastfeed (meaning you have the support necessary, the physical means and do not have emotional difficulties surrouding it – such as in some cases with sexual abuse survivors) that it is a good idea to try it.
People will tell you it is natural but it really is a learned skill – both by yourself and your baby. It can be painful, confusing and unexpectedly difficult for some. And that is valid… so valid.
What truly matters is that your baby is fed and you are functioning. Although I am happy that I relactated I still think back to how I desperately pumped on a schedule – even waking at night to pump while Cameron slept peacefully. How I recorded the amount of combined mLs from each breast and willed there to be enough… How I went out of my way time and time again to buy different products, conduct research or see different people so that I could get to where I am.
I don’t regret it but I can only imagine what would have happened if I didn’t succeed… and I do wish I could go back and tell myself that it isn’t the be all and end all.
I mean, look around you… can you tell who was breastfed? Are they walking around more successful and happy? Many breastfed babies are going to grow up to consume less than desirable things. I know that it is ‘ideal’ to do all we can as parents to optimise their health but at what cost?
All the guilt and shame that is placed on mothers who formula feed is so unneccessary. I don’t think it will ever go away and while I agree with those who say breastfeeding is ‘ideal’ – that is only if you have the means, the support, the cooperative baby, etc.
Many things that are ‘ideal’ are not always possible… or optimal for individual situations… Otherwise we would all be doing the same thing. There is so much more to life then belittling others for doing something differently.