Bottle or Breast – We Are All Just Doing Our Best

“We always did feel the same we just saw it from a different point of view.”

This is a quote from Bob Dylan’s gorgeous “Tangled Up In Blue” from the 1975 album Blood on the Tracks. I was listening to it in the car the other day – toddler complaining loudly in the back-seat (nothing compares to Let It Go in her eyes) when it struck me how perfectly this lyric sums up our ongoing battle; breast vs bottle. This sounds a little off the wall but bear with me.

We all love our children. We all want to do what is best for them. We all want to be happy and healthy mothers. Yet we all make different choices about what it means to be the best mom we can be. Sometimes these choices don’t always feel like choices or they may feel as if they are forced upon us by chance or circumstance but ultimately our main aim is to do our best.

Recently Dr. Amy Brown of Swansea University released a book (Breastfeeding Uncovered) which, at first, seemed destined to take guilt out of the equation when it comes to feeding our babies. She believes society as a whole needs to become more breastfeeding friendly. Dr. Brown says it’s time we remove blame and pressure from individual women and look at society’s attitude to breastfeeding. She is right. We as a society do need to be more culturally accepting of breastfeeding and more open to allowing women the opportunities to do it.

However, while I applaud Dr. Brown’s attempt to revolutionise how we perceive breastfeeding I can’t completely step on board with her. In order to remove the guilt surrounding infant feeding we need to acknowledge that how you feed your baby is your choice. It is individual circumstances, feelings and beliefs that determine how we will feed our babies and even with the most open society in the world not every woman will choose to breastfeed.

According to Dr. Brown only two per cent of women cannot physically breastfeed. This means women are choosing not to breastfeed for other reasons. Though I haven’t actually read the book itself I do wonder does this figure include a baby’s inability to latch properly or babies with allergies to milk? Also taking physical abilities out of the equation altogether what about mothers who don’t feel comfortable breastfeeding? Or mothers who feel it just isn’t right for them? Or mothers, who, for whatever reason, just don’t wish to breastfeed. Perhaps only two per cent can’t physically breastfeed but this grossly underplays other non-societal factors that might influence a mother’s choice.

Choice. Something we seem all too quick to forget when to comes to a woman’s body.

Dr. Brown believes that we should be warning about the “risks” of formula. It is this type of emotive language which has driven so many mothers to feelings of intense guilt and regret if breastfeeding doesn’t work out for them. So while I agree with Dr. Brown that more needs to be done to make our society more breastfeeding friendly, I don’t think that demonising formula feeding is the best way to go about that. I think a more relaxed culture which allows a mother the right to choose and then support to make that choice possible is what we need to be working towards. Support is the important word here – not pressure, not judgement just support. This means we respect a mother’s right to choose be that bottle, breast or a combination of both.

I agree with Dr. Brown that women are not getting the support they need; all mothers are not getting the support they need. Mothers who want to breastfeed need proper advice along with the ability to feed wherever they like without feeling judged. Mothers who want to bottle-feed need advice too and the ability to feed wherever they like without feeling judged.

We are all just mothers trying to do our best.

Bob was right – we do all feel the same – we all want what is best for our children. In reality, however, this might not look the same from family to family. But that’s okay. We might come at it from a differing point of view but we all love our babies and are doing our best.

The Importance of Mummy Instincts in the Great Sleep Debate

Many parents today seem to be confusing the terms ‘self-soothe’ and ‘crying it out’. It is easy to get the two muddled up as many parenting articles tend to get the two mixed up. Today I read a blog by Sarah Ockwell-Smith on Huff Post Parents (UK Edition) which begged parents not to teach their children to ‘self-soothe’. She believed this skill was beyond babies (although she doesn’t actually clarify what age group she is referring to) and therefore not the correct way of helping a child to sleep.

She made the point that as adults we are capable of logic and therefore can soothe ourselves while a child can’t. This is true. However, are we really helping our children by rushing in when they make even the slightest of whimpers?

I will be clear. I am not talking about tiny babies. They need our care, around the clock, twenty four seven no matter how sleep deprived we are. They are only just learning about the world and need constant feeds, changes and cuddles. However, a baby that is beginning to drop their night feed might just be ready to sleep without constant attendance (outside of the baby monitor of course).

My daughter slept through the night until about five am when she was about four months old. She dropped the night feed all of a sudden when I woke and realised I had slept undisturbed for the first time in months. A surprise and a very pleasant one!

A child who self-soothes is not necessarily one who has been left to cry it out. I know we never tried that method and our daughter does self-soothe. We didn’t sleep train beyond the usual advice of bed-time routine and put child down drowsy but awake. Sometimes she fell asleep on her bottle. We still put her down. Perhaps we did sleep train but didn’t have a name for it. Regardless we have a champion sleeper and winner of the Nap Olympics.

I have, on occasion, made the mistake of going in when she has merely snuffled or coughed. Then she sees mama – ‘oh joy’ she thinks ‘playtime!’. I try to leave the room again and she cries. Well I don’t want to be a ‘bad mother’ so I go and pick her up. I bring her into bed. She chats to me for the rest of the night while I lapse in and out of consciousness. Husband is greeted by two grizzly bears the next morning and she is wrecked for the next few days. I am obviously a slow learner as I have done this on more than once.

However, I think the real reason I rush in and pick her up is that I have been tricked into believing, through numerous online articles and debates, that I am a bad mother if I do not respond immediately. If I leave her to settle for even a minute I am guilty of neglect. She is two. She knows how to play her mama. She knows daddy won’t play ball but mama is the ‘soft touch’.

Now I guess people will say ‘oh yes they are only young once though sure a few sleepless nights isn’t the end of the world’. All very true. But I know, deep down, my intervening isn’t doing her any good. I have sat with her on nights she is wakeful while every instinct is screaming at me to leave. My mothering instincts tell me she sleeps better without me. And this is true. I have seen first-hand proof of this but all the while I tell myself ‘but you are a bad mother is you leave’. This is what reading every parenting post out there will get you; utter confusion and guilt with every move you make.

I guess the real trick is knowing your own child. Does your child really need you? Some children may very well need that attention at night. Mine doesn’t. Honestly I think we just got lucky. So my advice, for what it’s worth, is do whatever works for you and your child and your family. If self-soothing works; do it. If cuddling all night works for you; do it. Don’t let yourself, like me, be seduced into going against those instincts. Mama (and quite possibly even dada) knows best.

Why can’t well just get along?

Breastfeeding and Bottle feeding: the eternal war with no winners only hurt feelings on both sides. As a society we have become obsessed with the way mothers feed their babies when all that should really concern us is that those babies are actually fed. We all know most mothers are doing their best; the best for their babies, the best for themselves and the best thing for their families. If you ignore any part of that equation baby won’t be happy either.

But I’m not here today to rehash all the old arguments or judge anybody except those who place unnecessary burdens on new mothers by sticking to a dogma that doesn’t always work for everybody. Yes breast is best. No-one, I imagine, would argue with that. However, and here’s the kicker, it’s only right when it works for all involved. Mother and baby must feel happy and comfortable in this relationship. This is not always the case. Some babies can’t breastfeed but thrive on bottles. Some mothers just don’t feel comfortable doing it. These are the mothers I am speaking to today.

Before I got pregnant I wouldn’t even wear a bikini when going to the local swimming pool, I abhorred shared changing rooms and don’t even get me started on cleavage revealing outfits… oh no I would have been much too embarrassed. I think this mortification started during my teenage years; I wasn’t too happy with my budding chest and would have done anything to hide it! This feeling still lingers so when baby was due I felt so stressed at the thought of breastfeeding. Having my boob on show around the clock? Oh dear God no! But I told myself it’s the best thing for your baby so suck it up. I tortured myself for a full four months (stress, anxiety, fake smiles hiding a growing discontent) before confiding in my own mother. She shrugged and said just bottle feed then. A weight was lifted. Hurrah I could look forward to my baby coming again! The only judgement I met with was a rotund nurse in my consultant’s office who tried to bully me into attending a breastfeeding class. She was met with a stern no. She later tried to convince me to just give the colostrum (liquid gold in her words) but this was met with a frosty silence. No my downstairs area might be about to become public property but my chest was staying under wraps thank you very much!!

So my tiny lady was born and thrived on her bottles. But still I felt guilty. I knew I’d put my own mental block about breastfeeding before (potentially) her health. I was wracked with guilt. Still to this day I regret not feeding her myself but I also don’t regret it all if you see my meaning. I know it was something I just couldn’t do. I am proud that I knew myself well enough to realise that and didn’t put my family though days or weeks of misery to confirm what I knew all along. My daughter is still healthy with only the odd cough or cold and as smart as she is healthy. I can take my head off the metaphorical chopping board. Now all that worries me is her ‘passionate’ (read stubborn, headstrong etc.) nature. But I still feel saddened by all the negative rhethoric that surrounds mothers who choose to bottle feed for whatever reason. I have no problem with people who do breastfeed – in fact I’m slightly envious of their confidence and determination – I applaud their ability to do this. I just wish myself and the Bottle Brigade could be left to quietly get on with our own way of feeding.

Of course not all women who breast-feed are out to judge. This is very far from true. They are more worried about a society that can be strangely out-dated when it comes to breastfeeding. More needs to be done to make it a normal part of our day-to-day lives. However, I don’t think that bullying women to do something they are not comfortable with is the way to do this. It will just make both mother and baby miserable. I’ve read numerous posts on the Fearless Formula Feeder’s website and the things those women put themselves through would shock you. They were told ‘breast is best’ so they went through agonies to feed their child that way. This is not acceptable. Women should never feel pressure like this. Encouragement yes, support yes, bullying no. Allow women, who have all the facts and figures, to make their own choice.

So I refer to my original question; why can’t we all just get along? Perhaps the way we can change is just by accepting each other. I think it’s lovely when I see a mother and baby sharing that special bonding moment during those early newborn feeds whether the feed is given by bottle or breast. It’s all beautiful. If we can just accept that it’s a mother’s right to feed her child as she sees fit than perhaps the world will be a better place for our children to grow up in.

For anyone struggling with guilt surrounding bottle feeding don’t feel you are alone. The Fearless Formula Feeder’s website is a resource I would highly recommend. Let the guilt go. You are a wonderful mother.

 

 

 

 

 

The longest day…

5.00 am – I expected to be a little worse for wear this morning, perhaps even a little hungover. I had planned to attend a close friend’s birthday dinner and although I was only planning on staying for the dinner it doesn’t take much for me to get tipsy since I became a mum. Instead I am writing this with what feels like a steel claw gouging out my insides. I have barely slept and already suspect I won’t be able to sleep again for the rest of the day. The reason – I have a toddler and I’m fairly certain she will use her tiny bat-like senses to ascertain that mama is now awake so the day should begin.

Yesterday afternoon my friendly monthly visitor arrived and she was much, much worse than usual. This was all wrong; I had planned to be heading out and staying out past seven o’clock (a rarity in this mama’s life). Instead I found myself thrown on the couch in my p.j.s by half six clutching a hot water jar and wanting to die. So you better believe this mama was not in a good mood. By the time my daughter went to bed all I wanted was carbs covered in cheese and lots of sugar. I felt an immense relief when she finally fell asleep. This was quickly followed by that old b**** guilt who loves to attack when I’m at my most vulnerable! What kind of a mother am I who longs for her child to just go to bed?

It turns out I’m the normal kind. We all have days where our child’s bedtime becomes a fantasy on par with winning the lotto. Those days when every second is a minute and every minute at least an hour and you don’t know how you manage to keep on your feet. There isn’t enough coffee in the world and your patience is frayed and it’s only lunchtime.

5.15 pm – My daughter and I have been awake all day. Yes All Day. No nap instead just lots and lots of tears (both mine and hers). I tried to rock her to sleep at nap-time and then made the fatal mistake of attempting to place her in her cot. Her eyes immediately flew open and she screamed. So I sat with her for another eternity on the bed just holding her. She fell asleep but then woke five minutes later. The day spiralled out of control from there. My husband is now minding the tiny lady while I attempt to type the post I started over twelve hours earlier. Guilt and tiredness wrestle for domination in my brain – have I been a bad mama this weekend? Why didn’t she sleep? When is it bedtime again?

Motherhood – it can be a right pain in the butt at times.