In my humble opinion, whilst breastfeeding remains wonderful, it is significantly harder than bottle feeding. I am not disputing the health benefits for both mother and baby. Nor am I denying the convenience of breastfeeding (milk on tap at the right temperature, no sterilising bottles, bloody marvellous).
I have, however, been once again reminded about the truly relentless nature of feeding a newborn. Once again, I am left dubious as to whether it is worth the hassle (*hides from the glare of breastfeeding peer counsellors*).
I am, of course, aware that feeding of any kind is difficult when it comes to those first few weeks. But nothing is quite as draining (both physically and emotionally) as having a small human welded to your nipples 24 hours a day.
All other activity is put on hold to sit feeding the child, sometimes for hours at a time, sometimes with no more than half an hour between feeds.
Routines are glorious once they are established, but I am a great believer in feeding on demand for the first few weeks at least. On demand does what it says on the tin. You are a slave to a breast-hungry monster who never seems to want a cuddle without having a nibble. 'Look for cues to indicate baby is hungry' they say. Well he tries to eat my neck/shoulder/hair if I attempt a cuddle and often cries until he is attached, so we are going with his 'cues.' I swear he is often over feeding, but as I can't truly monitor how much milk he is getting WHO KNOWS?
At times it is difficult to do anything else. Good luck negotiating the washing and shopping 'between feeds' when the illusive 'between' time is non-existent. The health visitor advised I need to encourage him to feed for longer. I should, she explained, view each feed as his opportunity to have a three-course meal. Breast one should be his starter and main (to allow for two 'let downs') and if he finishes those, I should offer the second breast 'as dessert.' Fucking marvellous - he gets ten feasts every day and I am lucky to finish a meal unless it has been cut into fork-sized chunks by my other half. Tickle his feet to keep him going. Change his nappy 'between courses'. The palava rolls on.
You are a prisoner on your own sofa. This may sound nice, but you can forget having time to play with any of your other children, unless of course by 'play' you mean read them a book next to you as you feed. I miss spending quality time with my eldest. When family members come round to entertain him I often think how much I would like to take him to the park or to the shops, and leave my newest boy with one of the many willing volunteers for an hour or two, complete with a bottle. I simply do not have the time to express this time around. Instead, my precious time with Boy One is invariably cut short by the phrase of doom 'I think he's hungry again.' Of course he bloody is.
My wonderful husband was at home with me for our boy's first four weeks. I was so very lucky in that respect - his support as ever remains a godsend. But we are both left frustrated when his willingness to help is rendered pointless by the simple fact that he cannot feed the baby.
And then there is the feeding itself. No disputing the ease of getting a boob out to comfort a screaming child. Anytime, any place, anywhere.
But what if you become fed up with getting them out? Heaven forbid you might want to wear something which doesn't have a button-down front. Or a 'secret' feeding panel (I can spot a JoJo nursing top a mile off, there is no secret).
I have no shame in feeding in public. My boobs are doing their job, I get that. But the constant muslin-over-the-shoulder-buttoning-down-of-outfit-to-feed whilst also attempting to eat your own food/play with the toddler at the park/have coffee with friends does take its toll.
As does adjusting breast pads to avoid wet T-Shirt patches and having to wear a bra day and night. After 40 weeks gestation there is relief at being master of your own body again. Except with breastfeeding, the complete child body dominance lingers - little or no alcohol, limited caffeine, avoiding foods that can make the baby agitated or windy.
It takes commitment. And patience. Which runs in short supply after two-hourly night feeds and an inability to have five minutes to yourself.
All of the above assumes the baby is feeding well, that you have adequate milk supply, your nipples remain crack free and you are not on the verge of mastitis. I have met women so desperate to continue breastfeeding they have cried through the sheer pain of feeds. They have continued with bleeding nipples in total depression at the feeding situation, because the thought of 'giving up' is somehow worse. Such cases always lead me to ponder 'surely, it cannot be worth it?'
Well I don't think it is worth it.
For me, this time, it is still early days. I guess we are not in any kind of feed and sleep cycle yet. But if the relentless one to two hourly feeds continue for much longer I know exactly what to do. I will march on down to Boots, grab a tub of Aptamil, rest easy in the knowledge he has had a decent 5ozs and GET ON WITH MY LIFE.
Lesson 30: breastfeeding is bloody hard work. You will be talked out of bottle feeding by any number of health professionals, but you don't get a medal for 'sticking at it'. Don't be a hero.
Sometimes, it doesn't work out.
Sometimes, the wellbeing of the whole family improves with the switch to bottles.
Sometimes, Mums deserve the 'best' option too.
The Unmumsy Mum