‘I won’t be made to feel guilty for bottle feeding my child’

Ellen's daughter, bottle feeding her son

Ellen's daughter, bottle feeding her son - Credit: Archant

It’s the start of World Breastfeeding Week, but our mum-to-be won’t be going through it all again.

I’ve been on a bit of a shopping frenzy this week.

Although there are still three months to go before D-day, I felt that unmistakable nesting urge to spend money on a variety of baby products I will only use for a very brief period of time.

Pram, car seat, moses basket, tiny fitted sheets, super soft blankets, a plastic bath, little hooded towels, babygros, vests, hats, booties, a mountain of wet wipes, nappies, muslins and a nice big tub of formula.

Wait. What?!

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Yes, today – which ironically marks the start of World Breastfeeding Week – I am going to take the opportunity to say categorically that this time, I’m not going to put myself through the tears and trauma.

After the obligatory few days of providing him or her with those vital first antibodies, I shall be introducing a bottle and this time, I shall not be made to feel guilty for it.

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Breastfeeding is a hot topic. So scorching in fact that it conjures up more passionate debate than whether or not we should bring back fox hunting (for the record, I’m against).

But the two “camps” are not as black and white as the Breastpo and the Bottle Brigade like to make out.

I, like many others, would defend a mother’s right to breastfeed, whether it’s by calling out the fools who try to shame mums or supporting those who have a hard time breastfeeding in public.

I am also under no illusion that breastfeeding makes sense. It’s cheaper, more convenient and good for the newborn.

But… deep breath. The truth is I hated it. And I don’t just mean I was relieved to be done with the pump or happy when I was able to wear a normal bra again.

I mean I hated every single aspect of it – the discomfort, helplessness, exhaustion and humiliation right through to the boredom of being stuck, babe in arms, the remote control out of arms length and a desperate thirst raging in my mouth.

It’s meant to come naturally isn’t it? But when my daughter arrived eight years ago it seemed she had not received the memo.

My midwife refused to let me leave hospital until I got her to latch on properly.

And after the embarrassment of having her man-handle me into the right position, tears streaming down my face, she said it was my fault that not much sustenance was forthcoming.

I felt like I had failed the first test of motherhood.

After all, if I were a “proper” mother, breastfeeding my child would be satisfying and fulfilling, not painful and faintly repellent.

If I were a “proper” mother, I’d be happy and radiant like the women in all the breastfeeding leaflets the health visitor kept shoving at me, instead of feeling raw and trapped.

For a long time I was wracked with guilt over hating something society tells me I should want to do.

And I clung to the medical excuse I was given to end my misery – that my baby was starving and I wasn’t producing enough milk to satisfy her.

When I met other mums I felt a need to explain myself, getting a head tilt of concern, a knowing comment about poor supply or blocked ducts or worse, a barrage of suggestions about how I could do better.

But what I never added was that, even if I could handle the task like a Cravendale dairy cow, I would have quit at the first opportunity because I didn’t enjoy a single moment of it.

There wasn’t then – and isn’t now - a safe space for women to say they don’t breastfeed.

Not because of a supply or medical issue, but just unapologetically because they don’t want to.

So that’s what this is.

This is me presuming that I cannot be the only one who feels this way and saying that I think we shouldn’t be afraid to say so.

Motherhood is an intensely personal experience, different for every woman.

I am all for that wonderful “sharing” that new mums do – reliving the horrors or joys of childbirth, their confusions or revelations about feeding and their tales of overcoming lack of sleep and bedtime routines.

But there are mums who so staunchly believe that their pathway is the right one that they can’t – or won’t – accept that there are other ways of doing things.

Of course, I am envious of women who enjoy rather than endure breastfeeding.

But I cannot understand why some insist I “persevere” with something which, far from helping me bond with baby, makes me want to run off in the opposite direction.

“Do what’s best for baby,” they say.

But what about what’s best for me?

At the risk of sounding like the freak of nature that so many will label me as, I don’t think my baby would benefit at all from having a sobbing mess of a matriarch.

We all want what’s best for our offspring, of course. But a large part of motherhood is about making the right choices for your family.

Stay at home or go to work, co-sleep or separate room, dummy or no dummy.

And breastfeeding or formula feeding should be one of those choices too.

For me, motherhood only started being enjoyable once I stopped forcing something that, ironically, felt like the least natural thing in the world.

I strongly believe my role as a mother wasn’t and isn’t defined by how I chose to feed my baby.

And neither is yours.


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