WHY FORMULA FEEDING GETS A BAD REP
Lisa Williams introduces Adam Ruins Everything's eye-opening podcast with Courtney Jung on the history of formula feeding...
I had to formula feed my son. A combination of tongue tie and low milk production meant he failed to regain his birth weight in those first few weeks, and rapidly started dropping down the centile chart.
When the midwife told me I would have to top-up with formula, I broke down into hysterical tears. I felt like I had failed my baby, and that my body had failed me. When I fed him his first bottle, I felt as if I was feeding him poison, and I used Medela bottles so that, when feeding him out and about, people might think it was expressed breast milk.
It's not that I didn't try to breastfeed. I did skin-to-skin, tried all sorts of positions, pumped for Great Britain, went to several breastfeeding clinics, and forked out £140 on a lactation consultant whose solution to my wounded nipples and crying baby was to surround me in what felt like 17 different cushions and suggest I take some out with me if I wanted to feed in public.
When my son's posterior tongue tie was diagnosed and snipped (by an NHS service which has, sadly and ironically, now been cut itself), we thought that would solve the problem. A health visitor said I could try to breastfeed exclusively, recommending I drop the top-ups by one a day.
It hurts to think back to this period, and to remember how hungry and confused he must have felt to have those vital top-ups taken away.
I don't want to look back at how long this experiment lasted. My memory of this period is of having a baby who was either crying or feeding. There was no sleep happening for either of us, and his weight plummeted once again. It hurts to think back to this period, which also happened to be a heat wave, and to remember how hungry and confused he must have felt to have those vital top-ups taken away.
What happened is quite clear to me now. I am not the bustiest of women, and that, combined with the tongue tie, a c-section, and the severe sleep deprivation meant that my milk supply was never going to be enough for my baby. I feel sad for myself that I felt such a sense of failure, and that information on safe bottle feeding was not readily available (neither did anyone think to say, for example, that I might not have enough breast tissue to produce enough milk). All I know is that after my exclusive breastfeeding experiment, we went back to the bottle, did mixed feeding for the next eight months, and never looked back.
But I was reminded of my experience this morning, when a panicked message popped up on a Facebook mums group of which I'm a member. Her baby had dropped down to the 0.4 centile and the health visitor had suggested she top-up. She said she felt like a failure, and she didn't know what to do.
I replied with a short message about my experience, saying 'top-ups are great, I needed to do them too when my son was dropping down the chart. He put on weight like a boss and I still managed to breastfeed too'. Within two minutes my message had been deleted by an admin, who said 'all comments advocating the use of formula milk have been deleted'.
I looked at some of the comments which hadn't been deleted. They included suggestions such as to wean early, and not to worry about anything, that her son would be fine.
I messaged her privately to give her my full account, and to tell her to access some breastfeeding support to eliminate latch problems and tongue tie, but that she mustn't be afraid of using formula if that's what was best for her baby.
Formula saved my son. I feel very grateful for its invention. I don't want to think of where we would be if it hadn't been around. It's not very politically correct to say so, but it had its advantages too: I was able to get some sleep, finally, and it allowed my husband and other close relatives to have lovely bonding time with my son, who is as sociable and as healthy and as flourishing as they come.
I thought it might be a good time to share this podcast, by the wonderful, funny American mythbuster Adam Ruins Everything.
He speaks to Professor Courtney Jung about the history of formula, and why it gets such a bad rep now. It is a very interesting examination of the issues: from its origins as a life-saver, to its disastrous introduction to developing countries by Nestle in the 80s. It goes some way to explaining why I cried so hysterically during that terrible midwife visit, and if it makes one other panicked mother feel less guilty about topping-up, then I'll be glad.