Whose boobs are they anyway….?

This is not a funny post. If you came here looking for a giggle, please rest assured that normal service will resume next week, unless it transpires that we did in fact leave Makka Pakka in that service station car park just outside Edinburgh, in which case the next post may be altogether more sombre…

I’d never planned to wade into the breast or bottle debate. Articles on this topic tend to provoke strong, polarised opinions. They can often upset, anger and frustrate and that’s not something I would ever want to do. I prefer just to (try to) give people a laugh.

However, recently, I’ve stumbled upon a lot of posts and articles on breastfeeding, and many have made me reflect on both my own experience, and the issue of a woman’s right to choose how to feed her baby.

I’m not going to debate whether breast milk has health benefits for a baby and its mother. I can’t. There’s a wealth of scientific proof and I’d look a bit silly.  Neither am I going to deny that women should be encouraged to breast feed, or that more support is desperately needed to enable those who wish to breast feed to do so.

My issue is not with breastfeeding, but rather with the often simplified nature of the debate surrounding it, namely the idea that ‘breast is best’ and therefore women who bottle feed are not giving their babies the best possible start in life. Nowhere are these views more evident than in NCT antenatal classes*, where bottle feeding is simply glossed over – ironic, given the NCT’s emphasis on women being in control of their own bodies and having choices.

Yes, the content of breast milk has more health benefits than formula. Yes, breast milk is more natural than formula. Yes, breastfeeding also has health benefits for the mother. And yes, in an ideal world, breast would be best. But we don’t live in an ideal world. And breast is not best for everyone.

I struggled to breastfeed my daughter and I’m sure that in many people’s minds (and in my own for a while), I gave up far too early. A fact I was reminded of everywhere I went with her for the first 6 months of her life.  As other women were whipping out their boobs at baby groups, I was unzipping the bottle bag, opening the bottle and pouring in the milk. I could sense the breastfeeding mothers looking away, embarrassed by the poor mum who had to bottle feed her baby. Perhaps this was my paranoia, but I felt as if I almost needed an excuse as to why I was not breastfeeding.  On many occasions I would witter something along the lines of, ‘Oh, difficult birth….painful caesarean…general anaesthetic……should have persevered…..wish I had….’. All the time, apologising for how I’d chosen to feed my own baby.

The truth was that having been wheeled onto a ward a couple of hours after my category 1 emergency c-section and still groggy from the general anaesthetic, I’d fallen into a deep sleep, only to wake at some point during the early hours to the sound of my baby crying. I first had to register that the baby lying in the cot next to me was mine.  I then had to establish how I was hooked up to the various machines, that I’d had a catheter fitted, and that I had a button on one side of me for morphine and a button on the other side for ‘Help’.

I pressed the help button and a nurse arrived. I had to explain that my baby was crying and I couldn’t pick her up because I was confined by wires and tubes to the bed. I told her I had no idea if she’d ever been fed since her birth and I didn’t know how I was supposed to do it. The nurse said that they would get me up in the morning and I could feed my baby then.

They did get me up and I tried to feed her but it didn’t go well, not least because I couldn’t sit in one position for long due to the pain from the prolonged labour and caesarean. My little girl couldn’t latch on properly and by the end of that first day, my nipples had begun to bleed.  I had no idea if my daughter was feeding from me or not.  She would not settle and in the middle of the following night, my 4th consecutive night with hardly any sleep, I broke down and told one of the nurses on duty that I was contemplating bottle feeding as breast feeding was just not working for me.

The following day I was moved to a private room with a team of healthcare assistants at my beck and call in case I was further tempted by the bottle. My daughter did finally manage to latch on properly, but only after having been repeatedly forced onto me by a healthcare assistant, which had caused her to become very distressed.  I found the whole experience incredibly upsetting and I couldn’t help feeling guilty for putting my baby through it. I couldn’t shake the thought of her difficult birth and what might have happened if the doctors and midwives hadn’t acted as quickly as they did during my labour.   While I knew there was a greater good in getting her to breastfeed, I had an overwhelming urge to protect my daughter from any further suffering, however it may be caused.

I persevered with feeding until after we got home a few days later. Then, during the night, I gave up. I just gave up. It’s very cathartic to write this as I’ve never been as honest about my decision. The fact is, I just didn’t want to do it anymore.  It was excruciatingly painful.  My baby wasn’t happy.  I was tired and frustrated with myself and was also becoming frustrated with my little girl and that wasn’t fair on her.  I’d missed the joy of seeing her come into the world and felt cheated.  And now the joy of being at home as a family of three just wasn’t there because I was so focused on why I couldn’t feed her properly.   I wanted to enjoy my little girl and I hated and feared the way I was beginning to feel.

We cracked open the emergency formula milk that night and my baby finally settled.  On seeing her so content for the first time, I became racked with the guilt that would stay with me for the first year of her life. I was letting her down, I was letting my husband down, and I had no idea how I was going to tell our friends and our NCT group, where breastfeeding was a given and no one in their right mind would bottle feed unless it was a last resort.  I had failed at giving birth ‘naturally’ and now I was failing at nurturing her.

What’s more, I was failing at breastfeeding through choice.

No doubt some may read this and consider me selfish for putting my own needs and wants before my baby’s health, perhaps referencing other women who had even more traumatic births than mine but still persevered and breastfed their babies successfully. They will have little sympathy for the guilt I felt because, simply put, I could have tried harder.

But here’s the thing. I’m not asking for sympathy.  I’m asking for understanding. Understanding that for some mothers, for all kinds of reasons, breastfeeding may not be right. Understanding that all the antibodies in the world can’t outweigh the benefit of a baby having a healthy, stable and happy mum. Understanding that women have the right to make educated choices for the benefit of their families, whether or not these choices are universally popular.

Looking back, I’m confident that I made the right choice, not just for me, but for my family. I have a healthy little girl, and we couldn’t possibly have a stronger bond. Maybe I’m not as mentally strong as other women, maybe there was an element of selfishness to my decision, and yes, maybe I could have persevered a bit more.  But in choosing not to persevere, and in recognising that the benefits of breastfeeding were less important than having a mentally and emotionally healthy mum, I chose to do what I now know was right for our family at the time. And I will never, and should never, be made to feel guilty for that.


*This was my personal experience from the classes I attended.

Brilliant blog posts on
Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

44 thoughts on “Whose boobs are they anyway….?”

  1. Such an honest post to which I completely agree with you! I too tried and gave up with boobfeeding.
    After paying £70 for a one day NHS antenatal class (can’t believe you have to pay now) I asked what to do if baby just wouldn’t latch and then it gets to the point you’re starving your baby and they responded “well we can’t discuss bottle feeding”
    It’s shocking how no one professional out there will discuss formula feeding and empowering women to feel OK with their choice. My little one had too much of an appetite and my milk supply couldn’t catch up so I have no regrets over my choice.

    1. I can’t believe you have to pay for NHS antenatal classes now either! I agree with you, formula feeding should be discussed as well as breastfeeding, and women should be able to make their own decision based on what is best for them and their family, without feeling judged.

  2. Its so hard isn’t it. I tried to BF both my babies, boy did I try. With my first I gave myself such a hard time about it and how hard it was and why I couldn’t do it I think I made myself ill. I did eventually switch to formula.After expressing her milk for 3 months… Then when I did although there was relief for me the feeling of being judged when we were out and having to explain my choice was horrible. So yes I too would like some understanding. Very well written post lovey and one I certainly can relate too. Thank you for sharing at #Familyfun xx

    1. Thanks for your lovely comment. I was also relieved to be formula feeding but when we were out I always felt so ashamed. It’s silly now when I look back, but at the time it was such a big deal.

  3. I love this post. I am still breastfeeding my 19 month old who is dairy intolerant. I don’t want to give her large quantities of synthetic milk and her eczema is aggravated by goats milk so I continue. I also find I get a lot of judgement from other people about even though I NEVER do it in public anymore as its not necessary. I totally agree that each persons breasts are their own business and whatever decisions you make for yourself and your baby should be accepted and respected by others, not questioned and judged by people who just aren’t in your shoes. #Brilliantblogposts

  4. Happy mummy, happy baby, happy baby, happy mummy. Simple. Oh I wish it was so simple and there wasn’t the stigma around the subject. My Mum didn’t breastfeed and she says she didn’t try, seeing me breastfeed her grandson has made her admit to feeling guilty for not trying with us! Guilt held for 34 years!!! It’s crazy! If you are both happy and healthy who should care!? Thanks for linking up to #familyfun

  5. I love this it’s totally my story to! All though pregnancy I was told I had to breastfeed. I to tried and failed after a c-section I had to stop in hospital for 5 days because feeding wasn’t sorted in the end I broke down and gave up and formula fed as my baby was losing too much weight. I totally understand your guilt at failing at birth and feeding I had this for ages to! This contributed towards my postnatal depression. Thanks so much for sharing your story it’s good to hear from other moms who have been through the same. xx

    1. Thank you so much for your comment. I was so nervous about posting this as it’s such a sensitive topic and I’ve never been very open about my own experience. I always felt like I was the only one who had gone through these feelings, but clearly not! It’s helped so much being able to talk about it and to realise that other people have been through the same thing. Thank you again for taking the time to read and comment.

      1. I’ve been in similar shoes. We didn’t breastfeed at all because of remnants of PTSD. According to some, that makes me a terrible mother who violated my baby’s human rights and shouldn’t have bothered having kids

        Better to have a happy mummy than a mummy ravaged by flashbacks though 🙂

  6. So long as both of you are happy what does it matter if people breast or bottle feed. After my emergency c-section I found it hard as well. I lost over 4 pints of blood so was feeeling weak. It took 5 days for my milk to come in. My baby was crying and I know she was hungry and we did try her on a bottle but she wouldnt take it. As soon as my milk came in she was fine. Those were the worst few days of my life. 9 months lter I’m still breastfeeding and feel so lucky to be able to do this.

    Thanks so much for linking up at #KCACOLS.
    Hope you come back again next Sunday.

    1. That must have been such a worry, and even worse when you’re recovering from such a lot of blood loss, which must have been quite traumatic. I agree, happiness is the most important thing – it’s just so easy to forget that, when you’re in the middle of ‘new mum haze’ and feel like you’re letting your baby down by not breastfeeding. Thanks for the supportive comment.

  7. Really moving piece. I breastfed my son for two years. It was bloody hard. That doesn’t make me a better or stronger mum though. Sometimes I felt feeding was a weakness – the easy quick fix – shove him on the boob for some quiet but long term he wasn’t eating as much solids and long term neither of us were sleeping much which had lots of knock ons as you can imagine. I think as mums we barate ourselves so often. We do what we feel we must do. I won’t even say what’s best for us or best for our babies as its often not that. I’ve often done things just to get through as mothering is bloody hard. I hope some day all mums can feel confirm the knowledge that it doesn’t matter what we do. Like you say breast may be scientifically beneficial but there’s so much more to mothering than science. Thanks for sharing your experiences. #KCACOLS

    1. Thank you for the lovely comment. I agree, we’re hard on ourselves and there’s a lot of pressure to do things a certain way (not just with feeding), but I think we also put pressure on ourselves because we worry about what other people think – I know I do sometimes. We just need to be confident in our own decisions (which is much easier said than done when you’re battling sleep deprivation!)

  8. My birth story wasn’t as traumatic but it didn’t go as we planned. I too had a c-section but I knew there was a large chance that was going to happen because Peachy was a breech baby. It was a routine and uneventful c-section. I had Peachy in my arms within an hour of her birth. That’s where our differences end. We too experienced difficulty with breastfeeding right from the start. The staff at the hospital were extremely forceful trying to get Peachy to latch on. When I tried to get them to back off a bit as I was afraid they would smother my baby with my boob, they snapped at me. The effects of their forcefulness would end up having a lasting effect on Peachy. She would never enjoy breastfeeding. Those bonding moments everyone talks about were stolen from us by thoughtless people.

    After a few days I was bruised and bleeding. It was horrible and Peachy was unhappy. I also turned to formula and felt the same relief to finally see a content baby. The only reason that Peachy still gets beastmilk now, almost 11 months later, is due to my trusty breastpump. Without it, I would have given up long ago. After such an aggressive introduction to breastfeeding, Peachy wanted nothing to do with my boobs. It felt horrible. I felt rejected. With a combination of formula and the milk I was able to pump, I bottle fed my sweet peach. I slowly worked on my supply and gently reintroduced the boob and eventually we were able to leave the formula behind. Peachy never really enjoyed breastfeeding but she accepts it now. To this day I pump milk every day as Peachy will not drink enough from me to keep my supply up. For me, breastfeeding was an uphill battle with physical and emotional pain along the way. The only time I can get her to nurse well is before her afternoon nap. Those quiet moments are wonderful. #KCACOLS

    1. Oh that’s so awful for you and your baby, but good on you for persevering. I struggled so much with how forceful the health care assistants assigned to us were when trying to get Little B to feed. It really affected me and ironically I think that their keenness to get Little B to latch on at all costs may have been the thing that started to make me think I didn’t want to breast feed. It certainly wasn’t the best introduction to it!

      You sound like you’ve had such a struggle but you’ve done brilliantly to provide your baby with breast milk for so long. I really admire your determination and I’m sure Peachy will appreciate it too, when she’s old enough to understand! Thank you so much for reading and commenting.

  9. This post is wonderful. I didn’t have C-sections but both my pregnancies had complications ending with induction and incredibly traumatic births. I tried BF and lasted 4 weeks with my first and only 4 days with my second. With both I tried so hard, I expected to last longer second time and was so disappointed and felt so guilty i folded so quickly. He just wouldn’t latch properly, within the first few days my nipples were stinging constantly and I was screaming in pain trying to latch him. I gave up one night when I realised I was sobbing so hard I couldn’t breathe because I was so stressed and in so much pain. I felt so guilty but relieved at the same time. It really isn’t best for everyone, thank you for sharing this xx #kcacols

    1. Thank you so much for your comment. Your experience with your second baby sounds exactly like mine. I remember the night I gave up so vividly: the stress, the pain, the relief and then guilt. It took such a long time to get over the guilt I felt. I even felt ashamed to bottle feed in public because I thought people would judge me. I really thought I’d regret my decision forever, but now when I look back, I’m certain that it was the right thing for us. I just wish it hadn’t taken me a year to realise it!

  10. Great post and I wrote something similar if you’re interested (

    Basically I’m a huge breastfeeding advocate and believe that ‘breast is best’ so imagine my disappointment when my second born couldn’t latch on.
    Like you I tried to persevere but eventually I just wanted him to put some weight on as he was just fading away.

    I’m still a bit gutted about it but it was the right decision for us. And I will never judge a bottle-feeding mum again as you never know what she has been through!!

    1. Thank you. I’ll have a read of your post too. That must have been so disappointing for you, but like you say, you’ve got to do what’s best for you and for your baby.

      When I was pregnant I was guilty of thinking that all bottle-feeding mums had simply chosen not to breast feed because I always assumed breastfeeding would be easy for everyone – little did I know! I’m much more open-minded now!

  11. Oh lovely – I have a post exactly like this half-written at the moment. It is SO hard making all these decisions for a baby, let alone having pressure of peoples judgement either way on your decisions and actions for your child. A fed baby is best. However that happens. #kcacols

    1. Thanks for your lovely comment – I’ll look out for your post! It took me such a long time to write this and then even more time to feel confident enough to post it. I worried about the kind of reception it would get but I’ve had such lovely comments from people – I feel quite moved! You’re right, a fed baby is best.

  12. What an honest and beautiful account. A happy mum and baby should always be the priority. It’s such a cultural judgement that one thing is better than another, and ironic that the judgement suddenly switches tack on anyone who breastfeeds a baby much older than one. #kcacols

  13. This is one of the reasons that I never wanted to breastfeed. My cousin is having a nightmare of a time with breastfeeding and I just couldn’t deal wth that at all. I need sleep to function and I’ve never regretted it once! #KCACOLS

  14. Brilliant post, every baby, every mother, and every experience is completely different. All we can ever do is make the decision that works best for us and our situation. A happy relaxed mummy definitely makes for a happier baby x

  15. Gosh it sounds like you really went through it. I can relate in some ways, with my eldest daughter I was pretty much told I HAD to breastfeed despite the fact she was premature and my milk was yet to come in. I was hooked up to the electric breast pump, turned onto full whack, and my nipples literally just tore across. I still have scars four years later and it was a horrific, really emotional, experience that ruined the whole experience for me. With my youngest two being premature I made the decision not to breastfeed as I had such a terrible experience with their sister, and then ended up with double mastitis which was equally horrific! Thank you for linking to #momsterslink

    1. Oh that really does sound horrific – I’m sorry you had to go through all that. I really think new mums should be encouraged to breastfeed, but not pressured into doing so. We can research breastfeeding and know all the benefits, but if we feel that for whatever reason it’s not going to be right for us, we should be able to decide to formula feed and that decision should be respected, without any negative judgement. We are the only ones who really know what is right for us and our families.

  16. My daughter wouldn’t latch. I tried two different lactation consultants and went to three different breastfeeding clinics to try and make it work. I finally compromised and bought an electric pump and pumped the breastmilk out for 9 months. So she still got it, just through an intermediary.

    Sometimes it just doesn’t work. And that’s okay.

    1. You’re totally right. You did so well to feed your daughter breastmilk for so long, despite the difficulties at the start – and it’s still breastmilk, whether it’s expressed or directly from you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.