“You don’t know her circumstances, maybe she couldn’t breast feed”
“Maybe she can’t breast feed for medical reasons”
“Some women just can’t breast feed”
“You should have breast fed, then you wouldn’t have to carry so much stuff”
These are all things that have been said to me or about me over the past 5 months since Baby was born. You see, I chose to bottle feed from Birth. Yes, you read that right, I chose to bottle feed. There were no extenuating circumstances, I didn’t fail at breast feeding and my boobs work just fine, thanks for asking.
Baby feeding seems to be a topic that can make even the most laid back mums get up in arms and for those of us who chose bottle over breast, any discussion of feeding can be the verbal equivocate of walking down a dark hall strewn with Lego bricks. I avoid these conversations like the plague, but sometimes I get drawn into them and I’m almost always left wondering, why do I do it to myself? why didn’t I just smile and nod and decline to comment? So, despite the knowledge that I’ll likely regret it, I’ve decided to share my experiences as a bottle feeding mum.
When I tell people that I bottle feed I nearly always get the same response “Lots of people struggle breast feeding…” nearly everyone assumes that I’ve failed at breast feeding and it always results in a very awkward conversation, where I have to explain in detail why I chose to bottle feed, while said person looks at me disapprovingly. But why should I have to explain myself? My daughter is happy, healthier than I am, and growing like a weed. Surely that is evidence enough that my choice has done her no harm?
In some ways, I think the breast feeding support groups have done their job a little too well. They have advertised breast feeding and breast feeding rights to a point where anyone who chooses not to breast feed is looked down on and treated like a pariah. There is now next to no support available to bottle feeding mothers, even my health visitor could provide little in the way of advice and support. She even tried to send me to a breast feeding group called breast mates, with the assurance that despite the flyer stating clearly that it was a breast feeding group, I would be welcome too. I unsurprisingly chose to give that one a miss.
You may be wondering why, when all the NHS leaflets and support groups advised “breast is best”, did I choose to bottle feed?
I made the decision early on based on several factors. The first being that all of my family and most of my partners family, had been bottle fed. None of us seem to have suffered for it, we didn’t grow second heads or contract terrible diseases, and I’m pretty sure the reason I’m overweight is my love of cake and chocolate, not the lack of breast milk. This, however, wasn’t the deciding factor. While I was certain that bottle feeding wouldn’t do Baby any harm, I was nowhere near as certain that breast feeding wouldn’t do me any harm.
I’m not ashamed to say that through my life I’ve suffered from depression, anxiety and stress, and while this history didn’t cause me any problems during my pregnancy, I was absolutely terrified of the prospect of post natal depression. As a result, I tried to arrange things so that the first few weeks with Baby were as stress free as they could be with a new baby, and having read many articles and personal experiences around breast feeding, I was certain that if anything would crack me, breast feeding would be it!
Despite my growing resolution to bottle feed, I didn’t want to do so if Baby really would suffer for it, so I started reading up on scientific studies researching the comparison between breast milk and formula. There are hundreds of articles about this online but I didn’t want articles, I wanted cold hard facts straight from the horses mouth.
Eventually I found a paper which explained that the majority of studies had been done in the developing world. Countries like Africa where clean water and medical care are in short supply. In these situations breast milk is considerably better than formula, however in countries like England the paper concluded that there are health benefits, but at present there is no evidence that these benefits are substantial. In fact, it suggested that the greatest benefit of breast feeding in countries like England is the money it saves. For me, this was the final nail in the breast feeding coffin, which left me certain that bottle feeding was the right choice for me.
I would be lying if I said that I have never for one moment regretted my decision. Breast feeding is natural and there were moments when my milk came in that I considered combination feeding, and a moment when my milk dried up when I cried because I knew I would never have the chance to change my mind again. These were very short lived and are more than made up for by how happy Baby and I are bottle feeding.
Bottle feeding isn’t for everyone, just as breast feeding isn’t for every one. I just wish we could all agree that “fed is best” and stop isolating bottle feeding mums like me.