When my daughter was born, she weighed a whopping 4.3 kilograms. Due to her large size, the nurses were required to test her blood sugar levels just hours after she entered this world. The tests confirmed that her blood sugar levels were too low and she was admitted to the neonatal unit for observations.
As I had delivered by way of emergency c-section, I was bed ridden and unable to travel to the unit to visit my baby. She spent six hours away from her father and I, and it was one of the most heartbreaking things to experience. We would later be told that the nurses had tested incorrectly resulting in a wrong reading. Our daughter was absolutely fine.
During her time in the neonatal ward, Tia-Lee was bottle fed. When she was returned to me, she struggled to latch and I was unable to breastfeed her. When I put her to the breast, she would pop off and scream. After trying for close to an hour with no success, and both my husband and I nearing exhaustion, we decided to feed her the bottle of formula gifted to us by the hospital. She sucked it down within minutes and slept peacefully for hours.
Things didn’t get any easier when we returned home. I used a breast pump round the clock since she continued to refuse my breast but had no trouble drinking from a bottle. Every feed was a struggle. We would follow the same routine over and over. I would put my breast to her mouth, she would take a few sucks, pop off and scream the house down. I would keep trying until eventually I would submit and give her a bottle. I was not going to starve my child.
The after effects of the c-section didn’t help. You literally use your core muscles for everything and I was told mine were out of action for at least six weeks. I couldn’t pick up my daughter. I couldn’t bath her, and I couldn’t change her nappy. Feeding my baby was the one thing I was capable of doing, and I couldn’t even do that. I felt I was failing as her māmā. I felt that my inability to breastfeed my daughter was a complete personal failure that would affect her for the rest of her life. I broke down and balled my eyes out.
When I was pregnant, I was all about breastfeeding. I was determined to be a breastfeeding māmā. You hear it everywhere, breast is best. I was convinced that my baby and I would be naturals at it. I planned to nurse my baby wherever I was if she needed to eat and I dared anyone to say anything nasty or ignorant. I was just so sure that breastfeeding would come so easily to us; I didn’t even acknowledge the fact that it might not work out.
My husband convinced me that bottle feeding our daughter didn’t make me a bad māmā and that because I had tried, I was a successful breastfeeding māmā in his book. He told me that I shouldn’t feel ashamed for doing my best. I continued to express until Tia-Lee was four months old. As soon as she started eating solids, I was able to wean her off breast milk and on to formula. Unfortunately, I couldn’t keep up with her feeding demands as she was drinking more than I was able to express. Again, my husband reminded me that I shouldn’t feel guilty for nourishing our baby with formula.
My daughter is now ten months old and she is thriving. I am counting down the days when we no longer have to pay for formula ($22 a week by the way). So much of the literature on baby care completely ignores self-care for mothers. Maybe instead of pushing something that is unattainable for so many mothers, we as a society should just advocate whatever is best for baby and māmā – even if that means bottle feeding. Tia-Lee is happy and healthy and I know I did the very best I could, for both of us.