My crime? Giving my son Harrison formula milk when I couldn’t produce enough breast milk for one feed, let alone the regular supply he needed.
Over the next few days, as the midwives repeatedly accused me of not trying hard enough, I became exhausted and miserable. I’d even say I came close to developing post-natal depression as a result of the insensitivity and heartlessness of these women.
The hospital was decorated with posters and leaflets on breastfeeding. Antenatal groups talked of its joys as though there were no alternatives. Websites such as Mumsnet were full of forums where forceful, aggressive women tore into anyone who suggested that milk could come from anywhere except a nipple.
Everything seemed to reinforce the message that I was a bad mother. So much so, that the first three months of my baby’s life were tainted by guilt and pressure — precious time that I can never get back.
These feelings came flooding back this week when I read that Save The Children has recommended formula milk be plastered with ‘cigarette-style’ health warnings informing mother that ‘breast is best’. I can’t even imagine how much worse I’d have felt if these warnings had been in place when I was bottle-feeding my newborn son.
I’m most certainly not against breastfeeding, and I appreciate that in many countries where food is scarce and the water supply is poor, it is far and away the best option.
Both the NHS and the World Health Organisation recommend that you exclusively breastfeed your baby for the first six months.
I know that breast milk is good for a baby. The all-important first feed, the colostrum, contains antibodies to protect a newborn against disease and allergies. And breast milk is lower in fat than ordinary milk.
But I also believe that in a first-world country such as Britain, formula milk is a perfectly acceptable option, and women like me who end up feeding our babies this way — through circumstance or, yes, even by choice — should not be demonised.
I had certainly never expected to find myself in this position. Falling pregnant fairly easily at 33, two years ago, I’d had a reasonably smooth nine months.
My husband Reece, 35, a film maker, and I had attended ante-natal classes where we’d learnt about breastfeeding. We both assumed this was something I’d do easily. We stocked up on breast pads in advance, and had not even glanced at the bottles or sterilisers in the chemist.
Harrison was born two days early on June 21, 2011, and while my pregnancy was smooth, the birth was not.
Ms Kleiman said that Harrison flourished after his first fed with formula milk, while she began feeling like a mother
Although I came into hospital with the requisite two-minute contractions, the midwife refused to look at me as I wasn’t — in her opinion — screaming loudly enough.
Four hours later, Harrison arrived, a healthy 6lb. Immediately after the birth, he showed no interest in breastfeeding despite being placed on my breast. The next day, he still refused to feed, and screamed incessantly.
I managed to express about two drops of colostrum, which the midwife told me, reverentially, was like rocket fuel to a baby, and fed it to him via a pipette.
The pattern was set. I was encouraged to stay in hospital for a week to establish breast-feeding (I later learnt other wards were full of women also struggling to get started). I was told my real milk supply would ‘come in’ after three days, and breastfeeding would become easier.
But that never happened. And each midwife who arrived on duty would have her own method, confusing me further about how to perform this basic yet seemingly impossible task.
We were caught in a relentless three-hour cycle set by the hospital. I would begin by attempting to feed Harrison for half an hour, then spend 20 minutes on each breast using an electric pump to express a tiny amount of milk which could be fed to my baby in a bottle.
Other women on my ward seemed to be producing gallons of the stuff, and bagging it in the freezer to donate to the milk bank for babies whose mothers were too ill to feed them.
Not me. Each feed took about an hour and a half, which left just 90 minutes in which to eat, sleep and think, before it was time to do it again. I was shattered.
The crunch came when a paediatrician was called to Harrison, who seemed to have developed breathing problems. She took one look at him and said: ‘This baby needs to eat now. Cow & Gate or SMA formula?’
Ms Kleiman has written a book in an attempt to reach out to other mothers who have been treated this way
None of the midwives would tell me. No one seemed to want to help, and when Harrison eventually received his first taste of formula milk, I was made to feel terrible about it with barbed comments about what I’d done to his stomach lining.
And I’m sure I’m not the only mother to suffer such demoralising experiences at the hands of the vociferous ‘breast is best’ lobby.
The language used is so negative. We use words like ‘failed’; we describe milk flow as ‘inadequate’; we’re told, if it hurts us, that we’re doing it ‘wrong’.
This emotive language is guaranteed to make new mums feel guilty and inferior about something over which they actually have very little control.
Despite this torrent of negativity, I soldiered on. Midwives had told me to stop feeding my baby formula or my milk would dry up.
But nothing changed during the week I was in hospital, or over the next two weeks at home — except that Harrison grew hungrier, and I became forlorn, then angry.
When I went home, some lovely community midwives came round with a new pump, and arranged for a breastfeeding ‘guru’ to visit me. But she just shouted, lent me yet another breast pump, and left.
I wouldn’t have minded if all that shouting had resulted in me suddenly being able to breastfeed, but there was no change. I began to wonder if there was some genetic reason why I couldn’t do it.
My mother later told me that she had found breastfeeding just as hard. NHS statistics confirm that while more than eight out of ten mothers in the UK start breastfeeding their babies, just 45 per cent are still doing it by the time the babies are six to eight weeks old.
After two weeks, Reece and I agreed that breastfeeding just wasn’t working, and we bought some more formula milk. Throughout, Reece was unstintingly supportive.
We had been instructed by the midwives to limit the amount of formula Harrison had, so as not to ‘encourage him’ — but this was starting to feel unkind, bordering on neglectful.
He was obviously hungry and would guzzle every last drop we gave him. We’d been feeding him from a syringe, and then a cup, because we were told he mustn’t ‘get used’ to a bottle. Harrison was constantly hungry and his weight gain was minimal.
The family are happier than ever to be past the difficulties of feeding (left) and Harrison is a bouncing baby boy having been fed formula milk (right)
At this point, I was exhausted from the relentless feeding regime and desperate for a nod of approval from the healthcare professionals: was I doing OK as a mum, overall?
But all they ever talked about was my failure to breastfeed. I even started to worry whether friends and family were judging me, too.
Despairing, we went out and bought a set of bottles. It turned out to be the best decision I ever made. Harrison had a proper feed for the first time, and I finally felt like I was doing my duty as a mother and nourishing my baby.
I know now that I made the right choice. At 18 months old, Harrison is a strong, happy toddler, who’s hitting all the right weight and height markers, and is full of life. It’s hard to imagine he would be any different had he been breastfed exclusively for six months.
But for me, the pain has lingered. It was awful to start motherhood facing such strong feelings of disapproval and hostility.
I was so angry about it that I started a blog on the subject, which led to me writing a book, Birth, Boobs And Bad Advice.
I was amazed at the number of women who came forward to share their bad experiences. There seems to be a network of silent, unhappy women out there desperate for their side of the story to be told.
How different it would have been had I been properly prepared: warned that breastfeeding is great but it can be tricky; that I might have to resort to formula after all.
And supported, too, when things did go wrong; reassured that I was still being the best parent I could be — even if I couldn’t breastfeed my beloved son.
To create a product doctors, scientists and manufacturers agree is vastly inferior to breast milk, powdered formula needs 46 ingredients including preservatives, emulsifiers, stabilisers and supplements.But it still lacks ingredients that help promote brain growth, and antibodies. And unlike breast milk, it does nothing to help the mother’s health.
Skimmed powdered cow’s milkThis is the basis of most formula milk. But it has far too little sugar, far too much protein and sodium and the wrong kind of fat. Cow’s milk can cause upset stomachs, intestinal bleeding and malnutrition. So skimmed milk is blended with fats, vitamins, minerals, preservatives and salts.
LactoseCarbohydrates are a vital source of energy for babies, and most carbs in formula come from lactose, a natural sugar found in milk. It helps absorb the essential minerals zinc, calcium, iron and magnesium.
Vegetable oils Mother’s milk has on average around 5 per cent fat. It’s made up of 150 types of fatty acids,. The fat in formula is usually soya, sunflower or palm oil. Some brands are fortified with essential fatty acids.
Whey protein concentrate Of the two main sources of protein in milk, the most important is casein, and the other is whey protein. Cow’s milk has too much casein and not enough whey proteins.
Magnesium chloride E511This is a natural salt used, for example, as a de-icer in aircrafts. In formula milk, it is another preservative.
Calcium carbonate E170, calcium chloride E509Main ingredient of egg shells, it’s used, with calcium chloride, as a calcium supplement.
Potassium bicarbonate E501, Used in dry fire extinguishers, E501 is an additive in winemaking and bread making. In formula milk, it’s a preservative.
Potassium citrate E332Used to treat gout, cystitis and kidney stones. In formula milk, another preservative.
L-TyrosineAn essential amino acid said to help reduce stress levels in adults, it is found in dairy products and is added to formula.
Vitamin C, E, niacin (B3), A, thiamin (B1), B6, riboflavin (B2), D, K, B12, Biotin, folic acid (B9), pantothenic acid (B5)The EU has tough rules on formula and sets minimum and maximum levels of vitamins in infant formula. Vitamins are more easily absorbed from breast milk, and so levels have to be higher in formula.
Potassium hydroxide E525A powerful alkali used in hairsprays, batteries, shampoo, soap, and drain unblockers. In formula milk, it’s a preservative.
Calcium hydroxide E526E526 is found in mortar, hair removal creams and brake pads. But here, it’s used as another preservative.Copper sulphate, manganese sulphate, potassium Iodide, sodium selenite, ferrous sulphate, zinc sulphate, choline chloride, potassium chloride the EU also sets minimum and maximum levels of essential minerals and metals.
Inositol Found naturally in fruits, beans and grains, inositol promotes cell growth and acts as an enzyme activator.
L-Tryptophan An essential amino acid found in milk, eggs, chocolate, oats, red meat and bananas. It is essential for the development and functioning of organs.
Cytidine-5’-Monophosphate, Disodium Uridine-5’-Monophosphate, Adenosine-5’-Monophosphate, Disodium Guanosine-5’-Monophosphate, Disodium Inosine-5’-Monophosphate These chemicals are nucleotides — involved in the transfer of energy around the body. Studies suggest that that nucleotides added to food can prevent upset stomachs and boost the immune system.
L-CarnitineAn amino acid naturally found in food and produced in the body. It plays a key role in breaking down fats for energy.
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