Let’s get practical about baby feeding
Here are some ideas that I hope may help you on your feeding journey, whatever your journey may be. Remember, above all, it is your journey, with your baby. You do what feels right. If your baby is being fed, you are doing great. Go, you!
Have a feeding plan
Like having a birth plan, you can plan for how you would like to feed your baby. You may have strong reasons for wanting to breastfeed, or strong reasons for wanting to formula feed or to do a mix of both. What is most important is that you feel comfortable with the decision you have made, and that it is right for you and your family. But, as with the birth plan, hold your plans loosely and be prepared to be flexible. Our bodies do not always do as they are supposed to, and neither do our babies! Our situations and even wants and needs, sometimes change. There is no shame in changing your mind, or in going down a new, unexpected path if you choose to or if necessity dictates it. Be aware though, that most hospitals will encourage you to try to breastfeed, at least at first.
If you have reasons for not breastfeeding and want to make these known to the hospital staff, make sure you have them written down. Sometimes it can be hard to articulate our needs, particularly when we are sleep deprived, nervous or overwhelmed.
You don’t have to disclose anything you are not comfortable with, and you are free to make your own choices with your body at any time, explanation or no explanation. Hospitals should respect that, but in speaking to lots of mums (including myself) it can be quite confronting to deal with what can come across as very strong advice in favour of breastfeeding, especially when you are in a vulnerable position; for example, lying flat on a hospital bed with a strange midwife’s hands on your breasts. It may be a good idea to have on hand an advocate—a partner, family member or friend perhaps—who you have told about your plans and who can help you communicate your wishes to the staff if required.
Review the research
If you have struggled to breastfeed or have made the choice not to for whatever reason, it might help you to review current research on the matter. Formula has been found to be a great, safe alternative to breast milk and, after accounting for the confounding variables in previous research, there are clear benefits to breastfeeding, but there is little difference in long-term outcomes for children between the two. If you are unsure about your decision, it may help you to know that. Breast milk is great, and so is formula.
In doing your research, though, I would advise you to stay off internet forums on this topic. Those places can be nasty. They can get, shall we say, very personal. If you are reading articles online . . . stay away from the comments. I repeat: DO NOT READ THE COMMENTS. Seriously. Don’t read them.
Consult an expert
If you are struggling to breastfeed, but want to continue, consult a doctor or an international board-certified lactation consultant, or IBCLC. They may help with your baby’s latch, assess her for a tongue tie (which might be proving problematic for feeding), help with ways to boost your milk supply, or just assist you with whatever your personal challenge is. Your hospital should be able to provide you with some names of IBCLC. If you are physically unable to breastfeed, or it has been too long and your milk has “dried up” but you wish your child to have breast milk, there are people who donate breast milk to “milk banks”, and if this feels right for you, then check it out.
Consider all your options
Sometimes there are feeding options that we forget about, or don’t get told about in the first place. Don’t forget, feeding is not an all-or-nothing decision. Many people successfully mix-feed – feed their babies both formula and breast milk. This may be something you would like to consider if, for example, you are not producing enough milk, but would like to try to breastfeed a bit. It is entirely possible to even just breastfeed for one feed a day. Many new mums are even unaware of the possibility of donated milk at ‘milk banks’. Not everyone is comfortable with these options, but at least awareness equals getting to make an informed decision based on all of the options available.