Everyone has a limit, a breaking point, a moment where they finally surrender and admit they need to make a change. Mine came in the presence of a complete stranger when my baby was stark naked on a set of scales, and I admitted, out loud, I felt like I was failing as a mum.
Let me take you back to nearly four weeks ago, when Rory was 14 weeks old.
As I’ve said in a previous blog post, I hadn’t enjoyed breastfeeding Rory half as much as I did with Isla, mostly because I’m so exhausted from feeding him all through the night to try and get him back to sleep. But “breast is best” right? So I was determined to continue as I felt that if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be giving Rory as good a start in life as Isla had. The official line from health officials is that breastfeeding gives babies “the best start in life”, and while I agree that it has many, many benefits and that I am very pro-breastfeeding, it’s bloody hard and it was this thought that makes life so tough for new mums, and it’s no wonder that postnatal depression is such a common occurrence.
The moment I knew I needed to stop struggling on and seek help came when I went to a Top Tips session run by my local Sure Start centre. The session are run by a health visitor and are aimed at mums of 4 month olds looking to start weaning soon, but when I casually mentioned about Rory’s bad sleep and how I was considering bottle feeding him because I was worried he was just always hungry – although I really, really didn’t want to because I felt I’d be admitting defeat – she suggested that we weigh him just to see how he was getting on.
He weighed a healthy 13lb 4oz at 14 weeks old, but all I saw was that he’d dropped from the 50th centile to the 25th since he was last weighed at eight weeks old.
That was when I burst into tears.
In my exhausted, frazzled state, I thought it must mean he wasn’t gaining weight as well as he should, and as I was breastfeeding him around the clock, it was my fault, and I was failing him.
Bless her heart, the HV was brilliant at calming me down. She pointed out that he was gaining weight, he was happy (throughout this exchange he lay there on her scales, completely naked, with a huge grin on his face!), and was incredibly alert, so he was doing fine. It’s perfectly normal for babies to drop a centile or two over time, and that the percentiles aren’t the be all and end all. As long as he’s putting on weight, he’s fine.
I fully expected her to judge me for wanting to try formula feeding him too, as all health visitors I’d encountered over the years had bleated on about “breast is best”, but she said if I thought it would help, then just do it.
I’m so grateful to this complete stranger who wiped away my tears, helped me put Rory’s clothes back on and assured me that I was doing fine, and the fact that I was so determined to give Rory a good start in life showed that I am a good mum, while also saying giving him formula too wasn’t depriving him of anything. To exclusively feed him for almost 4 months was a really good amount of time, and that as long as he’s fed, changed, and loved, he’s not missing out on anything that Isla has had.
Three weeks on, Rory is now fed roughly a third on boob, a third expressed milk, and a third formula, has two or three feeds at night, and now weighs 14lb 1oz, hovering just above the 25th centile. I feel a lot better now I’m not losing my mind from exhaustion, and I’m so glad i stopped being stubborn and reached out for advice.
I’ll cover the ridiculous pressure put on mums by others to exclusively breastfeed in another post, but for now, the morale of the story is this. Parenting is tough, one of the toughest things we’ll ever do, and if you feel as though you’re struggling, or just need some reassurance, ASK FOR HELP. Take that step and reach out. Don’t suffer in silence. I expected to be judged, but the truth is, the only one judging me was me, with my stupid notion of thinking that bottle feeding would be admitting I was failing at feeding my baby. He’s happy, therefore so am I.