Being a new parent opens up a lot of new vulnerabilities where your mental health is concerned and unfortunately for me, formula feeding guilt happened to be my weak spot.
Throughout my entire pregnancy I was adamant that I would breastfeed. The books, the Mummy blogs, the ‘Breast is Best’ campaign all told me it was the right thing to do.
For years I thought I’d never get to carry a child, having PCOS, endometriosis and having previously miscarried. I wasn’t sure it would ever be on the cards for me.
So why would I not breastfeed after being given the amazing gift of two babies?!
I just wanted what was best for them and it seemed like breastfeeding was the way to go.
After the first night of being in hospital with my twins, I was already exhausted.
Born at 37 weeks via c-section and weighing at 6lbs3oz and 5lbs6oz, I was desperate to nourish their tiny bodies with my “miracle milk”.
I spent days in hospital with my babies permanently attached to my breasts, with midwives showing me every latching technique under the sun and pumping in between for absolutely nothing to come out.
My sweet tiny babies lost a lot of weight. My smallest twin was now only 5lbs but the midwives told me it was normal. I just needed to keep giving them my breasts.
By the last night in hospital I was desperate, I hadn’t slept in days, my nipples were cracked and bleeding, the twins just kept losing weight and I couldn’t pump a drop.
I BEGGED for help. I was in pain from the surgery, I was exhausted and mentally broken.
Shay, my partner and the most wonderful Dad to my twins, asked the midwife on duty to please bring us some formula. He sat and fed our twins, as I closed my eyes and tried not to throw up.
Even after we left the hospital, with our underweight babies and some cartons of pre-made formula, we were told only to top up with small amounts but to still breastfeed.
People kept telling me how they were SO glad I was breastfeeding but I didn’t feel like it was anything to celebrate. In fact, it was the only thing stopping me from enjoying my babies.
I combination fed for 2 weeks before I just couldn’t breastfeed any longer. The strain on my mental health had become enormous. It was clear to me that I was now just trying to breastfeed to ease my formula feeding guilt and to appease other people, not because it was actually best for my babies.
As soon as I stopped breastfeeding and we switched to exclusively formula feeding, the twins absolutely thrived. They gained their birth weight back and more.
Breast was not best for us but because it had been pushed so hard, I felt as if it were my duty and to do anything less would make me a failure.
My boys are now 14 months and have been formula fed for 12 months of their life. I don’t feel that guilt anymore because my boys are happy, healthy and I know deep down that formula feeding was best for them.
But for months, formula feeding guilt seriously affected my mental health.
Formula feeding guilt due to stigma
Since having the twins, I’ve realised just how brutally opinionated other people are about your parenting.
There is a reason so many women feel formula feeding guilt, the amount of times I’ve been mummy shamed by the general public or in groups would be enough to send anyone into a spiral.
I’ve had strangers ask me why I don’t feed them “properly” or liken formula feeding to giving my babies junk food every day and I’ve had full on arguments with people who see formula feeding as a cop-out.
After working so hard at overcoming my social anxiety, the shame I felt when trying to feed my babies formula in public made me want to hide at home all over again.
Pressure to breastfeed above all else
The pressure to exclusively breastfeed came from every angle. Family, hospitals, other mums.
Not to mention the relentless bombardment of posts on social media about how amazing breast milk is and your kid is less likely to have an array of chronic conditions if you breastfeed.
How could you not have formula feeding guilt, when you’re being incessantly told that what you’re feeding your babies isn’t good enough?!
You start to realise that your health and well-being is no longer important and actually to some people, even the health and well-being of your baby isn’t even important.
So many new mums are pressured into breastfeeding and discouraged from using formula (even as just a top up) despite the well-being of the mother and baby being impacted.
My mental health seriously suffered when I confiding in other mums, my health visitor and several midwives that I wanted to just formula feed and instead got told to “just keep persevering”. I felt so alone.
I felt like a failure.
Things I’ve learnt since formula feeding
The longer I formula fed, the less guilt I felt and the more my mental health improved, especially when we moved onto solids and even more so now that the twins are over a year old.
But there are still times when certain comments are made, that just sting a little and I’m sure if you’re a formula feeding mum you can probably relate.
So here’s what I want you to know:
The health of your baby is more important than your ability to breastfeed.
YOUR mental health is more important than your ability to breastfeed.
The bond you have with your baby isn’t any less special because you formula feed.
You deserve just as much support for formula feeding because it’s most certainly NOT the “easy way” to feed your baby.
Your baby is getting plenty of nutrients and vitamins from formula and formula feeding is NOTHING like giving your baby junk food everyday.
You are NOT doing the bare minimum. Washing, sterilising and preparing formula takes a lot of work.
You are doing a damn GOOD JOB!