This post was inspired by the supportive Instagram photo by Channel Mum of then Mummy-to-be Meghan Koziel - a Breast Cancer survivor, who plastered a sign above her hospital bed explaining to midwives/nurses and other Healthcare professionals who maybe involved in her care, post delivery, that she cannot breastfeed as she had a mastectomy. All in a bid to prevent the heartache of being asked "why" she wasn't breastfeeding her Newborn baby girl Kendra. Ultimately deciding to beat them to it with a very honest and open explanation that breastfeeding simply wasn't an option for her. The sign reigns positivity in the notion that #FedIsBest in a beautiful poem that gets the point across perfectly;
"Though Breastfeeding is a very special task,
Please be aware before you ask,
Our miracle baby will be formula fed,
And it will not affect the future ahead!
This Mommy is a Survivor..."
It made me wish I had drawn up a similiar sign for above the NICU incubators after my baby girls (3 years apart - identical premature deliveries) were whisked from the operating theatre to receive the specialist care they needed to support their premature arrivals. For it may have prevented NICU staff from asking me, adding to the emotional turmoil of not meeting my own little miracle(s) I carried for 34 weeks until they were each respectively 4 days old - why I hadn't brought them expressed Breast milk for nurses to administer through their feeding tubes - too premature to know how to latch to breast or teat.
"Mummy Guilt" is a built in emotion us Mothers are plagued with from feeling our baby's very first kick. That moment you realise you created, and are solely responsible to bring a tiny life safely into the world, to love and protect that precious life with every part of your very being. Motherhood is giving 110% 24/7, with complete selflessness, running on empty and often second guessing if you're making the right decisions for that little person in your arms, at every turn as they grow. But first they need to grow...
Midwives instill in new Mums-to-be that Breastfeeding is the ONLY way to give your little one the best start in life. The benefits of breast milk far outweigh those of formula, breast milk even has the ability to adjust to your baby's changing nutritional needs as they grow week-by-week.
"The sheer pressure to breastfeed in general is daunting enough for the average new mum. Many women feel like they are failing their little one at the first hurdle if they cannot establish or get on with breastfeeding. Some women's body's cannot keep up with supply and demand, working Mum's beat themselves up for turning to combination feeding to put food on the table for the rest of the family."
Then there's some women, like me who didn't even have the choice of breastfeeding.
I fell within the 2% of Mum's who couldn't breastfeed for medical reasons. The particular issue was that my specialist multi-disciplinary team for my progressive muscle-wasting condition, told me upon asking if I could come off at least some of my medications that make me "comfortable" and help control some secondary complications of MD, that not only would it be dangerous for me to come off the medications that sustain my good quality of life during both my pregnancies, but also that breastfeeding was off the table as all the drugs would be transferable to baby through my breast milk.
It was hard enough preparing to be not just a new Mum, but a Disabled New Mum who then also couldn't provide the most natural, womanly thing in the world, that show how magnificent our body's are, that they don't just grow babies in the womb but provide an endless source of complete nutrition outside of it. It made me feel like I failed before I even gave birth. I tried not to dwell too much, as I'm forever the optimist. It's no secret medically I shouldn't of been able to carry my girls to term anyway. But it DID tug at me emotionally that I didn't even have the option to try. I even contemplated making myself bedridden, going back to a very low point in my life where I was in that much pain I didn't want to be here, just to come off my meds - sod my quality of life for my child. I questioned if that was the Right thing to do for my baby. Putting them first as you should. Talking with my specialists, they were firmly against coming off the meds, predicting I'd be in that much pain, I may at best barely be able to do a thing for my girls and at worst it may cost me my life as I'd be stopping heart medication aswell.
I had to sacrifice breastfeeding to be the best Mum I could be in Every. Other. Single way, possible.
I thought I came to terms with it by the time they were due to be delivered - prematurely, as mine were high risk pregnancies. Until my 1st visit to NICU when a nurse who didn't know me asked me if I'd brought expressed milk for baby. It plummeted me into doubting myself, the choice that really wasn't a Choice at all to sacrifice breastfeeding.
On the maternity ward surrounded by other Mothers - babes in arms, learning how to establish breastfeeding. Hearing and seeing other Mum's have all those special moments was so gut wrenching. I remember laying in bed, silently crying as I was the only Mum without their baby. There was just so much going on at once. The comments over where the milk was that I SHOULD of been able to provide my baby girl(s) could of easily knocked me over the edge and spiralled into Post-partum Depression. Mummy guilt can take you into some very dark places...
When my milk suddenly came in all at once regardless 3 days after birth, I was overwhelmed. I received no instruction on what to do with my obviously useless milk supply. My body clearly not getting the memo! When I asked a midwife to change the bedding as it was literally everywhere and I was so engorged it was painful to breath, the midwife was patronising towards me. "Aww pet, has your milk come in? Aww I'm sorry cot." No help or advice. It wasn't until I was released from hospital that I was able to try old school methods of drying up my supply I'd found after a bit of Googling. Yes I stuck cabbage leaves in my bra and my PAs tried not to laugh! Eventually it took binding my breasts for two weeks for it to properly dry up and no longer cause me pain. My body must of been so confused....
Thankfully by the grace of God, despite the emotional rollercoaster, I came to terms with the fact I couldn't breastfeed through no fault of my own. Both girls were formula fed from day 1 and have no health concerns as a result. Nothing drastic happened and they didn't miss out on anything evidently as they've both grown and thrived! At the end of the day, it mattered more that I could be an active, loving, happy Mum to them by staying on my medication, than it was to be able to breastfeed.
For any Mum's-to-be reading this in similar circumstances, dealing with the fact your baby maybe born prematurely or perhaps is in NICU right this moment. Did you know you can request your little one receive breastmilk from a donor via your local human Milk Bank? There's thousands of selfless mothers out there who over-produce and instead of letting that gift go to waste, they choose to donate it specifically for premature babies who'd benefit greatly from all the goodness and immune fighting capabilities breast milk has to offer - that sadly formula falls short of.
Don't worry, every woman is medically screened for their viability to donate, as does the milk itself go through rigorous health and safely screening. UKAMB is a charity that works closely with NHS neonatal intensive care units all across the country, aswell as being proudly supported by NICE. Find out more below 👇
I would of so taken this option if somebody had told me about milk donors when my girls were born. Now I'm telling my readers so you know all your options to make the best decision for you and your baby. Whatever conclusion you come to, breast isn't always best, but #FedIsBest in every circumstance...
Related Links -
Saving the lives of premature or sick babies across the UK thanks to their incredible human milk donors.
The FedIsBest Foundation
identifing gaps in current breastfeeding protocols and guidelines, aiming to provide families and health professionals with the most up-to-date scientific research, education and resources to practice safe infant feeding with breast milk, formula, or a combination of both. #FedisBest
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