Mixed feeding - angry, sad, guilty

(6 Posts)
fourmummy Thu 22-Nov-12 10:32:10

Hello everyone,
Some background to my point: My lo is now 15 months old (DC4). Due to a severe illness on my part, we landed in hospital on day 4 when he had lost 13% of his bodyweight and ended up with jaundice. I was ebf at the time. He was topped up with formula at the hospital, we were released and upon our return, I persevered with breastfeeding. However, due to my illness and our bad start, I managed to only mix feed him (no idea really of the proportions of BM relative to FF). We did this for 6 months. It was tremendously hard and a (small) part of me is pleased that despite terrible adverse circumstances, I managed to get at least some BM into him. On the other hand, I am distraught. My middle two were ebf - for 2 years. My first - similar scenario to my last child - jaundice, so hospitalised - mix fed for first few weeks. However, I turned it around to ebf once home with her and we continued for two and a half years (I know, I know). I am desperately upset, guilty, sad, etc. that this latest breastfeeding relationship did not work out how I wanted. It's something that is haunting me and won't leave. I know it's in the past and the past can't be changed, but still...I don't really expect any solutions - just wanted to vent. HOWEVER, this leads me to consider just how precarious breastfeeding is. It seems that even small deviations from the ideal circumstances will derail it. In evolutionary terms, this is something that strikes me as very odd - it's not optimal for survival of the species if this vital behaviour is so very fragile. For example, if even ONE bottle of formula will affect supply, or if even a few deviations in timing of suckling at the breast will affect supply, then there's something wrong in evolutionary terms with breastfeeding. It would need to be more robust to work well, WHICH leads me to think that these difficulties with breastfeeding have always existed. SO - it's a pile of crap that we are given the message that 'in previous generations, breastfeeding was the norm' (you only need to look at maternal death rates in childbirth and postpartum to see that this is rubbish) AND women must have ALWAYS supplemented with non-human milk because I can't imagine that our current generation of mothers is so much worse at breastfeeding than previous generations. Have women always felt guilty when they couldn't ebf? Who knows.
Just venting.

I'm so sorry to hear about your struggle. I've often wondered if mothers felt guilt when they could BF one child and not another. I've struggled too (only one LO at the moment!) but I constantly worry "what if I manage to EBF the next one? What about the first one?"

I wonder what happens in countries where BF is the norm, and bottles are not available (I'm thinking small South-American tribes, living a long way from 'civilisation'), how do they feed their child if BF doesn't work?

I think maybe Western attitudes are to blame for the hard time that a lot of women face when establishing BF. We're expected to be up and about, dressed and ready to accept guests etc. Also, the feeding in public thing - many new mums don't want to feed in front of Grandad, or PIL. They feel uncomfortable doing that, or even asking "could you go now, I want to BF". We spend far too much time worrying about what others are expecting, and letting them hold the baby.
I'm sure that in other countries, new mums get a good long 'babymoon', spending all day in bed, boobs out, with food and drink brought to them, other children looked after by family and friends. This should be the norm for us.

tiktok Thu 22-Nov-12 13:10:25

fourmummy, you make good points, but you have (sorry) misunderstood the evolutionary arguements. Evolution shows us that breastfeeding and breastmilk is robust as a 'system' across the human race. It does not show us that in every individual case it was always a breeze with no problems.

Breastfeeding as a 'system' is definitely not 'precarious' - your word. In a small no. of individual cases, it can be....not many of them, as too many individually precarious breastfeeding mother-and-baby-pairs would have made the 'system' fail.

In addition, as soon as you are talking about human beings living in groups, you make many biological functions into social ones, with norms, taboos, expectations, rituals whatever - this is especially the case with gendered biological functions (you can probably think of several examples yourself - puberty and menarche; sexual relations; birth; conception).

Breastfeeding is no different. It becomes hard to see where the medical knowledge (itself culturally-mediated) ends and social expectations begin, in cases like your own, where your baby lost weight. It may well have been that your baby could have overcome his initial (and yes, concerning) weight loss without readmission into hospital and treatment with formula. In a society without scales or expectations of weight loss/gain limits, and without formula, nothing would have happened at all. 'Nothing' would not necessarily have been a useful nutritional response - further days of weight loss and lack of sufficient milk might have led to worse consequences, who knows? Or perhaps another woman in your tribe would have fed him, and you would have been cossetted and a spell might have been cast by the local wise woman to make you make more milk smile Maybe the psychological support and confidence would have helped and maybe encouragement to feed more often day and night would have worked.....I don't know and nor can anyone.

You achieved a lot in maintaining mixed feeding to 6 mths. Most women don't. Mostly, early formula does derail bf, but for a mix of social, medical and nutritional reasons which are hard to separate.

Your anger and sadness have made you vehement about the 'message' of historical breastfeeding. It's not 'crap'. Breastfeeding was the norm, and if a mother died, it was still the norm - someone else stepped in to feed the baby, with their own breastmilk.

Our current generations are 'worse' at breastfeeding, but not for physiological reasons.

It is common in non-Western societies for babies not to be exclusively breastfed, and to be supplemented with animal milks or grains mixed with water, or honey...lots of things. The studies done on this show that usually this is not so much because breastfeeding is failing, but because of the impact of social, cultural and sometimes religious factors - pre-industrial, non-western, 'under developed' societies are no less subject to these influences than we are.

This is not a good thing for babies' health, and health workers in these areas of the world try to increase the exclusivity of breastfeeding, for this reason.

That was a long reply - and does not get to the heart of your feelings about this, which is sadness that your baby was not breastfed in the same way as his sibs. It's normal to be sad about this, because for you, breastfeeding is unique, special and part of your identity as his mother. BUT he was breastfed, and he had that closeness and contact with you, and that was still unique and special....and he is loved and valued. Your regrets about not fully bf him sound hard to cope with, and I wonder if some counselling or other talking therapy would help you? 'Cos being sad and angry is understandable but for it to remain as strong and as bitter as it does all these months on is not good...IMO.

fourmummy Thu 22-Nov-12 17:07:25

Tiktok,

Thank you for your measured response. I do understand the evolutionary arguments (career) - perhaps I reduced my arguments too much. Yes, breastfeeding is a perfectly adapted behaviour (otherwise it would not be here): just like the human body - a healthy human body is perfectly adapted to our environment; yet, things go wrong so often! Yes, the healthiest, psychologically well adjusted, fittest, etc. etc. survive the longest. I think I am trying to rework the arguments to assuage my own feelings of inadequacy at having 'failed' so spectacularly (in my eyes). Perhaps I do need that counselling....

maybenow Thu 22-Nov-12 17:18:14

I was recently doing some family tree work and was amazed at how many babies died before the age of 1. For the name I was searching for there were about 5 or 6 deaths over the age of 10/12 and about 12 age 0 sad
I guess in evolutionary terms, many many infants would not make it through their first year and we'd have another baby and try again sad.

Biologically we can have many babies but thank heavens our infant mortality is now so low that each and every one of our babies can be cherished and reasonably expected to thrive through the bf months by either bf or ff or mixed feeding.

I hope you can get over your sadness and not ebf your youngest child and instead focus on the fact that modern medicine and feeding methods allowed your child to thrive.

fourmummy Thu 22-Nov-12 17:54:18

Thanks Maybenow,

We are merely (should that be spectacularly optimal) biological systems (albeit constantly adapting to our environment). I think that my sadness comes from not the fact that he is not thriving on ff - he is; but at the possibility of what he future holds for him (health-wise, etc.) given our less than ideal start in life. You are right in that our bar is set much higher (or differently) now: whereas before I would have been happy for him to survive at all, now I want a great future for him, a long and happy life. Yes, there are many bumps along the way, and feeding him is just a small part of what future life may bring, but at the moment, it seems like such an important part, and one that has been taken away from him. If he becomes ill, or fails at school, etc., will I always link it to this? I am getting ahead of myself and I know that these are my own demons to resolve....thanks for your support to all of you.

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