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- 11 Jul 17

I’ve not yet touched on the subject of breastfeeding and formula-feeding. I’ve never really wanted to ‘go there’. I’ve always been too conscious of how people would judge me for opting for the latter. Silly, I know, but who can blame me when there are nasty comments attached to articles and blog posts, shaming mothers who dare to steer off the breastfeeding path. When there are picture-perfect celebrities posting airbrushed breastfeeding pics on Instagram accompanied by gushing remarks. When there are mothers all around – on TV, on social media, in real life – who breastfeed so easily with a huge smile on their face. When everywhere you look, breastfeeding is right up there on a pedestal and formula-feeding, especially early on, is so often frowned upon.

Yes, breastfeeding is great…if you can do it effortlessly. But what about the mothers who don’t have such a sugar-coated time?

What about the mother who cries in agony each night because her nipples are bleeding, her child is starving and she’s desperate to get just an hour of sleep? What about the mother who tries in vain to latch her screaming baby on and ends up in tears every time whilst berating herself for not getting it right? What about the mother who is being instructed by her midwife to ‘Carry on! You’re doing a great job!’ when she’s just been telling her that it’s been getting her down – really down?

What about them? Seriously, why should they suffer in order to get their baby fed?

No mother can escape the slogan ‘Breast is best’ – it gets drilled into us throughout our pregnancy journey; it gets plastered on posters in NHS waiting rooms; it rings through our ears at NCT classes. But for those women who find breastfeeding seriously painful or utterly exhausting, the people ‘in the know’, the people who mothers turn to, should be saying, ‘Maybe it’s time you tried formula-feeding’.

I just wish I’d heard this after the birth of my eldest, when I was struggling to get him to latch on despite the efforts of various midwives and health visitors. When I was tired and miserable beyond belief because I was producing hardly any milk and my little one was ravenous the whole time. When I was sobbing because I feared the knife-sharp agony that I felt each time I breastfed. When I expressed for hours at a time and only managed to get a drop of milk out. When I felt like the worst mother in the world for not being able to feed my own child.

All I got was the constant ‘Keep going!’ encouragement from well-meaning professionals. All I got was ‘You don’t know what’s in that stuff!’ from a fellow mother at a baby music class when I dared to ask what she thought about formula. But that’s not what I needed to hear. It was actually my own mother who stepped in and gave me the best advice: ‘If it’s not working, just stop. I formula-fed all you girls [I’m one of three] and have any of you got two heads?’ This was exactly what I needed to hear. This was what turned me from miserable, exhausted, in-a-lot-of-pain mother to happy, relaxed mother who could finally feed her baby without grimacing.

For me, bottle-feeding my baby formula made life a lot easier and a lot brighter. And when I had my second son, I made sure that I didn’t go through the same agonising breastfeeding scenario that I did with my first. Once it was getting me down and it became too much I simply told the health visitor that I was moving onto formula and please don’t try to convince me otherwise…

And have either of my formula-fed boys developed two heads as a result? Answer: Funnily enough, no.

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Fiona Pennell

Fiona Pennell lives in the Cotswolds with her husband and their two boys, Jack, 6, and Otto, 4. A former YOU magazine sub-editor, Fiona now spends her days being trampled on, going on slug hunts and dreaming of lie-ins. (Twitter: @fiona_pennell)

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