Immediately after our eldest daughter was born, she latched on to mother’s breast for 30 minutes, suggesting everything was going perfectly. Mother and baby were discharged the next day and we returned home as a family. A day or so later, however, things started going wrong.
Baby slept most of the day but screamed the house down all night. There had been some surgical intervention during the birth so to help my wife rest I slept in our living room on a camp bed with baby in her Moses basket.
I say I slept. It was a relative term. Unless I got up and gave baby skin-to-skin on my chest she just screamed.
This went on for a few days. Health visitors came and went and my wife continued to breast feed. Baby slowly lost her excess birth weight and everything seemed to be going well. The only obvious problem was that she wasn’t sleeping at night. As new born babies often get day and night confused we weren’t unduly concerned, just tired (or I was anyway).
Around a week later a health visitor came and weighed baby. To our surprise, she’d lost a dangerous amount of weight. Ketones were on baby’s breath and in discussion with the health visitor we confirmed our daughter hadn’t produced a soiled nappy in days.
Despite mother and child giving the appearance of feeding, it turned out my wife just wasn’t producing breast milk. Baby had fed on the colostrum but milk hadn’t been forthcoming leaving the poor child ravenous.
It was suggested we put baby to the breast first and then top up the feed with formula milk. We followed this advice and the change in our daughter was instant. An hour after her first formula feed she soiled her nappy and, crucially, she slept peacefully at night for the first time since returning from hospital.
A day or so later, we were visited by a different health visitor. Believe it or not, she presented us with a fact sheet about a drug used for treating a heart condition. One of the side effects was that it encouraged lactation in women.
You’ll forgive me if I don’t recall the drug’s name, we’re going back a few years, but the drug was not licensed for lactation production. The health visitor told us outright that that we’d struggle to get an NHS doctor to prescribe it and that we’d probably need to find a sympathetic private GP to write the prescription.
In the sleep deprived days following our child’s birth we actually considered this proposal. Thankfully we rapidly snapped out of it and instead continued to formula feed our little one, a decision we do not regret at all.
As a more experienced parent, I look back in horror at the suggestion my wife take an unlicensed drug just to ensure she could breast feed. It was rather like suggesting chemotherapy for unwanted hair removal. The whole experience left me deeply suspicious of the pro-breast feeding lobby.
Breast is without doubt best when all is going well. When things aren’t going well you should be able to reach for a tub of formula with no guilt. Damn it, I’d say you should reach for a tub of formula and do it with pride.