Breast is not always best. Bagsy, NO returns

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.

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6 Comments

  1. November 9, 2012 / 12:31 pm

    I can relate to your wife’s experience, though my milk did come in at some point during supplementation and I was able to continue breast feeding in the end, I still remember the look of horror on the nurse’s face when she weighed my son and realised he’d lost far too much weight. Before that point they had given me the impression that all was normal with my production- how was I to know better than the professionals? To this day I still get panicky about days where L’s a bit “off” his food… or times when he throws up. It’s a natural instinct to want to “feed up” your child. And ultimately you have to do what works for you and your baby when it comes to infant nutrition… a baby’s got to eat 🙂

    • dadbloguk
      Author
      November 11, 2012 / 9:06 am

      Hello there. Thanks for your comment and sorry it’s taken a couple of days to reply. Our second child was born earlier this week so it’s been busy! Glad to hear you were able to breast feed in the end but no such luck for my wife. I’d never question that breast is best when everything is working well. When it goes wrong, however, formula is much better than stressed parents and a malnourished and dehydrated infant. I kinda sense we agree on this!

      • November 11, 2012 / 8:46 pm

        Yes, we are in agreement. And I truly feel sorry for mum’s who are unfairly judged for their baby-feeding decisions… Breast feeding struggles are all too common (even if we don’t hear about them) and when you have them you feel bad enough as it is. Congrats on the new baby! That’s great news! Hope the birth experience was what you all hoped for 🙂

  2. Jennie
    August 10, 2013 / 5:05 pm

    Hiya sorry to read that you had this struggle at first. I’m pro breastfeeding but there are sometimes times when breast doesn’t work out or isn’t the right choice. Reading this though I’m struck by your comment that your baby was not with mum at night for a few nights. Rather than prescribe drugs that you didnt want it’s a shame the hv didn’t explain that to get supply increased your wife would need to feed every few hours throughout the night, every night. The feeds between 12 and 3 am are very important to stimulate prolactin production to drive supply up for the next day, which in turn means more is produced the day after etc etc. this supply and demand dance is essential in the early months to get supply up. I totally appreciate that your wife may have been far too exhausted to do this given her difficult birth, and formula is a perfectly adequate substitute for a growing baby. Every parent needs to make whatever choices they feel are right, but they do need full support and information. Unfortunately breastfeeding is a bit if a lost art in our society, and very few people (friends and health professionals) give the full information mums and dads need to make fully informed choices.

    • John Adams
      Author
      August 10, 2013 / 5:40 pm

      Hi Jennie Very interesting comments you make there. I should be clear that although I slept with Helen downstairs, every attempt was made to breastfeed baby during the night. It wasn’t the case that my wife had a night of undisturbed sleep! I have to say it was a very tough time; Helen just cried and cried and cried all night. It all came out well in the end but, as you will have gathered, we did have to use formula. To this day, however, I feel bruised at the health visitor’s suggestion we use an unlicensed drug.

      • Jennie
        August 10, 2013 / 5:58 pm

        Thanks for the reply, those early days are so incredibly hard aren’t they. Amazing to get through them at all, let alone them go exactly as planned. Can I suggest the website kellymom.com for any of your readers who want to get good well researched info on breastfeeding. It’s an American site (I’m British) but boobs is boobs!