Maternity leave: Baby feet

What if Breast isn’t Best for me?

“I can’t breastfeed.” cue awkward silence. Followed by puzzled looks from others in earshot. Eventually they’ll break the tumbleweed by disbelieving you and producing “Every mother can breastfeed with practise. Keep going.”

This article is a guest post by Holly Leppard; the founder of the ‘Don’t Judge Just Feed‘ support group and participant in the All Party Parliamentary Group on Infant Feeding and Inequalities. Holly regularly blogs for The Huffington Post and was a guest on the Victoria Derbyshire programme on BBC2 to discuss the topic of Breastfeeding Vouchers. Holly wants to highlight the occurrence of Breastfeeding Grief which is often directly linked to the feeding pressures and assumptions we are exposed to during pregnancy. By breaking the taboo of open discussion surrounding bottle-feeding, she hopes to educate those with extreme views whilst comforting women in need of bottle-feeding support.

From Holly…

Transitions in motherhood are a regular occurrence. As our babies are changing daily, we try our best to adapt to their new requirements and demands. There are many momentous developments we prepare for as mothers; the first tooth, their first steps, their first words. It is so exciting to witness our beloved babies hitting milestones and we automatically adjust to cater for the next phase; solid food, baby proofing, tantrums… Some women are fortunate enough to only experience positive transitions in parenting, but the majority of us will stumble at various points in parenthood.

I would say that an overwhelming amount of new mothers will have struggled within the first few days.

“What the hell is this?” you exclaim as you desperately try to remove meconium from the creases. You soon become quite au fait with baby faeces, to the point where you actively and regularly discuss it.

“I didn’t realise I had birthed a nocturnal creature.” you sigh as you wonder how you will survive life as an insomniac. Gradually you and your baby will find a routine that works for you both (or you gain a heavy – concerning reliance on caffeine)

“How do I get the air out of this thing?” as you move your baby from the shoulder, to lap, to rocking, to sitting (and repeat). After a few novice attempts, you’ll work out which position is the magic air-release for your cherub. Burping has never been so adorable… and rewarding.

“I can’t breastfeed.” cue awkward silence. Followed by puzzled looks from others in earshot. Eventually they’ll break the tumbleweed by disbelieving you and producing “Every mother can breastfeed with practise. Keep going.”

This leaves you with a few avenues, all of them daunting, none of your fears comforted by being told to keep practising. You have found yourself stranded at a Feeding Transition. Way earlier than you expected, with no preparation, experiencing anything from frustration to confusion to physical pain to emotional turmoil.

If, like me, you had a physical inability to breastfeed, I guarantee you would have had to justify your position many times before your baby even arrived. The discussions surrounding infant feeding in the antenatal phase are plain and simple; breastfeeding is best. Thus making any other method lesser. Many professionals claim it is against their policy to give advice on anything that isn’t breastfeeding so I’m sure you’ve not only had to convince people you genuinely can’t breastfeed, but you’ve struggled to gain any unbiased guidance or support when it comes to bottles, formula and bonding tips.

If you were fully intending to breastfeed and ended up being unable to continue, I guarantee you’ve endured many days and nights (weeks, months) despairing as to why breastfeeding hasn’t gone to plan. I’m not going to delve into the hundreds of reasons why breastfeeding isn’t possible; they can be physiological or psychological. The majority of us believe that it’s a direct result of cuts to maternity support services, however there are an abundance of mothers receiving good quality care and guidance, yet still being unable to successfully breastfeed.

If you had no inclination to breastfeed and formula fed due to knowing it would suit your family better; I salute you. No unexpected feeding transition for you, although due to the lack of advice professionals are allowed to give on formulas, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear of brand searching and swapping until you and your little one were content with your choice. (This could tempt me away from the topic at hand due to my dismay at how breastmilk substitutes can vary so much dependant on manufacturer. It’s meant to mimic breastmilk; standardise it FFS).

Transitions can always be tainted with sadness. Sadness at the idea of life moving too quickly, your baby growing up too fast, and sometimes regrets of missed opportunities. Always know it’s okay and completely normal to have these feelings turning any transition. The difference between our regular parenting phases and the unexpected feeding transition, is the systematic literature, conversations and closed mind-sets we are exposed to surrounding the idea of ‘what is best for baby’.

I firmly believe the pressures and responsibility of successful breastfeeding are creating mothers with an extremely stressful psyche. I find it incredible that in 2018, policymakers are unable to correlate the relationship between maternal mental health and breastfeeding success. The only study I’ve found is one that further burdens the mother struggling to breastfeed; apparently breastfeeding helps lessen the chances of post-natal depression developing. I would be more interested in finding research on the occurrence of post-natal depression due to feeding difficulties. This would undoubtedly highlight how the campaigns, the pressure and the attitude of ‘failure’ to breastfeed are producing a whole new level of guilt and shame towards the use of formula. Particularly when picture-perfect social media parents are dominating and influencing the industry, as well as distorting the reality of day-to-day parenting.

I agree that infant feeding initiatives should rightly focus on achieving optimal nutrition for babies. We all know that safely and fully nourished babies will thrive. What we need to accept is that if a baby is safely and fully nourished due to the use of formula, then this is far better than what could be the alternative. Undernourished or even starved babies. Disconnected and unhappy mothers with attachment and bonding issues. Anyone in their right mind would agree that these scenarios would not be ‘best for baby’.

So I’m writing to any mother who is suffering at the hands of an unexpected feeding transition. I’ve been in your shoes. There are days when you resent your body, question your worth as a mother and even doubt your female identity. Many of the ‘breast is best’ spokespeople refuse to acknowledge the damage this saying can cause to mother and baby. Just know that as the days, weeks and months pass, and your precious child grows into the most happy, healthy and charismatic little being in your world; the pain will fade. You’ll gain a new found respect for the formula milk that provided the nutrients your baby needed to thrive. My mission is to help you miss out the grieving stage, and move through this transition with peace and pride.

For more information on Holly and her support group, please visit