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There's No One Formula For Success When It Comes To Feeding Your Baby

I learnt the hard way.

"I am going to exclusively breastfeed for the first six months," I proclaimed as I sat in my saddle upon my high horse.


The tins of failure formula sniggered as they jostled and clinked, lining up for the next new mum who dared to make a plan for how they were going to nourish their newborn.

You see, breastfeeding is hard. Not for everyone, but for me it was and still is. As a new mum our breastfeeding perceptions are skewed as we are inundated with visions of mums dreamily gazing upon their sweet cherubs suckling at their bosoms, being nurtured and sustained by all the goodness that breast milk offers.

In reality, for some mums, there are cracked and bleeding nipples, engorgement or low milk supply, incorrect latching, vasospasms, mastitis, yeast infections... The list goes on and on.

My breastfeeding journey got off to a rocky start when my newborn's blood glucose levels dropped at the ripe old age of 12 hours old and she was sent to the special care nursery. In order to stabilise her levels and add some meat to her slight frame the paediatrician set a strict feeding schedule including formula top ups.

WHAT? This did not form part of my carefully curated breastfeeding plan. I swallowed my pride and trekked across to special care every three hours to breastfeed, followed by a formula top up, reasoning that this was best for my baby and was only an interim measure. And it was, her levels stabilised and she put on weight. Tick. Yep, I can do this mothering gig, I thought.

But then came along the next issue, breastfeeding hurt, like really hurt. The breastfeeding classes advised there would be some 'discomfort' as the baby latched, which would quickly subside. Well, if you call a feeling that's like jagged glass sawing away at your nipple 'discomfort' then I guess I need a better grasp of the English language.

Was this normal? This did not feel normal to me. Asking for advice resulted in an abundance of conflicting recommendations: rest and express, push through the pain, air out your nipples, keep your nipples covered, put breast milk on your nipples, keep your nipples dry... As my head swirled with these contradictions I left hospital with eyes full of tears, a bag of formula and the phone number of a private lactation consultant.

In the end the magical 'cure' for my daughter's weight struggles and non-sleep issues was food. She needed more of it and if that meant it had to come from a clinking shiny tin, so be it.

The feeding schedule at home was a regimented routine, choreographed to achieve maximum efficiency. I would breastfeed, pass my daughter to my husband for a bottle of expressed milk, once finished she would then have a bottle of formula -- the amount calculated based on a set of intricate numbers totalling weight and age minus expressed milk divided by the current phase of the moon, plus the time of the rising sun... or something along those lines.

During this time I would then start pumping. This set of scheduled events would occur every three hours, taking 1.5 hours to complete plus an hour to settle my daughter to sleep -- that's 30 minutes of downtime. Yes, we were delirious.

The searing pain I experienced at each breastfeed continued; private lactation consultant and two hours later I had my diagnosis. Nipple vasospasms. Vaso-what? Yes, vaso-spasms, they occur when blood vessels tighten and go into spasm so that blood does not flow normally, resulting in sharp, stabbing pain.

Whilst the agony continued it was a relief to have an answer and to finally start some remedies. Remedies included taking fish oil and magnesium, easily done, and keeping nipples constantly warm. Getting out of a shower in the middle of winter, not so easily done. However, I persisted and over time the pain subsided and I started to enjoy my breastfeeding journey with my little one.

I still felt guilty about the formula, so at my daughter's three-week weigh-in, when we discovered she was gaining weight like someone straight off a juice cleanse gorging on Caramello Koalas, I took the opportunity to ditch the formula and exclusively breastfeed. Hallelujah! Happy days. Oh the delight, I was finally one of those dreamy mums gazing at my cherub suckling at my breast as the tins of formula were relegated deep within the bowels of our pantry.

But life has a funny way of not sticking to the script we create, as I discovered when my daughter was 10 weeks old. Between the hours of 12 pm and 12 am she would sleep an hour, not every day but most days, and the rest of the time she would cry -- big fat tears rolling down her face, inconsolable.

This carried on for more than a month. I was at my wits' end. I called sleep helplines, searched Dr Google and online forums, read parenting books... to no avail, the non-sleep wailing continued. It was at this stage I felt my daughter seemed a bit light, I took her to the doctor to get weighed and she had not put on enough weight for her age. Cue massive mother's guilt.

Then I heard it, ever so softly, the clinking and clanging of those formula tins, rustling in the pantry, excitedly anticipating nourishing my daughter once again. Not yet, my friends. Not yet.

And so I commenced a two-week lactation marathon to fatten up my daughter before her next weigh-in. I brought in the big guns -- lactation cookies, herbs, supplements, oats for breakfast, beer for lunch (joking, however, some forums do suggest this because of the brewer's yeast) -- all the things required to boost my milk supply, and I expressed morning, noon and night.

Two-weeks later and the results were in, her weight had not improved. My heart sank. My boobs are defective. Why me? I am a failure. All I want to do is feed my daughter as nature intended.

The following two-week regime included formula top ups. I reluctantly pulled the tins from the pantry, their shiny faces smirked, "We knew you'd be back" they whispered. I sobbed as I fed my daughter the formula, tears rolled down my cheeks and my body heaved with sadness and frustration. She gulped down the bottle and cried for more and more. She was starving. Her big blue eyes stared up at me, her hand grasped my pinky and held on tight, and in that moment I had a lightning-bolt realisation; my daughter is being fed. She is being fed and nourished, and that is what matters.

In the end the magical 'cure' for my daughter's weight struggles and non-sleep issues was food. She needed more of it and if that meant it had to come from a clinking shiny tin, so be it.

And so my feeding journey continues, because that is what it is after all; feeding and a journey. Feeding in any way to ensure my little one thrives along this journey -- as each day, each hour, each minute brings something new and unpredictable.

And do you know what? The clinking and the clanging of formula has stopped. There is now peace.

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