The pressure to bottle feed

22 Dec


Just continuing to update the blog with articles / blog posts I’ve been writing in other places in the last few months. This is another parenting piece, but a serious one this time!

General point: Any pressure on a new mum is WRONG – and this post is in no way a judgement on mums who bottle feed, rather it is an account of my own experience of not being adequately supported in breastfeeding and being repeatedly pushed to switch to formula instead of given the help I needed.

Mums who choose to formula feed routinely talk about how much peer pressure they experience with people around them constantly judging them for not breastfeeding.

But guess what, the opposite experience can also happen. I chose to breastfed but had tremendous difficulty establishing breastfeeding with my first child. Instead of receiving useful support and guidance when I needed it most, I felt attacked on all sides by medical professionals and family members / friends who were all pressurising me to give up breastfeeding and opt for formula instead.

So here’s a blog post I wrote on this subject a couple of months ago for The Motherload, a parenting blogzine I’ve already mentioned I sometimes write for. I was amazed at how many comments this post generated on The Motherload Facebook group, (a popular mum group with 75,000 members) with many other mums sharing similar experiences of feeling pressurised by friends / family members / midwives and other medical professionals to give up breastfeeding at the first hint of any problem and switch to formula instead.

Hope you find it an interesting read:


The Pressure To Bottle Feed

Earlier this month, I watched “Breastfeeding Uncovered”, a documentary that aired on Channel Four in which presenter and new mum Kate Quilton tries to pinpoint why Britain has some of the lowest rates of breastfeeding in the world and my memories of my own breastfeeding struggles after my first child was born were vividly reawakened…

Among other lamentable observations (such as how she’s made to feel like a leper for breastfeeding in public), Quilton identifies one key issue which rings very true for my own experience:

She reports how from the minute babies are born in this country, and from the very first sniff of any problem with establishing breastfeeding, many mums describe an immense pressure from medical staff, friends and family to give their baby formula. Instead of new mums being supported to learn how to breastfeed successfully, it seems that many of us are far too quickly pushed into either ‘topping up’ with formula, or else abandoning breastfeeding altogether and switching over to bottle feeding.

Before talking more about my own experience, I want to emphasise that this post is in no way a criticism of women who choose to bottle feed. My concern is about this entirely unhelpful pressure to switch over to formula that mums who wish to breastfeed repeatedly experience.

After my son was born in New York five years ago, I experienced a severe postpartum haemorrhage. This meant that instead of the magical first 24 hours I imagined I’d experience with my long-awaited new baby, I was rushed off to emergency surgery straight after delivery, and then spent the first night in the recovery room, receiving blood transfusions and under constant monitoring. I did not see my baby again until the next afternoon.

This also meant that I missed out on the crucial first 24 hours for establishing breastfeeding. And that contrary to my plans, my son was formula fed for the first 24 hours of his life.

I took it upon myself thereafter to try and make up for lost time and did everything I could to get the breastfeeding going. It was a pretty relentless battle but it was really important to me so I didn’t give up. But with my body weak from the traumatic birth and blood loss, I found that I could not establish a strong milk supply quickly, even with long hours spent cluster feeding.

Given this reality, and knowing that my son was already used to formula due to my absence after his birth, I realised quite quickly that I would have to – at least initially – combine breast / formula feeding.

What I did not expect, however, was the screaming chorus of people all around me trying to persuade me to stop breastfeeding altogether and just give him formula.

For a start, the temptingly easy ready-made formula bottles with their perfectly adaptable teats were constantly offered to me and baby for the couple of days I stayed in the hospital after the difficult birth. Formula was taken as a given by the medical staff at the New York hospital I was in – their question was only how often and how much did I want to give him, not if I wanted to give him formula at all.

No one told me that the more formula I give, the harder it would be to increase my milk supply. They just wanted the baby fed quickly and efficiently.

After coming home, with my ongoing milk supply issue, it felt like a near constant refrain from those around me to ‘just give formula’.  Everyone was at it – doctors and nurses (in the US, unlike in the UK, there were no community midwife visits after birth, instead you take your baby to the paediatrician’s office), family, friends…

What did I need to struggle for when there was this easy alternative staring me in the face? This was the overriding voice I recall from those first few hazy sleep-deprived months.

It would have just been so easy to give in to the pressure. Formula was everywhere, screaming out “DRINK ME”. Especially as for all the time I was struggling, I knew that my baby preferred the formula as he got his fix more quickly. I was constantly questioning my choices and wondering if I had got it all wrong, feeling guilty and anxious. Was I needlessly making my baby suffer?

In the end, it turns out I’m a pretty stubborn mule, and I kept going. With the help of an electric pump, I started expressing five times a day to increase my supply; I learnt everything there was to know about natural supplements to boost milk supply. And thanks to a La Leche League friend, I finally overcame issues with my baby’s latch.

And with all this superhuman effort, after about four or five months of combined feeding, I achieved what seemed like the impossible – an exclusively breastfed baby. It was a wonderful sense of satisfaction.

Since that first-time struggle, I have given birth twice more (in the UK), and have had a positive experience exclusively breastfeeding for over a year both times.

If there is one thing I can conclude based on watching “Breastfeeding Uncovered” and my own story, it is that the whole narrative of health professionals (and our own peers) needs to change in relation to breastfeeding mums – especially if the UK is to tackle its low breastfeeding rates. Let the narrative be about helping new mums who wish to breastfeed make a success of it – and feel confident in their choice – not undermining them or pressurising them to give up.




Meet the women who want to save your life

4 Dec


I have been busy in recent times, doing some freelance writing and editing for a business magazine – a bit out of my comfort zone, but it’s been fun 🙂

I just wanted to come back on the blog to update on a few things I’ve enjoyed writing in the last few months. Today I’ll post about a piece I’m particular proud of writing (and I’ll update with more links in the next few days):

So here’s my feature in the Jewish Chronicle about several inspiring young Jewish women I interviewed with breast cancer or who are carriers of the BRCA gene mutation. These women are doing amazing work raising awareness around the disease.

Here’s a taster of the first few paragraphs of the article. (For the full article, click here ):

Meet the women who want to save your life

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Danielle Stone
Danielle Stone

When Danielle Stone, 32, was diagnosed with breast cancer, she took an unusual step: “I told my friends: ‘I want you to feel my breast, so you know what cancer feels like.’” Her friends were shocked, but grateful. “Now they know what to look out for,” she says.

Stone was diagnosed just one month after giving birth to her first child, daughter Livvi-Rae, now four months old. “I was breastfeeding and felt this lump; I just assumed it was milk-related. Not in a million years did I think it would be cancer. My GP thought it was probably a milk-related cyst, but referred me just in case.”

She has HER2 positive cancer, “the same cancer Kylie Minogue had. My type of cancer is called ‘random’. It could happen to anyone,” says Stone. “That’s why I want to make people aware. If it wasn’t for breastfeeding, my situation would be very different now.”

Since her diagnosis three months ago, Stone has become a bit of a campaigner to get women to check themselves regularly: “Check your breasts to make sure you know what’s normal. There are no other obvious symptoms of breast cancer. If you don’t know how, look on YouTube. This is particularly important for young women who aren’t offered mammograms.”

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and with the disease affecting one in eight British women, this includes many Jewish women too. Like Stone, other young Jewish women have become accidental activists too, seeing themselves with a responsibility to raise awareness.


(Another link to the full article here)



The playdate

19 Jul


blue-bright-colors-565999.jpgHere’s my latest blog post for The Motherload, all about how a beautifully anticipated playdate planned for a very hot July’s afternoon went rather pear-shaped! (click on link below):

The Playdate

It’s my son’s party and I’ll cry if I want to

3 Jul


To continue from my last blog post theme of me being loud and dramatic on birthdays , here’s my latest offering published on The Motherload, a fab, down-to-earth parenting blogzine, all about how an embarrassing crying incident at my son’s birthday party launched my *complicated* relationship with children’s birthday parties. Enjoy the read (click on the following link):

It’s my son’s birthday and I’ll cry if I want to



It’s my birthday and I’ll shout if I want to

29 May
How did my birthday degenerate in such spectacular style, I thought to myself at around 4.30 pm this afternoon.
Two of my three little ones were howling in unison – 1.5-year-old was following me around the flat, roaring and practically pulling my skirt off in her urgency to get me to pick her up which I couldn’t do because a) I didn’t want to and b) I was trying to gather up water bottles-nappies-wipes-shoes-socks-coats-more stuff so we could leave the house to go out for an early supper for my birthday (my birthday treat to myself).
3.5 year old was howling histrionically as I had apparently dropped a shoe on her tender little hoof and it hurt – A LOT.
This is not how birthdays are meant to be celebrated, I observed ruefully to myself.
I then did exactly what all the parenting bibles tell you not to do. I started shouting – quite loudly – at both of these two little people – to STOP SHOUTING.
Baby seemed quite startled at this show of noisy force coming at her from my direction, and this temporarily  stopped her howls.
I shouted SORRY VERY LOUDLY at 3.5 year old about the foot incident and shouted again NOW YOU HAVE TO STOP SHOUTING COS I SAID SORRY.
I then carried on grabbing random stuff, while shouting in a maternal guilt-tripping way that they are too young to understand that they were RUINING MY BIRTHDAY . I may even have stamped my foot (yes I am turning 5 today).
Finally ready to leave the flat. Trip trap trip trap down the stairs to the ground floor. Drag the buggy out of the hallway and outside.
And then finally, breathe in some fresh air and we were all in transit, either in buggy or on two feet, heading towards the restaurant with the tantalising image of chips with ketchup by the bucketful awaiting us.
And peace was restored.

Meet the mums doing it on their own

10 Apr

Time to update the blog! Here is a taster (first few paragraphs) of a recent feature I wrote for the Jewish Chronicle about the fabulous single women who are choosing to have children on their own. Enjoy the read! Click here for the full article in the JC. And here for a link to KayamaMoms’ website – the organisation that is helping Jewish single women to become mums. (And here is a link to KayamaMoms’ Facebook page too.)

Meet the mums doing it on their own

There’s a growing trend in Israel for women to choose to become single mothers. Now British Jewish women are being encouraged to do the same. Rebecca Schischa reports.

For Amanda Moss, it was the end of a relationship when she was 39. For Michelle, it was her 35th birthday. Both women decided they were unlikely to find a partner to start a family. So, each became single mothers by choice.

“It was a real emotional rollercoaster,” says Moss, now 44, from St Albans, of her fertility treatment, which included four rounds of IVF. She’d frozen her eggs at 37 and tried thawing them, but none fertilised. Finally she tried a ‘double donation’ using donated sperm and egg. “I had a gut feeling it would work, and I tested pregnant soon after.

“I was induced two weeks early, and Joshua was born two years ago. I lived with my parents for the first five months. It was great, they built up a real bond with him. They adore him and help me out lots with him.”

Michelle, now 60, from Manchester had an easier time getting pregnant, using donor sperm, and is mother to Alex, 23 and Theo, 21 (their names have been changed to protect the family’s privacy).

“I was fairly secure in my career. I moved round the corner to my parents (they’re not alive anymore), and they were very happy to help out when I went back to work. My dad used to take the boys to toddler groups. I had parents I didn’t know saying to me, ‘I know your dad’!”

She and Moss are part of a growing number of single Jewish women who choose to become mothers. Now an Israeli organisation, KayamaMoms, is helping women considering following their lead.

“So many babies are not being born because people still aren’t considering the option” in the UK, says Dina Pinner, KayamaMoms’ co-founding director. She held an inaugural meeting in London last month to provide information and support to Jewish women considering becoming single mothers by choice (SMCs).

Click here for the full article in the JC

The swimming lesson

24 Jan

Parenting, I have discovered, sometimes feels like a series of gruesome trials that one must self-effacingly go through for the good of one’s child/ren (see previous posts on soft play hell and survival guide for parents of children entering their first year at school as examples).

Trials often involving complex logistics and vast amounts of stuff you are obliged to lug along with you. And every time your child gets one year older, behold, a new, more ominous trial looms on the horizon.

(Parents of older children often give you advance warning by recounting the horrors to come but as a defence mechanism, you generally block your ears shouting out repeatedly “I’m not listening I’m not listening I’m not listening” until they change the subject.)

So now to the latest trial to assault my sensibilities: The swimming lesson for big boy (aged 5).

The first Sunday morning arrives. Armed with bags of stuff, we (that is, me, plus three little ones, aged 5, 3 and 1, thanks to dear OH conveniently working on Sundays) leave at a respectable hour, I think.

Heart sinking #1:

We arrive at the school where the swimming lessons take place and my spirits immediately plummet.

It seems just to get into the car park and find a spot will require nerves of steel and the need to behave in an entirely uncivil manner.

The entire parenting populace of NW London has apparently all signed up for the same swimming lessons at the same hour. It is mayhem. Drivers of brash SUVs squeeze in and out aggressively and there is zero good will to behold.

Grimacing, I wait my turn and eventually a tight spot becomes available.

We still have a few minutes until the class starts. Breathe, I say to myself.

Not seeing anything actually resembling a swimming pool nearby, I ask another parent innocently, where actually is the swimming pool?

Heart sinking #2:

She points to a corner of the car park and says ‘down the steps there’. Armed with a little one in a buggy, the word “steps” are a discordant, jarring noise to my ears. I drag my three children over “there” and my dread and horror become palpable. In the era of accessibility, the swimming pool building is apparently at the bottom of a steep hill and the only way down is via an apparently endless, steep flight of steps.

Grunting and muttering expletives, I start bumping buggy down the steps, cautioning the two bigger ones to hold on carefully. A kind parent comes to the rescue as I’m halfway down and helps me bring the buggy down the remaining 423 steps.

Heart sinking #3:

Into the swimming pool building and everything goes pear-shaped again as we squeeze our way into the changing rooms.  Firstly, we have to remove outdoor footwear. So convenient, especially as I have omitted to bring with any flipflop/Croc-type footwear. (Great, so now we will all come home with verrucas too.)

I use the word “squeeze” for good reason. Apparently the entire parenting populace of NW London must also battle it out for a spot in a changing room designed for about 2% of the quantity of human beings currently inhabiting the space.

The buggy is clearly not a desired object in this space, neither by me, nor by the glaring individuals around me.

By this point, the start of the lesson, 10 o’ clock, has come and gone, and I bark at big boy to get changed quickly.

We turn the corner and finally enter the swimming pool area.

Heart sinking #4 (this is the very worst instance of sinking, I can guarantee)

I am immediately assaulted by a tremendous wave of heat and noise. It is, according to a friendly, more experienced, parent, who confirmed this for me later on, akin to Dante’s Inferno.  There are swarms and swarms of squealing children in the pool with an army of blue-T-shirt clad swimming instructors. There is a crowd of disgruntled parents hovering by the side of the pool. There are absolutely no pleasant or remotely roomy places to park myself and my two little ones who have to wait while big boy does his stuff.

And the heat, did I mention the heat.

There is nothing tolerable about this, I mutter to myself, carrying my fabulously heavy one-year-old whose cheeks are already turning bright red. We are all wearing winter clothing, apart from being barefoot.

In the veritable sea of little people splashing about in the pool, I eventually identify big boy’s swimming class, and drop him off.

We are ten minutes late for a thirty minute class.

I collapse on a narrow bench with the other two, and feel sweat prickling from every pore in my body. Baby is in danger of becoming dehydrated. I rip layers of clothing off all of us, and play Teletubbies and The Wheels on the Bus go Round and Round on an endless loop on my mobile phone in a vain attempt to prevent her from wriggling off me and toddling straight into the swimming pool.

The hothouse nightmare finally ends 20 minutes later.

We stagger back to the tightly packed changing room. I dump baby back into the buggy. I attempt to shower big boy and become half drenched in the process.

We finally step outside into the cool wintry day again. I breathe in deep breaths of fresh Mill Hill oxygen and feel an all-enveloping sense of gratitude for fresh air, the universe and all things good.

I then remember the 748 steps we have to climb to get back to the car.



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