Posted on March 15, 2011

Where’s the fuel gauge? By Emma


Emma brings us a very emotional heart-breaking story of her breastfeeding experience today. Get the tissues ready!! Thank you so much for sharing your story Emma x

Emma blogs at or with her beautiful daughter here

Where’s the fuel gauge?

It had never occurred to me that I wouldn’t be able to breastfeed. Mind you it had never occurred to me that I would have considerable problems conceiving. More surprisingly, I never saw any connection between the two, hindsight is wonderful. I attended the NHS and National Childbirth Trust (NCT) ante-natal classes and I had read up on breastfeeding; I had seen my friends struggle but win through, and I thought I had my eyes wide open. But I had no idea. So today, almost six years on, I write my experience hoping it might help someone, somewhere, sometime.

Our gorgeous daughter was born slightly premature but healthy at 12.06 in the morning on a Monday. She was a miracle, a true gift to us, a marvel to behold. She looked at me as she was passed to me and it was the most natural thing in the world to put her to my breast. She was warm and real and oh so vulnerable; and I was going to nurture her with my body and love. She suckled in the delivery room, she latched on another two times through the night and we were discharged by lunch the same day, healthy mother and child.

I expected the feeding to get painful and constant, I was ready. But it never was painful, she latched on and sucked but it never hurt. In fact she wasn’t that interested; she had to be woken to feed and kept awake through the feeds. She seemed exhausted, but hey she was slightly premature and being born can’t be the easiest thing in the world. By day three she couldn’t latch on anymore, she was only interested in sleeping. By day four the midwife was starting to look worried, but played it down. By day five I was seriously worried, about her lethargy and yellowing colour, things didn’t seem right, so we went off to the breastfeeding clinic at the hospital.

I have nothing but praise for the fantastic place and people that constitute the breastfeeding clinic I attended. They were calm and attentive and although they could obviously see something was wrong from the start, they didn’t let on. They tried to help her latch on, they tried to keep her awake enough, they tried with different positions and all sorts. And then, calmly and with amazing emotional care, they referred us up to the Special Care Baby Unit.

Our precious daughter was admitted a few hours later, after a battery load of tests and emotional trauma for us, her parents. The heartbreak of knowing how ill she was will never be dimmed in my mind; the fear and the guilt were immense. And still I kept saying, shouting, demanding that I wanted to breastfeed her, that I didn’t want to move over to formula milk. I don’t have any idea how they eventually insisted, I have a dim recollection of “this will save her life” and a huge knowledge of failure. I wasn’t even allowed to give her the first bottle, they wanted to get it down her fast and so they did it.

She stayed in special care for 3 days, during which she woke back up and had the energy she’d had at birth and more besides. We were taught how to bottle feed her and I was tested extensively. I won’t go into the physical aspects of this, but I will share that it was emotionally draining. It was my fault she had “failed to thrive”, my fault she had nearly died, and my fault I couldn’t feed her. And yes, in a way it was, I didn’t have any milk – none at all!

However the real fault lay with the lack of understanding that breastfeeding is not always possible. I am a rare case, a very rare case in the general population; but amongst women with fertility problems, less rare than you might imagine. The specialists think I must have had some collostrum; the fact that I managed to give that to my baby carried me through the guilt I held for over two years; but beyond that there was nothing. If I had not gone to the breastfeeding clinic and cared for by the fantastic nurses in SCBU the guilt would have been so much more. I will forever be thankful to those women. This month our daughter turned 5 years 6 months old; a healthy, thriving, happy, intelligent little girl who has been nurtured by love and sustained by formula when there was no other option available.

Don’t get me wrong, I still believe in promoting breastfeeding, but my experience has caused me to hate the “breast is best” campaign for the guilt it caused me. My hope is that society keeps encouraging, but also has more understanding for those of us who can’t breastfeed for physical reasons including my own lack of milk.

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  • Reply Anonymous October 26, 2011 at 6:23 pm

    I too felt all those feelings Emma, when I was unable to breast feed you, my own daughter, but as mothers we have to do what is right for our child – I did and you are great.

  • Reply northernmum March 16, 2011 at 9:52 pm

    Such a well written emotive post. I have two bottle fed children and one breast fed child; all that matters is giving them what they need.


  • Reply geekmummy March 16, 2011 at 11:47 am

    Wow, I'd never heard mention of failure to breastfeed being more common in women with fertility problems before. Interesting.

    Thanks for sharing. Whenever I feel any guilt about being unable to breastfeed (which you'll be aware I still get!), I point out to myself that since C was a year old I have never been asked in a hospital how she was fed. I also point out to myself that at any party of my friends that I attend contains a mix of people who were breast and bottle fed, and you could never look around that room and point out those that were formula fed.

    You did the right thing for your daughter, and that's what matters.

  • Reply Monkey Stars March 15, 2011 at 10:00 pm

    My heart goes out to you, what a difficult experience to contend with. I agree that attitudes today seem to dismiss those that formula feed as gong against the whole 'natural parenting' trend (a phrase that bothers me). I combination fed my 2 babies as there were times I could just not satisfy their hunger by myself. Thankyou for sharing.. your daughter is beautiful -obviously reflecting what a great mummy you are!

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