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05th May 2016

Hittin’ The Bottle: 10 “Tips” For Combination Feeding

According to our A Slice of Ireland survey, twenty-nine per cent of our readers used a combination of breastfeeding and formula feeding for their babies.

I was pretty amazed at this figure as combination feeding was something that I had barely heard of during pregnancy and when I began to do it myself the practice was accompanied by a strange tinge of rebellion.

During gestation, whenever anyone asked me if I was planning on breastfeeding my son myself I would give a kind of serene smile and say “oh I’m just going to take it as it comes, if it works then great and if not, I’m not going to stress about it too much.”

This was a LIE. I was absolutely certain that I would be breastfeeding my baby. Also, I secretly (and for no real reason) harboured a little theory that I was going to be a really good breastfeeder. I was basing this on the highly scientific fact that my boobs had leaked colostrum quite a bit during pregnancy which I took to mean that they were raring to go.

Sadly they were not, and the leaking colostrum may have been the best they had to offer. Perhaps they had peaked too soon in their breastfeeding career, as once my son was born they all but packed in their breastfeeding capabilities. And I was NOT serene about this, and I did NOT take it “as it comes”.

With the disastrous combination of hormones and abject terror of “doing it wrong” I decided to completely define my parenting by my seeming inability to breastfeed and torture myself over what I perceived as my failure.

In the antenatal classes, the focus was very much on breastfeeding. One girl raised her hand and ventured a question about ‘combination feeding’ but was told that it wouldn’t work as it would adversely affect milk supply. In the hospital after the baby was out, among the mothers a few seasoned second and third timers made quiet allusions to the ‘dream feed’ and ‘giving a bottle at night’ to help the baby sleep. All this was imparted in such an underhand manner that I took it to be verboten. Until I realised that, like spray tan, loads of people were at it.

10 Easy Steps to Combination Feeding

1. Attempt breastfeeding

Attempt to perfect the latch. This may take four to 4586 attempts, side effects may include wincing, crying, assuming precarious and hard to maintain positions and intense frustration.

2. Vilify one of your breasts

I had ‘good boob’ and ‘bad boob’ aka Eva and Adolf. My friend called her’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. For various reasons (infection, breast size and shape, position) the baby can play favourites with the breasts, this can lead to…

3. Having a blocked duct (what a treat)

One tit giant and rock hard? That’s the blocked duct alright. Two words: Cabbage leaves. I kept a supply chilling at all times in the fridge until they wound up in a chorizo and lentil hotpot (recipe here). If that’s not household economy than I don’t know what is. The blocked duct is often a delightful precursor to…

4. Getting Mastitis

One word: Agony. The remedy can basically be summed up in two words: Power Through. Mastitis is rough but fear not, you shall prevail.

5. Cry 

If you are crying while attempting to breastfeed, take heart: you are not alone.

6. Get a diagnosis 

If the breastfeeding is not going as planned, start seeking an explanation. If nothing else it will take your mind off your milk supply and the fact that the baby is latched on to you 18 hours a day but never appears to be sated. After exploring many schools of medical thought, we had our baby treated for tongue tie and he received craniosacral therapy. Meanwhile, I was examined by several midwives who delicately asked “had I ever noticed that I had very, very small breasts?” They diagnosed me with ‘a lack breast tissue’ basically another way of saying “you ain’t got no titties”.

7. Milk supply (or lack thereof)

At one time, in order to up my milk supply, I was taking six tablets of Motilium and nine capsules of fenugreek each day. I was drinking fennel tea round the clock and could usually be found attached to either a baby or a breast pump.

8. Call the doctor

Describe the baby’s symptoms (copious crying) and feel utterly devastated when they tell you “it sounds like your baby is hungry”.

9. Commence combination feeding

Introducing the bottle felt like failure to me at first until my husband rightly pointed out that I was making this whole breastfeeding thing all about me and my issues instead of dealing with the real issue: the baby appeared to be hungry.

10. “Every mother can breastfeed”

The first time a kindly midwife in the hospital breastfeeding support group said this to me I had the urge to scream. But months later I reflected on those words and found, though I would never have believed it possible at the time, that in the end they were true for me too.

It took a good eight or nine weeks of borderline insanity and a lot of weeping before I found MY way of breastfeeding. My way involved a bit of bottle, a bit of boob, a bit of pumping and a lot of perseverance – it sort of reminded me of trying to thread a needle while riding a unicycle and catching Malteasers in my mouth. It didn’t look the way I’d imagined breastfeeding would but it worked for us and in the end I really enjoyed our combination feeding.

DISCLAIMER: This piece is intended for amusement and insight purposes only and should not be taken as an indictment of breastfeeding or as a promotion of formula. All experiences are my own and are therefore subject to subjectivity.