Formula fan? Breast is best-er? That's great, says mum of two Maria Lally, just don't let it affect your new mum friendships…
I never expected to formula feed when I was pregnant with my first baby. I remember being shown pictures of a breastfeeding Jerry Hall in our NCT class (to show us how glamorous it could be) and stocking up on nipple cream and nursing bras well before the birth. With the utter self assurance of the first-time mum-to-be, I knew I had this.
Then Sophia came along. It was a long, traumatic labour and she was a 9lbs-plus baby who fed fretfully every twenty minutes, round the clock, week after week. Stitched up, sleep deprived and frazzled, I could barely make it through a latte or a shower without having to feed again.
After six weeks, I was chatting to another mum I was getting to know at the baby clinic and tearfully told her I was tempted to give Sophia - whisper it - the odd bottle, because I was exhausted and worried I wasn't producing enough milk. "That's the sort of ridiculous thing my mother-in-law would say," she said, before lecturing me on the benefits of breastfeeding (I already knew all about them). Compare that to the reaction of another mum I knew (who had breastfed her premature twins for a year); "I think that's an excellent idea. There's so much great stuff in formula nowadays and it will give you a break." Guess which mum I'm still friends with?
I did give Sophia a bottle and when I had her sister Rosie three years later, I ended up breastfeeding her exclusively (and easily) for months. Which goes to show that every baby, every birth and every mum, is different. So before you (inadvertently) become that mum in the clinic - or come up against her - read on for the scenarios mum friends can face when the way they feed their babies don't match - and how to handle them…
1. You find breastfeeding easy - but your friend doesn't
From the start, Rosie was a dream to breastfeed. Good for me. But not so good for my friend, who had a boy the same age who struggled to latch and had awful colic. If Rosie had been my first - and I hadn't had such a tough time feeding Sophia - I'm pretty sure I would have given my tearful, tired friend plenty of well meaning advice that would have sounded horribly smug and patronising. So instead I just reassured her she was doing brilliantly and offered her more coffee. Because sometimes new mums don't want more advice, they just want to offload (and drink more coffee).
2. You think breast is best - but your friend formula feeds…
A close friend of mine was very pro-breastfeeding when she had her son four years ago; "For me, breastfeeding was a no-brainer," she told me. "I just plonked him on the boob, it was free, convenient and healthy for both of us, so I just couldn't understand it when I saw mums in cafes getting their formula out. And I'll admit that I judged them a tiny bit." Then two years ago our mutual friend had a daughter and suffered terribly with mastitis and feeding; "Seeing her crying, with cracked nipples and full of guilt, I suddenly got it; not everybody finds breastfeeding as easy as I did. So now when I see those mums in cafes, I think of my friend."
3. …or you're the only formula feeder
When I was formula feeding Sophia in the early days (and still feeling self-conscious about it), I often tried to justify it to my still-breastfeeding NCT friends; "She's such a good sleeper now!", I'd say as I made up her bottle, or; "I read somewhere the health benefits of breastfeeding are overstated anyway". I cringe when I think back because those things probably sounded diggy and annoying. But like a lot parenting choices (Gina Ford routines versus go-with-the-flow, working versus staying at home and so on), diggy comments are often unintended - and often just a way for that mum to make herself feel OK about her choice.
4. It's mums' night out - but your friend is still breastfeeding
I asked my friend Kate about this, as she breastfed both her children until they were around 20 months; "It meant I could never drink that much, travel that far or stay out that late on NCT nights out when everybody else had long given up breastfeeding," she told me. "The sweetest mums factored this in by organising drinks close to home, choosing somewhere I could even bring the baby to if I wanted, like a restaurant rather than a busy bar, never saying a word when I ordered water and just never questioning my choice to feed for so long. Only one mum used to make comments like, "you're not still feeding him, are you?" and roll her eyes a bit." So don't be that mum.