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How I bonded with my baby without breastfeeding

Maria Albertsen
29 November 2012
How I bonded with my baby without breastfeeding
My son and I

When I was pregnant with my first son in 2008 I had my heart set on breastfeeding him. I went to the breastfeeding course at our local hospital and didn't even think about bottle feeding.

When my son was born it felt so natural to put him to my breast and he fed almost immediately after birth. He didn't seem 'full' after it, but I was assured that it takes a while to get established and it would happen in time. I loved the feeling of feeding him and felt so close to him.

However, when he was just 12 hours old it became apparent that he wasn't very well. He had been overdue, it had been a very long labour and he had experienced some distress. On further investigation they found out he had some problems with his lungs, one lung was collapsed and the other had a pneumonia-type infection on it. This broke my heart, it was difficult seeing him struggle to breathe properly and he was immediately admitted into the special care baby unit.

Whilst he was in the unit I wasn't allowed to feed him. It was explained to me that he was too weak to breastfeed; I wasn't even allowed to pick him up for any longer than 30 minutes twice a day, for nearly a whole week.

In this time he was fed by a tube but this had to be at regular intervals. I decided to express my breast milk but I had to try and time it with his feeds and in the intervals between having my expressed milk, he had formula to keep him 'topped up'.

After five days he was given a bottle and I was told this was best for him as it was less effort than breastfeeding. He was still too weak to feed from me and he would use less energy bottle feeding which meant he'd have more energy to get better quicker.

After another week, he was eventually allowed home and we tried to re-establish breastfeeding but he wouldn't take to it. He was restless and just screamed, he wanted a bottle as this is what he had become used to. I also developed mastitis as I wasn't emptying my breasts regularly and it became so painful. I was exhausted and just felt like giving up.

After another two weeks of trying to get breastfeeding established I guess I eventually just had enough and stopped trying, switching to bottle feeding altogether. To be honest, the whole situation had traumatised me and I didn't feel up to battling on with it.

I did feel like I had let him down as his mum for not being able to feed him and I did feel depressed about this for a little while. However, I spoke to my doctor a lot and she was great, she really reassured me and helped me to realise that it wasn't my fault and that it was the situation that meant I hadn't been able to feed him, not that I was a failure at all. I soon learned to just be grateful that he was well and he was at home with us.

At the time I was worried that it may affect how close I felt to him. I remember I used to feed him with his bottle and have skin to skin contact at the same time, which I think really helped. I would make sure there was plenty of eye contact while he was feeding and he had my full attention too. In between feeding we had lots of cuddles and play time.

I also found bath times were a great way to bond with him, and we regularly bathed together. He also slept in our room until he was over one year old and his cot was right next to our bed. We often woke up with our heads touching through the cot bars. I think this time spent together really helped us to become as close as we could be.

I'm also a great believer that you can never hold a child too much, so I hardly ever put him down, which I believe did help to build our relationship and make us as close as we are today.

I look at him now and he's such a lovely little boy, we have a wonderful relationship and we are very close. I have another son now who I did breastfeed successfully and I can honestly say that it hasn't made me any closer to him than it has to his brother, I feel close to them both and love them both equally.

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