'Bottlefeeding my baby: I saw judgement everywhere.'

Alys with her son







I’ll never forget being asked if I was comfortable topping my hungry baby up with formula…

At 17 months, my baby boy is no longer. He’s a walking, almost talking little boy struggling for independence… and the telly remote. He’s the apple of my eye and centre of my heart.

But like many first time mothers I spent his first few days filled with unadulterated panic. Will was a teeny tiny helpless baby unable to communicate his needs but whose needs his father and I were wholly responsible for. And for me, simmering beneath that panic was a deep sense of disappointment, failure and guilt because I was struggling and ultimately failed to breastfeed.

Immediately following my planned caesarean (I had a resolutely breech baby) Will was placed into a crib and we were both wheeled to recovery. It was there I was expecting to have skin to skin contact and a chance to try breastfeeding for the first time. But with a backed up delivery ward and other mothers requiring emergency caesareans, our assigned midwife had to go. Hospital policy says that a newborn stays with a midwife until he or she gets to the ward. So William had to go too.

I don’t resent that at all. I would want every woman and baby in an emergency situation to get the care they need and god knows how stretched nurses and midwives are.

It was about three hours after his birth that I finally got the chance to hold him and try to feed him. But, by that stage, we had one hungry frantic baby on our hands and he was in no mood for the hard work of learning to breastfeed. The days that followed were pretty rough; a combination of a starving newborn, manhandling of my breasts, nipples that refused to cooperate and utter exhaustion for all involved.

Alys with her son

When Will was three days old someone noticed that he hadn’t eliminated any waste in over a day and a half. Midwives weighed him and doctors reported dangerous levels of weight loss.


I’ll never forget being asked if I was comfortable topping my hungry baby up with formula. I asked the midwife to take my son from my arms so I could curl up to cry my heart out. I can’t describe how my world crumbled in that moment. All my hopes about the kind of mother I would be seemed to be dashed in that very moment.

And so there it was. I was a bottlefeeder. Subsequent midwife home-visits become fraught and traumatic as the benefits of breastfeeding were gently but firmly outlined to me with more than just a hint of passive aggressiveness. I thought people felt I was a bad mother. I tried not to mix up bottles in public because I feared how perfect strangers might react. I couldn’t bring myself to talk about feeding with other mothers because I was sure they would be repulsed.

Then I got angry. I saw judgement everywhere, even when none was intended. In my darkest moment I unjustifiably and publicly accused breastfeeding advocates of comparing formula to baby heroin.

I couldn’t even start to imagine that breastfeeding mothers might be experiencing judgement themselves.

And then this appeared in my twitter feed;

“Chick sitting opposite me. I don’t need to see your large swollen breast with a child hanging off the end of it.”

This tweet came from a (usually) sensible, socially progressive, highly educated young woman, and I was utterly floored.

I struggled to think of an appropriate response. I’d almost expect this kind of stuff from ignorant blokes who need to pull their heads in. But to see this from a smart, educated young woman was a total shock.

Geez. We’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t.

Alys Gagnon is a mother, a wife and works in politics. She is the daughter of an ordained Anglican priest, grew up in the Anglican tradition and is a former member of the Anglican Synod of Canberra Goulburn Diocese.

Did you breastfeed your baby or use formula? Do you think women are damned if they do and damned if they don’t?