All content of this blog is my own opinion only. It does not represent the views of any organisation or association I may work for, or be associated with. Nothing within this blog should be considered as medical advice and you should always consult your Doctor.

Breastfeeding & (whispers) Bonding

Breastfeeding and bonding is probably one of the least discussed "reasons to breastfeed".  Whilst many mums can acknowledge their child might have more colds or minor infections – bonding provokes a hair raising reaction in most quarters.

It is of course a complex issue, unlike health implications, waving studies about reduced child abuse etc don't cut it for many – likely because for most parents feelings are extremely hard to quantify. You can’t measure them, nor compare to what someone else is feeling. Formula feeding mothers love and care for their infants and cannot understand how this would be different if they breastfed.

The only people who can truly compare bonding between breast and bottle fed babies, is mothers who have done both. Even one of each is not really reliable, due to all the other possible influencing factors.

So I would like to kick this subject off with an article written by an amazing lady I know and mum of eight!  Five formula fed and three breastfed:
I want to share my experiences with you in this article, as you can imagine it has taken a lot of soul searching on my part to ponder the question; what is the big deal about breastfeeding and bonding?

If breastfeeding is considered just as a method of transferring milk into baby, then on the surface there does not seem to be that much difference. One could argue that bottle feeding mums have the advantage as their babies can look straight into their eyes, something that most newborns correctly latched on will not manage to do until they are older.

As a breastfeeding mum it can be easy to feel just like a milk machine and that is all baby wants you for. Everyone else can get a cuddle and the minute baby gets close to you, all baby wants is milk and will not settle until you feed him. You may be sore, you are probably leaking milk everywhere and well it can all be rather undignified to start with. A far cry from the rose tinted pictures of mum breastfeeding baby happily that you imagined! Rather then looking adoringly down on your newborn, you are probably busting for the loo, as you haven’t managed to get off the settee for the last few hours!

I am deliberately painting a negative picture, because breastfeeding can be blooming hard work to start with and that’s when all is going well. Throw in a baby who is not latching well, thus causing mum to be in pain, mastitis, thrush, cracked nipples etc and it can be a relief to go over to bottle. You often hear it don’t you, I only started bonding with my baby once we had switched to formula and the pain stopped. I was dreading feeding him as it hurt so much………………..

I can relate to that, because I have been there, done that. It was a relief at the time, the regrets come later. When you raise your head out of its sleep deprived state, when you ‘have your body back’ when your baby is not in your arms constantly anymore, when those chubby hands are caressing a plastic bottle instead of your breast. When baby gets excited at the sound of the bottle lid coming off, rather then you lifting your top. When your baby simply doesn’t smell like your baby anymore!

When you stand with your seriously ill baby on your shoulder and you look at a breastfeeding display in the children’s ward, citing all the things that breastfeeding protects against, all the things that are making your baby so ill and you know that you have failed that baby.

If only you had tried harder, the pain wasn’t really that bad if only, if only, if only……………….

Of course none of us have a crystal ball, breastfed babies do get ill and hindsight is a wonderful thing. And of course you *love* your baby. You would challenge anyone who dare suggest that you could love your baby anymore were you still breastfeeding. But still, you see other mothers breastfeeding and you are simply green with envy. You justify it to yourself that they obviously had a much easier ride then you. Their baby could not possibly have been as hungry as yours. They do not have other children to take care of. Their skin is not as sensitive, whatever was the problem or was perceived to be the problem you have a justification for having to give up.

And at the end of the day it’s just milk right. You love your baby just as much, you know your baby just as much. A happy mother = a happy baby! Formula is not poison, ok breast milk is best but formula is good enough…

Putting aside the obvious health issues here, you are deluding yourself. It does matter, and it matters a great deal - but you do not know that, because you have been robbed of your nursing relationship before it even started. And how could you know really? You simply do not know what you are missing, as you have not been able to experience it.

Now fast forward a few babies. Quite a few babies in my case. You seek and find the right support whilst you are still pregnant. You listen, you learn, you surround yourself with other happily breastfeeding mothers and it is beginning to dawn on you that actually they did not have an easier ride then you. They had support when it mattered! So you grow quietly hopeful that maybe, just maybe you will be able to feed this baby yourself. Maybe it will not all end in tears, regrets and recriminations.

And then your new baby girl is here, born at home surrounded by all your loved ones and she latches on beautifully, so far so good. There is no pain, as you both know what you are doing. You have the confidence to co-sleep from the start, making night feeds so much easier. You have your breastfeeding counsellor on speed dial, lol, but really you do not need her as it just works. And you fall hopelessly and utterly in love with this little bundle. You treasure every moment you have with her at the breast. You love that drunken sailor look she gets all the time. You love the fact that she only wants you and all you have to do is lift your top and let her disappear under your jumper and she is happy.

And you simply cannot bear to be parted from her. Even when she is fast asleep in her basket you need to move her from room to room with you or you feel as though your right arm has been cut off. You know when she will want feeding as your milk will let down seconds before she wakes up. You put her at the other end of the bed to give yourself some room to sleep and you wake up seconds before she does and you realise that you haven’t moved but your newborn has managed to wriggle across until she is right next to your boob! You cannot stop sniffing her because she smells so good; so familiar and sweet and you get such a kick out of seeing her grow. Knowing that it is all your milk that has caused those chubby dimples. And then you get the first smile as she is coming off the boob, your milk dribbling down her chin. And then the first raspberry blown that has you both in fits of giggles. Chubby hands stroking your breasts, a little mouth contently glugging away and you just feel on top of the world.

Your older children imitating you by breastfeeding their dolls, suggesting baby needs feeding so they can get on with their play and then your toddler coming up to you and asking to have some too. So you end up with both of them at the breast and of course your toddler does not know what to do, but you feel such a rush of love and it heals so many wounds, wounds you never even knew you had.

The conversations you have with your teenager, as to why she was not breastfed, did you not love her enough? Ouch! How do you answer that one?

And through it all those breastfeeding hormones are working their magic. Everyone around you is surprised at the change in you. The kids and your husband are commenting on how much calmer you are. “Mum you are a much nicer person you know!” From a friend:” What has happened to you, you have really changed!” (Incidentally that friend ended up breastfeeding her last baby for 3 years, having f/f the first 4!)

And what about you? You gain a new self belief. You at long last feel comfortable in your own skin. You are WOMAN hear me roar! Your milk has superpowers it must have. Your baby grows into a toddler and tells you so, so it must be true! And you discover another thing about breastfeeding that you never knew. It is such a brilliant parenting tool when you have a toddler. How on earth did you ever manage without it before?

There are hardly any tantrums, you have the perfect tool right there, strapped to your chest and you use it willingly and gladly. And there is such joy, such indescribable joy. You are finally doing what you were meant to be doing. It’s natural and all of a sudden you are the one who other mums come up to and tell their breastfeeding story of pain and failure and justification and you see yourself and how you used to be.

And you feel sad, so very sad that these mothers will not be experiencing the joys and the sheer magic of breastfeeding. And you get angry too, angry at the system that lets mothers down, angry at the health professionals who robbed you of your own nursing relationship with your older children and you vow to do something about it. You become a breastfeeding counsellor yourself and you have come full circle really.

Breastfeeding it makes a difference it really does!
Doris O'Conner 

Doris sadly passed away 11.1.19 following a short illness. She was an inspiration and support to many during their mothering journey and will be greatly missed.  We'd like to extend our sympathies to her husband and brood of 9 at this incredibly difficult time x


  1. Wonderful. My feelings exactly. First born was BF for 5 months, and then FF due to bad advice (your irons run out, he doesn't need it now he has solids ((which were advised too early also)) Its got what he needs in it etc etc)

    I now have a BF 9 month old, and am a BF councillor. Never has anything been so perfect.

    P.S ... The bond IS different, however much I try to deny it, it IS

    1. Just wanted to say how much i respect you for admitting it to yourself and everybody in here :) x

  2. Love this article. I FF my first and am currently BF my 6 month old second baby. The bond IS hugely different. I feel so close to my second baby, I love feeding him, I co-sleep, I love to be near him. It was an altogether different experience first time round, I did not bond straight away, if i'm honest, it took a good few months! I was a little afraid of him. I didn't want to feed him in the middle of the night, my husband did that. I love them both absolutely equally and I can say that without hesitation but the bond is most definately very different. How I wish I could have my time with my first baby again. A big regret.

  3. Is there a distinction between "bonding" and "love for the child"? Because I am sure FF mums love their children.... but maybe, there's a difference... as a mum who feels her breast tingle just before the child stirs in her sleep feels bonded, attached, to her child; where a FF mum might feel independent and liberated.

  4. I would love to get in touch with whoever wrote that story. I have a 2.5 yo who latched on today for the first time since she was 18m. She was latched on for 10 minutes and really glugged down. I have so many mixed feelings about it and would love to talk to someone with personal experience!

  5. This must have taken so much to write thank you

  6. Im in tears reading this as i never bf my 1st and have been bf my 2nd now for 12weeks but really have to give it up due to her weight gain because of a heart condition. Im so sad and upset about doing the swap, i've just started trying to get her to have this prescription formula today and she hates it, and gives me a why?? look. :( I want to carry on longer but i dont think its going to happen.

  7. *hugs* Donna - brings me to tears too, it's a very emotional article.
    Can I ask why someone has suggested you swap? obviously you don't have to answer if you would rather not, but you sound really sad about the idea.
    Email me if you would rather: analyticalarmadillo(at)

  8. My baby has a VSD and need to gain weight as shes was born at 8lbs 15 and at 12 weeks has still not even got to 11lbs she is very far behind. The idea is the more weight she put on the more likely she will not need an operation to close the hole. They actually only recommended formula top up, but I said is the more high calorie milk the better and the dietician at the hospital said yes, but she is not allowed to recommend a complete swap, so im slowly cutting out the feeds. I also just dont think Mya is going to allow me to do part bf and part ff, as she just keeps wanting the bm.
    It was my plan to totally swap, I think id rather she have formula then an op. Im going to ring the hv tomorrow and see if maybe feeding her in the morning and evenings will somehow work. But she needs 700mls a day of formula to get the to the weight that she needs to.

    This is Donna by the way.... should've logged in lol.

  9. Hiya
    Did they fully outline for you all the health implications of swapping? I can totally understand weight is important - but there is a reason she isn't allowed to recommend a full swap. There are lots of things you can do to increase weight gain without something that in turn compromises her immune system and other significant aspects of her health. It's potentially swapping one problem for another in the longterm.

    A 2004 study examined the "formula has more calories" :

    In spite of a study by Marino, O'Brien, and LoRe (1995), indicating that oxygen saturations were maintained at higher and less variable levels during breastfeeding, it is a common misconception that breastfeeding is more difficult and requires more effort than bottle-feeding for infants with CHD. Another study by Combs and Marino (1993) demonstrated breastfed infants with CHD gained weight more quickly and had shorter hospital stays than bottle-fed infants with CHD. In spite of these studies, mothers of infants with CHD often are not encouraged to breastfeed. A survey by Lambert and Watters (1998) noted that mothers who were discouraged from breastfeeding were told, "The bottle is easier," "It's harder to breastfeed," "Formula has more calories," and "The baby would have better intake from a bottle." Respondents to the Lambert and Watters (1998) survey identified physicians and nurses as the primary source of breastfeeding information, yet ranked their assistance low (1.8-2.6) on a scale of 1 ("little help") to 5 ("much help"). Pantazi, Jaeger, and Lawson (1998) surveyed staff composed of pediatric and neonatal nurses and midwives regarding support for breastfeeding mothers and found that 53% of pediatric staff had no relevant training in breastfeeding. In addition, they demonstrated inadequate knowledge of lactation in spite of the frequency with which they assisted mothers to provide breastmilk to their infants.

    This article explains how formula impacts:

  10. Hi there,

    This is a prescription high calorie formula, not just your usual sma or cow and gate stuff.

    Any who i spoke to the HV today who said to et her to take the formula, dont give her the breast anymore, or she'll carry on refusing the bottle. But as my boobs will explode, im expressing a couple of times a day and that they think this is a great idea. then i suppose if I can then go back to bf then its there. See how it goes i suppose.


  11. Hiya
    Yes am familiar with high cal formulas, the paeds really wanted my preemie son on one :) they had as little breastfeeding knowledge as it sounds like yours have :(
    take care

  12. What a lovely article, it has brought tears to my eyes too. I'm lucky I BF my first 4 each for 13 months and feel so proud of myself for doing it. It was lovely. 10 years later I have baby no. 5, she is one month old and am treasuring every second she is at my breast and by my side, yes we are co-sleeping too. I'm now 48. They are so tiny and needy for such a short time, enjoy every moment you can be everything to your child. Good luck Donna, I feel for you and Mya, I hope all goes well.

  13. i love this article after trying and failing to bf 2 children then being successful with number 3.
    i dont have a good relationship with my own mum but found out just 2 days ago that she did try to bf me for 5 days before giving up. my younger brothers were not even given that. i know bf babies still get ill, my own has been, but one of my brothers was so dreadfully ill we nearly lost him a few times and it really makes you wonder if we would have been in that desperate situation had he been bf.

  14. also i love all my children the same but i do think theres a different bond. maybe its because of being needed so much more. their whole little life depends upon you where as ff anyone can feed them. and you really do get a kick from knowing your milk has helped them grow every little oz, every milestone they meet is in someway the result of your milk having fed them, made them strong. all babies will meet that milestone around the same age give or take a bit, but your baby has reached it on nothing but breastmilk during those 1st 6 months. if that isnt going to make you feel good about yourself i dont know what is.

  15. This brought me to tears as well.Thank you so much for sharing!!! It brought back all the hurt from not being able to breastfeed my girls longer. With my first I had zero support, a job where I couldnt pump and bad doctor advice. With my second I had better support but still not enough and doctors who convinced me that if I didnt give my sick daughter formula she could die.

    Donna~ I know the struggle that you are going thru. My second daughter had some health issues as a baby. During my pregnancy I dealt with growth restriction and her growth issues continued after birth. At 6 months old she was just 12 pounds. She was not even on the growth charts. She looked too thin. She had already been diagnosed as failure to thrive. The doctor constant push to get her to take bottles of formula led to her refusal to take bottles of anything (including breastmilk). She was not gaining at all and even lost a little weight so she had an NG feeding tube placed (down thru the nose to her stomach). She did not tolerate the special, $45 a can, high cal formula and would projectile vommit after her tube feedings. Rather than stop the formula feeds they changed her to continuous feeds (one ounce per hour) and put her on medication to make her tiny stomach empty faster. Because she would only tolerate an ounce an hour of the formula I was only allowed to breastfeed twice a day. Once in the morning and once in the evening. The rest of the time I had to pump. It didnt take long for all the pumping to just be too much or for my sweet girl to refuse to take any oral feedings at all. It actually took months of therapy to get her to take a bottle (she was over 12 months old when she took a bottle for me). I know lots of people will say that formula saved my daughters life but I am not so sure. I think that with the proper tools and support I could have continued to breastfeed her and she could have gained weight. The formula required all kinds of medications to make her body tolerate it and placing an NG tube yourself while your tiny baby screams and fights you breaks your heart every single time you have to do it (normally a few times a month). She was delayed in her physical development and I think its mainly bc she was on continuous feeds so hooked up to her feeding pump 24 hrs a day. That sure makes it hard to learn to roll, or crawl, or walk. She did all of those things within 6 months of being off her feeding tube. She is still tiny (but now its apparently not an issue bc the docs never say anything) and not on the charts. She will be 4 in 3 months and only weighs 24 pounds. I know that our situations are quite different but I just wanted to share bc I know how the pressure feels and how urgent it all is. I think you should get a 2nd and 3rd opinion about if stoping breastfeeding is best for your baby. I would see if there is a pediatrician or pediatric specialist in your area who is also an IBCLC who could give you a good solid medical opinion. I wish that I had gotten more advice from breastfeeding supportive doctors and I dont want you to have my same regrets. Good luck with everything. I hope your little one comes thru this fine and I hope that I didnt offend anyone with my comment...sorry its so long!

  16. I think this author must have written this about me.

  17. Thank you so very much for writing this. Words fail to express my gratitude to both authors.

  18. There really is NOTHING like a breastfed baby. Although figuring it all out and not knowing what to expect the first time, I treated formula feeding as something that was never an option. Just remember, your baby WILL latch and your milk WILL come in when your sitting there for the first 24hrs trying to get your newborn to nurse on a seemingly empty breast. I successfully breastfed my first and only for 14 months before he gave it up, I was the harder one to wean from the nursing experience. He's now 3 years old and I'm so thankful for how advanced he is, how happy he is, how well he's grown, how little unnecessary trips to the dr we needed, how beautiful his teeth are, but most of all how close we are, bonded for life. No matter how old he gets I can't seem to get enough of him.

  19. *Sniff, sniff* I am not usually a crier but wow, waterworks over here. Beautiful. I had severe PPD with my first and I believe alot of the reason for it was I "couldn't" BF her. I had done all the research during the pregnancy and when the time came I got very bad advice from the nurses.

    Thank you for putting it in perspective.

  20. Can I through in that if breastfeeding isn't going well, bonding may not happen as perfectly as when it's going well. Having breastfed two, I can see myself in it with the two breastfeeding relationships - first wasn't going well and I saw the constant demands for feeds as a burden, while this time I can't be separated from my baby and just love every second of caring for her.
    Of course I love both, equally, but I'm in a much happier state this time around.

  21. I'm still enjoying my breast feeding relationship with my son who is 1 today!!! I just wanted to post here in support of more information for new mothers. I was lucky because I had planned a home birth and even though I ended up having an emergency c-section, my independent midwives were there for me to make absolutely sure he was attached and getting colostrum from the moment he was born. Despite seeming to have good attachment, he was feeding incessantly and when his weight gain plateaued at 3 weeks, he was diagnosed with a tongue tie. It was severe enough for him to need to have it snipped and once he did, it was the true beginning of our breast feeding relationship. Having said that - and acknowledging that I was one of the lucky ones - the first six weeks of feeding him were very hard. I kept asking if it was meant to be so hard and one of my midwives told me that the breast feeding relationship usually takes about 6 weeks to get fully established. It's true that I did not experience a proper 'let down' reflex until about that time... Even though I have a mother who breast fed and friends who breast feed, I still needed this extra support above and beyond my immediate network of friends and family to help keep me focused so I wouldn't give up. Now I really want to share this wisdom with as many other women as possible because it was such a fantastic thing for me to be told: "Don't give up" by someone who really knew what was possible despite the odds. I don't yet have anything to compare it to, but the feeling that he and I both have when he is fully latched on and gulping away and then that surge as the milk comes down and we can both sit back and relax and know that everything is as it should be. It is nice to feel invited to share my wonderment at the "rightness" of this relationship with my baby without fear of being labeled judgmental of those who are not breast feeding their babies. I think we all know that babies are made of tough stuff and will thrive if given half the chance, but I can't help feeling that cementing that breast feeding relationship makes you feel more 'at one' with the circle of birth, life and the growth of your child. This has been a wonderful experience for me especially as I did not have the natural birth I wanted to have.

  22. I posted this article on Baby and Bump (in their formula feeding forum) today as a response to a mum asking if she should give up breastfeeding. My post was removed for "trolling".

    So just incase you didn't know Analytical Armadillo, you're a troll! Apparently...

  23. Thank you for re-sharing this AA. Beautiful story. I was really "lucky" in that I didn't have a tough time like so many Mums I know. Not to say it was easy, but I am so so so so happy that I am breastfeeding. Sometimes I just don't know what I would do without the boob. It has also brought back memories of my childhood where my aunt bf my cousins and she explained it all to me at the time.

  24. I love this article! Made me cry. I love bf so much. Liz x


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