Fi Anderson: Why I sacrificed breastfeeding

Most mothers are told 'breast is best' but the UK has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world.

World Breastfeeding Week is used as a way to encourage mothers to learn about the benefits of breast milk.

Nutritious, readily available and an opportunity for mother and baby to bond in the early days of life, it's recommended by most healthcare professionals.

Despite this, the difficulties of the feeding process sees some mothers stop and left to face the 'mummy guilt'.

It's a feeling shared recently by Coronation Street actress Helen Flanagan who said stopping after 13 months left her 'really anxious'.

With the rate of mothers exclusively breastfeeding dropping as low as 1% after six months, these mothers shared their stories of why they finally let go.

'You can’t leave women isolated'

Fi almost came off her medication in order to breastfeed her firstborn. Credit: Fi Anderson

"Breastfeeding is seen as the holy grail of what you can give your child," mother-of-two Fi Anderson told ITV News.

The disability activist and blogger battled with the idea of coming off her medication in order to breastfeed her first child, Abbigail.

Fi lives with a limiting muscle wasting condition known as Muscular Dystrophy and changes to her medications could have left her bedridden.

She said: "I could put myself in a life-threatening situation."

A small percentage of mums cannot breastfeed for medical reasons and for Fi, it was even a surprise that she was able to carry her girls to term.

While waiting in her hospital bed, she felt the pressure to turn her nose up to formula in spite of her complicated health condition.

The joys of giving birth were overshadowed by not feeling abandoned and "like you weren’t like the other mums".

"You can’t leave women isolated, feeling quite alone in their situation when there’s actually options out there that could prevent feeling that level of guilt and failure as a mother," she added.

Is breast best?

Dr Christie del Castillo-Hegyi's struggles with breastfeeding helped inspire the 'Fed is Best' network for parents. Credit: Dr Christie del Castillo-Hegyi / Fed is Best Foundation

Not every mother can feed for as long as 13 months without support.

Dr Christie del Castillo-Hegyi recalls the "sheer terror" of finding out her son had been deprived of healthy milk for four days.

Her newborn son developed jaundice, hypoglycemia, dehydration and by day three his body weight had plummeted by 15% from insufficient breastfeeding.

She said: "I had no idea that anything serious could happen to my child as long as I followed the 'Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding.'"

Dr del Castillo-Hegyi co-founded the US organisation Fed is Best after her son was left neurologically disabled from the ordeal.

The physician has a background infant brain injury but believed any risks from breastfeeding would have been obvious.

Around 200 health professionals work in her organistion to support a network of parents so they know their options on infant feeding - both bottle and breast.

She said: "Mothers are already so vulnerable because of this 'mummy guilt'.

"There is an unspoken social expectation that mothers should provide perfection to their children or else they are judged."

Dr del Castillo-Hegyi eventually went on to feed her son for 20 months.

In her second pregnancy, she stopped breastfeeding altogether so she could spend less time pumping, stating her twin girls 'never went hungry'.

'Baby Friendly' changes

Eight in 10 women in the UK say they stop breastfeeding before they want to. Credit: PA

Unicef has set targets to improve UK breastfeeding rates as part of their 'Baby Friendly initiative', including stricter rules on how formula milk is marketed.

However, Dr del Castillo-Hegyi worries the rules "protect breastfeeding more than the baby".

In the UK, the Department of Health announced plans to run an infant feeding survey to find out about the issues modern day mothers face and help the eight in 10 women who say they stop breastfeeding before they want to.

Charities like The UKAMB have a network of 15 milk banks across the nation for mothers who are unable to provide safe milk or have given birth prematurely,

Something Fi sad she would have benefited from after giving birth to both her girls early.

"Other mum’s want to help in these situations and I think that’s an amazing thing they’re trying to do," Fi told ITV News.

One message she would give new mums is that there is support out there.

Fi said: "You haven’t failed by giving your baby formula or combination feeding, that baby isn’t going to be any worse off."