‘Propped up in my bed on the maternity ward, I can still remember the midwife trying to encourage my newborn son AJ to latch onto my breast so I could feed him.
‘It was only for a few moments, but then she realised it was never going to work – there was no milk in my breast, because they weren’t mine.’
TV presenter and former Liberty X singer Michelle Heaton is speaking to Metro.co.uk to help highlight how vital baby formula is for some mums, as part of our Formula for Change campaign.
For her, the reason she couldn’t breastfeed her son was because Michelle had undergone a double mastectomy in November 2012 after she discovered she carried the BRCA-2 gene, giving her an 85% chance of getting breast cancer in her thirties.
Even though she had a reconstruction, it meant Michelle – who is mum to 11-year-old Faith and now nine-year-old AJ- was unable to produce milk, as her milk ducts had been removed as part of her surgery.
Seeing her baby son desperately tried to latch on to her breast in the hospital, was a moment that she admits left her feeling ‘heartbroken’.
‘For a second I thought “this is natural” but I couldn’t give him it,’ Michelle remembers. ‘It will always stick with me and it’s really hard to talk about because there’s an element of shame and that’s not something I feel about myself, but in that moment I felt it.
‘I felt I couldn’t deliver as a mum but I had to get my breasts removed because of the risk of breast cancer. Then came the trolls without doing their research and it’s heartbreaking.
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‘I was questioning myself on whether I should’ve have had my mastectomy but then that causes other problems. It’s just horrendous. I shouldn’t be shamed for what I did to prolong my life.’
Michelle, 43, explains that she had also been unable to breast feed her firstborn, Faith, because one breast didn’t produce enough milk, while she also endured severe mastitis in the other.
‘It’s amazing if you can do it, but there are a lot of people like myself who can’t always breastfeed or have complications when they do, and it can be damaging mentally if they’re judged for the reason they can’t,’ adds Michelle.
‘We don’t always have a choice, even when the message we constantly hear is “breast is best”.
‘With this campaign what we’re trying to do is create a balanced space where those women, families, who can’t afford to buy formula in these expensive times can use those points they gain from supermarkets for buying that breast formula when they need it.
‘Right now that isn’t a possibility. It seems absolutely ludicrous that something this simple isn’t happening.’
Currently, shoppers can use loyalty points to purchase alcohol, energy drinks, chocolate in petrol, but no supermarket permits the use of points to buy baby formula.
Michelle adds that although she had planned to breastfeed when she became pregant, she knew the right choice for Faith was formula.
‘The idea never presented itself to me “oh by the way you can use formula if you want”,’ she remembers.
‘I wanted to breastfeed and I assumed I was able to because I had my own boobs at that point.
FORMULA FOR CHANGE: HOW YOU CAN HELP
Join Metro.co.uk and Feed in calling on the government to urgently review their infant formula legislation and give retailers the green light to accept loyalty points, all food bank vouchers and store gift cards as payment for infant formula.
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The more signatures we get, the louder our voice, so please click here to sign our Formula for Change petition.
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‘The feeling of a baby latching on is incredible – which is why none of this is meant to be critical of those who are breastfeeding, because I remember mine and no words can describe how it felt.
‘But after a couple of weeks, I got really bad mastitis in one breast and one wasn’t producing enough milk. So in order to make my baby healthy, breast wasn’t best and I went to formula.
‘I remember a discussion about Faith not getting enough food and they said there might be jaundice complications.
‘While I was vigilant I didn’t want that to happen, in my head as a mother I wanted to feed my child.’
Being in the public eye, Michelle used to struggle with the hate she received for formula feeding her children but ‘with that comes way more positive energy and help (she) can give others’.
She says: ‘I’ve been very open with my double mastectomy and hysterectomy and being unable to breastfeed and people have read my posts and got in touch to say it’s really helped to know they’re not alone.
‘There are a lot of women who are shamed into not even talking about formula feeding and aren’t reaching out for help.
‘We all have a choice in life when it comes to what we do and don’t do, and while we might not please everybody, that shouldn’t impact the choice we make – whether that is breast feeding or going straight to formula.
‘The key is that baby formula needs to be absolutely accessible for everyone because they’re feeding the babies,’ adds Michelle.
‘For whatever reason it doesn’t matter. We shouldn’t be penalising those women who choose to do that.’
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