Sophie Pierce on her son's 'gross failure to thrive'.

My baby Felix was born after an emergency caesarean section, which followed an induced labour. He was two weeks overdue, and the doctors did not want to wait. In retrospect, perhaps, he wasn't ready to be born, and his subsequent hunger strike was some form of protest.

For the first 24 hours he slept in his cot while I spent the time in a daze of wonder and exhaustion. The operation had been horrible, and I was in a lot of pain, and yet my main emotion was enormous happiness and excitement at the way my life had changed.

The first shock of motherhood came a few hours after Felix was born. One of the midwives brought him to me in an attempt to "put him on the breast".

After a half-hearted try - I for one just could not summon up any energy - we both went back to sleep.

On the second day, we had several attempts to get Felix to feed. I was trying hard, but I could not get him to "latch on". A succession of midwives came to try to help. Each one would try different positions and combinations in order to get him to feed. This inevitably involved a certain amount of manhandling of both me and the baby which wasn't pleasant.

With each attempt the pressure grew, and I started to fear the whole process - would I ever manage it?

By the time we came to leave hospital, five days later, we were still having difficulties. Although Felix was sucking at the breast, each feed was a trial. First, he didn't seem to want to feed, (indeed on some occasions he put up a real fuss when I tried to put him to the breast) second, it was difficult getting him into position, and third, trying to get him to stay there and really take in a decent amount was hard.

Back home things didn't seem to get any better. I spent my whole time trying to get Felix to feed, and each attempt seemed like more of a battle. All he seemed to want to do was cry or sleep. I was reduced to doing things like taking off his clothes or changing his nappy to try and wake him up and get him to feed. He cried a lot - no doubt because he was hungry - and yet he couldn't feed.

I started to dread the ever-more frequent visits from the midwife and the health visitor, and the tyranny of the scales. They were obsessed with weighing Felix. And the records show they were right to be worried. At birth he weighed 7lbs 7oz. Six weeks later he was half a pound lighter.

During this six-week period after his birth, the health professionals who came to see me offered no advice other than to start offering Felix a supplement of formula milk once a day. They never said I should consider giving up breast feeding. They were obviously concerned about his lack of weight gain, but never suggested anything was seriously wrong.

So it was an incredible shock when I was asked to visit my GP, who, after one look at Felix, rang the hospital and got him admitted as an emergency. I remember sitting, exhausted and tearful, in a cubicle, with him looking very small in the middle of an adult bed. One of the duty nurses came in and looked at him. "He's like a little baby from Ethiopia isn't he?" she said.

We eventually made it up to the children's ward, where Felix was force-fed through a tube which was put down his nose. There was no mucking about with breast feeding. The doctors needed to know how much milk he was taking, and said he must be fed with formula milk.

During a quiet moment I looked at the notes at the end of Felix's cot, and was shocked to see the diagnosis "gross failure to thrive".

Felix struggled at first against the feeding, which was distressing, but after a few attempts he got used to it. For the first time he started to experience the sensation of a full stomach, and so, I guess, started to have proper hunger pangs. He gradually grew stronger, and eventually the tube became unnecessary and he fed from a bottle. The downward spiral had been transformed into an upward one. We spent two weeks in hospital, during which time Felix caught a virulent tummy bug that set him back.

It was a strange time. The children's ward was very noisy, and the patients had a huge variety of problems. My husband and I took it in turns to spend the nights on a camp bed by Felix's cot. He gradually grew stronger, and eventually we were allowed home. He continued on formula milk and rapidly caught up with his normal weight.

When I look back at the photos of him during this period I cannot believe how pale and thin he looks, like a little old man. At the time, that's not how I saw him - he was my beautiful baby. I don't know if that's the blindness of maternal love or the ignorance of a first-time mother. I could certainly have done with a little more honesty and guidance from the health professionals about what was going on.

Felix is now five and a happy schoolboy. It seems incredible now that he had such a difficult start. It probably all comes down to the way in which he came into the world.

They say that it's crucial to get breastfeeding going during the first 24 hours after birth, and with Felix that didn't happen. The problem was that both he and I were - to put it baldly - completely doped.

There were several reasons for this. I was on medication anyway for a medical condition I have, and some of this would have got into Felix's bloodstream. Second, during the labour I was given pethidine - a narcotic - and then an epidural anaesthetic, so by the time Felix was born we were both in a state of torpor.

Another effect of the caesarean was that I couldn't get out of bed or walk for two days, which can't have helped. Having said all that, many women have emergency caesareans, and similar amounts of medication, and manage to feed their babies successfully.

None of the doctors I've spoken to can give me a reason why Felix "failed to thrive". One paediatrician likened the situation to sheep farming. Apparently a certain proportion of new-born lambs never suckle and have to be fed by the bottle. It's nature's way of restricting numbers - survival of the fittest, if you like.

When I look back on it all now, I can't believe I didn't realise how ill Felix was. It's horrible to think that, hundreds of years ago, he might well have been one of the many babies who died just weeks after being born.

I feel eternally grateful to the staff in the hospital who helped get him well, but I also wonder though whether my health visitor could have done more to stop the situation getting so serious. There is a real reluctance on the part of health visitors to discourage anyone from breastfeeding - it is so totally against their training. Yet it is important to recognise that it does not suit everybody, and that what is most important is that the baby is nourished so that it can grow and thrive.

I have had another baby since Felix. A little boy, Lucian, he was also born by caesarean, and I breast-fed him with no problem.

Thanks to guardian.co.uk who have provided this article. View the original here.