WHEN Holly Leppard gave birth to her first child she would have loved nothing more than to be able to breastfeed him.

But a medical condition she was born with meant this was not possible and she was unable to naturally produce milk.

Bottle feeding was her only option.

Left feeling grief-stricken and depressed as a result she began to think of the millions of mums who also could not feed their children themselves.

As a result Holly, from Colchester, set up her own support group and campaign, Don't Judge, Just Feed which has seen her become involved in parliamentary meetings and appear on television to discuss the emotive issue.

She explains the impact of not being able to breastfeed her first child, Rupert, when he was born three years ago, hit her hard despite having already known that would be the case.

"I was born with Poland Syndrome which can affect either the hands or chest.

Gazette: Siblings - Amadea, six months, and big brother Rupert, three

Siblings - Amadea, six months, and big brother Rupert, three

"It means that the tissue does not develop properly and so I underwent some reconstructive surgery.

"There was absolutely no way I would produce milk for my baby and I knew that and thought I had made peace with it.

"But even in the ante-natal classes where they ask if you intend to feed baby yourself, I was made to feel shame.

"I didn't put my hand up to say I would be and the lady running it asked me outright in front of everyone why not, and there was a real sense of shame there for me. She did not seem particularly sympathetic when I explained.

"Everyone wants to be able to nourish their own child and the fact I could not do it really brought me to the stage where I resented my body.

"We only have boobs to biologically be able to feed children and mine did not do that.

"I went through what I call a breastfeeding grief, a feeling of such sadness which can spiral into post-natal depression," says Holly.

She says when Rupert was born the staff told her they were unable to help with advice on bottle feeding him, because it went against their breast is best policy.

"I know that successful breastfeeding is optimal, but there are so many women who cannot breastfeed for physical or emotional reasons. "Sometimes both! Communication from maternity staff should be mindful and respectful of all methods."

Gazette: Discussion - Holly and Amadea on the Victoria Derbyshire programme

Discussion - Holly and Amadea on the Victoria Derbyshire programme

"I really wanted to reach out to other people and so I decided to write about my own experience.

"And I was overwhelmed by the response I got. I really did not expect to hear from so many people and so many people contacted me thanking me for speaking out.

"It made me realise this really is still such a taboo," she says.

It also attracted negative and hurtful comments.

"I did have extreme reactions from people.

Gazette: Feeding - Amadea enjoys a bottle

Feeding - Amadea enjoys a bottle

"Someone actually told me my baby should be dead and I broke down on my husband, Shaun, who said to me I either stop right there or grab it and go for it and make a real issue of it.

"And so that is what I did."

Holly explains her aim in setting up the support group and campaign was to get the message across the most important issue is a baby is fed and healthy.

"It is a very similar ethos to the Fed is Best campaign.

"I think having this attitude that there is a right and wrong way is so blinkered and creates good versus bad.

"It breaks up the sisterhood and isolates people," she says.

Don't Judge, Just Feed aims to provide support for bottle-feeding mothers unable to breastfeed their babies.

Gazette: Family - Rupert, Shaun, Amadea and Holly Leppard

Family - Rupert, Shaun, Amadea and Holly Leppard

"They should be proud that they are using a method of providing nutrition in a way that suits their family, whether it's through choice or necessity.

"Millions of women depend on bottle-feeding as a way of nourishing their baby, formula, pumping, combination or supplementing."

She now writes articles promoting positivity for bottle-feeding and wants to raise awareness of Breastfeeding Grief and the effect on mother and baby by sharing supporters stories with the aim of connecting mothers going through similar experiences.

But she stresses it is in no way an attack on breastfeeding, of whom she remains fully supportive.

"They should feel empowered to feed their baby whenever and wherever they choose and support for them is so important.

"We just want the same for those who bottle feed."

One of the ways in which she wanted to achieve this with the campaign was, as with breastfeeding mums, to encourage bottle feeders to post positive images of them doing just that.

Holly has recently taken part in parliamentary meetings about infant nutrition and appeared on television to discuss plans to incentivise breastfeeding by rewarding those who do with vouchers.

"I just don't think it will work and I also think that money would be better spent in funding services which could help mums breastfeed.

"For example, many babies are born tongue-tied which makes it highly difficult for them to latch on and there are long waiting lists to have them cut.

"If more could be trained to perform the simple operation this would ease the pressure.

"More money could be spent on other support services. Vouchers won't work."

Holly says she had a completely different experience when it came to the birth of her second child, Amadea, who was born six months ago.

"It was much more positive and I have avoided all the depression and feelings of grief I had the first time around and the support network has really helped with that.

"I have heard from so many different people with so many different stories and reasons for not breastfeeding; because they have had mastectomies, reconstruction surgery or because their milk was contaminated from taking vital medication for conditions like epilepsy.

"Or just they had a really, really low supply which never got into full flow.

"But I also heard from a lady who was really suffering because she had fed her child until she was two and a half and although she wasn't ready to stop, her little girl was and she was really struggling to cope with that."

* www.dontjudgejustfeed.com or find the campaign on Instagram, Facebook & Twitter using the hashtag #dontjudgejustfeed