My Breastfeeding Story
Everyone has their own stance on breastfeeding and personally I really wanted to do it. Not just for the benefits for my newborn baby, immunities and all the goodness it provides but also for that bond between mother and baby and because for me I felt it was the most natural thing to do.
I was aware though that for some people it just doesn’t work and so when asked prior to having Sam if I was going to breastfeed my answer was always ‘yes I hope to breastfeed if I can’.
I remember a family friend asking me how I was keeping and how pregnancy was treating me, followed by are you planning on breastfeeding? To which I answered ‘I hope to if I can’, she replied ‘you CAN and you WILL!’. I don’t know if it was meant the way I took it but I thought it a bit harsh. It was just another person bestowing their opinion on me I suppose, but with the hormones that come with pregnancy it is amazing the little things that can niggle at you and wear you down.
Don’t get me wrong everyone is entitled to their opinion but sometimes these can come across as patronising and judgemental to a first time mum just trying to do what is right for her and her baby.
I always said ‘if I can’ so as not to put pressure on myself if it didn’t work but truth be told I did feel a bit of pressure from then on to do it even though it was something I wanted.
As soon as
Sam was born I held him skin to skin. This cuddle is one I will never forget. Once we were both checked over I got a nightdress on with buttons down the front so Sam was put inside the nightie with the buttons open so he was cosy and could still see me. It was amazing that his newborn natural instinct sniffed out the breast and he began ‘rooting’ to find the nipple.
It is so amazing that all mammals have this instinct, it is just so natural. I happily let Sam nuzzle away as he worked to bring in the colostrum (the liquid gold they talk about) and ultimately my milk.
One of the midwives later came round to check on me and record how Sam was feeding and to see how I was getting on. I had been to a breastfeeding workshop through the Downe Maternity unit, read various books and leaflets and Kerry had been breastfeeding Zac for the past 6 months so I felt like I was well prepared.
I got advice on positioning and on getting Sam latched on. I was also warned that I was in for a few nights of cluster feeding. Once happy with Sam’s feeding and all of our checks we were allowed home.
Sam fed pretty constantly the first few days, I felt like we were doing well initially although it was draining. For me it was getting him started which was the worst part. Kerry had made it look so easy but for me it was a toe curling pain. A friend who also breastfed had told me previously always count to ten and you will relax after that. This did help and kept me going as after ten Sam found his rhythm and my shoulders began to relax ( I remember Chris saying to relax my shoulders. I told him I was relaxed. Then I caught a look at myself, my shoulder was that high it was as if I was holding a mobile phone under my ear with it! I just was so tense).
On day 3 the midwife who called asked how I was doing and checked both Sam and I over. One thing was for sure the feeding was helping my tummy. I could literally feel it contract as Sam was feeding, I took paracetamol for this as there was a slight discomfort but I ditched a lot of the baby weight and fluid in the early days!
She asked me how my mood was, I was still very much on cloud nine after an incredible birth (read my birth story HERE) and was so in love with Sam the only thing troubling me was if my milk had come in as Sam was feeding so much and I had not seen a drop of milk myself. She said of course it is in he has been working so hard to bring it on and she hand expressed a drop or two then and there! I was over the moon! I knew the toe curling ten seconds at the start of each feed was worth it.
She did warn me about the baby blues, saying the hormones can hit you like a train and I had heard a lot about post natal depression a lot in my anti natal appointments at the Downe Hospital. Nothing could prepare me for DAY FOUR!
(For me I have been very lucky to have only a handful of days feeling low but it is easy to see how quickly post natal depression could snowball and spiral into something much bigger than one or two bad days. I know I really appreciate close family and friends and of course my husband. My hat really goes off to single parents and those who do not have a strong network of support around them).
DAY FOUR: I had been on cloud nine and was still replaying my birth in my head. It really all is such a miracle no matter what way you give birth! I was running on very little sleep feeding ever hour or two and even when Sam did sleep at night I barely slept for fear he wasn’t breathing or I just was on adrenaline from everything that just happened . (There comes a point where you are too tired though and trust me you have no problem drifting off!).
I was persevering with the feeding despite the discomfort for me. It wasn’t just the initial Latching that was the trouble now but Sam had a strong suck and was pulling away while still latched on. So my nipples were in bits.
A breast feeding support worker visited me on the afternoon of day 4, she did help giving me a few tips on positioning and also had Chris help me. Sam kept getting his hands in the way and scratching my nipple as I was trying hold him in the correct position and do the whole ‘nipple to nose and mouth to nipple’ thing! Chris had to literally pin Sam’s arms back while I tried to master the positioning of how to get him latched. I think Sam had been latching OK previously but had been loosing his latch and sliding down the nipple and that was why they had become so sore.
The support worker stayed for what seemed like hours trying out various holds etc but really I just needed to get one position right and stick with it. The more we kept taking Sam on and off the boob and trying again the more I found it patronising as I didn’t seem to be getting it. Sam was getting frustrated too. As soon as she left I handed him to Chris. Kerry (my sister) was there too and she knew I had been getting frustrated. I just burst into tears. I had been getting myself so worked up and Sam could sense I was tense. I spent what felt like the rest of that day crying.
Crying because I was tired, I felt I couldn’t do it and really it was that train of emotions the midwife had been talking about and everything just got on top of me. Anything could have set me off that day but it was the added pressure of the support worker that started me off when really she was just there to help and I tried to be strong infront of her and hold back the tears which probably made it worse!
I started to get the fear every time I went to feed Sam but continued because I was determined to feed him and I felt a pressure to in a way. My nipples only got worse and on about day 7/8 the midwife suggested I stopped feeding him for 24/48 hours to let my nipples heal. (It’s sounds graphic but they felt like open wounds!).
The midwife telling me this was like being told you could have the day off school when you were younger! My mood lifted instantly and although it meant expressing the fear of feeding was not as great as the machine was bearable and not as unpredictable as Sam.
I began with a handheld pump which was laborious so borrowed an electric pump from a friend. This was a god send although it took me what felt like an age to fill. Sam was only taking about 2-3oz at this stage and I felt like I was constantly playing catch up. My supply just could not keep up with him.
After the two days off school (not feeding) I was really scared and reluctant to feed again. I was much happier pumping and content that Sam was still getting all of the goodness from my milk.
I did feel the need to explain myself to visitors though that I couldn’t feed him myself because my nipples were cut and bleeding. I was willing to show anyone who would look just to justify why I wasn’t doing it. (I don’t think my husband has ever seen so much of me as those first few weeks feeding 😂).
When Sam was about a week and a half old I started to introduce formula and combination feed expressed breast milk and Aptimel formula. I was totally drained and felt like I was plugged into the machine constantly to meet his demands. I actually couldnt bring myself to give him his first formula feed and had my friend do it for me. It sounds silly but I felt guilty and like I had let him down just by introducing the formula.
He wolfed it down!! I continued for the next week and a half combination feeding. It was great as we started to get a routine feeding every three hours and it meant Chris could help with the evening feeds (usually while I pumped in anticipation of the next).
This was great but was really just a compromise for myself as I was not ready to ‘give up’ on breastfeeding. It did become too much for me though. I could not keep up with Sam and my supply just was not enough. I was struggling to get ahead on feeds and it felt like I watching watching each drip on that machine as it’s SLOWLY filled up. Yet Sam had it downed in no time.
I became obsessed with every last drop. My sister in law was helping me tidy up and went to wash out a bottle. I shouted across the room ‘don’t throw that out!!’. It was so precious to me. It killed me if Sam boked on an express milk bottle that I had worked so hard for.
I did knock over one bottle with about 2oz one day and I cried. That was when I thought to myself ‘I am crying over spilled milk here’.
I knew then I needed to wise up. I was now using a double express machine and feeding Sam a formula feed in the middle of the night and sitting up for another hour expressing when I could have been getting some precious sleep. I was feeding him a bottle then plugging into ‘the parlour’ as my husband called it and I was losing out on time with Sam during the day too trying to keep my milk supply up.
I knew I needed to stop but hormones mixed with mum guilt and paranoia that I was being judged made decisions like this really difficult. It was something no one could tell me to do. I had to come to terms with the decision myself. It sounds silly even writing this but it really weighed me down for the three weeks I fed and expressed.
One thing that helped me was someone asking me could I go into a primary school class and point out which child had been breast fed or not?! I thought wow that is so true, as long as Sam is happy and healthy it is no odds. My peace of mind was that he had all the goodness in those first few days.
The midwife knew I was struggling with what to do. My nipples were much better so I decided to try feeding again giving it one last shot. It has been a week and a half since I had fed Sam. Part of me wanted it to work like a dream and the other part wanted him to hate it to help my decision.
I tried. It hurt. He fussed about the nipple and didn’t really latch and truth be told I was relieved but I was glad I gave it another go so I wouldn’t regret it later down the line.
From the day and hour I quit I have felt so much happier and the saying goes a happy mum equals a happy baby. For me feeding just did not work as much as I wanted it to but my sanity was more important for me and ultimately for Sam.
I am happy knowing I tried and that Sam got my milk for 3 weeks. I also finished feeding/expressing before it went too far in that I would never try breastfeeding again.
If we are fortunate enough to have more children I would not deny them that colostrum in the early days and would try to breastfeed again. As it is clear every baby is different.
A bit like our births, Kerry and I had different experiences breastfeeding but the most important thing is we did what was right for us because each mum is different too.