So something strange happens to you when you become pregnant and then it gets even weirder when you deliver this tiny little human that is completely dependant on you. So, bare with me as this will be a long one about my breastfeeding story.
See when I was pregnant I was super chilled about everything. Everyone commented on how laid back I was about the whole pregnancy, labour and having a baby thing. In fact I was so laid back I was practically horizontal.. maybe that's why I slept so much.
Now being a midwife I have had a lot of experience helping new mummies feed their babies, I've pretty much seen it all. The good, the bad, the ugly, the tears and triumphs. Also, being a midwife I think it is kind of expected that you will breastfeed, as that's the done thing, right? My view on the whole situation of course was a completely laid back approach. I would just see what happens! When breastfeeding works, it's one of the most amazing things in the world, but when it doesn't work and you see mums so upset it is hard. When you are dealing with a hungry baby and a fretful new mum, then I always question ‘why’. In my opinion, a 'fed' baby is always best, no matter how they are getting that food.
Now secretly I declared to close friends that I wasn't really that bothered about breastfeeding, again with the approach of if it works it works if it doesn't then he will have a bottle. That was it, simple. I also would have been heard saying, more than once, may I add 'that I wasn't going to be messing around with hand expressing and all that faff!’ That's how I saw it .. as faff! And I know a lot of people will disagree with what I'm saying, and think this is wrong but this was my personal view.
However, as I was approaching the end of my pregnancy, intrigue got the better of me, as I'm sure it does every pregnant woman and I started to wonder if I had any 'milk' (colostrum of course). I hadn't leaked at all during my pregnancy so I always wondered. After trying a little I quickly learnt that I did (of course) have colostrum. Which I found ever so exciting and felt like a proper pregnant mummy (as if my 35 week bump didn't already make me feel that way). The intrigue then grew stronger and I wondered just how much colostrum I had, so I then began hand expressing. Yes that's right, me hand expressing. And not just hand expressing, collecting it whilst I was still pregnant. What had happened?
So, fast forward a few more weeks and my little man makes his appearance, I had gone to the hospital armed with a cool bag full of my ready prepared syringes of colustrum – check me out, I was fully prepared to take this breastfeeding challenge on. I could do this, I mean come on, I had just birthed a whole human! Breastfeeding couldn't be that difficult, right?
Well my god, in my own personal experience, honestly I found breastfeeding worse than giving birth in the beginning. The pain!! Omg the pain, it felt like some sort of torture. My nipples were bleeding and blistered and I was a wreck!! But something deep inside me had overtaken my thoughts. What happened if it didn't work, then that's fine he will have a bottle? Well he did have a bottle but I was determined not to give up breastfeeding. I started to use nipple shields and persevere with the pain, the pain did get better after a week or so; or maybe my nipples just became as tough as an old leather belt – who knows.
So, I continued to breastfeed with an overwhelming sense of belonging around me. However, of course any child of mine was going to love its food, it was inevitable. I also think I made a rod for my own back and entered into a vicious circle. Due to breastfeeding causing so much pain and damage in the very early days, I had started to supplement with formula until my milk came in, so I then found that I couldn't take the formula away as just a breastfeed wasn't satisfying the hungry little piglet! This of course in turn affected my milk supply.
I tried literally everything I knew of to try and increase my supply, you name it, I tried it. From power pumping to lactation cookies …. you can imagine the looks I got from visitors having them sat on the kitchen side.
I spent hours pumping like a cow, sat on the sofa with the TV volume at 50 due to the irritating wurrr of the pump, I even invested in a pumping bra so I could double pump and still have my hands free! This of course was Dan's favourite look. However, no matter what I did my supply just wasn't increasing, so this was problem number 1. I just couldn't satisfy him as he was getting bigger, therefore having to use more formula and yet again the vicious cycle was going round and round, and I was stuck in it.
I spent hours researching and seeing lactation consultants but nothing was working. I felt like such a failure not being able to satisfy this hungry little monster. There's guilt, and then there's mummy guilt – that's on a whole other level.
Problem 2 – I always knew he had tongue tie from the moment he was born. He had a very slightly heart shaped tongue. However, we were told different things from many health care professionals, yes he does, no he doesn't. You get the picture. We finally got a referral for the tongue tie clinic in Kings for him to have the dreaded snip. This will be another blog post about our experience. But because of the tongue tie, latch issues and using nipple shields this also in turn affected us feeding. Arghhhh!!
Problem 3: Not this problem didn't turn up until around week 7 or maybe week 6! Who knows, those first few weeks/months are all a bit of a blur. I was finally getting more comfortable breastfeeding. I had tackled breastfeeding in public, and although my supply still wasn't great, I had accepted and liked the fact mixed feeding was working for us. I was beginning to love breastfeeding.
We then started to face more problems, our lovely little angel was replaced overnight by a monster. Whenever I would breastfeed him, he would scream out in pain, he would arch his back and claw at my chest. Feeding in public became a nightmare as the only way I can describe it, was as though I was feeding an octopus. Arms and legs were everywhere as he threw himself about, cue nipple being exposed on more than one occasion, despite my best efforts to be discreet. Now as much as you try to stay calm, you can't help your stress levels rising when all you are trying to do is lovingly feed your little darling, and they are screaming like you are murdering them! Seriously!
So without even realising I stopped feeding in public as it was becoming too much and it wasn't healthy for my stress levels. Cue not feeding as much, cue milk supply dropping further, cue stress levels rising even more – you get the jist right?
When he hit 8 weeks I had had enough, we were told he had silent reflux and I was trying to get my head around that and I couldn't help but think I was causing him pain. He only ever screamed during a breastfeed and never a bottle feed, I wasn't producing enough to pump and give him expressed so I felt I had no option to stop! That's it, it was over! I had managed 8 weeks, 8 weeks. That was 8 weeks longer than I had intended to do. I should be proud of myself right?
No, here comes the mummy guilt again. It just creeps up on you. I spent days crying about it. Wishing I could have done more to continue. But I couldn't go back on my decision now. People were starting to comment about how different the little monkey was, and how much happier he was. And that's what I had to remember.
It didn't make it any easier though, even now – 2 months on, I could cry at the thought of not feeding him myself anymore, I could cry when someone tells me they are still feeding their baby at 6 months old. It's awful, but it was for the best. I know there are lots of other mummy's out there that are feeling the same guilt as me, so just a note to say – you're not alone, I'm in this with you. The mummy guilt club is the worst club in the world to be in. But what we do have to remember is that, for however long you fed your baby for, be that 1 day, 1 week, 1 month or 1 year. You gave your baby the best start and really did what you could.
A big thank you to Jade Mills – Midwife & Blogger for sharing her story and experience with us.