My Breastfeeding Journey - Sarah BoobBaby
I can’t talk about our breastfeeding experience without first mentioning O’s birth. Whilst I didn’t think at the time that this had a bearing on our rough start to breastfeeding, I now believe that the way he was brought into this world had a massive impact, particularly in the immediate post-partum period.
I went into labour spontaneously the day after my due date and was labouring well, I had got to 9cms dilated, but it was then discovered that I was bleeding heavily. I was strapped to a monitor and confined to the bed resulting in O turning from a perfect anterior position to an occiput posterior position (back to back). This hindered my labour, which slowed significantly. As a result of this and as I was bleeding so much, it was decided that O was to be born by emergency caesarean. He was born safe and well. I, on the other hand, was not good. I had lost a large amount of blood and needed a transfusion in theatre. By the time I was reunited with my husband, Ryan and our new baby, it had been almost two hours since he was born. I remember looking into his cot and seeing this tiny, innocent baby but having absolutely no connection with him whatsoever. It didn’t feel as if he was mine – I didn’t give birth to him properly – how could he be mine?
I was still numb from the anaesthetic so needed help to hold him. I held him, and kissed him, but still felt no connection with him. This was totally heart breaking. I’d spend 9 months carrying and loving this baby, but once he was here I felt nothing for him. My intention during my pregnancy was to try breastfeeding, but if it didn’t work out, I told myself that I wouldn’t beat myself up about it (little did I know how this would change!) So, a few hours after his birth the midwife helped put O to my breast. I can’t really remember that first feed. I can’t remember if he latched and fed well or how long he stayed on my breast. All I remember is the midwife ticking a box on a sheet which said ‘breastfed after birth’ and her seeming quite content with that.
The days immediately after O’s birth are still hazy. I can’t really remember an awful lot. Luckily, after a rocky start, I did start to bond with my new baby, but he was incredibly sleepy and I had to keep trying to wake him to feed (easier said than done). He seemed to latch well but would suck for a few seconds and then drop off and fall back to sleep. No amount of me trying to wake him would work. He did go through periods where he would feed well; these were overnight when he would be constantly on the boob. By our second night, I was exhausted. The midwife suggested that we give him some formula so that I could get some rest. I remember saying to her that I really didn’t want him to have formula, but she was quite insistent and as I was so exhausted, I agreed. Incidentally, it didn’t help him settle and there was the first ‘dig’ at our breastfeeding relationship. During the day, he was still feeding sporadically, sometimes going 6 hours without having a feed but, as the midwives could see that he seemed to be feeding well overnight, they discharged me 3 days after O was born (in hind sight, this was way too early!)
When we got home
At home, things didn’t get any better. My head was all over the place. I was trying to process O’s birth in my mind; I was exhausted. O was still very sleepy, but seemed to start feeding better. He would still go through periods where he would latch, suck, then go back to sleep, but generally he seemed to be doing OK. Then, the scales came out! The first couple of weigh ins were fine, he was losing weight, but that was deemed OK, as long as he didn’t lose over 10% of his birth weight. Then, on the Sunday after he was born (he was born early Tuesday morning), the midwife arrived, took his nappy off and he had a very smelly, very yellow wee, a good sign that he was not having enough milk. When he was weighed, it was discovered that he had lost over 10% of his birth weight and alarm bells started ringing with the midwife. She suspected that O was getting dehydrated and we were sent back to hospital to make sure everything was OK.
Luckily, after a couple of tests, the consultant at the hospital was happy that O wasn’t in any danger and we were sent back home. She was content that as my milk was just coming in and as his latch seemed OK, his weight would pick up. We were told however that we needed to ‘top up’ his boob feeds with formula to make sure that he was getting enough. I should’ve been happy with this, but I saw this as another ‘dig’ at our breastfeeding relationship and my confidence took a huge knock. Unfortunately, things didn’t get any better over the next few days. I was desperate to keep breastfeeding, but the thought that O wasn’t getting enough from me made our feeding sessions very intense, especially at night. He had totally changed from feeding well at night in hospital to being very fussy. He would latch on, suck for a few seconds, come off, scream and refuse to latch back on properly. I would spend hours trying to get him to feed for more than a couple of minutes, conscious that he needed to stay on longer to start getting more milk. He would also suffer from terrible wind. Night feeds would usually end up with me in a complete emotional mess, in floods of tears. O obviously sensed my emotions and usually ended up screaming – it was a vicious circle. Then we had to faff about topping up and he would finally seem satisfied, only for it all to start again in an hour. I was exhausted, physically and emotionally. As far as I was concerned, my body was a failure. It had failed to give birth properly and now it was failing to feed and nourish my baby, Psychologically, I wasn’t in a good place. Ryan was fantastic; he was there encouraging me and supporting me. He would help with the top ups and resettling between feeds. He was amazing! But the fact that O still wasn’t feeding well, kept chipping away at me and I was considering giving up breastfeeding altogether, even though this was something that I didn’t want to contemplate.
The next visit from the midwife came with it another ‘dig’ at our breastfeeding relationship. She didn’t weigh O at this visit as it was only a day after going back to hospital, but I remember being in bed, crying (again!). I said to her that I really, really wanted to breastfeed but was finding it so tough that I was thinking of giving up. I will always remember what she said next:
“I don’t care how you feed your baby, as long as he is fed”
My heart sank, I was hoping for some words of encouragement that I could do it and some suggestions for me to cope going forward, but I didn’t get any of that. For her, formula was the solution, even though I made it very, very clear that I really didn’t want to go down this route. Even if she didn’t care how O was fed, I most certainly did! Her visit did nothing to help and this, coupled with comments from well-meaning family and friends (concerned about my mental state) that I’d tried, but maybe we should think about formula and the next few days with no improvement with feeds resulted in my decision to give up breastfeeding and move onto formula.
I wasn’t happy at all with this decision, but felt I had no other choice, no one, apart from my husband and a very good friend seemed willing or able to support me breastfeeding, even the professionals! I was gutted and felt like a total failure. Even though the feeds were hell, every time O had a bottle I would mourn our breastfeeding loss. My breasts swelled as the milk built up and I remember vividly thinking that my body was making all this milk, but I couldn’t use it – what a complete waste! It’s so hard to explain how low I was feeling, but I hope that I will never feel so desolate ever again.
2 days after I had made the decision to start bottle feeding O, we went to see the midwife again, this was around 2 weeks after he was born and he was still not up to birth weight, so they were unwilling to discharge us. This time we saw a Supervisor of Midwives, a lady who we’d not seen before. She was absolutely fantastic. I explained everything to her, our struggles, and how I’d made the decision to give up breastfeeding but how this decision made me feel and how I was mourning breastfeeding. I still had plenty of milk, so she asked me to latch O on to see how he fed. As I was so full, he spluttered a little, but latched really well and started drinking enthusiastically, it made me smile – the first smile in what seemed like weeks! After this, she gave me a good talking to! Some people may think that this was bullying and perhaps it was, BUT it was what I so desperately needed and wanted! She told me that I obviously had plenty of milk that O was latching well so there was absolutely no reason why I couldn’t breastfeed. She encouraged me to stop the formula and just feed him whenever he cried/seemed hungry. She encouraged me to start pumping to get my supply up and use expressed milk to top up rather than use formula. She also said that if he was still fussing at night, to give him a bottle of expressed milk; it would save some of the stress and would stop me getting so exhausted as Ryan could give a bottle whilst I slept. However she stressed that if we did do this, I must pump at least once at night as this is when the milk making hormone prolactin is at its highest level and that pumping at this time would help stimulate and maintain my supply. She also said that I must keep an eye out for nipple confusion.
Well, after this, I was elated! At last a professional was confident that I could do it and had given me the encouragement that I needed and some tools to help me get back on track. I got straight home and got the electric pump out and started pumping and was amazed at how much milk was still there after two days of not feeding. I also started feeding O at the breast again, topping up with expressed milk. At night, he was still really fussy and I was still stressing, always in the back of my mind that he wasn’t getting enough, so we did as the midwife suggested and gave him bottles of expressed milk for his night feeds and took it in turns to get up with him. If it was my turn, I would feed him, re-settle him and then express. This took half the time than it would if I were feeding him from the breast and then re-settling him. It wasn’t my preferred situation, and there were possibly other solutions the midwife could’ve suggested, but it worked for us and I felt so much better.
It was still tough, but after a few weeks, things were so much better. O was finally putting on some weight and we were discharged from the midwives care. He still wasn’t the easiest baby to feed, he was still sleepy and difficult to keep awake so that he took a full feed. We were still topping up with expressed milk and he was still having a bottle at night (luckily, he showed no signs of nipple confusion and would happily switch between breast and bottle), but as the days went on I was healing physically from the c-section and gaining so much more confidence. We got to 6 weeks and things just seemed to click into place, all of a sudden it got easier, we had dropped the top ups and I was confident that we would soon be dropping the night time bottle and all thanks to a good talking to from a midwife!
The months after
We would have our good and bad days with feeding, on the bad days I would just tell myself to give it until tomorrow. I made the decision to stop the night time bottles when O was around two months old. I was apprehensive and Ryan wasn’t sure that we should drop them. He was worried we’d go back to square one, but I needed to give it a try. O was a star and took to boobing at night well, and as we’d now more or less established breastfeeding during the day, the night feeds were fine. Since then we haven’t looked back. We sailed past our 6 month target and I was determined that after our rough start, I would keep going as long as O was happy to.
When we reached 6 months, I started to reflect a little on our bad start and knew that others also found breastfeeding tough. This was when I had the idea for BoobBaby. There is a wealth of excellent information and advice on the Internet, and also excellent telephone support from breastfeeding charities. However during the first few months after O was born, I found it difficult to find straightforward, accurate information quickly. Some websites who sell breastfeeding supplies do provide breastfeeding information however I have either found this information to be inaccurate and unreliable or too long winded for a busy and stressed breastfeeding mum to take in relevant points. So the aim of BoobBaby is to not only to provide quality breastfeeding products, but to also provide information and advice about breastfeeding that is easy to read and easy to find quickly. I have done a lot of research and the information on the website is from reliable, trustworthy sources. It covers the main issues experienced by breastfeeding mothers and aims to complement information from breastfeeding charities and organisations. There are also links to other reliable sites that offer more in depth information.
O will be 4 in December. Our breastfeeding journey continued through my pregnancy with his brother and I tandem fed both of my boys for over a year. O self-weaned at 3 ½, gradually dropping feeds until he was quite happy not to have his boob anymore. I had mixed emotions about this after all the heart ache but I’m proud that we continued and I’m happy that it was his decision to stop. I look back at O’s birth and breastfeeding him with mixed emotions. It could’ve been so much easier if I’d had the right support from the start.