I’ve been breastfeeding now for ten months.
I never intended to breastfeed at all. I did say “Oh, I will give it a go, but if it doesn’t work it doesn’t work”, to everyone who I thought wanted to hear it (the midwife, other mamas-to-be, my Mother-in-law, my husband, the woman in the COOP). Really I had no intention of it working, I just wasn’t interested in breastfeeding.
I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and pregnancy was hard. I didn’t like losing my body autonomy and I wasn’t sure I could cope with the extra responsibility and the dependence of baby on me for all the feeds. Plus I wasn’t sure how to cop with my breasts’ new function.
Then I got gestational diabetes and moved very swiftly from a homebirth to being induced at 37+4 weeks.
I hated the idea of being induced and, frankly, I hated being induced.
I laboured, unsuccessfully, for fifteen hours before heading over to surgery for an EMC and a lovely big bleed.
I was shown Pippin, and then she was taken somewhere else in the room for her AGPARS and whatnot, whilst they sewed me back together. We got into recovery where we had our first cuddle. Then daddy got some skin to skin, and baby Pips decided she wanted a bite to eat and did her newborn crawl to daddy’s nipple.
So back she came to me, and they attempted to get her to latch on my right nipple, with no joy. I was struggling to get into position and she was struggling to get into position. So, as they were concerned about getting some nutrients in her, and how sleepy she was getting, they asked permission to give her a cup of formula. Which was given.
It’s all a bit blurry after this because I was both tired and still slightly drugged up. Drs kept coming in and taking bloods and looking for infections. Then they took Pip away because they wanted to fit a canula and do some tests.
After a bit I got taken back up to the ward, and they brought her back and I just looked at her.
It felt like two minutes later when they came a took her again. They wanted to fit a naso-gastric tube and do an xray.
So when my parents arrived to visit their granddaughter they found me, alone and fairly upset. I don’t want to dwell on that bit. But what it meant for feeding was that Pip was on a drip for the first day, as they were worried about her aspirating a feed. By the second day her oxygen levels increased enough that she was allowed to have colostrum and formula fed through the tube.
I did have loads of support from the infant feeding team. I was shown how to properly hand express colostrum, and then given a pump to try and stimulate my milk to come in so we could send it to Pippin.
On the second day I went and saw here. I can remember getting to hold her again, but I’m not sure when it was. I was a mess and I really struggled with feelings of, I can only describe it as inadequacy. Not about the feeding, but because she had ended up in that situation. I don’t know how I ended up fighting so hard to breast feed, I think it felt like the only thing I had left to give her. The thing only I could do. If things had been different, maybe I wouldn’t have breast fed. Who knows now.
Latching still wasn’t working well for us. She could managed the left, but my right nipple was just the wrong shape for her. I was still pumping religiously and she was having top ups of both expressed milk and formula. They identified a posterior tongue tie, but I was really reluctant for more medical interventions. We left hospital after a week with an appointment for the tongue tie clinic and a breast pump.
I wasn’t in a good way when I got home. The birth had crushed me, I was on daily injections (I hate needles) and I was shaking and felt sick every time I had to feed her. I wasn’t in a good place mentally, but somehow we just carried on.
In hospital I had begun to recognise her hungry cries, but sometimes the crying just wouldn’t stop. We would pace for hours with a screaming baby. We were changing more nappies than we could keep track of in a day, all of which were filled with mucousy poo. We were struggling. Then, after a particularly bad night during which we changed seven nappies in an hour, my midwife asked when we had considered the possibility of a dairy allergy. So I put measures in place to removed dairy. It would take a whole other post to talk about that, and I probably will do at some point, but over a number of months it made a massive difference and the smiley, contented baby we’d had glimpses of was around more often and things got a little easier. With hindsight I know that the screaming with red face and balled first wasn’t, as I had been led to believe in hospital, hunger, it was pain. Pain as her tiny body tried to process dairy. In reality those ‘top ups’ were probably not needed and actually might have been making things worse. But nobody was to know that, and it couldn’t be helped.
I wish I hadn’t spent those weeks blaming myself – researching colic, foremilk and hindmilk and thinking it was my fault for feeding her too much, or too little or not swapping breasts enough. When it was inevitable.
Around the same time we worked out the dairy allergy I got mastitis. And it is every bit as horrible as they tell you. At first it felt as though I had glass in my nipple, then I started shivering and felt freezing cold, but I was boiling hot. At some point over the second night it started to break; I was alternating between shivering and sweating so heavily I had to put towels down on the bed.
The midwives suggested having the tongue tie snipped (I had cancelled the previous appointment because we were managed well) would be advisable. So we had it done. It wasn’t pleasant, but it was over quickly. Although as she learnt to latch again it was like going back to square one: sore nips.
From there we haven’t really had any issues. I kind of, enjoy is the wrong word, but I feel some sense of achievement I guess. Which is funny because I haven’t really done anything exactly. I am glad I have breast fed her. Ending up breastfeeding has influenced a lot of my other parenting choices too. We ended up co-sleeping, which wasn’t our intention, and I haven’t gone back to work quite as quickly as I thought. It has worked for us though, and with Pippin’s allergies I am quite glad she wasn’t exposed to more dairy through formula. I like the way things have turned out, for the most part, I could do with a bit more sleep, but that’s probably a common complaint for parents!
I do think it has been harder than we are probably led to believe, and that leads to, in some cases, women thinking there’s something wrong with their breasts/supply when there might not be. I was lucky that I had a lot of support, but it was completely by chance. I know two women who gave birth around the same time as me who were desperate to breast feed, but it didn’t work out for them. I feel a bit sad that I got the support when I was pretty set against breast feeding and they didn’t have that.
As things stand I have no intention of stopping breastfeeding until Pip decides she is ready to. With her allergies it is probably the healthiest thing I can do for her right now. Although I am holding out hope she will take a bottle of ebm eventually.
If we ever did this again, and there’s a slim to none chance of me ever going through labour again, I think I would breastfeed. I think I would trust my instincts more, and hopefully panic less about whether they are having enough milk (babies and bodies are clever, they know) although I would do bottles and dummies as well as breastfeeding, to allow me a little more space.
Sod the nipple confusion, mama needs a nap.