The whole topic of breastfeeding is one that always gets discussed the most when you are expecting. For some it comes easily, for others it doesn’t and you may need breastfeeding support. Today’s guest post from Chloe shows that despite your best intentions you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help or seek alternatives.
As I write this I would like it to be clear that I had a brilliant experience with my midwives and had a birth that was complication free and a positive experience for myself, baby and partner. What happened after is through no-ones fault and we were simply a victim of circumstances. On any other day, it could have been a completely different experience. My baby was not ill and although her weight became a concern she was not at risk. This is a story about my journey and the pressure, as mothers, which we put ourselves under.
Before I had my little girl I was a google expert, I spent the 9 months of my pregnancy researching every possible event that could take place, before birth, during birth and after. If anybody asked me if I planned on breastfeeding (which I was asked frequently) I sagely responded that I would quite like to but understood that some women found it difficult and that was okay… This was absolute tosh, in my head, I had researched how to breastfeed, attended the NCT class, watched the NHS video, googled every variation of how to hold your baby, taught myself how to look for tongue tie and discussed at great length the miracle that was a new born baby ‘rooting’. There was no doubt in my mind that I would breast feed… Of course I would, why wouldn’t you? Breast is best isn’t it?
Half an hour after birth
Hang on a minute why isn’t my beautiful daughter miraculously locating my nipple?
45 minutes after birth
A shift change in midwives, the 2 beautiful woman who were such an amazing part of my birth, left. A new midwife arrived. I raised some concerns that I didn’t think I had got the hang of feeding. She told me not to worry it would happen. In my overwhelmed state I accepted this.
2 hours after birth.
‘So we think you are ready to go home’… WHAT?? The midwife gave us a list of reasons why we were complication free and able to go home, I was fine, the baby was fine, breastfeeding was established (really because not from where I’m sitting)… It later came to light that there was no room at the inn for us. The hospital did not have a bed to move us to.
We were not ready, we had left the house in a rush and naively assumed that my partner would be coming home before us. We didn’t even have a car seat with us!
My partner had to leave us 2 hours after birth, after no sleep to collect a car seat so we could vacate the delivery room. On any other day we would have questioned, challenged… but we were naïve, we didn’t know any different. While on my own I tried repeatedly to breastfeed but nothing seemed to be happening. I rung the buzzer on numerous occasions to ask for help. Clearly the midwife was busy. Eventually I was informed that I was breastfeeding as there was milk on my daughter’s lips. If there was a genuine problem she wouldn’t let me leave. There was a woman next door who couldn’t do it, so was having a bed on a corridor set up, did I really want that?’
So I stopped asking for help. It didn’t feel like anything was happening when I put my little girl to my breast but maybe that was how it was supposed to feel?
14 hours after leaving the house as a pair, we returned home as a family. It was a shock. Neither parent had slept. Our baby hadn’t gone to the toilet, hadn’t had a hearing test, hadn’t had a successful feed and hadn’t been seen by any form of consultant or doctor, a mild form of talipes was missed and not picked up on until a week later. It is only with hindsight that I can appreciate how vulnerable we were.
At this point I was getting extremely anxious about the lack of action with the feeding. Luckily when attending NCT we had been told about expressing and feeding your baby through a cup if you struggled to feed. Let me tell you, expressing colostrum into a cup and getting a 5 hour old baby to lap at a cup is not an easy job.
The next 24 hours are a fog of desperately trying to breastfeed. It didn’t hurt, she just didn’t do anything. Expressing and the pair of us trying to cup feed her. I honestly have no other memory of this time.
The following day my midwife came to visit. By this point I was a wreck. She spent an hour trying to achieve a latch. She just wasn’t interested! She returned later that afternoon and stayed with us for 3 hours, she didn’t have to do this, she probably had a family of her own. I was topless, sore and sweating, with a stranger climbing all over me, we tried every chair in the house, every possible feeding position. My little girl just was not interested in feeding.
The following day the community midwife came to visit. We had been flagged as a feeding concern so were visited every 24 hours. We were told to try to feed every 2 hours, if it doesn’t work express and cup feed. Every 24 hours she was weighed and had lost more weight. In between, all our little girl did was scream in hunger. I moved through the days in a fog of exhaustion and crashing disappointment. What was I doing wrong? My husband tried to support us, had to help at every awful cup feed but even with the best intentions things became fraught. A highlight has to be 4 in the morning one night when I had expressed and needed to get the milk into our baby, my husband didn’t get out of bed as quickly as I thought he should, I snapped, he called me feeding Hitler… We can laugh about it now.
At no point did a health professional suggest trying a bottle. The mantra that breast is best was always the message. They suggested breastfeeding cafes and calling lactation specialists but by this point I was exhausted, my body had been pushed and prodded in so many ways to try and get her to latch that I couldn’t hear the support that was being offered. I had shut down, I didn’t want to leave the house, I didn’t want experts to help me, but still be a failure.
9 days after birth a new community midwife arrived. We had reached the point where our little girl had lost so much weight we had to go back into hospital. It was only at this point a bottle was suggested.
Suddenly my little girl who had shown no interest in feeding from me, had never had a successful feed, drank, guzzled, inhaled a bottle of my expressed milk.
Suddenly our screaming unhappy child, slept! Had waking moments that weren’t spent screaming!
I expressed for 6 weeks then transitioned to formula.
I was secretive and embarrassed about bottle feeding my child. I wanted a sign to follow me around declaring ‘THIS ISN’T MY CHOICE’ The reality? Nobody judged me. Nobody cared how I fed my baby. They saw a happy thriving baby. I constantly made self-deprecating comments about bottle feeding. At 3 weeks I was reminded that formula wasn’t crack, what an eye opener!
Months later when talking about feeding I would still tear up and be unable to talk. God bless my NCT crew, women thrown together who I had only met a month before, without them there would have been far more tears, far more self-doubt. They were my cheer leaders when I needed them.
It took a long time to be okay with not breastfeeding. At 8 weeks I had to return to the hospital to have her foot checked as a result of the talipes. She was fine, I was not. Returning to the hospital I had an attack of anxiety, instead of remembering the wonderful birth experience, all I could focus on was the feeling of fear as we left the building.
A year later. Our daughter is beautiful, happy thriving and healthy. For whatever reason, through no fault of mine, she wasn’t interested in breastfeeding. For a long time I associated leaving hospital early with breastfeeding. The reality? We could have spent a week trying on a ward rather than at home, would that have been better? Probably not.
What have I learnt? Challenge staff if you are not happy. Ask for help. Accept help when it is offered.
But the most important lesson for me was that it’s not breast is best… fed is best.