They don’t ever tell you about the babies that don’t want to breastfeed. Oh no. I learnt this soul-destroying, heart-wrenching lesson with Hector the hard way and I’m writing all about my experience today in the hopes that it will help those of you already breastfeeding and those of you who might have your own difficult journey to come.

Like many of you reading I attended the various NCT classes and the breastfeeding lessons before giving birth and soaked up all the essential advice on how to breastfeed, about obtaining the best latch and the various positions you can assume in order to feed your baby – rugby ball hold anyone?

I was positive I was going to be the perfect earth mother, feeding my child myself and condescendingly being a touch dismissive of those mothers who claimed that they couldn’t breastfeed because they found it too hard. My own mum after all had breastfeed three girls without a spot of bother until we were at least five months old. Armed with all this precious knowledge breastfeeding was bound to be a breeze wasn’t it…how wrong I was. And how arrogant!

My labour with Hector was comparatively easy and super quick. An hour and a half from when I was first admitted to hospital and he was born, without any pain relief (not planned!) and no stitches (not sure what that says about me down there?!). By 5.30am I was eating toast and drinking camomile tea and cooing over my perfect perfect boy.

Given the lack of complications I should have been home the same day but by 4.30pm Hector still hadn’t breastfed despite numerous attempts by myself and with midwives trying to help the process along. I was asked to stay in overnight and reluctantly I agreed knowing that it was in Hector’s best interests to do so. I had entertained visions of spending our first night as three together at home in our own bed and I tearfully accepted that it was not to be.

Waving goodbye to Ste, Hector and I were moved up to the ward and I again tried to get Hector to nurse with a growing sense of anxiety and unease. Despite him passing his initial checks with flying colours I couldn’t help but wonder if his inability to latch on might be due to a tongue tie issue that may have been missed by the midwives who had checked him over. I won’t go into all the technical details here but put simply tongue tie is a condition where some babies are born with a tight piece of skin between the underside of their tongue and the floor of their mouth making it difficult to feed. Did Hector have this? Is this why he wouldn’t feed? Was I doing it all wrong? What was wrong with me?

By 3.30am I was in tears, fretful and exasperated. I’d asked eight different midwives by this point to help me feed without success whilst also urging them to check Hector’s tongue for any issues. All replied that there was absolutely nothing wrong, that he was a boy and thus lazy at breastfeeding. I confess I felt confused about some of these responses and I was alarmed at the force at which one tried to ram Hector’s mouth onto my breasts. Becoming increasingly anxious that Hector needed to feed and being only a dinky dot at 6lb 5oz, I ended up ringing the buzzer requesting to speak to a superior – a really lovely, patient woman who looked my boy over and immediately diagnosed a posterior tongue tie.

My initial response was relief that I had been right all along, anger at those who had missed Hector’s condition and also at myself for not trusting my gut. Please don’t think at this point that I’m trying to dismiss the efforts, hard work and skills of those in the midwifery profession at all – I’m not. I met some amazing women all of whom I felt very lucky to be in their care and I know that we in the UK are privileged to have the NHS at our fingertips. Those close to me know I can stridently and confidently speak my mind – pushing the issue wasn’t a problem but what about all those mums who weren’t as ‘gobby’ as me. How did they fare? What about their babies?

Once detected the midwife set about finding me a pipette to extract the vital colostrum from me to squirt into Hector’s mouth. The key she explained was to avoid any kind of nipple vs artificial teat confusion by resorting to a bottle but at least this way Hector would get that vital first milk.

And so this continued every hour – hand expressing into a pipette and then squirting this into my brand new baby’s mouth. I felt mortifyingly inadequate and the whole process incredibly artificial – I wept every single time. This was not how it was supposed to happen.

Ste leapt into action the next morning – booking a private appointment to have the tongue tie rectified since it would be a two and a half month wait on the NHS and with that we were released from hospital. Within minutes of arriving for Hector’s tongue tie appointment, it had been snipped and he was happily breastfeeding whilst fat happy tears rolled down my face and Ste smiled like his heart would burst. Naively I thought all our problems were over.

By the time we reached home Hector wanted to feed again but every single time he tried to latch on there was a problem. Something I couldn’t for the life of me work out what it was. To cut a long story short, five days, a million pipettes and tiny beakers, five midwives visits, two breastfeeding counsellors visits, one breastfeeding clinic, litres of tears, and a whole heap of split breastmilk later and we were admitted to the children’s hospital because Hector had lost 11% of his birthweight. I felt like an utter failure. I had completely let my little boy down.

It was a heartwarming talk from possibly the best doctor I’ve ever met in my life who assured me that I was not a failure, that I was a brilliant mum and that I was not to let statistics and figures dictate any measure of success or how I was ‘performing’ as a parent. Hector’s bloods showed that nothing was wrong, that he was slightly jaundiced but this would rectify itself in due course.

Enough was enough. Arriving home I dispensed a hefty portion of expressed milk into a bottle (to hell with nipple confusion at this point!) and popped it into Hector’s mouth who glugged it like a dream and from that point on put on weight steadily day by day. We may have let out a little cheer and completed a victory lap around the kitchen when a home visit from a midwife confirmed he was on the way up.

From then on for the next six weeks I expressed every day and bottle fed Hector my own milk. It was exhausting having to feed him and then express afterwards rather than going straight back to sleep. I felt like a cow in a milking parlour but persevered knowing that whilst this was not what I wanted for him, for me at least it was the next best thing. Before each session I tried to get Hector to nurse from me directly, with nipple shields and without, in all manner of positions in the hopes that he would ‘get it’. He didn’t. Well at least not for long, we’d manage about five minutes before he would come off practically choking on my milk.

I called time on expressing six weeks after he was born. I was exhausted and the electronic expressing became agonising to the point where I was wincing in anticipation before attaching the machine onto my breasts. Moving Hector onto formula milk at six weeks of age was not what I had envisioned nor wanted but it was the reality and that was that.

So what have I learned?

Firstly hindsight is a beautiful thing. Looking back I think Hector’s tongue tie and the subsequent delay in feeding made his first experience of breastfeeding incredibly difficult. His jaundice didn’t help matters either. For even the biggest, hardiest babies, breastfeeding is hard work and I wished I’d helped him along by giving him a bottle of breastmilk much MUCH earlier on to provide him with some energy to have a decent go at feeding for himself.

Secondly I think my milk flow was far too quick for his little mouth to cope with; he only moved onto number three teats (designed for three month olds) when he was 12 months and it explains why feeding with nipple shields was partially successful before he inevitably pulled away choking. If only I’d realised earlier.

Trust your gut. As a mum you really do know your new baby best. Granted you might not have the medical knowledge of those who are professionally trained but you do have an instinct for what makes your baby tick. If you don’t think something is right or you have a niggling doubt, chase it up, ask questions, push the issue. Do this until you feel completely happy that everything is ok again.

And most importantly not to judge. This was a big lesson for me. Not everyone wants to or can breastfeed and that’s ok. That’s more than ok, that’s your right. Your right as a mum to make your own decisions and not to have a condescending eyebrow raised at you or a sniffy voice telling you that you’re doing it all wrong. Everyone has their own reasons for choosing to breastfeed or to formula feed and that actually it’s none of our god damn business as to why they do so. All we can do is to be as supportive as we can, wherever we can, because being a mum to a newborn is blinking tough enough without added judgement on top.

Has my experience deterred me from trying to breastfeed next time? Absolutely not. In fact I feel even more empowered to try next time equipped with the knowledge I’ve learned thus far. Perhaps baby number two and I will crack it, perhaps not….we’ll just have to wait and see.