I was going to call this post my breast feeding journey, as typically that’s what it’s referred to, however for me I’d say it was more of a jaunt, or a saunter, or maybe even a breastfeeding mini break…a very stressful and traumatic breast feeding mini break.
That’s not to say I didn’t try my absolute hardest, and I had high hopes for my life as a confident, get my boob out in public breasfeeder, but it just didn’t work out that way for me.
Let me begin…
When Reunah was born he was placed on my chest as quickly as possible (about ten minutes after birth due to my section) and once in the recovery room I asked the midwife to help me try start breast feeding straight away. At this point I naively presumed he would simply latch on and I’d be on my way…no, not the case. He had absolutely no clue there was a nipple in front of him let alone what it was for and how to get a good hold and start sucking.
Once back on the maternity ward the midwives kept coming in to administer medicine and do checks, each time asking if I wanted help breastfeeding, which I agreed to every time. This is when my “immediate latch on” breast feeding dreams were further dashed as the midwives proceeded to “man handle” my jumbo yummies, quite literally grabbing hold of the nipple and pulling it into Reunah’s mouth- still no latch on.
I remember one midwife saying to me, in a fairly jolly demeanour
“ok so we’ll be back at around four to try again”
…me: “ok-four tomorrow afternoon, sure, great, see you then”
…midwife: “chuckle..no in the morning”.
I wanted to politely point out that I’d just had major abdominal surgery and would most likely be catching up on some zz’s at that point but soon came to the realisation that day and night no longer existed, they just sort of merged into one long period in time.
For the first 24 hours, despite much man handling (which isn’t actually that bad, you are really grateful for the help at the time) Reunah still couldn’t get the hang of it, which is understandable given for the last 9 months food had simply been pumped straight into his little body…why would you want so start doing it for yourself!
As a result I was told to manually (this made me feel sick) pump out the colostrum (first milk), which is a sticky yellow consistency, and just wipe (yes wipe) it into his mouth. I found this to be a fairly crude approach, but was happy to do whatever worked as I had been told how important this first lot of milk was. My main concern At this point was that Reunah had barely eaten a teaspoons worth of milk, how could this possibly be enough. However, the midwifes reassured me that when babies are born they have reserves in them for a few days so they really only need a very small amount of milk, just as well!
On day two a new midwife started her shift and suggested I try feed laying on my side. Up until now I had been trying sat up with Reunah laid across my chest. This new technique was painful to get into position given the scar but did actually work for me, and at long (I mean not really long but it felt like it) last he latched on- for about 30 seconds, good times. It was then a constant on, off, on, off battle to make sure he was latched on correctly so that 1. it didn’t hurt and 2. he was getting a good flow.
I think having a C-section, for me, made the process harder as I was in so much pain trying to manoeuvre into a comfortable and practical position, it took me about three days after leaving hospital to master feeding sat upright, up until then I’d been continuing with the lay down technique, which was pretty impractical and far from ideal when he needed feeding with visitors around. (I always refused to leave the room when feeding, no matter who the visitor was as I figured I was in my home- why should I go sit on my own and hide?! – like I said, this made my laid down feeding totally awkward 😫).
Despite mastering some new positions for feeding I still found it a real struggle, each feed felt like Reunah and my nipple were in battle, and he would thrash his head around my boob with such force, the fear of him getting whiplash was all too real! In addition to that he would go all rigid, making it really hard to administer the advised CHIN technique (Close, Head Free, In Line and Nose to Nipple) which is a great technique in theory but I found it pretty impossible to remember let alone put into practice all at once, especially when he was screaming blue murder at the time. That was actually the worst part for me, his cry – it literally broke my heart and would more often than not end up in me sobbing alongside him in a dazed state of despair.
I think the nature of post birth (in particular after a Section) and staying at home a lot added to my self doubt and feeling of failure as I wasn’t seeing or talking to any other new mums, therefore I wasn’t exposed to some of their struggles. In reality when I confided in a few close friends going through a similar experience I soon discovered that not only were they feeling the same way but also their babies acted in a similar way when feeding, not simply latching on and quietly feeding like I had imagined every other baby but mine did.
After about two weeks of feeding and reaching breaking point both emotionally and physically (my nipples were so painful I cried when I fed and I was utterly exhausted from all the cluster feeding) I “caved” and gave Reunah a bottle of formula. I use inverted commas here as at the time I viewed this as caving, or failing, but looking back that’s ridiculous, I hadn’t failed at all but that’s truly how it felt- I think this is down the stigma around bottle feeding and the hidden pressure from both the general public to breast feed as well as the built in emotional turmoil of being a new mummy.
I have to admit, before I had Reunah and I saw a new mummy bottle feeding I did sometimes judge them a tiny bit, and would think – why aren’t they using what nature gave them, surely that’s what’s best for the baby? This fills me with rage now that I’ve been through it myself, as no one can understand how hard it is for each individual and let’s face it all babies are so different – you wouldn’t expect every adult to eat the same food using the exact same cutlery in the exact same way, and I just figure that it’s the same for babies, some of them just aren’t into the nip, and in the same sense some nips are clearly just show-nips and just aren’t built for being sucked on as well as others.
I hadn’t actually realised how much I cared about others opinions until one day I was giving Reunah a bottle (this was actually expressed milk) and a family friend said to me:
“Ooo, don’t you feed him?”
I could literally feel my eyes starting to prickle before quickly saying:
“this is expressed milk, I feed when I can but its really hard for me…babble babble babble”
He looked at me confused, before I finally realised he wasn’t talking about breastfeeding at all, he was making a joke about how fast Reunah was guzzling – just shows how sensitive to it all I was at the time.
A little side note to add in here is the fear I had of my milk supply running down if I introduced a bottle. Literally everything I read and everyone I spoke to said “oooo if you introduce a bottle your boobs will make one less bottles worth for the baby, so your supply will go down”. Firstly this was not the case for me, I’m sure my boobs actually made more milk, as if to mock me, once I started with the formula and my breast pad consumption went through the roof. Secondly, I think this is one of the reasons a lot of people keep breast feeding for so long, because they are so worried from all the scaremongering that if they use a bottle of formula even once, they’ll no longer make enough milk and their baby will suffer from “nipple confusion” – safe to say Reunah has never once been confused about a nipple and very easily went from using a real nip to a fake one – I think his suck actually got better on the real nip once he’d experienced a fake one!! (Granted this is not he case for all babies so don’t be quoting me on anything!). However, saying all this, whilst my supply didn’t go down, I definitely felt the pressure (self inflicted) to express in the latter weeks of feeding breast milk as once you stop completely- there is no going back, adding yet again to that pressure to keep trying- even if it clearly isn’t right for you or your baby.
Luckily I had always planned on giving some formula so we already had all the kit (the Tommee Tippee Perfect Prep was an absolute godsend, I can’t imagine having to make a bottle and wait for it to cool with a screaming baby in your ear! – we got ours from Amazon here). Unfortunately, Reunah vommed up the entire feed, sending me in to panic overdrive that I had caused it and convincing me that I must go back to solely breast feeding immediately (I was very dramatic about everything at the start, I promise I’m actually normally very chilled).
I had pinned a lot of hope on this bottle of formula mentally as being the saviour and felt pretty, sort of, trapped when it didn’t work, as it meant my only option was to breastfeed. In addition, as I was completely and utterly exhausted both from all the feeding, the new baby sleep patterns (or lack of) and recovering from major operation I was really looking forward to being able to share some of the feeds with James.
Lucky for me I’m married to a pretty calm and sensible guy, who reassured me that we would find a formula that worked and in the meantime try the Cow & Gate a few more times as after all babies are sick sometimes. In the end Reu ended up sicking up every formula feed (usually projectile and more often than not in our bed – I’m so glad we bought that duck feather mattress topper, the scent of baby sick really does add to the comfort) so we booked a doctors appointment to ask for advice on milk allergies. The doctor was great, and didn’t seem to judge my desire to introduce formula at all (which was my fear when I booked the appt.), and she prescribed us some special formula called Nutramigen which was a Hypoallergenic formula for the dietary management of cows milk allergies (copied off the tin). Yet again I pinned all my hopes on this working and whilst he guzzled the first bottle down he proceeded to vom it all up all over the car seat (FYI stripping a car seat to wash it is neither fun nor easy”), to add to the stress, James had sensibly got a new car with light tan interior (I mean really James, what were you thinking).
We kept trying with the new milk in between me breastfeeding but it tasted foul so Reu just wouldn’t even lick the teet, so yet again I felt that I must revert back to the boob all the while feeling guilty that I was messing with his poor little body with all these new milks.
(Here’s a pic of me on my first trip out where I had to feed, don’t let the smile fool you)
Another really annoying thing about being a new breastfeeder with a baby that takes a good ten mins to latch on is that I would find myself dreading going anywhere or doing anything that meant I had to feed in public. I’d be on edge constantly, snap at everyone around me and be solely focuses on leaving as soon as possible. It meant we couldn’t really enjoy doing any of the things we used to love, like a simple Pizza Express (oooof the Rustichella -get in my belly), and it totally dashed my visions for motherhood and maternity leave of eating out, baby in tow and just generally living the dream. In addition, for fear of sounding really vane, I hated having to wear clothes that had easy access to my chebs, I didn’t feel like me at all and my minimal shirt collection just wasn’t up to the job.
After a few more weeks we decided to try another off the shelf formula in the hope that now Reu was older he would take it better, all the while I was feeding and expressing like there was no tomorrow…
To be continued…(I thought this post was already far too long, soz)
Part 2 to follow, talking about expressing, introducing a bottle, reducing my milk flow and what I ended up doing in terms of feeding.