There was never any question about how I would feed my baby. I know the Baby Friendly guidelines, I know the WHO recommendations, I know the poor breastfeeding stats in this country. My thoughts were along the lines of:
– why doesn’t every woman just breastfeed?
– why do people make such a big deal of breastfeeding, it’s what boobs are there for?
– why would you give a baby cows milk when they can have human milk designed exactly for them?
– surely it is more convenient with no sterilising or making up bottles- it’s a no brainer.
So I set about getting myself ready for this breastfeeding journey early – at 38 weeks gestation to be precise. I started hand expressing colostrum every day into little 2ml syringes to freeze for my baby – my baby wouldn’t be getting formula if they needed a ‘top-up’ on the postnatal ward, hell no! As time went on I was getting bigger volumes each time and ended up on 10ml syringes. When we arrived on the labour ward with my stock of milk in my freezer bag, I knew I was ahead of the game with this breastfeeding lark! My colleagues in maternity were mixed in their reactions – a mix of amusement, enthusiasm and scepticism!
Baby arrived without too much drama (birth story here), over 10lb in weight and I did my skin to skin and got him breastfeeding, boxes ticked, all going to plan. Ok my nipple looked a bit red after but no pain, all good.
24 hours later… baby reluctant to feed, precious expressed colostrum all used up, 3 formula top ups given and me slightly delirious with no sleep and rather large post partum haemorrhage. First fail on my journey.
Day 2 – major improvements, I’m home, baby is breastfeeding – ALL THE TIME! It’s ok though, using my lanolin ointment religiously and the multi-mam compresses. Even got some sleep. I have this in the bag.
Day 3 – tired, so tired. Stitches are sore, everything swollen, popping pain relief tablets as often as allowed. Baby feeding often, very strong suck but still not sore, good supply judging by the milk spilling out of his mouth after feeds and many wet and dirty nappies. That antenatal expressing must have helped. Daddy is great, doing all he can to help me and I’m trying to sleep when baby sleeps as that’s the advice I always gave new mums. No formula given since we left the hospital, I think I’m winning!
Day 4 – the pain. That first 30 seconds of each feed is excruciating. Totally drained, definitely not sleeping when baby is sleeping except for an hour here and there at night. Public Health Nurse out – observes feed and sees he has a great latch and position, bottom lip turned out, full cheeks, sound of swallowing, chin in and nose out. Pure textbook. She can see no sign of tongue tie. The pain will ease and in the back of my mind I hear myself telling mums – give yourself 2 weeks to get the hang of the breastfeeding, everything should be settled by then. I tell myself if I get to 2 weeks I’ll be winning…
Day 5 – meet my rock boobs. Milk dripping out and baby still feeding well. The pain relief is helping!
Day 8 – nipples are truly traumatised – as in split and cracked and about to fall off despite ‘perfect’ latch, lanolin, etc etc. In tears at every feed. In tears at the thought of a feed. In tears when baby starts stirring for a feed. Enough is enough, out with the pump and I express all his feeds for 24 hours to give the nipples time to heal. See I can work through these issues!
Day 9 – baby back on the boob. All going well until the evening when baby decides he needs to cluster feed for about 4 hours – yes nipples in tatters yet again and mummy crying again. But he’s so cute when he finishes a feed and has that drunken look on his little face – more mummy crying but happy tears! Daddy thinks mummy is losing her marbles. She probably is.
Day 10-17 – more of the above. Also in the mix are some nipple shields, contacting a lactation consultant who couldn’t see me for over a week so I never saw her, many baths where nursing bra had to stay on because nipples were so raw that if a towel even brushed past them there would be so much pain. Could barely leave the house, looked like a total wreck due to lack of sleep, emotions all over the place, iron levels in my boots. The 2 week marker came and went in a haze.
Day 18 – enough. Breastfeeding over and out! Guilt trip ensues – more tears. Negotiate with myself – as long as baby keeps getting breastmilk then I’m not a total failure as a mother and midwife so decide to express for every second feed. That’s the deal. Still feel guilty as hell and totally useless.
Week 12 (the present). I am nearly over the guilt. I feel bad to say this but my life changed for the better when I gave up breastfeeding, I felt I got my body back, my confidence back and my sanity back! Baby is still getting a 7oz feed of breastmilk a day (he was getting 3 to start, then 2 of them until last week but supply is starting to dwindle), he is thriving – he weighed 14lbs 15oz last week. And yes pumping, sterilising pump equipment and bottles, and making up formula is time consuming. Without the great support of my husband there would be no pumping.
To conclude – I salute every woman out there that has ever breastfed – whether it was once or for 2 years or more and everything in between. If I have any more babies I will do it all again because I know it is the gold standard for feeding baby. BUT I will see a lactation consultant in the first week to iron out any potential problems. I won’t beat myself up if it doesn’t work out (ok I probably will but will try not to) and I will try to be as supportive as possible to anyone giving it a go.
UPDATE! Since writing this post, I have now had my second baby and a whole new breastfeeding experience, click here to check out how I got on!
Please note – this is my personal experience, some people do find breastfeeding comes naturally, some people have no problems, some people have a few minor issues and some people have far worse problems than I had (and keep going!). Every experience is different!
Advice for anyone considering breastfeeding:
- go to a breastfeeding group before you have your baby – seeing the real thing is better than reading the books
- get as much support as you can when in hospital – literally ask for help at every feed if necessary to make sure you have the right latch
- see a lactation consultant as soon as possible after baby is born
- join local support group – you can guarantee others who are breastfeeding will have experience in everything you come across!
- join an online group – a forum or a facebook group, similar to above
- youtube is great for videos about position, attachment, tips, etc
- have your stock of lanolin ointment (I used lansinoh – it’s expensive but worth it), multi mam compresses (I didn’t find these great but others swear by them – keep in fridge), breast pads, nursing bras etc before you have your baby
- when breastfeeding have water, your phone and the remote control to hand before you begin!
Breastfeeding information and support in Ireland: http://www.breastfeeding.ie
Baby Friendly Initiative: http://www.unicef.org.uk/babyfriendly/
Find a lactation consultant near you: http://www.alcireland.ie/find-a-consultant/