Why I'm so passionate about breastfeeding
... hint ... It's not just about the milk!
It's about how you are heard
Since being on the breastfeeding peer support days I’ve revisited my first encounter with my breastfeeding journey and I feel it’s the reason why I’m so passionate about helping others – because I was (finally) heard.
Here is the story so far …
Since I can remember I’ve been so interested in pregnancy, birth and beyond. At college this was heightened when I was able to be on a ward, witness two births and help many mums in the first days after their baby had entered the world. I remember sitting and chatting with some mums, making them tea and toast, supporting them and just being someone else in the room. This must have been a dream for the midwifes as it gave them comfort knowing the mums were being cared for when they couldn’t be there.
I had encountered breastfeeding pretty regularly; be it in a nanny job, with friends or whilst teaching baby massage, to me it was a normal thing to do with your baby, I had heard it wasn’t always easy but I was always hopeful I would be able to feed.
Fast forward to the birth … I had Intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy (ICP) is also known as obstetric cholestasis (OC) picked up at 37 weeks. (for more info check http://www.icpsupport.org) A week later we were down at the hospital being told we would be induced at 38.3 days. Luckily my experience of induction was OK (birth story for another day – maybe!)
Our beautiful little girl was born at 12.39 at 38 weeks and 4 days. She was placed onto my naked chest as asked and she was soon snuggling around wanting to investigate the golden milk source! At one point whilst I was leg high in stirrups the midwife suggested I try to feed as she was snuffling around, after feeling like I was going to drop her, and the fact I couldn’t really see what I was doing I decided to let her rest on my boobs and I would try when I was sitting back up. She was content.
She was then handed to be checked out, weighed etc and daddy/ my love/ T had to pop down to the car as we had forgotten to bring up her bag!! I was feeling quite dizzy and oddly empty, as I sat on the edge of the bed, starving for some food but equally high on life. I watched as the paediatricians in the room told us that she had low blood sugar levels and would need feeding – with formula. I don’t remember them giving me the chance to feed, and I think I was in shock to ask or pled to let me try.
I don’t even remember who gave her that first feed … It wasn’t me.
When we were taken down to the postnatal ward we were told she would need her heel pricked and to squeeze blood out to check her sugar levels every 4 hours, at the next feed, I still hadn’t had a chance to work out how to feed, or have time to sit and enjoy some skin to skin time. The next midwife didn’t appear to have time either so whilst hoovering over me impatiently advising me how to hand express she popped off to get some more formula, and daddy gave it to our little girl whilst I felt unsupported, not enough, unheard and sad that it wasn’t my milk feeding her, introducing the golden milk to her precious newborn gut. After this time, I got more determined (and more stubborn) some skin to skin time, some time to relax with my new family some food and snacks- chocolate mini eggs (of course) and finally she latched, IT HURT LIKE HELL she would go on and off, I could see she was getting some milk, but felt like we still had a long way to go.
That night, on my own in the busy ward with the little new bundle I rang for help to feed- this midwife looked at my notes and asked me ‘why had I changed my mind about giving her formula’ so I told her it wasn’t my choice to give her formula to start with, no one had showed me how to breastfeed, let alone hand express!
She was pretty good and patient, she would watch us both and give us tips as to how to get a good latch and what to look out for. (I had watched loads of videos in pregnancy... but having to work it out myself was so difficult) This midwife managed to help me latch a few times but she also handled my boob into Baby F’s mouth – which again made me feel like I couldn’t do it by myself. (By the way Baby F’s blood sugar levels leaped up at the time that I fed her, it hadn’t moved when she had formula… funny that!)
By late morning, daddy had come back and we were like sitting ducks, waiting to get home, desperate for some home comforts. I had managed a good few feeds, and although it still hurt, it wasn’t too bad. We had one final great feed as the midwife was discharging us and off we went.
Back to the safety of home.
We had a few good feeds that evening, but it was tough. At 2 Am I asked my love, T to pop to Tesco’s to get some formula because I just couldn’t feed her, my nipples were so sore, I was wincing every time she needed a feed or even brushed pasted my nipple- How could this be so natural I wondered! – I cried giving her the bottle, and I didn’t express I still wasn’t sure how (I’m lucky not to have got engorgement)
The next day she was 3 days old. I got practical and determined again and looked in my La Leche League breastfeeding book about hand expression, I googled and I sat down to try. I was amazed to see this thick milk coming out – I caught it in an egg cup and using the syringe from the hospital, I used it to top her up if I couldn’t face feeding. My midwife visited this day, I cried to her about how I wasn’t listened to and why I wasn’t offered more time to be able to hand express or feed, she showed me how to feed, she showed me the biological nurturing position and I felt calmer and happier, why couldn’t she stay for every feed!
The next few days were a bit stressful due to her loosing 10% birth weight – which I hear it totally normal, but hard to hear it!! Baby F was tired, she was 10 days early. She wouldn’t feed for that long, she would be on and off but then she didn’t have the energy to feed, yet I knew she needed to get her weight back up. It was a nasty circle to be in.
I am fortunate to have a family friend who came round to sit with me, she showed me what to look for to see if she’s got a good latch, to see if she’s comfort feeding or taking a good amount in, and she gave me the confidence that I could do it by myself, because she guided me by voice so I could get myself into position.
My cracked and sore nipples needed airing, as did little ones bottom due to a blistering nappy rash. We would often be found topless or bottomless by the log burner in the evenings. (Welcome to motherhood springs to mind!)
The best thing that helped my nipples in the end was nipple shells – so that I could wear a bra without feeling like the fabric brushing against them was cutting them more, breast milk on them to keep free from bacterial infections and so that they weren’t dry when she was first feeding, and a knowledge of hand expressing – so if it all got too much I knew I could still feed her. Plus skin to skin time as much as possible. We would often be found snug in my dressing gown, baby in a nappy and me in joggers... loving the connection and comfort it bought us.
As the days went on, her weight was getting so much better, my boobs were getting better but still felt a little off – speaking to a feeding specialist whilst getting her hearing checked she noted that Baby F had a posterior tongue tie, and that’s possibly why it was hurting. We nearly got it cut then and there – she was 7 days old. But I freaked a little, it was a Friday and the midwife advised us to wait the weekend and see how we felt. We actually managed to not get it cut and dealt with working out different positions and she was gaining weight so that was good.
Fast forward a few more weeks when I was sitting with a Doula friend trying to reflect and digest my birth, she noted that Baby F was clicking a lot in her feeds, I said it was a normal thing and then it hit me – the tongue tie! We were now out of midwife and HV care, we were put onto a waiting list but it was a few weeks if not months away, so we found a private midwife who came to the house. He walked in and immediately I felt at ease, an amazing man with such incredible calm and relaxing energy had come to save us! He would chat to Baby F and us, he would take into consideration that she is a little human and is wanting to also know what’s going on. After assessing her and me, and us feed he decided he would cut the tie- in our kitchen whilst I waited in the sitting room, boob out and ready! T bought her to me, she had a slightly bloody mouth and a look of confusion but she fed amazingly and fell asleep – at first, I thought it was the shock of it all! But she had a great sleep and when she woke up to see the look on her face as she stuck her tongue out far was incredible to see! It went on to hurt badly for a few days whilst she got used to using her new tongue but then it was no problem.
So, going back a few weeks the blistering nappy rash didn’t improve until I took it into my own hands and decided to trial a dairy free diet. This made a hell of a difference.
At maybe 3 or so months I finally felt like we were getting somewhere. I’m 8 months in now, and I LOVE breastfeeding, we are in a good groove at the moment, of being able to feed well and listen to her cues when she wants feeding for nourishment or for comfort, and I am happy to feed to both. She is a little wriggler and quite the acrobat when she wants a feed! I know we may come up with some more obstacles (teething for example...) but I am sure we will over come them. I have a good support team around me, and follow many inspiring breastfeeding mums on social media, so in my current bubble I have it all around me, and so I feel happy and confident. I am normalizing breastfeeding every time I feed, I make sure to be respectful to those around me, but also to make a point that I need to feed my baby and this is how I do it. I feel now that we have got this far I’m no where near ready to end our journey, I will see where we go, and as always, I will follow her cues.
Looking back all I needed was a little more time, someone to sit with me and give me a relaxing space to be able to hand express and feed. So this is what I would like to give to those of you who need it. Some time, Some confidence and Some knowledge of what you are doing to make it feel right.