My breastfeeding journey has been crazy! I knew when I found out I was pregnant that I wanted to give breast feeding a go, I don’t think I knew how much I wanted to do it until she got here.
Feeding your child is such a personal thing whatever way you choose to do it, and for me that’s definitely how it felt, personal, and I took it very personally when it didn’t all go my way.
I will honestly say that I didn’t give much thought to it in the lead up to Florence being born, I just assumed it would all come very naturally and be super easy – it’s the most natural thing in the world right?!
When I was rushed in early to have an emergency section for placental abruption, my body hadn’t even really started to prepare for birth, I hadn’t got to that stage yet where you start leaking little bits of colostrum, nope, none of that! So when I wound up on intensive care and needed lots of transfusions, my body hadn’t really caught up that I’d had a baby yet.
Of course one of first things they ask you is if you would like to try and feed, and I said yes straight away. I had had an artificial birthing procedure but I still wanted to have that skin to skin and feeding experience. I was still linked up to my fluids and bloods bags so positioning was a bit difficult. I just remember that she didn’t seem that interested. ‘That’s okay,’ the Midwife said, you can try again later.
And we did! I did lots of skin to skin and was waiting for Florence to miraculously find the boob herself, like I’d read about, but she didn’t.
I tried through the night too, even when I thought she was latched, in hindsight she wasn’t. When would this ‘natural thing’ start happening for me? What would it feel like? I asked several midwives to look at the latch, they all said the same thing, ‘you’re doing the right things, she’s just early, she will learn.’ I asked the Midwife to show me how to hand express to try and get things moving. For the first few goes nothing appeared. In the first day I got 0.2mls, but fed it to Flo anyway. I asked the midwives during the baby check if she could be tongue-tied and that affect the latch but I got two very confident no’s.
We were discharged with me hand expressing like crazy and still no latch. Day 2 – still no latch. My colostrum looked like it was increasing but I was hand expressing around the clock. I spoke to an infant feeding support worker, asked her to come round to watch me try to feed. She said the same thing, ‘you’re doing the right things, she’s just early, she will learn.’ I think that that point I was sort of pulled into a false sense of security that everything was fine, it was just taking a bit longer than normal because of the way she was born.
On day 3 it was weighing day, my milk still hadn’t come in, and I was still hand expressing and syringe feeding like crazy. I told the Midwife about my concerns. She watched me try to feed too and said exactly the same thing. I felt reassured at this point until she put Florence on the scales. She had lost 13%! Cue feeling like an absolutely terrible more time. We were told we needed to get to the hospital immediately for potential admission and tube feeding. She was very jaundice and with only weighing so little in the first place, 13% was a massive amount to lose. I was so upset and Dean sort of lost it at the hospital. I had asked for helped so many times already and never wanted to be in this position.
Luckily her jaundice was not bad enough for admission. We were shown how to cup feed and agreed to stick to a 2hourly feeding schedule to try and get the weight back on. When we got home Flo took a full 2oz from the cup, which makes you feel even worse because she was obviously starving. Even now when I think back it makes me feel upset.
From that point onwards we didn’t have any problem with her weight, and I’m sure that anyone who sees photos of her now would struggle to believe that we ever did! However, the feeding issues continued.
I told my feeding problems to my good friend Lucy who was also a midwife, because from day 3 to week 2 we still hadn’t had a successful breast feed, but I was pumping round the clock to establish my milk supply. She travelled down and brought me some nipple shields. Finally I was able to feed my daughter!!!! For two solid weeks we were able to breastfeed with the shields, but I knew they weren’t really supposed to be used for ever. On week 3-4, I tried to wean off the shields, but there was that problem again, she just wouldn’t latch and it was becoming more and more painful.
I think I was driving Dean crazy because I refused to give up. Even though in the space of a week I was in tatters, on the left side especially. Screaming and crying with every feed, with Flo chomping down. There was blood, there was splitting. My left side was so badly damaged that it had a huge split in it and had actually stopped producing milk. I was sort of at the end of my tether by this point, dreading every feed screaming the house down.
I revisited the potential tongue tie issue and referred us to the clinic after speaking to the infant feeding team again. At 5 weeks Florence was diagnosed with a posterior tongue tie and it was snipped. Such an easy procedure for her, so traumatic for me. I stood and cried in the corner of the room – what if I put her through this and it didn’t make anything better?!
But it did! Within a week we were feeding pain free! It took a while for me to be able to feed her on the left again properly and for the milk to come back fully but it happened. I was absolutely elated.
We fed blissfully for 6 weeks, but then had the reflux to contend with. She just was not happy when feeding, thrashing, arching her back, screaming. The hospital told me that she needed to be bottle fed and eventually had thickeners added to every meal to ensure that it all stayed down. I kept pumping in the meantime, our freezer was absolutely jam packed. After three weeks we started to give her breastmilk in a bottle with thickener and a short time after that I began to start breastfeeding again.
I’m at the point now, where unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll ever make enough milk for her to exclusively feed on me but we’re still managing in combination, which is something that I’m actually very proud of.
In speaking to my friends who have also had difficulties, it’s evident that a lot of it is about the unknown, or just getting blanket advice that is supposed to sort everything out. That’s obviously not going to work.
I’ve heard about women who are bottling feeding and happy, women that are breastfeeding and happy, women who couldn’t breastfeed, women who are breastfeeding who wish their baby would take a bottle, women who are bottle feeding but wishing they could’ve breastfed for longer and lots of other variations. I think a lot of it is down to us all being to hard on ourselves, I know I’m definitely guilty of this, because at the end of the day we’re all doing the best we can. Feeding babies is hard work!!