Did I ‘fail’ at breastfeeding?
Well as it’s not a driving test or an exam so I can hand on heart say NO….but if you had asked me that 18 months ago. You may well have got a very different answer.
I want to share with you a very personal story from the heart about my journey with breastfeeding in the hope that one person reads it and hears what they need to hear
Trigger alert if you have had issues with breastfeeding or had a visit to the hospital with your baby then this may be a tough read.
Let me start by saying I am pro-breastfeeding. No judgement, if you aren’t, Live and let live, is one of my many mantras and there’s loads more to looking after your baby than whether you pick a bottle, boob (or a bit of both)
For me, it was a no-brainer. I wanted to breastfeed for at least 6 months. I even took a local course and felt fully prepared.
The birth itself was positive and straightforward and I was able to have immediate skin to skin contact and establish feeding within the first couple of hours. All good so far.
According to the health visitors, his latch was good and there were no signs of tongue tie
I fed on demand (or so I thought) kept up skin to skin contact and did all the things I thought were right. Except something wasn’t.
4 days after the birth and my milk still hadn’t come in. We were concerned about the lack of wet and dirty nappies and the baba was crying constantly. I had nothing to compare it to but it was pretty full on and I can remember texting my new Mum friends to see what the deal was. come the evening, my boobs finally started to swell with milk though so I was happy.
The midwives came for a weigh in on the morning day 5 and my boy had lost 13 percent of his body weight.
Our midwife wasn’t concerned at the time but we were encouraged to go into A and E for a checkup as standard procedure. We genuinely thought we would be home in a couple of hours but it turned into a heartbreaking couple of days.
The hospital bit
We arrived at A and E, the doctors were very concerned about our baby’s’ blood sugar and consequently we were admitted. The Doctors suggested that we immediately bottle fed him formula ( I wished we had used our hypnobirthing BRAINS to investigate other options at this point but that is another story) They also advised he was tube fed which was really tough on his tiny tummy and he vomited a lot which was incredibly distressing. I insisted at this point that we stop this method unless he was in immediate danger.
He was hooked up to lots of monitors and had to be weighed regularly. Throughout this time it was not suggested that we try breastfeeding again.
Baring in mind that Mums need oxytocin to help withthe letdown of milk, after 24 hours at the hospital, any milk that I did have had come and gone and I had 2 deflated balloons where my fried eggs used to be!
I was encouraged to express to get my supply up but this was slow progress with a hand pump . And at this point, I had had had about 8 hours sleep in 5 nights and was actually starting to wonder if I had gone mad. I had some very dark thoughts and it was a really rough time.
There were lots of really sick children in this hospital, and although we were told that we were in for a relatively routine issue, to us – it still felt like the biggest scariest thing that had ever happened. With our The Nurses and doctors never made us feel like we were any less deserving of their care and attention.
We were released from the hospital after a couple of days. A quick check up and 5 minutes with a breastfeeding support lady who said we need to get him back on the boob now. She suggested that we ditch the bottle and try cup feeding. This was a real WTF moment. If anyone has ever tried and succeeded at this then hats off to them. For me, It was hard bloody work and we were lucky to any milk in the baby’s’ mouth, never mind when those 20 ml of breastmilk it took me 40 mins to hand express ends up on a bib rather than his mouth. Cup feeding may well work for you though so it’s worth investigating.
We battled for a couple of days, alternating between the cup, the bottle and my boob. As soon as we started trying to establish breastfeeding again he was thrashing, crying, pushing the boob away He HATED the boob.. It was not an enjoyable experience for either of us and hard to relax into it
I was also working hard to keep making milk for him using a hand pump which was tiring and disheartening as I was not making a lot of milk
We sought help from a private lactation consultant. She offered support and advice.
I ordered a top of the range electronic breast pump, made myself a hands-free pumping bra (see the picture!) started to take fenugreek and milk thistle to increase my milk supply and used warm compresses and special guided relaxation before pumping. NB You can hire specialist pumps as well as buying them
I pumped tirelessly at this point. And all the hard work was paying off as I saw my supply increase dramatically. If I wasn’t pumping, I was trying to feed him with my boob or the bottle.
We had another method of feeding to try, this time finger feeding. Using your finger and a tube and you can also do the same method but attached the tube to your boob.the idea is it mimics breastfeeding for the baby and avoids nipple confusion
We had limited success with this due to it being very fiddly, As soon as my partner went back to work, I was on my own trying to support a newborn with one arm, hold a bottle up with another arm and needing two other hands to sneak the tube in his mouth when he wasn’t looking.
Every time we tried to put him back on the boob, he fought, pushed me away. Baby hated it, I hated it and felt more and more despondent as the days went on. I hindsight I could have asked for extra support but I didn’t, so no point crying over spilt milk now. And I use that pun very deliberately as I cried many times seeing my pumped breast milk all over baby or the floor!
After about 6 weeks. I decided that I was going to stop trying to breastfeed and stop with the finger feeding. In the many articles I had read online I discovered Women who could not breastfeed but still wanted to make milk for their baby so they stopped nursing and exclusively expressed milk to bottle feed their babies. It is popular in America where the maternity rights are different and women often find themselves returning to work when the baby is as little as 6 weeks old. I decided to be an exclusive pumper (The name LOL!)
I had already established a pretty good pumping routine and was making a decent amount of milk. Not enough to satisfy the hungry beast from the east but I would have had to pump About 12 times day and night to do that and I honestly valued my sanity more so we got up to about 8 pumps in a 24 hour period and we topped up his feeds (about 30 percent) with formula.
We were still able to bond and had regular skin to skin contact which was great
I’m sure people thought I was mad at the time. It certainly was a constant juggling act of feeding, expressing and sterilising I managed to make it work somehow and as a first time Mum, I honestly didn’t know any better.
BONUS, my partner (who was amazingly supportive throughout) was able to help with the feeds – you have to seek the light in every dark situation.
I made peace with my decision as much as possible but the hard bit was when we went to the mum and baby classes together, seeing other Mums breastfeeding their babies while I pulled out the bottle. The guilt, the fear of judgement. I grieved for my loss of being able to feed my baby naturally and believed that I had failed him somehow.
Time, of course, is a wonderful healer, and I look back on those months and think fuck me, I was an absolute bad ass Mama! I can see that I didn’t ‘give up’ or ‘fail’ at all. So I have finally made my peace. I also read and learned a LOT in this time period. Things I now know that can help ladies that I come into contact with in my work as a Hypnobirthing and pregnancy yoga teacher.
If this happened again to me and my milk was late coming in then I know what to do to help with milk production and also to save us a visit to the hospital, then I could give my baby a small amount of formula by pipette (to avoid nipple confusion) until the milk came in.
I am grateful for this experience showing me how strong I can be and to everyone that supported me along the way.
I strongly believe that breastfeeding doesn’t have to be a one size fits all experience, this was mine and you will have yours. Just know that there is an amazing amount of resources and support out there to help you if you know where to look.
I understand the importance of education and support around feeding so as part of my Walthamstow Hypnobirthing course I offer a bonus of access to the online mindful breastfeeding school course at a vastly reduced rate.
Amazing if you are thinking about going down this route or didn’t know it existed
Excellent resources about feeding
Videos and advice from doctor Jack Newman
Local support from a lactation consultant who holds classes in East London and she has a great Instagram page too!
Good advice on successful combination feeding and she wrote a great book too, with tailored advice for different ‘boobs’
Contact them about local meetups/feeding cafes. They also have a great phone helpline.