My Breastfeeding Journey so far…

This post is not meant to scare people, or complain, or criticise formula feeding. I decided to write it because I felt difficulties breastfeeding are not talked about enough in the run up to child-birth. I know the NHS wants everyone to breastfeed, but not talking about the difficulties makes everyone unprepared. This needs to change.

I don’t have any close friends that have children and barely even held a child let alone changed a nappy before I had my own baby!! I was all career before a year ago….it’s funny how things TOTALLY change once you have a baby- for the better of course! I don’t have any brothers or sisters and my mum died 7 years ago, so it’s just me, my husband and my dad (as my husband’s family are all in Thailand). I really wish I had someone to talk to and someone to tell me more about what happens after the birth….the things no one seems to talk about….

All throughout pregnancy I was worried about going into labour, it was the unexpected. I was worried about the pain, if there would be any problems, the safety of a home birth, tearing etc. My aunts, cousins and 2 friends that have had babies all gave me their share of advice. My midwife gave me magazines and a NCT DVD about options for childbirth and the importance of breastfeeding.  Everyone focused on waters breaking, pain relief options, what happens and options for when things don’t go as planned etc.. The only things concerned with AFTER the birth were the same mantras on how important breastfeeding was. The pictures in the magazines on how to get the baby latched on looked easy. I thought I could do that….maybe there would be pain at first as I wasn’t used to it, but I thought I would adjust.

The other thing everyone told me was to rest before the birth as the first month is tough and we wouldn’t get much sleep. They all said the same things, newborns sleep A LOT but they wake up often to feed in the first 6-8 weeks. So be prepared for broken sleep. Umm this was the understatement of the century!!!! My newborn didn’t sleep AT ALL!!! (OK so some days he did sleep for 1 hour in a 24 hour period….that was it). He also wouldn’t feed AT ALL. He latched on…but wouldn’t suck. He wouldn’t start sucking for nearly a week….this was the most difficult time in my entire life. Not being able to feed your own child and hearing them scream with hunger and lose weight enough to get jaundice is heart wrenching. I know I’m not the only one that went through a difficult time breastfeeding at first. Most people I’ve met all had problems the first few days/weeks and that’s why they switched to formula.

I’ve waited to write this post because I wanted to have a little more distance and clarity than I did a few weeks/months ago. I would have ranted, probably cried when writing this and pleaded for help and advice on feeding/sleeping (erm…instead I did this on the Babycentre community haha). BUT Thomas hit the 3 month mark a few weeks ago and suddenly things have improved  A LOT. I want to let anyone know who is going through something similar right now, that things do improve. And I want to give a heads up to any pregnant ladies out there that haven’t given much thought to what goes on AFTER the birth.

I had a home birth (see here). Thomas was born around midnight. It took an hour for my placenta to be delivered and then we spent around an hour trying to get Thomas to latch on. It was frustrating as he wouldn’t suck, they checked for tongue tie but weren’t sure if he had it or not. By 4am the midwives went home and they told us to get some rest and try to feed Thomas again in the morning.

Us waiting for placenta delivery
Us waiting for placenta delivery

I woke up at 7am and tried again but no luck. The midwife came back that morning and we tried again….and no luck. She told me to keep trying and if I still can’t do it by the next day I should call the community midwives to come and help me. Well the next day was the same…..he still wouldn’t suck! He started to scream…he hadn’t slept either, his eyes were wide open- not at all like the sleepy babies I saw everywhere at the doctor’s office, in the hospital….basically everywhere I went. Why didn’t my baby sleep or eat, he was so unhappy… was heartbreaking.

That night I called the community midwives and someone came out to help me. She started by telling me that she had never failed to get a baby to latch on and eat. Well…. she didn’t get him to eat. She did however get colostrum out manually by squeezing me, hard, it was soooooo painful…. my nipples felt so bruised I was sure they would be purple the next day. But she did get Thomas to eat a syringe and a half of colostrum which she squeezed out of me drop by drop….taking over 2 hours! I felt some relief. I was worried Thomas would die of starvation.

Not once did anyone suggest formula up until this point. The midwife thought Thomas may have slight tongue tie. She advised I go to Tesco and buy a nipple shield which may make it easier for him to suck. If that failed she suggested I buy Aptamil first milk formula to give to him by syringe as it was getting to the point where it was getting too long to be going without food. I went to the 24 hour Tesco as soon as she left. So at 2am I hobbled along, coat over pyjamas, searching for nipple shields and formula.

I felt like a failure. I was so tired. I hurt all over. But mostly I felt like a terrible mother. I didn’t want to give him formula as I knew breast milk was better for him. I was worried that if I gave him formula I could never go back to breastfeeding. My husband was also very keen for me to breastfeed (at this point).  2 days went by, we gave him formula for 1 day whilst also trying to do everything we could to get him to take my breast milk (on this day he slept…well…like a baby!).But we didn’t want to give in, so my husband went to buy a breast pump (which didn’t work for days because I had put it together wrong!) and again Thomas was screaming for food because he was so hungry again. On his 5 day check up he had lost weight and had mild jaundice. At this point I had called the community midwives out to my house every night since he was born to try to help me breastfeed. At the 5 day check up Thomas did latch on…I think this was because I had given in and gave him some formula by bottle and the motion of sucking the bottle got him to realise that he had to do that to my boob to get the milk out! (thank you to my midwife for suggesting this….otherwise it may have  taken him longer to learn to suck).

Now, with all this stress, a screaming baby and me being at my wits end- my husband suddenly changed his mind about the breastfeeding. He had decided formula was better. Not only did we get some sleep that 1 day of feeding Thomas formula but he seemed so settled. We should have been enjoying that special time but instead it was a nightmare. Our son was unhappy and losing weight. But I wouldn’t give up. My husband thought it was better to give him formula so he could put on weight and be happier. But I believed what the midwives told me, that breast was best and I was adamant that things would get better soon. Around day 6 Thomas latched on better. But by this time my boobs were so engorged, it was hard for him to latch (by this point I had mastitis ouch!). I went into hospital for them to hand express me again and help him latch on. He did latch for an hour. I was so relieved.

I thought things would get easier after I got him to suck. BUT IT GOT EVEN MORE DIFFICULT! Now Thomas would not unlatch himself! He would feed for 5 hours straight, take a 10 minute break and eat for another 5 hours. I was feeding him 19 hours a day/night. We didn’t sleep. I don’t remember him sleeping for more than 20 mins at a time the first month. He would not sleep on his back or in a flat position. I had to sit up in bed with him on my chest the first month and then put him on his side propped up by a pillow the second month. I never even got to use my moses basket!

Hungry Baby
Hungry Baby

I got mastitis again, I got nipple thrush, I got vasospasm, I got piles from sitting in the same position breastfeeding so long. I also got sore nipples as Thomas had a really shallow latch…probably due to mild tongue tie which was still an ongoing debate between the midwives and doctor. On his 10 day check up, Thomas was still not putting on enough weight, so the midwives would not discharge me. He was latched on but not getting enough milk. It was soooo frustrating! Looking back it was probably due to my breasts being engorged for so long the first few days that I had stopped producing enough milk for him. So it took time to build back up. I was so tired. I only got 1 hour of sleep in a 24 hour period. I felt ill, I had bits of placenta coming out of me for 2 weeks after birth… was stressful. My husband didn’t understand why I was putting myself through this when I could bottle feed.

Not once during this time did I get to see the lactation consultant. There is only 1 consultant for the whole of the city I live in. I did speak to her on the phone but it was just as I got Thomas to latch on one morning so I thought things would get better. Once they didn’t I did try to get back in contact with her but she was so busy.  I told the midwives about Thomas’ marathon feeding sessions, they all said it wasn’t normal and for me stop after one hour (easier said than done as he was always hungry and would scream if I stopped). I broke down into tears for the first time when my midwife asked how I was doing one morning when she came to see me 2 weeks in. I was so tired. Thomas wouldn’t sleep, he just wanted to eat. When he did sleep he would be in pain with stomach cramps. It was heart wrenching. He was in pain as his stomach was too small to digest all the milk. I had to stay upright all night with him on my chest, I couldn’t rest. I needed sleep. So I decided to top him up with some formula after I breastfed for an hour over one weekend so that I could get some rest and recover. It worked, I got some sleep. On the Monday we went to get Thomas weighed and thankfully he had gained weight! The midwives finally discharged me into the care of the health visitors hoo-rah! I exclusively breastfed from this moment on.

The stomach cramping and constant eating were still problems. The health visitor suggested Infacol or gripe water…but nothing worked. The next 2 months were a haze of sleepless nights and constant breastfeeding. I wasn’t the only person going through this. The Babycentre birth boards went from proud birth announcements to a list full of mum’s talking about breastfeeding being difficult, about baby reflux, silent reflux, milk/formula intolerance, latching difficulties, allergies ….the list goes on…

For anyone reading this and going through similar problems- I want you to know that it does get better. For me it took 12 weeks for things to improve. Suddenly Thomas ate less, I could go an hour and then 2 hours between feeds and he slept for longer at night. When his neck was strong enough I put him on his stomach to sleep  and he suddenly started sleeping 3-4 hours at a time during the night! His weight sky-rocketed from being on the 9th percentile to the 95th percentile in a few weeks!

Thomas the 1st week & Thomas at 2 months
Thomas the 1st week & Thomas at 2 months

Now he is the happiest baby in the world, always laughing and smiling. I still get the odd blocked duct in my boobs…but the soreness has gone. I’m getting 6 or 7 hours of (albeit broken) sleep a night. Things do get better.

My husband has since thanked me for sticking with the breastfeeding when times got tough. As we don’t have any family close by he has been my rock. He made me lunch and dinner everyday for the first month. He did all of the housework. I can understand why so many spouses are less supportive over breastfeeding. It puts a lot of stress on relationships. Yes, formula feeding the first month IS easier. Formula fed babies sleep really well (well most of them). Formula feeding would have given us time to sleep and enjoy those first few weeks more with Thomas. Thomas would have gained weight more quickly and have been happier those first few days. But both my husband and I are SO glad that I stuck with it. We don’t need to sterilise anything (well done to all those of you who express/formula feed for doing it!), we don’t need to take bottles with us everywhere we go, I can feed on demand and I don’t have to get up in the middle of the night to get a bottle! (I’m sure he would have been just as happy with formula but it was all the pressure I put myself under to breastfeed!)

So for those who are pregnant/going through similar problems here are some things I wish someone had told me:

  • Make sure you get the baby latched on and feeding before the midwives go home (if you have a home birth) or before you leave the hospital.
  • Buy Lanolin cream for your nipples from day 1
  • Don’t let it go more than 1 day without pumping your boobs if baby won’t latch on- you may get a mastitis infection which hurts!
  • Don’t be scared of calling the midwives in the middle of the night. I found the ones who came to my home at 2am to be the nicest and most helpful people with time to stay and help you for hours.
  • Make sure you have strappy tops/dresses that are easy to breastfeed in. The first month the baby is constantly feeding. You don’t want to faff around taking clothes on and off.
  • Invest in a nursing chair if your baby is at your boob for more than an hour at a time (sitting on the sofa and up in bed for long periods of time gave me really bad piles and back problems)
  • Practice nursing lying down ASAP- it’s so much easier and leaves you with a free hand so you can read/drink/eat.
  • If problems persist for more than 2 days make sure you kick up a fuss to see a lactation consultant.
  • Massage your boobs from day 1 to prevent milk building up and going hard which will cause blocked ducts.
  • Don’t be afraid to go to a breastfeeding support group as soon as possible. I waited too long and I think it would have helped me if I went the 1st day when I couldn’t get the baby to latch properly.
  • Invest in a sling. The only sling that I could put Thomas into was the NCT sling as this was for babies that weighed less than 8lbs. It’s good for nursing as it takes weight off your arms and also helps the baby to fall asleep.
  • You need lots of pillows to support your arms whilst nursing. You don’t need to buy expensive nursing pillows- I found normal pillows to be just as good.
  • Your husband will be tired too. Let him sleep at night- as he has to look after you during the day. He needs rest. You will need someone to make your meals and bring you water.
  • Find out about breastfeeding facilities. I was scared to leave the house. But shopping centres, gyms etc. all have facilities. I always pop into the John Lewis breastfeeding area when I am in town to relax, nurse and read a magazine!
  • Personally, if baby has sucking issues I don’t see a problem with feeding them with a bottle for a day to get their sucking motion going (if I had a breastpump I would have used breastmilk rather than formula though). So get a breastpump ASAP after birth if you are having problems.
  • Don’t listen to people like my grandmother who tell you that any more than 15 mins sucking each boob is enough- it’s not in the first few months. Babies take a long time to build up to being that efficient at getting the milk out.
  • Don’t feel like a failure if you do switch to formula. It’s good stuff. Sometimes we pressure ourselves too much. Just enjoy being a new mum and just do what is best for you. I was only breastfed for a few weeks before my mum changed to formula and I don’t have any  health problems or skin problems!

I know so many people who tried to breastfeed the first 2 days but gave up due to latching problems. The NHS is campaigning for more people to breastfeed but not providing enough specialised lactation consultants to deal with the difficulties in the first few weeks. This is such a shame. Because now I actually enjoy breastfeeding. I hated having to sterilize bottles. I still hate it when I express because we are going somewhere- it’s such a faff. But more than that, my son is so happy and I know I am giving him the best start in life.

Please feel free to comment with your journey below! and follow me to share future journeys!

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