Saturday, 10 January 2015

My Breastfeeding Story

This post originally appeared on my old blog, July 23, 2014.

I’d like to talk about breastfeeding. It’s a huge part of my life right now and I am pro-breastfeeding, but we went through the wringer to get here and it’s given me, I hope, a bit of perspective. Fair warning, it’s going to be a long one.

Breastfeeding is just about the only thing I was absolutely sure I wanted to do as a parent. I wanted to reserve my parenting decisions until I was faced with a real, live human baby. I thought baby-wearing looked good, and that co-sleeping sounded awful (more on this later. Ugh, co-sleeping), but I knew that my actual, individual daughter would likely blow my preconceptions out of the water, so I tried not to make any hard and fast rules. I figured we’d end up with at least a few plastic toys, if not many many many, and that I couldn’t feed her 100% organic food, 100% of the time. I was ready for compromise. Apart from with breastfeeding. I was going the full year, at least. I prepared my work for the likelihood of my taking the maximum maternity leave (here in the UK, you can take up to a year, which is great), bought nursing bras and nipple cream and a little manual pump. I had on my birth plan that my number one postpartum priority was breastfeeding. My husband knew that even if, god forbid, I wound up with an emergency c-section under a general, his job was to help me get that baby on the boob. This didn’t work out.

I had a wonderful, straightforward birth, but my daughter wouldn’t latch. At all. The midwives said she seemed mucus-y, and would latch later. One woman, I have no idea who she was, came in, took one look at my breasts and said I might need nipple shields, then she disappeared and never returned. Several hours later my baby is screaming and they are pushing formula. Saying she will become jaundiced and have to stay in this horrible ward. I’ve been awake for two days and two nights. At home, my mom and husband are there to help, and I would do ANYTHING to get my baby home with them. I’m trying to hand express colostrum, and getting nowhere because I’m doing it wrong and no one is helping me. I ask for a cup rather than a bottle to avoid nipple confusion, they say they are out and give me a urine sample cup. I syringe feed the minuscule amounts of colostrum I’ve collected. Eventually, I relent and a midwife feeds her formula. I think we would have had latch issues no matter what, but my health visitor agreed that the care was ‘unforgivable’. We didn’t get a latch for 3 weeks.

At home, I had some soy formula on hand ‘just in case’, which was lucky as I couldn’t get them to discharge me until 11pm the following night, for no other reason than being understaffed. I saw every lactation consultant and breastfeeding midwife I could. All said that I was doing everything right. The best advice I received was to pump at least 8 times per day, at least twice at night. We bought an expensive electric pump, expensive slow-flow bottles, and two sizes of nipple shields. I pumped and pumped and pumped. I was a wreck, emotionally. I was failing her in the most basic way. While she slept, I pumped. I lost my appetite, I sobbed in the shower, I cried when I saw another woman feeding her baby. I was ashamed to bottle feed in public.
The nipple shields did work, but she struggled to eat a full meal that way, so I fed 3 times: a ‘breastfeed’, a bottle of expressed milk, and then I pumped. Then sterilise and start over. I read on the internet about ‘EP’ (exclusive pumping) moms who do this for months. I cried some more. I set a goal of two months, then I would quit.
When she was 3 weeks old, I shoved my boob in her mouth while she was screaming in frustration, which I had been told not to do, and she finally latched. I was too concerned about supply to stop pumping, but I was elated. By this time I was pumping almost enough not to need formula supplementation. Elation faded as I couldn’t hear any swallowing, and got terrible cracks and blisters. I saw the consultants again. They suspected tongue tie, which I got checked out. They said she has a high palate, which combined with my defective boobs (honestly, TMI) made a ‘classic combination’ for problems. I was having vasospasm pain from the repeated trauma. She had a mild tongue tie as well, and the lady was ’50/50′ on whether to refer us. She flaked on the follow-up, which was around the holidays. For some reason when she let us down, I stopped being sad and got angry. Furious. I was being let down, and fobbed off, all while being made to feel guilty. I felt the support was, to use one of my favourite British phrases, all mouth and no trousers. I decided to give up on lactation consultants, but not yet on breastfeeding. I had the supply, and she loved being at the breast. She was an easier baby at the breast. Through all of this there was only one person, a community staff nurse on my health visiting team, who was worth a damn. She kept working with us, and I kept going. One feed at a time. I threw out nursing bras with bloodstains, and saw the GP once when she threw up blood. By 3 months, she was exclusively on the breast, and I seemed to be healing. No magic solution. By 4 months, feeding was easy and painless. Now, at nearly 8 months, our problems seem like a lifetime ago.
I don’t think anyone would have blamed me for giving up, and I don’t think I deserve some kind of martyrdom award for persevering, but I’m glad it worked out for us. These, I think, are the secrets to our success:

1. Long maternity leave. If I’d had to go back to work during all this, I’d have given up. It was a full-time job. Similarly, it wouldn’t have worked out if I’d had another child to look after.
2. Being financially able to buy a serious electric breast pump, special bottles and shields. I wouldn’t have been able to keep supply up without that pump, period. Renting them is also very expensive.
3. My veganism. If I didn’t have such a strong beef with cow’s milk, that formula would have looked mighty appealing.
4. Support from my husband. He knew how important this was to me. It can’t have been easy to see me in pain, struggling with our screaming, hungry baby.
5. Rebecca, the community staff nurse. She didn’t have a magic wand, as she warned me, but she did convince me that my daughter was being fed. She gave me the confidence to persevere, without pressuring me. At that stage, I should say, all the professionals (and many friends) were giving me an ‘out’, as it were – gently telling me it was ok to call it a day. The number one reason for giving up breastfeeding is apparently perceived lack of supply; it’s important to BELIEVE you can feed your baby.
6. Good supply. As important as it is to believe you have a good supply, you also have to, you know, have it. This is not a given when you have multiple problems. I was having skinny baby dreams, where she looked like weird, fetal Voldemort, but I knew she was ok.

You can see how arbitrary these factors are, and how easily it could have gone the other way. When I read an article or blog about how women who struggle to breastfeed just aren’t trying hard enough, my blood boils. While I think breastfeeding is wonderful, I cannot and will not judge other mothers who bottle feed. Ever.

No comments:

Post a Comment