I had the shitest possible start to breastfeeding and honestly it is a miracle I was able to breastfeed for 13months. It honestly is the hardest thing I have ever ever done in my life (labour was worse experience but this was harder experience!) and also the thing I am most proud of achieving (and now I know what to answer in a job interview if they ever ask that question!).
Here are some of the barriers to breastfeeding we overcame (the crucial bits are in bold if you can’t be arsed to read my long winded rambles!)
1) Breast reduction 9 years ago (large reduction 7lbs taken out- one nipple doesnt function so well)- not even sure if I can breastfeed until I tried. HCP’s all know this and assume am going to fail at breastfeedingso negative from outset.
2) Flat nipples so baby can’t latch on without the discovery of fabulous nipple shields (genetic issue but not helped by reduction), then had to wean her off them gradually so incase they affected supply. By 6 weeks she was feeding without them.
3) Extremely traumatic hideous horrible delivery and baby in NICU for first 5 days- no cuddles for first 24 hours of baby’s life, limited skin to skin– tricky with all tubes etc. Baby was oxygen starved (possible brain damage) and initially showed poor suck reflex but that improved within a day or so.
4) Munchkin had to have a nasogastric tube and was fed my expressed breastmilk every hour. This meant she was usually full and therefore had no interest in latching– she kept falling asleep at the breast- I have to maintain these nasogastric top ups but once they are reduced to three hourly I can sometimes also get her latched for a feed. Except I also still have to use the breast pump and invariably she gets hungry just after I have expressed and there is no more milk in the breast! Breastfeeding support at hospital was very limited (lactation consultant promised everyday and never materialised) had help from speech and language therapist with latch though which was fantastic.
5) Baby has to have MRI, she is sedated with suppositories she keeps pooing out (effectively enemas)- she ends up going without a feed for 6 hours (at 8days old and already lost 10% of weight) due to the sedation, I pump in meantime but this mucks up the baby hungry, mums boobs full thing again plus difficult to get her feeding due to sedation. Loses yet more weight due to the “enemas”. Also for first week of her life she had a canula in her arm for her antibiotics. This made feeding on the right breast very difficult as this sore arm would get in way and hurt her if positioned wrong and she didn’t seem to feed as well in the rugby ball hold. creates supply issues in right breast.
6) By day 7 breastfeeding was still a massive struggle as we had to always give her nasogastric tube 32ml top up every three hours and it was always at a time which caused her to fall asleep and not be awake for a feed. We hated that nasal tube and so did she – used to pull on it during breast feeds and would look uncomfy during top ups. So in the end we had to say no more tube feeds and do her top ups with a syringe in mouth (easyish) or cup (good skill to learn but spilt everywhere and resulted in very windy baby). This was kind of against medical advice as they wanted to keep tube feeds going but we persevered and as a result breastfeeding was able to be established must better basically because we stopped trying to work to nasal tube feed times and did on demand breastfeeds plus top ups instead. The doctors were all freaking out and saying she is a big baby and you won’t sustain her etc but it’s what we had to do. With hindsight I think if more breastfeeding support had been available at hospital we would have figured out how to sync up the tube and breastfeeds but we aren’t medical people so were just following instructions until they really stopped working for us but is scary to go against medical advice!
7) First week after leaving hospital (12days old) Munchkin loses 14% of bodyweight in total (not helped my mri enemas etc). Sent to hospital for dehydration check- supoosed to take an hour- takes 7 (and results come back fine). I don’t have enough to eat or drink and feeding is tricky in hospital as doesn’t have pillow etc, and its not home. Anyhow of her 14%weight loss the majority of that was in hospital and after her enema. She did still lose a tiny bit more once we went against medical advice with not tube feeding her, but it wasn’t massive and her weight is now fine so it was the right but scary decision for us. Really had to battle with hospital not to readmit us (I would have lost my mind- being completely loopy from the 8days in hospital the week before)
8) Top ups– Munchkin put on intense regime of feeds- Every 3 hours -feed at breast, give 40ml top up, then pump next feeds top up then sterilise everything for next feed. This was actually relentless hell. It was completely and utterly exhausting draining hell. We don’t stop with the top ups really for about 10weeks.
9) Baby is really slow to gain weight (6weeks to regain birthweight) so health visitors, doctors etc constantly on my case about it. I am so parnoid about how much she has I probably overfeed- she gets colicky etc as a result. Have to give a formula top up sometimes as don’t have enough expressed breast milk
10) Feeds would literally take HOURS, I would feed for an hour and she would still want more 20minutes later. It was relentless- finally her posterior tongue tie was discovered and snipped at 7 weeks. I already had bad cracked nipples that made me want to throw munchkin across the room with the pain (at times I would have to max out on painkillers to feed) and unfortunately post tongue tie snip meant munchkin had to relearn her latch and completely knackered my almost healing nipples again. Then also got infection in nipples so they just wouldn’t heal- wasn’t thrush though they kept treating me for that- turned out to be Staph Aureus infection (always demand a swab!). In the end I had painful feeding from 10days to 16 weeks as a result varying from agony and tears to grit teeth and curl toes. If it was agony all the time I would have definitely given up- as it was I just wore my teeth down from all the gritting!
For me breastfeeding wasn’t easy or painfree until munchkin was 16weeks old (when she suddenly grasped it and feeds took minutes instead of hours!) and although it took weeks to wean munchkin off the formula top ups she was predominantly breastfed (bottle formula at bedtime as supply never got up to full capacity) until we started weaning at 5months (on reflection possibly too early but I had been made so paranoid about her weight gain I thought it was right to do- not sure I will do same with Womble) but overall I am incredibly proud of what we achieved.
The biggest reason for my success with breastfeeding (apart from my slightly manic dogged determination to succeed which I blogged more on here) was the incredible community support I got from Haringey breastfeeding support team. Both Jenny Alexander and Alison Shaloe were absolutely incredible and going to breastfeeding support group every week helped me enormously- every week I was saying “one more week then I am done” (at times it was “one more feed”!) but they were wonderful at supported me in a very caring non judgemental way that not only helped enormously with the breastfeeding but also helped me begin to heal from the birth trauma I experienced. Oh and the mybrestfriend feeding pillow and hospital grade breast pump I hired from NCT were alsobreastfeeding saviours- couldn’t have done it without either of them as well!
I would never wish on anyone what I went through but unfortunately I have read many similar stories so I hope my story helps someone have hope if they are at the same point of “one more feed then I am giving up” like I was.
So from there to here- now I am now hopefully going to train to be a breastfeeding peer supporter as genuinely I think the biggest factor in success of breastfeeding is accessing proper support but sadly it isn’t always out there. When Haringey cut the post of breastfeeding specialist midwife I actually started a campaign with some other mums and we got in the papers (and here) and Whittington Mum (a dear friend of mine) is an excellent blog to follow for more on that- (we moved away so I am not really uptodate with the campaign anymore).