I couldn’t think of any other way to start the breastfeeding blog series, than to start off by sharing my own breastfeeding story. I’ve done this in two parts, firstly talking about the first week of breastfeeding, and secondly talking about the first six weeks (later in the series). I’ve picked these two points in time as I believe that these are milestones when it comes to breastfeeding. I thought it also might be quite useful not only for myself, but for you lovely readers to have Medela’s in-house Lactation Consultant (Sioned) share her thoughts, insight and advice at the end in the hope that it might help others who have been through, or are going through something similar. So without further ado, here’s my story:
Aside from giving birth, I don’t think I’ve ever done anything as difficult as learning how to breastfeed. I think its fair to say I went into breastfeeding with my eyes open. Prepared for there to be a 50/50 chance that I might not be able to so that I didn’t get my hopes up too much. For some reason I was more prepared for breastfeeding not to go how I hoped than I was the actual birth, and the opposite happened. The birth I was secretly hoping for was out the window almost as quickly as my waters, whilst breastfeeding somehow worked for us. Eventually.
You see, although its easy for us now, so natural, so rhythmic, so easy, it hasn’t always been this way. Its taken us a lot of time, effort, cracked and bleeding nipples, perseverance and willpower to get here. I knew it would probably be painful in the beginning, although like labour you can’t quite conceive how painful, or what the pain will be like until you actually go through it. What I wasn’t counting on though was for it to be so difficult to get the hang of. It all started off well enough, the little lady rooting the instant she was laid on my chest. So far so good. A doddle even. But then somehow it started to get difficult, although I don’t remember there being a specific turning point. Unfortunately my memory of the whole birth experience is somewhat hazy. But at some point relatively early on, it started to get difficult. Really difficult, and pretty painful too. We couldn’t quite get the latch right because every time the little lady fed I would get this searing pain. But I persevered, each time failing as the pain got progressively worse. I learnt eventually when I sought help from a breastfeeding cafe a few weeks on that breastfeeding isn’t actually supposed to be painful, and if it is then its a sure sigh that you’re not doing something right. But I guess that because I expected it to be painful I persevered, I also think there was perhaps an element of determination to succeed because I didn’t have the birth experience I wanted.
There was lots of crying from my hungry little lady, not only because she wasn’t latching on properly to feed, but also because we were still waiting for my milk to come in. It was a vicious, painful circle of constant feeds because she was hungry, each time adding to my pain. The hospital, concerned that she was dehydrated during the first three days that we were kept in for observations recommended that we do some formula top ups. Rather than being happy, I remember being scared. Scared that if we gave her formula she wouldn’t want to breastfeed, that it would confuse her. Because that’s what all those not so helpful parenting books tell you. Not to introduce a bottle before breastfeeding is established at six weeks. I guess what they don’t consider that some mums might have problems in the beginning. I can’t describe the relief I felt when the little lady had those formula feeds. She was finally sated, and an almost entirely different baby. She was finally happy and content, and I knew then that it was the right thing to do for her and stopped feeling bad about it. In fact I almost preferred it because I knew she was getting the milk she needed and it gave me and my battered body some much needed relief. It would have been so easy right then to switch to formula feeding. Because I felt that it was giving her what I couldn’t. But my husband, ever by my side was gently reassuring and encouraging me, giving me the confidence that I needed as a new mum.
By the time we were allowed to go home we were back to exclusively breastfeeding. Formula top ups hadn’t confused my little girl like I was led to believe would happen. But we were still waiting for my milk to come in on day four and the difficulty started again so formula top ups made another brief appearance before finally on day five I woke up engorged. We finally had milk, and with it a turning point where breastfeeding started to get that little bit easier.
I never knew the first week of breastfeeding would and could be so hard. Those first few days are such a crucial time for breastfeeding, make or break as to whether a mum continues or stops because its such a vulnerable time and breastfeeding can for some mums be such a challenge. So it’s really important that mums get the support they need if they want to breastfeed, but at the same time they should also have the support they need if breastfeeding doesn’t work for them or if they decide that they don’t want to. Because there are enough things to feel guilty about as a parent, and whether you breast or formula feed shouldn’t be one of them.
Sioned says: Gosh well done to both of you and it sounds as though you have got it worked out now. It is tough in the first few days, and as you say so many of us hear horror stories about nipple pain that we start to believe it is totally normal for it to hurt. Nipple tenderness is common but persistent pain is a sign that things are not right. What the midwives should also have supported you with and informed you about is expressing, either by hand or mechanically. You can express from birth to stimulate milk coming in and to collect colostrum.
Using formula is not detrimental to you or little one, but when presented with the choice, parents should be given all the information they need. Some points to consider, are using a conventional teat to feed formula may contribute to nipple/teat confusion (try the Medela Calma as an alternative). Also, as formula is not as easily digested as breastmilk, babies don’t tend to wake up as often, and thus are not on the breast as much as usual. This can delay your milk coming in and inhibit milk production. I agree there is still a long way to go to support mums and giving mums realistic and supportive information with help lines is a way to start addressing the gaps.
Can you relate to this post? If you would like to share your breastfeeding story then get in touch. I would love to feature as many of your stories throughout the blog series as possible!
Do you have any breastfeeding questions? Would you like the chance to speak to Medela’s in-house lactation Consultant? Every Tuesday in February Sioned will be answering your breastfeeding questions on the blog, so make sure you check back in. More information coming soon!