Here is Tessa’s breastfeeding story. You can find her over at The Pumping Mama:
M was born on the 20th July 2011. The birth was traumatic… episiotomy, 3rd degree tear, ventouse, haemorrhage, blood transfusion, and stitches under anaesthetic. M was away from me for several hours, so we didn’t get the initial skin to skin that’s so important. Being reunited is a bit of a blur. I was attached to machines, I tried to take photos of her but they’re awful. I was on painkillers, my mouth was so dry. I remember eating a cheese sandwich and my husband dressing her. I can’t remember trying to feed her in those first few hours.
The details of the next few days are sketchy too. M was sleepy and jaundiced. She was woken to feed. Her latch looked right to me, from videos and images I’d seen when pregnant, but my nipples were bleeding on the ends, so something was wrong. M would scream when I held her and pull her head away from my breast. She only suckled for a few seconds at a time. I began hand-expressing colostrum. I didn’t know how much was normal to express, but I was given the impression that I wasn’t expressing much. Just a few drops into a syringe. There were lots of different staff. I remember one named Debbie being helpful, but then the shifts would change and it’d be someone new. M was almost forced to the breast at times, screaming and red. I just wanted to sleep.
My mental health began to suffer almost immediately. I was anxious, with almost a constant feeling of having a panic attack. The second night I was to stay in hospital was when I really began to panic. I couldn’t stay on my own. My heart was racing, I was crying and frightened. I was moved to a private room so my husband could stay with me on the floor. I didn’t want M there. I didn’t want her anywhere near me. I just wanted to sleep, I deeply regretted my decision to have a baby. The midwives took M out of the room over night. Feeding her the little colostrum I could express with a syringe.
My Mum came on the 23rd. My husband needed support. I was ranting and frantic, he had watched me almost bleed to death. I didn’t want to hold M, let alone have the skin-to-skin time that may have helped us. I saw the mental health team, who prescribed something for the anxiety. It may have been Lorazepam. I continued to express what I could, but spent most of the time curled in a ball, crying.
I needed to get out of the hospital. The only way I could do that was to successfully feed M, one way or another. She continued to pull away from my nipples, which were still bleeding. I agreed she could have a bottle of formula. There are photos of me feeding it to her. I hate them. My discharge notes say that M is a formula fed baby. My dream was already over. I was allowed to go home. A friend had to go and buy bottles and formula, I remember reading the instructions. 3 scoops of powder and 3oz of water. I was puzzled at the 3oz. M shouldn’t need anywhere near that much. But maybe that was the minimum you could make? I cried that this was to become my life.
I woke up on the 24th and my milk had come in. My breasts were rock hard and engorged. I hadn’t tried to feed her since I’d come home. My Mum had stayed to feed M over night, but I made one bottle of formula. The bottle was on the side in the morning when the midwife came. It was very thick, obviously made up wrongly. I cried that I couldn’t even make up a bottle right. I cried that I had to worry about such a thing. I was distraught that breastfeeding hadn’t worked, but with the midwife to support me, we decided that it wasn’t too late, I could give it another go.
The next few days blend into a muddle. I expressed with a manual pump. I fed M with a cup and syringe. I think we ditched the bottles. M was still very upset at the breast. My midwife was encouraging, but my main support came from a parenting forum. I learned about tongue-tie affecting latch. I asked for M’s to be checked and an infant feeding specialist was called. Tongue-tie was diagnosed, but I was told to establish breastfeeding first, to see if the tongue-tie was an issue or not. The specialist helped me to biologically nurse M. She fed properly for the first time, although she would fall asleep at the breast and there would be a lot of milk wasted from her mouth.
I spent evenings in bed asking my husband to run away with me. I wanted to leave M with my Mum. My husband wouldn’t come with me and leave her. He was choosing her over me. I’d have to go on my own. But where would I stay? I had no money. A b&b? I’d have to leave my mum behind. I was filled with desperation and so regretful.
M lost weight. My midwife called the paediatrician. I was told to top up with formula, or go back in to hospital. I couldn’t go back there. My heart was filled with dread at the thought of spending another moment there. The noise, the babies crying, seeing other mothers feed, seeing other mothers not willing to try while I suffered. Being on my own, poked and prodded, M screaming. I began to top up M with formula if she fed for any less than 25 minutes. Occasionally the feeds lasted that long, although M would be constantly on and off the breast, and her clothes would be soaked through with milk. When drinking from a bottle, I would have to squeeze her cheeks to get her mouth to form around the teat properly to avoid milk dribbling everywhere.
I began pumping. I read about Domperidone and Fenugreek on the parenting forum and began taking the maximum doses of both. I pumped every two hours, round the clock. I got a Medela Swing. The best £99 I ever spent. M would be asleep at night and I’d be awake. Just me and the sound of the vibrating pump. I pumped so little to begin with that it seemed pointless, but I stuck at it. I continued to offer M the breast, we had hours spent in bed, but the results were the same. I’d feel awful guilt at making her cry and scream at my breast when a bottle would satisfy her so much more quickly.
I tried a strange gadget in an attempt to make my nipples as large as possible, in the hope that M would latch to them. I then gave nipple shields a go. They were fiddly and awkward. I couldn’t keep them on, even with medical tape. M would be flailing and knock them off. I’d throw them across the room in anger. M’s crying made me want to clamp my hand over her mouth. I just wanted it all to go away so that I could lay in bed and cry my heart out.
M became windy, taking in gulps of air as she drank from a bottle. She would bring her legs up to her chest, crying and screaming. She didn’t like to be put down, which made pumping impossible. I gave her a dummy. My midwife continued to visit, long after a mother would usually be signed over to the health visiting team. I was taking anti-depressants, 20mg at first, then upped to 40mg after I looked into the medical cabinet, wondering what to take to end it all.
The infant feeding specialist was eventually called to see us again. She observed M feed from a bottle, as well as attempts to get her to feed from me. It was decided M would have her tongue-tie snipped. It was booked for the following week. By then I’d begun offering M the breast less and less. Her rejection of me was heart breaking. At the tongue-tie snip, I didn’t try to feed M after, but she immediately fed from a bottle. No milk was spilt. I couldn’t hear her taking in any air. The change in her was much more noticeable than I thought it would be. She could stick out her tongue! I hadn’t even realised that she couldn’t do that before.
M still refused the breast. She would suckle for a few seconds, but wasn’t patient enough to wait for my milk to let down. I bought an SNS. My Mum tried to help me use it, but it was fiddly and awkward. M would knock it off, frustrated that the milk wasn’t flowing as easily as she had become accustomed to. I didn’t ask for support. I got the impression that the health visitors around me had given up on the idea that M would breast feed. If I wasn’t pumping, or trying to use the SNS or nipple shields, or making up bottles and feeding M, I was crying. I spent every day at her house so that I wasn’t alone with M. Mum cooked all of our meals. I couldn’t even run my own home, let alone feed my child.
I called it a day at 6 weeks.
I will always regret it and wonder ‘what if?’. I should have tried for longer, I should have called on more help. I should never have agreed to give M bottles, I should have been strong enough to go into hospital. I should have insisted her tongue-tie be dealt with sooner. If my body had been better at giving birth, I could have had lots of skin to skin. I should have done more research when pregnant. I should have stood my ground in hospital and told them to stop prodding and poking her. I should have paid for a breastfeeding specialist to see me.
All I had left was the pumping. I made it my focus. I was restricted to when I could go out, I was up in the early hours, even when M was asleep. I first went out with her on my own when she was 12 weeks old. But I couldn’t stay long, as my pumping regime was my priority. Amusing M while I was pumping was tough, I still spent most days at my Mums, with her cooking the meals.
M had her last bottle of formula at 4 months old. By then I had caught up and had enough milk to feed her breast milk full-time. I invested in a double pump, meaning that I could cut my pumping time in half. I learned to adapt around it. I took the pump with me in the car on days out. If I forgot to take my Domperidone then I noticed my supply dip. I became more flexible with it now that not having enough milk wasn’t a worry. I could stay out for longer periods. I eventually stopped getting up at 3am. If M slept, so did I.
As M began to want milk less often, I dropped some pumps. But I still found myself with extra milk. I began freezing some. I couldn’t believe that I’d begun with a few drops of colostrum squeezed into a syringe, to having enough milk to freeze. 6 months had been and gone, my new goal became a year.
I started to suffer with sore and cracked nipples. The sharp pain of the scabs breaking open was excruciating. I pumped milk that looked like strawberry milkshake. Lansinoh did nothing. I tried coconut oil. I tried thrush treatments to rule that out. A GP finally decided it was eczema. Hydrocortizone cream helped, but the dry, cracked nipples became a recurring thing every few weeks or so.
Once M turned one, I began to suffer with mastitis. Feeling fluey, with a red, sore, inflamed breast was tough. My GP suggested that it may have been my body telling me that it was time to stop. I was determined to continue. The longer I pumped, the more passionate about breastfeeding I became. I learned so much more about issues surrounded breastfeeding. Hindsight is a bittersweet thing.
I toyed with the idea of teaching M to latch at the breast. I’d read articles about adopted babies learning to breast feed at 18 months and it would make me hopeful. I occasionally tried to get M to latch on, usually when she woke at night so was sleepy. I didn’t ask for support with this, or even confide in those around me, I was embarrassed that I was still hoping. I knew it would seem ridiculous. She latched once, and suckled for a few seconds. I tried to savour every moment, knowing that it wouldn’t last. It’s my best breastfeeding memory.
M is 20 months now, and I continue to pump. I still suffer with eczema, it comes and goes. I occasionally get mastitis, usually when my nipples are cracked and infection gets in. I’m trying pumping once a day, in the morning, in the hope that my nipples will heal in between. I’m still taking Domperidone, and am weaning off the antidepressants. I’m training to be a peer supporter. I may not breastfeed in the traditional sense, but I hope that my experiences mean that I have something to offer.
I have days when I cry. I grieve for the breastfeeding experience that I longed for. It’s hard to see breastfeeding pictures. I love them, they’re beautiful. But my heart aches. My sister breastfeeds and I’ve found it hard, seeing her have the experience that I wanted, a natural birth, a successful breastfeeding story. But I need to turn the anger and sadness into something positive. I hope to help at antenatal classes, on labour wards, on parenting forums and through The Pumping Mama.
I hold onto two things. The first being that I did the best that I could at the time with the support and knowledge that I had available to me. The second is Psalm 30 v 5: ‘Tears may fall at night, but joy comes in the morning’. Hang on, don’t give up, there will always be a better day.