Chronicles of the After-Birth #4 – Breast Laid Plans

image1

When we found out we were expecting my darling little girl, I didn’t spend any time at all deliberating over whether or not I would choose to breastfeed, or worrying about if I would be able to. It’s not that I felt particularly strongly about it, I just assumed that I would breastfeed, and that was that. It was free, it was convenient, people are always going on about how great it is…why wouldn’t I?

I enrolled on a particular antenatal class, and there was a HUGE emphasis on breastfeeding. When we first received an email with the class schedule and I saw that there was an entire session dedicated solely to breastfeeding, my first reaction was ‘UGHH’ (that’s the sound of an almost 360-degree eye roll, to clarify). My second, was that I couldn’t quite figure out how there could possibly be that much to it, to fill out almost three.whole.hours. My community midwife had also plugged a separately run local breastfeeding workshop to me on more than one occasion during my routine appointments. Not really understanding what all the fuss was about, and being the furthest thing on this planet away from ‘Earth-Mama’, this all seemed a bit bonkers to me at the time.

I was incredibly fortunate that the expectations and preconceptions I’d had about breastfeeding mostly turned out to be true, and with relative ease, my daughter and I took to it well from the beginning. Don’t get me wrong though, it was no walk in the park.

My boobs looked like a couple of blue-streaked plasma balls with soggy, cracked liquorice torpedo nipples. It was a MASSIVE ball-ache finding time to express after feeds, plus clean and sterilise all the pump attachments ready for the next time, all the while looking after a newborn baby (famously not too keen on being put down or letting you get on with anything at all…who knew?!). I did not enjoy waking up in the night like a chance contestant in a most disconcerting version of a wet t-shirt contest, because my soggy breast pads had torn in half and were wringing themselves out all over me. Having to agonise over every one of my outfits based on the density of the print, absorbency of fabric, or how dark the colour was in case of ‘boob leakage’, was the fastest way to send me into a wardrobe-induced, postpartum meltdown, forcing me into choices that made me feel like a drab old peahen.

Such minor gripes are aside from the more obvious issues; the incredible soreness, the fact that the pressure was on me alone to come up with my baby’s nourishment (and 99% of the time, be the one to deliver it too!). I actually managed to get mastitis three times, which is seriously painful and makes you feel like utter crap, I definitely do not recommend it. In spite of all this, I carried on. Even though lots of people were encouraging me to give up. My daughter was healthy and gaining weight beautifully, and I felt it was my motherly duty to continue.

When my little girl reached about 4 months of age, we ran into bigger problems. It seemed like my supply had slowed down, and/or she wasn’t able to stay still long enough for a full feed anymore. She was insanely grumpy. If she was awake (so that’d be ALL the time, then!) she was whinging or screaming and wouldn’t be put down. Not our finest hour.

I tried everything I possibly could to try and increase my supply. I was pumping up to 6 times a day, drinking my weight in water, taking fancy Fenugreek supplements which made me smell like curry (they try and tell you the smell is maple syrup – do not believe the lies…it’s straight up curry). I was overdosing on oats and all other kinds of magic ‘lactation foods’, trying weird boob massages, meditation…you name it. I was absolutely determined to try every trick out there so I could continue, but none of it seemed to be making enough of a difference. My baby was still miserable, I was still stressed out to the max, and I could only pump a pitiful half ounce in 20 mins from both sides at best, unable to get a single let-down.

This went on for about a month, when after a desperate series of texts to my Mum at 6am basically telling her I was losing the plot, she appeared on my doorstop a few hours later to rescue/relieve me. She gently suggested we try a bottle (not wine for us, sadly. Though that probably would have done wonders for my cortisol levels…). Defeated but desperate, I made up a 4oz bottle of Hipp Organic, and my hungry baby glugged down the lot. Instantly (and when I say instantly, I mean INSTANTLY) she became a different child. Even though it was towards the end of the day when young babies are notorious for getting a grump on, she was smiling and playing and just such a pleasure to be around. It was a bittersweet breakthrough, and from there on it was a natural progression from exclusive breastfeeding, to combined feeding, to formula feeding.

Why, even though it was at worst, making me physically ill with a recurrent infection, unable to function and look after my baby, and at best giving my baby a measly morsel of what is considered first rate nourishment, was I so determined to carry on breastfeeding? Why did I put us both at such a disadvantage, all for the sake of doing things a certain way?

It’s rammed down every expectant and new mother’s throat that ‘breast is best’. Well, I have to disagree. It’s not always best. Mothers and their infants can run into all kinds of problems when breastfeeding, and whilst we are incredibly fortunate that there is a great deal of support to assist and guide us through our journey, some breastfeeding relationships never really take off, or like in our case, become increasingly impractical for whatever reason.

What happens if you can’t, or choose not to breastfeed? No one teaches you how to bottle-feed. Where are the bottle-feeding classes?! I had to fly by the seat of my pants after nearly 5 months of exclusive breastfeeding, basing what I was doing purely on reading the back of the formula box and by watching/listening to other formula-feeding Mums. Why is there such a reluctance to accept the alternative to breastfeeding, and provide information and support with this too?

Even at the clinic when getting the baby weighed, I was asked by health visitors ‘are you still breastfeeding?’. Not ‘how is she fed?’ or something less shaming for those of us who have to answer ‘no’. Little things like this only added to the immense pressure I was already experiencing. I felt as though I was failing my daughter, and as a mother, if I wasn’t giving her the widely-publicised and highly-commended ‘best’.

From my experience, a fed child is best. A healthy and happy child is best. A mother who is physically and mentally able to function is best. So what? We didn’t make it to the end of the first year as recommended. My daughter’s weight has never dropped below the centile she’s followed since birth. She’s hit every one of her milestones early, or on time. She is healthy, happy, gregarious, bright and strong… Despite being fed by, that dirty word…BOTTLE. It wasn’t by choice, but it’s worked out just fine. It could have saved us both a lot of tears had I felt supported enough to have made the decision sooner.

I just want to let other Mums out there who may be going through something similar know that it’s ok to deviate from your original plan, or what others tell you that you should be doing for your baby. If your baby is fed, you haven’t failed. If you need help, ask for it. You do what is best for YOU and YOUR baby, and whatever that is, be it breastfed or bottle, don’t ever feel that you need to apologise for it.

What struggles did you encounter on your breastfeeding journey? Was it cut short prematurely? Maybe you decided early on that you would formula feed, did you feel any kind of backlash for that? I know it’s a deeply personal and emotionally loaded subject, but if you feel able to, I would love for you to share your own breastfeeding stories, views and experiences.

Jo X

Advertisements

15 Comments

  1. Another very well written post Jo. An insightful and honest account of your ‘feeding’ experience. I Love reading your blog.
    I breastfed Matilda but we didn’t get off to a very good start as they spent so long stitching me up after she was born, by the time I was relaxed enough to feed her she was so hungry she was almost frantic. We then thought we wanted to go home as soon as possible but were so shell shocked when we got there (we were a bit like lambs to the slaughter) we let her sleep as much as she wanted. We got in to the vicious circle of ‘she hadn’t eaten enough to have the energy to want to eat’ so had to feed her with a syringe for days… With the two combined, latching was really difficult and we ended up using a nipple shield. It definitely helped but made the whole breastfeeding process more stressful as it needed to be sterilised regularly and meant I couldn’t join in the seamless natural breastfeeding that other mums seemed to enjoy, as I’d have to put the shield on then keep checking it hadn’t fallen off, whilst poking my head in and out of the muslin, then put it back in the sterile pot covered in sticky milk residue, all a nightmare when breastfeeding in company. I did it for 8 weeks and I’m glad I stuck with it as it’s drummed into you that it’s so much better for baby. In all honesty though I think the emphasis on breastfeeding being best is a little over the top and no-one should be made to feel guilty for their feeding choices. Fed is Best!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much, Kathryn! I’m sorry to hear you experienced such a stressful struggle with feeding so soon after the ordeal of giving birth! It’s so frustrating when it isn’t going right, and seemingly everyone else who’s breastfeeding is doing so with relative ease (though clearly this is not always the case!) I really appreciate you taking the time to read, comment and share your experience. That’s what it’s all about! The more we share and communicate, the more supported we feel by our ‘Mum’ community. Thanks again X

      Like

  2. I am such a fan of this post! I totally agree that “breast is best” doesn’t take into account so many factors that go into determining what is best for your family. It’s nuts how much hype there is around breastfeeding and how much pressure new moms are under to make it work.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hurrah for this – fed is best, end of! No-one should be made to feel guilt or shame for however they end up feeding their wee one. Us mums are under so much pressure from all quarters about pretty much everything, and often it is to the detriment of our health/mental health. We had a difficult start, using a nipple shield for the first three months or so. Countless trips to breastfeeding clinics, and combination feeding since birth. I was eventually able to exclusively breastfeed, but felt guilt anyway (of course!). We are now extended breastfeeding and I am looking at that journey coming to an end soon. It will be emotional after our early struggles. If we have another baby, I will definitely feel better placed to make decisions around feeding – if I can breastfeed, great, and if I can’t then I will bottle feed happily. I think it would be great to have more discussion around bottle-feeding for first-time mums, it would give so much more confidence and that is important when you are feeling like things are tough and you feel you haven’t got a clue what is the best thing to do. Let’s support all mums with whatever is working for them and their wee ones 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Totally agree! Breastfeeding is awesome, the science and development of formula is awesome. The main thing is our babies are fed, loved, happy and healthy. Sorry to hear you got off to a tricky start…sounds like you’ve truly pulled it back round and triumphed, though! Fair play to you. I can imagine it will be emotional when it all comes to an end, but you’ve done amazingly well! I agree that we as mothers need to all support each other and accept and embrace our different approaches! Life would be dull if all our babies were raised exactly the same and we all followed the same paths. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment! X

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Another very relatable and enjoyable piece! I was very much of the same opinion as you but battled to breast feed from day one (Emmerdale has since informed me that it’s very hard to breast feed after a blood transfusion but the medical professionals neglected to tell me what my soap did!). We battled through and by six months I had rented a hospital grade pump to help us out. I, too, was an oat eating machine. Stinking of fenugreek and fennel and any thing other mums had suggested to keep my supply up. Tits like Pamela Anderson. The health visitors had said she hadn’t put on enough weight at three months and I was absolutely devastated. I remember going home and doing skin to skin, crying my eyes out, desperately trying to feed her more. They’d said ‘if this is the end of your breast feeding journey, then you’ve done really well!’. What?! Three months isn’t the year I’d planned. I was determined but actually I think it led to postnatal depression, which I’ve only just sought help for. If there wasn’t all this pressure, I doubt I’d feel anywhere near as bad as I did and do. She eventually switched her night to day, she refused feeds in the day and would feed up to 15 times at night. I had to give her formula to get through the day but still fed all through the night. I got to fifteen months, but at what cost?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A blood transfusion?! Oh my goodness, you poor thing! You must have had such a bad time of it..I’m so sorry to read this! I can’t believe such a crucial factor was overlooked in your care. You did AMAZINGLY well to make it as far as you did. It’s crazy the amount of pressure we put on ourselves as mothers to do what we believe should be. You’re incredibly brave to face and seek help for your post natal depression. Tackling mental health issues is such a difficult journey. I really hope you find the support that you need. I’ve had some negative backlash from this post by way of comments, messages, unfollows etc. on Instagram from breastfeeding advocates…and I can’t pretend it doesn’t affect me, and that I want to defend myself and explain that I love and support breastfeeding! I can relate to both camps, and the message I really want to get across is that I think we should all support each other in our choices and struggles, even if they differ from our own. It’s comments and stories like yours that make me glad I shared the post, so thank you for taking the time to read and for commenting with such a deeply personal account of your experience. Us Mums need to stick together! X

      Like

  5. Wow, I can’t believe you’ve had a negative reaction to that! It was clear that you were all for it but things didn’t go as expected! I really hate that people hide the negative aspects of parenthood. We should all stand together and help each other through. I love that you’re doing this. I would have really appreciated this on my darkest days, just so I didn’t feel so alone. Well done to you! Lol I’m probably oversharing but it feels like a safe space x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Not at all! I love that you and others are sharing your experiences and thoughts…for me, that’s what it’s all about! Please continue to do so! Thank you so much for your kind words about the blog. It’s unchartered territory, but mostly I’m finding it a very positive experience! X

      Like

  6. A really interesting read Jo, takes me back to those late night messages on the group! As you ask, here’s my 2p worth!!
    For me the problem is with the word ‘exclusive’. I think it is so outdated to expect women to exclusively breastfeed for a year, when men want to be more involved, we want them to be, and also we are more independent now and frankly want to be able to leave our little ones with someone to go out for a massage or a glass of wine…and then of course there is going back to work! We might as well face up to this 21st century reality and stop pressuring women into that exclusivity.
    I too found the pressure of breastfeeding completely overwhelming at times, and found it so hard to find the time to express. I usually did it when z was asleep, and that is when we are supposed to rest!
    Next time I would replace feeding expressed milk with formula sooner (i know some people do it to keep their supply up but for me it was just so my other half could do one feed a day and often felt more hassle than it was worth). I think it’s important to remember that there is a lot of research which shows that there are huge long term benefits to breastfeeding babies, so it should be encouraged. But there’s a fine line between encouragement and pressure, and I think we’re crossing it with the advice in the uk at the moment.
    I turned such a huge corner with z when I started giving her a bottle of formula a day, when she was four months old. I relaxed so much knowing it wasn’t just me nourishing her, and suddenly breastfeeding seemed easier. Z became quicker and more responsive and I started really enjoying feeding.
    Everyone’s journey is so different, but the one thing I hear from women who have had babies in the last few years is that they felt too much pressure to breastfeed, and for some it actually led to them stopping.
    Take away the word ‘exclusive’ and I think we could solve a lot of the negativities around this issue.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a really interesting point…I hadn’t considered the exclusivity element specifically. I definitely think you’re right…if it were deemed acceptable to combined feed to whatever degree, then this would alleviate a lot of the pressure to build up supply, pump etc. and the stress of it all may lessen, perhaps even making the whole process easier and solving some of the breastfeeding issues? Who knows! Can you believe it was a year ago when we all started having our babes! I am only just starting to process everything that’s happened in the last year…finding it quite surreal! But amazing! What a journey it’s been. Thanks for reading and commenting. I think it’s so important that as Mums we share with one another. I wouldn’t have made it through this year without doing so! That’s what the blog is all about really! X

      Like

  7. I am in awe of your posts, they are so beautifully written, honest and so relatable to many mothers, I am sure! Can’t wait to hear more about your journey x

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s