Like many other mums I wanted to share my experience of attempting to breastfeed. It's not one of ease and success but I hope it helps others feel they are not the only ones who go through something similar. Because hell did it feel like it was just me!
All through my pregnancy I was set on breast feeding. In fact I have no doubts that I was incredibly naïve about the whole thing. It didn't cross my mind it would be no easy feat. I watched the NHS DVD and spoke to a couple of colleagues and family members. I heard it was painful to begin with but improved. My mum had wanted to breastfeed me but hadn't been able to, still I didn't think it would be an issue for me.
I bought a breast pump and bottles in preparation for when baby was a bit older and his Dad and others could experience feeding him. Little did I know I would be reaching for them sooner rather than later!
It was in my birth plan that I wanted to try breast feeding ASAP after birth. When Eliot arrived I was exhausted and I was in my own zone.
The midwife who delivered tried to get Eliot to latch on but without success. We were swiftly moved down to the post natal ward where the midwife on duty that evening was very helpful with trying to get Eliot to latch on. We had some success as he latched on for a few minutes. But after that was a struggle, the midwife suggested it would be better to hand express and collect the colostrum in a syringe. Physically I couldn't do it, it sounds ridiculous but it in all honesty it creeps me out. I tried but just wasn't getting anything out. I had some help from the midwife which was bizarre and looking back made feel like an animal being milked on a production line! Still I really wanted Eliot to have the colostrum and reap the benefits.
The next day there were different midwives on duty. After trying to get Eliot to latch on myself without success I asked for help. One of the midwives said she'd come back to help.
So far it wasn't the 'magical' experience I'd hoped for. In fact it had been terribly distressing. Eliot had screamed and pushed himself away from me. Surely this wasn't meant to happen, was it? My baby surely wanted My milk that had been made for him!
It was obviously a busy day on the ward and no midwife returned to help me try and get Eliot to breastfeed. I called for help again. When a midwife was free to help she attempted to help me to get Eliot to feed but to no avail. He again whipped himself up into a frenzy, pushing himself away from me, screaming. It was awful, all I wanted to do was feed my son! But you can't attempt to latch them on when they're in such a state.
That afternoon there was a breast feeding talk in the day room but it didn't inform me of anything I didn't already know. I went back to my bed disappointed.
Later a midwife came to me and said that Eliot's blood sugar was probably low and that this would make it harder for him to latch on. So would I be happy to give him some formula to get his energy up? Of course! I didn't want him to starve. So then Eliot had his first taste of formula. I was relieved he had some food but in turn, felt low I hadn't been able to give it to him.
That evening the same midwife from the previous night was on duty with a student. Again she managed to get Eliot to latch on. On both occasions he had only been able to feed from my right breast. So I was then woken every two hours to have help hand expressing to collect colostrum to feed Eliot. Cripes! I really was on a production line.
The battle to get Eliot to latch on continued until we were discharged a few days later. He was unable to feed with my independent attempts or with help. I was told it was because my nipples were quite flat. It was my fault, I was a failure at feeding my own son.
I had some comfort when I was able to express my milk with the hospital machine. Never had I been more dedicated. I set my alarm to wake me through the night to go to the expressing room, to collect milk for Eliot. I was also topping up with formula.
Reflecting on my breastfeeding experience on the post natal ward, I was put under incredible pressure by all the heath professionals. This is just not right! Every mother who has/had difficulty breastfeeding already feels guilty amongst numerous emotions. We certainly do not need pressure from others or being made to feel guilty. Our hormones are rocketing all over the place, any small comment or look can trigger an ocean of tears or worse!
I was also put on a list to have a chat to the 'breastfeeding expert' who didn't show up the first day or any other after that! When I mentioned it to other staff I was told I'm sure she'll get to you later', then eventually, 'she can't do anything that we haven't been able to do'. Great! Thanks, thanks a lot for your help and support! Shocking.
On our return home I continued to express with a hand pump and give formula. This dwindled and within a few weeks Eliot was exclusively on formula. I had all the best intentions to go to 'Milk Spots' to receive help, advice and get chatting to other mums but didn't end up going. I suppose I thought it wouldn't be much different from my experience in hospital.
Naturally I continued to feel guilty and a failure. I was very sensitive to 'feeding' conversations. When the OH phoned from work one day informing me his boss had said 'don't give him formula, give him goats milk', I flew of the handle. I burst into tears, screaming down the phone that it wasn't anybody else's business how we fed our son. And goats milk?!
Another time we were in a café and the owner was talking to us about his new baby. He asked if we were also breastfeeding when he saw Eliot being fed with formula. He told us how his wife had persevered and that it had been hard. Wonderful! Another story to make me feel useless!
No mother should ever be made to feel guilty about 'not' breastfeeding. We are well informed 'breast is best', if we decide not to for whatever reason it is quite frankly no one else's blooming business!
If in the future we have more children, which I hope we do I will try breastfeeding again. Next time I intend to try nipple shields to help baby latch on to help draw my nipple out. Or use a breast pump to do this prior to feed time. If it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out!
Next time I know it will be difficult, next time I won't be naïve!
What was your experience with breastfeeding?