*warning I’m pretty open in this blog post and it’s personal to me so read on if you dare but please be gentle with me*
How do you write about a topic that divides so many and is so emotionally charged but really when it comes down to it is about loving your own child?! Diving right into the topic of breastfeeding for my second blog post appears to be my natural choice.
There has been so much in the media recently about breastfeeding and formula feeding and everyone has an opinion. I had an opinion before my daughter was born, not really about what anyone else should do but about what I was going to do. I was going to breastfeed thank you very much, I mean have you seen the stats on the benefits, my NCT classes had me convinced I should and besides all my friends seem to have managed just fine. I should probably start by saying that how you feed your baby is your own business, as long as you and your baby are happy and fed then that is the most important thing, there is no judgement here! Today I just want to give my experience and tell you some of what I wish I had known pre-baby and talk a bit about expressing which is something a lot of new Mums don’t get told about in advance.
My daughter arrived in a whirlwind, I mean superfast! She quickly had a good long feed and promptly passed out looking like an angel. Winning, right?! Well no, because before I could relax and feel proud of this (why wasn’t I getting high 5s all round?!) I already had the midwives talking about her needing another feed before we could go home. This is where I want to make my first point. It is absolutely fine for your baby to have a good long sleep after the first feed, I would have been asleep given a chance! I was exhausted and confused and felt a huge amount of pressure for my daughter to feed again otherwise, I felt, something must be wrong. So I sat and worried and panicked while various people came in and prodded at me with a syringe to collect breastmilk and drip it in to my daughters mouth. The result of this panic and confusion led to a difficult second feed in the middle of the night which in turn led to blistered, bleeding nipples (sorry guys!) before I’d even gotten started.
I can’t really explain what happened next, somewhere between my milk coming in, watermelon boobs, mastitis and a tongue tie and midwives shoving my poor daughters head onto my boobs at all angles she decided she really didn’t want any boob, thank you very much. We got to the point where she would just scream at my boobs, turn her face away or fall asleep, while I tried to smile at her and reassure her despite the tears flowing down my face and feeling like one epic failure of a mother. If I am totally honest I was becoming scared of her and terrified of her needing to feed (the memory of this is making me cry again now).
Things came to a halt when it dawned on me that I had gone through over 3 years of heartache and finally IVF to have my little girl and I was damned if I wasn’t going to use this time to bond with her, this was meant to be our happy new start as a family. I Googled, as you do when your biting your hand through the pain of yet another failed attempt to feed at 2am, and slowly pieced together information about expressing which we had already started to do to ensure our daughter got enough milk.
When I explained to the midwives that this was what I wanted to do they pretty much held their hands up and said ‘that’s fine but we can’t help you’. Wow, are you kidding me?! I’ve had it drilled into me that breast is best, you practically told me formula was the devils juice (obviously it is not) but now I’ve found a way to potentially keep giving my daughter breastmilk and you are walking out the door, no advice, no help, nothing. Actually, they suggested I go to my local breastfeeding group and talk to other Mums and maybe get advice there. I’m sorry but going to sit in a room full of Mums doing the one thing I wanted to but couldn’t just wasn’t an option for my sanity!
Well, fine, I’m stubborn, think I mentioned that in my last post and my awesome husband and parents snapped into action and went off to buy the entire contents of Boots. I started with a handpump but eventually we got a Medela Swing electric breast pump, I got a single and I would say if you are planning to or find yourself needing to express just bite the bullet and get the double or hire a double if you can. I really think if I had the double I could have expressed for longer. We also got bottles and all the sterilising gear I hadn’t bought because breastfeeding is easy right, gah, no it’s really flipping hard and all power to the breastfeeding Mama’s. Oh and we got formula and invested in the wonder machine that is a Tommee Tippee Perfect Prep. Luckily I also had a great Health visitor who was more understanding, offered more information and put me in touch with other specialists. It seems to me there could be a better overlap between the midwife and health visitor care new Mums receive especially in relation to breastfeeding support.
Expressing round the clock was no picnic but we found our way. It was actually crazy, there is nothing like knocking yourself round the face, at 3am, with a breast pump that has slipped out of the genius knee, boob, forehead balance so that you can just close your eyes for a second while maintaining suction and oh, in waking, panic trying not to spill the precious nectar! When I look back on it I am amazed we kept going for 14 weeks but we did it, so if you are considering it know that you can too. During the day I would feed my daughter then express, store the milk and sterilise everything and then, if there was time, sleep on a continuous cycle. Thank goodness for Whatsapp chats with my NCT group, I have an amazing NCT group and could not have gotten through those early days without them. In fact of the 8 of us that all said we would like to try breastfeeding I think only 4 managed to do it exclusively for a considerable length of time so there is some reality for you, at the end of the day a number of different, but equally valid, complications just made it impossible for 50% of us! Sorry, I digress, so at night my husband, lets call him superdad for a moment, would feed my daughter, wash bottles and leave a pint of water, fruit and oat based snacks out for me. I’d pass him on the stairs as he put our daughter down and went to sleep while I was up expressing during the key hours of 12.30-3am, sterilising the bottles and cleaning the breastpump.
I could not have done this without him, he was my rock and my hero and I was very lucky that he supported me in this choice and wanted it as much as I did. This lifestyle did make it hard to get out and about but to be honest I had other priorities and we made it work when we had to. I’ve expressed down the motorway on the way to a 30th birthday, oh the things we do! We slowly moved onto combined feeding and finally formula feeding, this was the best thing for us, we all felt relieved to have made that decision and we started to bond as a family and move forward from something that had become a nightmare. I wanted desperately to breastfeed, I gave it everything I could and it still didn’t work for us and that is fine. I am happy to share more thoughts, info and tips on my experiences if anyone is interested but one thing I don’t recommend is eating porridge in the heat of July but I do think oat based foods at least give you the energy to keep going.
One final note, before any midwives get onto me I just want to say that I know they are overworked, exhausted and don’t have the resources they need, I know they are doing their best and I think they are fab. I know they are restricted by laws and policies too. I had a wonderful midwife deliver my baby and I think the NHS is doing its best. This was my experience though, it is real, I know I am not alone and if it can help anyone or just make someone more aware then that is great.