I debated about re-writing this as it was actually written 4 months ago when we were at the peak of breastfeeding issues. However last night I sat down to read it again and it brought such a wave of emotion over me that I’ve decided to post it as it is and let you know that this is only PART 1 of our story…
We are 18 weeks and 6 days in. We are still breastfeeding. We have been extremely stressed.
When I say we I mean Hux and I, since it is a team effort. Although maybe I should include in the ‘we’; Gigi, my mum, my mother in law, the independent midwives, the lactation consultant, the healing ‘alignment’ lady (don’t ask) and the osteopath because it has taken that many people to get us this far. Here’s why I have persisted and probably why most people would have said hello to formula a long time ago.
I suppose every expecting mother knows that breastfeeding will take some work. As a second time mum I was no exception. Rory took 2-3 weeks of pain and some bleeding nipples before it settled down and was plain sailing. Huxley has been another story.
To begin with he did not latch on to one boob. The second night of his life consisted of him screaming and myself and Gigi wondering what the hell we could do; perhaps he might fit back inside at this early stage?!? Luckily our beautiful midwife was at our door at 8.30 the next morning after a 3am desperate text to her, and then back again at 8pm that night to get the ‘little tiger’ as she called him, latched on. First hurdle over. Unfortunately I have friends that have said, had they that special midwife to help them on the 3rd day may have been able to continue to breastfeed.
A week or so down the line and a little birth weight lost which was to be expected, I was still experiencing REAL pain. Like tap-your-foot-uncontrollably pain. Another week and Hux still hadn’t reached birthweight. The lovely health visitors gave me another week- until what I don’t know, but it scared the crap out of my emotional self so a phone call to find a lactation consultant was made. Cue our next guardian angel Wendy Lever who tweaked the latch and positioning. She was so gentle and positive and encouraging and gave me the confidence to continue. Second hurdle over. Kind of.
Week 3 and a half. Hello hellish reflux. Yes, that horrible stomach acid was forcing my son to vomit up every precious liquid gold bit of milk I was putting into him. Avoiding meds we calmed it down slightly with probiotics and persevered by minimising sleep in order to keep the baby upright after every feed. At this point I was now to scared to go down the formula route for fear of making the reflux worse.
A few weeks further down the line, something has appeared on the end of my nipple!!!! Helplessly looking to Gigi for support one evening upon discovering it I was met by a firm “NO, I will not look at it!’. This kid had in detail described how Huxley’s head looked emerging into this world but would he look at my blistering nipple. No. The next day, milk blister confirmed, was spent in agony as I couldn’t even touch my chest as far up as my neck it was too painful. Yet the only thing to do was feed through it.
And then more recently in ‘My So Called Breastfeeding Life’- a few feeding strikes, a complete refusal of one breast and then both, manic expressing, a failed attempt at getting help from a feeding group and another call out to Wendy. Through the last episode I had no option but to continue to offer formula on top of the expressed breast milk as I just couldn’t express enough fast enough and it was at this point that I felt fine about it. Because I could firmly tell myself, there is no other option, this baby needs to be fed one way or another.
Luckily osteopathy helped get us back on track again but I had a feeling that this was only ephemeral. I had also come to the conclusion (with my mums firm agreement) that this baby has not been easy to breastfeed and so I knew that it wouldn’t be much longer before formula came into play more firmly. I also knew that I had continued to feed in order to feel like I had really given Huxley the best start in life even though it has been at many costs.
However, on finding out that the poor baby was starting to refuse breast and bottle, there was something niggling in me that this wasn’t right. It got to the point of him refusing to feed at all and in a panicked and exhausted state we took Huxley to the walk in centre but came out with no answers. And then alas, after another visit from yet another consultant we get an answer; we find out that Huxley does indeed have severe neck strain (already confirmed through the osteopath) and a tongue tie and that a simple procedure and more osteopathy may get us back on track for good. It has explained and clarified everything for us; the reflux symptoms, the arching of his back, bad latch for so long and milk blisters… Once a baby hits 16 weeks your supply starts to regulate meaning they have to work harder to get what they once were getting and Huxley has neither the neck or tongue mobility to sustain this!
I have been through waves of stress anxiety and borderline depression all centred around breastfeeding to feelings of joy, pride and happiness when all has been going well. All of these emotions can also happen in one day which in itself can be exhausting. So I have been in constant inner turmoil: ‘Give up breastfeeding, give up the stress and anxiety and don’t give up yet, do you want to give your son formula?’ So shouldn’t these emotional costs be what bringing a baby into this world should be about? We can’t guarantee them a safe future protected from all harm and evil in life but if there’s a chance I can guarantee I have lowered the likelihood in him developing asthma/eczma/diabetes and other problems, then isn’t it worth it? Why should I feel forced to switch to formula when neither of us are really ready? Why should a myriad of women saying ‘happy mum equals happy baby’ make me feel as though I should just accept the bottle and move on? I’m glad and yes, proud, of myself for ploughing on through, for getting to the route of the actual problem.
At this moment in time my feelings are strong in making it to the 6 month/weaning mark. Perhaps it is my pride getting in the way or setting expectations of myself too high and therefore not wanting to be a failure, but I must remember to pat myself on the back whatever happens. Neither breast nor bottle come without stress, guilt, and hard work in one way or an other and though I have chosen this challenging path, I do not judge other mothers from choosing a completely different one. There is no right or wrong, everyone has a different gut feeling and for some people saving their emotional stability may just be that much more crucial to their survival as a mother. But for me it isn’t. And that’s ok too.
My tips for early days breastfeeding and mentally staying alive…
- First things first GET HELP. A lactation consultant like Wendy is so worth it for such a reasonable cost. In the grand scheme of things- for all we spend on the baby, the birth, pregnancy clothes etc etc, the cost of a lactation consultant is nothing!
- Unfortunately DON’T wait for the community midwife if they can’t make it. Advise over the phone on day 2 is no good for me or my baby. It’s always good to call them to check first but again as said above a qualified lactation consultant will then be on call after a visit to help you through it.
- If you are struggling and have sore nipples I did not know about Jelonet until my midwife advised me to get it day 2. Needs to be washed off before a feed but may save your nipples when Lanolin can’t! Nipple shields are ok but hard to latch with and then will decrease your supply long term!
- There are so many things you can do to help with let down, increasing supply and finding out about ghastly things such as milk blisters- Kelly Mom is your best go-to advice website
- People will think they are helping you by saying “just give him a bottle, it’s fine to do it” when you are crying because your baby needs to latch again. It will tempt you. Don’t. Get help. It gets better I promise X