It’s national breastfeeding week so in honour of this and to show my support of all things boobie I’m sharing a part of my breastfeeding journey.
Before I had my daughter I had already decided that I would give breastfeeding a go. I was determined to keep an open mind and try it at the very least. I had no qualms with bottle feeding and was ready to accept that if ,for whatever reason breastfeeding didn’t work, then I would switch to formula. I didn’t want to put pressure on myself either way, what would be would be. The NHS advocate breastfeeding and positively encourage all mums to breastfeed and the support provided is pretty special, I mean they have a 24 hour helpline! However I feel that I didn’t really fully understand what it would mean to breastfeed and I was naive in thinking that it would all just happen naturally and away we’d go. Not so. I could write and write about my breastfeeding journey, it’s still happening now, but I’ll touch on the parts which needed to overcome to have a successful journey.
In the beginning there was liquid gold.
I honestly thought that when I had my daughter I would put her little mouth to my nipple and away she would go, my milk would come flowing through like a glorious river and we’d sit there in our perfect bubble together like on the cow and gate advert. Nope. Turns out neither one of us had a clue how to breastfeed and I didn’t have any milk at all. It was a slightly yellow liquid and it did not flow like a river but rather was forced out by a very a lovely stranger. I now know this is colostrum and is often referred to as ‘liquid gold’ because it is so nutrient dense and extremely concentrated but at the time I thought my boobs had gone off.
Because my daughter was premature she needed feeding every two hours for her blood sugar levels, and that’s two hours from when she first latches by the way not when she’s finished. My daughter would latch, have a little suckle and then fall straight to sleep. The midwife helped me with positioning and ensuring the latch was correct but this included guiding my daughters tiny mouth to my huge nipple in comparison and pushing her onto my nipple. I had to stroke her nose with my nipple and squeeze a bit of milk out for her to taste, I had to keep waking her up by tickling her feet and stroking her face. This would last for about 45 minutes before we would eventually give up and I would be milked by a stranger for all of 1ml of colostrum which was given to my daughter by syringe. This whole circus would take around an hour and a quarter meaning we got to start the whole process again only 45 minutes later. This went on for 48 hours day and night. She needed to learn that she needed to stay awake and suck to get the milk and that unfortunately it would not just fall into her mouth ,which I think she assumed would happen. Breastfed babies have to work hard to get their milk.
Help!my nipple is falling off.
We stayed in hospital for a week with my daughter due to her being premature and then having jaundice. I kept on with the breastfeeding exclusively and had visits from the breastfeeding support team every morning to discuss the perfect latch, supply issues and how to make sure your baby is getting enough milk. I kept a log like a boss with which nipple I last fed on, for how long she fed for and documented every wet and dirty nappy. I was spending a bit of time on the pump in between feeds to boost my supply and trying different positions. What I didn’t expect was that my nipples would be that sore that every time my daughter latched I would literally silently scream and curl my toes. I was not prepared for a tiny mouth mauling and sucking my nipples every 2-3hours for around 45minutes at a time and that actually my nipples would be damaged by this ‘natural’ phenomena. I got blisters on the end of my nipples, both my nipples cracked at one point and I have scars from this now, I dreaded feeding her because of how much it would hurt. I agonised over her latch, I repeatedly ensured the position was correct and if it wasn’t I would unlatch her and re-latch her, I tried the dizzying arrays of positions but my nipples still screamed in protest. I tried lanolin ointments (at £10 a tube), I put some of my own expressed milk on each nipple after and before a feed, I used cold compresses but nothing worked. The only thing that did give me some relief was boiling water and cotton pads, I found the heat soothing and would bathe each nipple after every feed. My husband used to love my boobs but after breastfeeding he says he’s sick of seeing them I’ve had them out that much. I would literally sit there with them both out watching tv or even if I was pottering around the house, I had to remember to put them away when anyone came mind which I nearly forgot on a few occasions. I was so obsessed with latching correctly as this was the only explanation I was given as to why it was hurting and I was told repeatedly by every article and person I spoke to ,that it shouldn’t hurt and I was doing it wrong or I had thrush (I didn’t have thrush but I was constantly checking her mouth and my nipples anyway).
Turns out it was nothing me and my daughter were doing that was wrong but rather that with her being premature her mouth was so tiny that she couldn’t fit all my nipple in. I had to persevere with the pain until she was bigger and able to latch to my whole nipple. When my daughter was 10 weeks old my nipples completely stopped hurting, all the cracks healed up and the honeymoon period began. I do believe that if she had been born full term then I would have got to this point a lot quicker.
There may be two of them but there’s only one of me.
Cluster feeding! What fresh hell was that! I do not miss that phase, having my daughter attached to either boob from 6-10 pm every night and then continuing to feed as normal every 2-3hours through the night as well was bloody testing. Because of the importance of allowing her to cluster to boost my supply in preparation for a growth spurt, I couldn’t do anything. They tell you categorically do not give them a bottle at this point because it will disrupt your supply. I was so worried that she wasn’t getting enough milk. Turns out she was and I didn’t need to worry but at the time I thought she was starving. So I had to sit there for hours.
With choosing to solely breastfeed it means my husband has not really had a look in. It also means that I’ve had to do every feed regardless of whether I was ill, tired or just in need of a break, if my daughter wanted feeding I had to make myself available. I absolutely love this aspect of exclusively breastfeeding but it was this that I also found the hardest, it’s very full on. My daughter has always fed every 2-3 hours and has never gone longer than 4 hours, even now, and that’s all day and all night. At times she’s had spells where she has fed every hour even through the night! Its been tough at times, I haven’t had more than 4 hours sleep at any one time in 7 months. I also haven’t spent any time away from her in 7 months which means our bond is amazing but is also making it very difficult for us both to gain independence. This is to be the final chapter in our breastfeeding journey as I prepare to return to work and my daughter gets ready to go to nursery and breastfeeding becomes morning and night time only as her need for food increases and her need for me reduces.
Boobie time is amazing I promise.
Whilst initially breastfeeding came with its challenges and it did hurt a lot, we very quickly got into a rhythm and my body knew what to do. Like everything to do with parenting, it’s a learning curve. My boobs are amazing, they have fed my child and produced the right amount every time and contained everything she needs. Once my nipples healed I couldn’t even feel her feeding, I could just hear her little swallows. That protected time between us has definitely shaped our relationship and our bond is unrivalled. I love that no matter where we are I have the right amount of milk she needs, at the right temperature and I have it immediately. I don’t have to think about sterilising bottles, boiling kettles, cooling bottles, taking enough with me just in case, spending money on milk that I don’t have, having to make my daughter wait until it’s cool enough to drink, having to waste so much milk if she didn’t drink it within a set time and run the risk of her becoming ill. Now it is so easy and it is the most natural thing in the world.
The reason I have included the early day hurdles is because I wasn’t aware of the possible issues I may face, the complexities of supply and demand, the importance of latch, the amount of times breastfed babies feed or the demand on me as a mum. I felt like all this was thrown at me once I’d already started and it was very overwhelming. I thought with it being a natural thing that it would happen naturally and it doesn’t for most women. I have had to work at it, the worrying and googling in the beginning was excessive because I didn’t know anyone else who breastfed. I persevered through the times when I could have given in and shouted ” give her a bottle” ( which I have said on a few occasions but never done). But the work has absolutely paid off and we have enjoyed breastfeeding more times than not.
I do want to mention that for me I support all mums choices, at the end of the day we just want to make sure we feed our children and whether that’s bottle or breast, we’re all just trying to do our best for our children and that is truly wonderful.
One last thing;