If you’ve typed ‘boobs’ into google and come across this blog then I’m not sure it’s what you’re after! As it’s National Breastfeeding week I thought I’d write a quick blog on my feeding experiences. This is a blog of my own personal experiences with feeding- no judgements are being made or passed on anyone who chose to go down other routes-I’m a firm believer that fed is best in whatever form that takes!
I breastfed all three babies to varying ages although my relationship with my boobs and feeding was very much love-hate! The first month of my breastfeeding experience was a living hell!
I wanted to breast feed from the offset- I knew the health benefits for me and the baby and to be honest it felt like the most convenient option- all you’d need were your boobs and let’s face it, they generally went wherever I did! All the fannying about with sterilisers and the like felt like hard work and if I’m honest I was also swayed by the promise of weight loss- telling a woman who is 9 months pregnant and feels like an over inflated whale that feeding the baby yourself will help to shed some lbs is fairly motivating!!
When George was born I assumed feeding would just fall into place. Surely after being up all night in labour and pushing an almost 9lb human from your fandango, nature would give you a break and mean that the baby would just pop on the old boob and you’d all be all set to go?!
I’m sure that does happen for lots of people and it was certainly my experience with Esme and Ted but first time round, feeding for the first 4 weeks with George was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done! It was only a mixture of dogged stubbornness on my part and lots of lovely supportive midwives and family members that got me through it!
All 3 were born at home and I therefore started my feeding journey in the comfort of my own house! The midwives stayed for a couple of hours after George came into this world and only left once he’d latched on a couple of times and seemed to feed well. Later that evening I tried to get him to feed again and it seemed impossible- I couldn’t get the angle right and he seemed uninterested. I was very lucky at this point as my mum is a midwife- I rang her and she relished the chance to come back over for more cuddles with her newest grandson! She showed me again how to position him and stripped him off to wake him up a bit. She explained that he was probably sleepy because his blood sugar had dipped as he hadn’t fed in a while and that’s why he was reluctant. She advised making sure he was feeding every couple of hours in the first instance to get him going.
The first day or so was ok but then the pain started. On day 3 he was weighed and had lost too much weight (12% of his birth weight- some loss is expected but anything over 10% flags up worries) The usual path is admittance to hospital for monitoring but we were really reluctant. My midwife was happy that he was latching on and feeding was going ok and that he may be needed a bit more time. I think having my mum on hand to support also helped keep us at home! She told me to batten down the hatches, set up camp on the sofa and feed as much as possible! At this point I still don’t think my milk had really come in either which wasn’t really helping.
By about day 4 I was in agony! One side was much worse than the other- it basically felt like half my nipple had been chewed off!! But he was much more inclined to feed on that side and I was so paranoid about his weight that I just kept going! Everyone who looked told me that he was latched on properly and therefore it shouldn’t hurt but it was so bad that for the first few minutes of every feed I would have to squeeze jons hand while he supported George with the other one because I couldn’t hold my baby through the agony! The breaking point came about 5 or 6 days in when he started grizzling and Jon passed him me to feed and I just burst into tears!! I couldn’t bear the thought of the pain any more!
Looking back I think he generally did latch on well but it only takes one or two bad goes in the first place to cause damage which every subsequent feed then exasperates. I also hadn’t religiously used things liked lansinhol cream to ease the process- my mum summed it up well by saying normal nipples (or those not belonging to porn stars) are not used to the friction of being sucked in for 12 hours a day! The damage was done and the pain was excruciating!
On day 5 he was weighed and had put a small amount back on but day 7 weigh in showed he had lost the previous gain and a bit more- off to the hospital we were sent!
I am forever grateful to the lovely consultant that we saw that day. I was absolutely terrified- a week ago we had been gifted the baby we had longed for for years- all I had to do was feed him and I was clearly failing miserably! The doctor gave George a thorough check over and concluded that whilst his weight was yo-yo-Ing, he was absolutely fine! I, however, he concluded was not! By this point I was beyond exhausted and was sat in a boiling hot hospital with multiple layers of coats draped over me shivering and shaking like a leaf. He examined me and the sore cracked nipple had now betrayed me further by allowing an infection in- mastitis had taken hold and I had angry red lines running up and down my boobs where the milk ducts were blocked and infected. It was complete agony and I felt like I’d been hit by a bus; think of the worse flu you’ve ever had and then imagine someone is stabbing you repeatedly in the boob with a screwdriver and you get the idea! It is caused by a blockage in a milk duct and the only solution (other than antibiotics to treat the infection) is to feed through the searing pain in an attempt to clear the back up. A few other things eased it- hot flannels, massaging it in the shower and randomly cabbage leaves in your bra (?!?) but I can honestly say it is the most ill I have ever been as an adult and I would rather go through child birth again than have the disease of the devil!
The plan for the next few days- I expressed some milk as that was less painful and Jon and my mum ‘cup-fed’ George every other feed. (Cup feeding is literally pouring milk into a babies mouth with a small cup or syringe- the worry with a bottle at this time was that it might confuse him and knock off our already delicate relationship with breastfeeding. I was terrified of this first time round- Esme and Ted had a bottle of expressed milk at about 3 days! Nipple confusion felt less scary with a toddler hanging off your ankle!) That gave my wounded puppies a bit of time to heal and ensured George was getting a solid amount each time. The consultant explained that there was a link between my emotional responses and my milk let down and so if I was anxious and stressed each time I came to feed, it would affect my milk supply- I tried to use some of the breathing techniques I’d learnt for labour to keep calm when he latched on to try to break this vicious circle! It gradually became marginally less painful over the course of about a month; George piled on the pounds from that point forward and it all seemed to slot into place eventually!! Other than a grand total of 7 further bouts of mastitis over the course of 3 kids! Apparently I’m prone to blockages!
Things were much easier with Esme and Ted- They still both dropped quite a bit of weight but not as much and experience meant I was much calmer and less obsessively manic about feeding and weighing them! There were bits about feeding that I was never a huge fan of… leaking boobs, sleeping in bras, breast pads and the constant attempts to find clothes you could wear in which your main focus was not comfort or whether it was flattering but whether you could squeeze your boob out of your sleeve instead!! I was never overly worried about feeding in public though- I think it’s fairly easy to be discreet and keeps ones Babylon’s under wraps should you desire if you wear the right combination of clothes that can be pulled up or down.
This all sounds really negative when I just read it back but in the end I had a really positive experience and went on to feed George for 7 months, Esme 10 and Ted almost a year. I would definitely encourage people to give it a try if they want to; it was convenient, especially if you are out and about or away, it has all the well documented health benefits and involved far less faffing about with sterilisers and the like. Plus formula is bloody expensive- your boobs are free!
For the record, I do think some of the messages from the NHS and other pro-breastfeeding forums take a slightly wrong tack… In those early days, all I heard and read was that if it hurt I was doing it wrong and that it should be the easiest and most natural thing in the world… I am one of many of my friends who had problems feeding in the first instance and it would have been very easy for me in those first dark sleep deprived days to just decide that breast feeding wasn’t for me and I clearly wasn’t set up to do it given how hard it was when everything told me it should be easy. I worked through the problems I had with great support but cracking out the formula was very tempting at times… Glad I worked through it in the end though. But I never did try cabbage leaves in the bra!