You would think Breastfeeding would just happen as natural as it is – you would think it would just naturally work – Just put baby on the breast and the baby starts drinking to its full. Well that’s what I thought...
Until I came to breastfeed my first baby boy. It was tough and challenging. We didn’t establish Breastfeeding and decided to “quit” after 3 months of combination feeding. That’s why I was even more determined the second time around. Only to find hurdles again… This is an attempt to help me accept and get some sort of “closure” on why breastfeeding didn’t work for me, but also hopefully to help others on their journey.Some of the challenges we faced (looking back these now seem straightforward and as though I should have sailed through them, but at the time it was a struggle):
* Baby kept on falling asleep. Not just light sleep sometimes but literally every feed would be a struggle. It felt as though he was in a deep sleep but as soon as I put him down he would wake and start crying as though he was starving. “Tickly his toes”, Blow lightly on his face”, “Leave him in a vest as he may be getting too warm and comfy”, “Lay him on his back” were some of the things that kept propping up when I read about it however having to tackle with this at every feed and over and over was exhausting.
*Baby lost more than the average weight and lost some more the following two visits from the Health Visitor. He wasn’t pooing. Although I was getting plenty of wet nappies. We were told that if baby did not put on weight by the next visit (in 48 hours) he would be admitted into hospital. With the Covid situation the thought of going back to hospital with a new born was daunting. Hence, we were under pressure and had to resort to the bottle. We were advised we needed to give 50ml at every feed and I sure was not producing that much from expressing the milk so formula it was! I knew from the first time around that this was a bad decision however at that time it felt like baby’s health Vs my determination to continue Exclusively Breast Feeding. (We tried cup feeding but struggled to get baby to drink) Expressing – Keeping up with the Expressing to compensate for the formula/bottle feeds was hard work. Also, the advice was every time you breast feed express before and after to empty the breast. Or as much as you can. With a demanding toddler, a baby to comfort and limited support in the lockdown we found this tough. Although I tried ‘power pumping’, pumping one-two times during the night after attempting to breastfeed and various times during the day. Compressions - Again this was at every feed. I did feel as though this helped at times.
*Tongue Tie - After seeing that baby was latching on well and it seemed as though he was drinking well, but of course this wasn’t seeming to work, I was referred to the Lactation consultant who confirmed that baby was borderline tongue tie and didn’t recommend division as it was so. However, after much consideration we decided to go with our instincts and arranged the division with a private practitioner when baby was 4 weeks new. (We felt as though he had the various symptoms such as baby taking in air and being uncomfortable, clicking sounds, sleeping a lot) Desperate to make it work we went with it.
Baby 4 weeks new - By this time feeding was going okay - we had a plan that we agreed with the consultant. Breast feed and when not satisfied top up with expressed or formula milk. (I never managed to top up with all expressed milk). We found we were topping up at most feeds.
Baby 5 weeks new - Baby’s feeding went the opposite way. He just did not want to feed at the breast. He would retaliate and even bottle feeds were taking a while. At this point I reached out to my health visitor who referred me to the infant feeding team.
Baby 6 weeks new – The Infant Feeding Lead came over when baby turned exactly 6 weeks. And it was such a relief that she could visit given the Covid situation. (This was an absolute help). Advise was even though baby is rejecting keep calm and keep trying. We arranged a new plan. As baby was fussy with feeds now might be a good time to drop the bottles and just offer two bottles a day (morning and evening) the rest to breastfeed. To my surprise this seemed to work fine for 2-3 days. I also got to experience the amazing feeling of seeing baby content at one or two feeds without having to top up. Only to find that baby went to completely rejecting the breast screaming and just not having it after that. At this point the bottles came in fast and I kind of said it’s not happening as it was becoming mentally and physically exhausting. To add to this the trauma of my previous unsuccessful experience of breastfeeding.I persevered (I can do this I’m not giving up I thought) and decided to just offer breast and not bottle but him being so unhappy, screaming and hungry took over.
Baby 8 weeks new – My husband who was amazingly supportive of the whole struggle at this point gave me the final nudge and we decided that was it. He saw this was having an impact on me and I was an emotional Wreck. Also, I felt as though I was neglecting my toddler and at 8 weeks, we should have got this right? So, we did what we felt was best for our family.
On reflection having known the below may have helped me continue breastfeeding:
1. Babies are and will be demanding in the first few weeks. They will be ‘needy’. If it’s not constant breastfeeding issues it will be something else. Winding issues, gastric, unsettled baby or baby just wants to be with you. Enjoy it. We thought baby was unsettled as he wasn’t getting enough but now that we’re bottle feeding, we still sometimes get the unsettled days. He bobs on and off the bottle on certain days too as he did with Breastfeeding. So; 2. Having confidence in yourself is key. Knowing it will be okay and it will work out. For instance, I assumed he just didn’t want the breast as he was used to the bottle but rejecting the breast might be due to other reasons such as blocked nose. (FYI he also does this with the bottle feeds) 3. It’s a struggle for others too. You’re not the only one. The seemingly endless cluster feeds for instance, is it going to be like this every few weeks? Will my baby need to build up his supply more often as he’s a big baby? Just do it and take each feed as it comes. However far you get is a bonus 4. Go with your own instincts. My instincts said not to top up with bottle at every feed. 5. Don’t worry about the ‘what if’s’. TAKE EACH FEED AS IT COMES, BE PRESENT AND ENJOY IT rather than worrying about how long this will go on for, what if it doesn’t work out, is baby getting enough… I was more worried about not being able to do it rather than just doing it! 6. Personality plays a big part. RELAX and think POSITIVE know that it will work, and it is working. Be easy on yourself. Given the anxious person I am it was tough.
Some unknowns… 1. Midwife said that her mums that had big babies tend to struggle she didn’t know why? Is it true? 2. Had I not given us enough time to cluster feed. He was on me most the time for nearly 3 weeks. I’m sure I used to feed him every hour if not more and some days he was glued to me. Is that normal? 3. People say their baby feeds every 2 hours how come mine wouldn’t go more than an hour? And why did I not see my baby content. He was either on me drinking /sleeping or crying for more. Was he too busy trying to make the right supply for himself or was it that I didn’t have the right amount and that’s why he wasn’t happy? 4. Maybe if I had given it another week or two, we would have been better at it?
I still think about it every day longing for breastfeeding to have worked for us. How beautiful it would have been. And how if only I could provide the milk for baby when he wanted without worrying about the temperature of milk, or he’s just had a feed he can’t have another until at least three hours. Not knowing ‘WHY it didn’t work out’ is the hardest. It worked for other mums why not me? However, I know that I need to accept that I tried my best for our baby, and we decided to do what’s best for our family.
Looking at the bright side I still enjoy the closeness with my baby, we have the skin to skin and lots of cuddles.