Milk three ways
Here is my breastfeeding story so far. I hope that by writing this post it might help some mums get the best support they can at the right time, or at least know that if they have problems breastfeeding it is a) not the end of the world in any way, shape or form and b) you are far from alone!
So before I had my baby I had the image of breastfeeding I had seen in the media and from friends of mine. Meaning a peckish, bouncing, thriving baby being slipped discreetly under a shawl to suckle away to their hearts content, before gently bobbing off all full of life giving milk, letting out a delicious burp, then drifting blissfully off to sleep. The most natural way in the world to nourish your child, the best for baby, a wonderful bonding experience for all concerned. Surely this is something I could do given that I’d managed to grow and carry by baby for 9 months?
Our beautiful daughter arrived 5 days past my due date quickly, intensely but in a peaceful drug free water birth. The first hour of her life was spent on my chest, skin to skin, mum and baby, while dad proudly looked on. So far so good, right? I don’t want to sound negative at all as it was incredible, But during this hour I was shaking from the birth, still having strong contractions to deliver the placenta, and every bit of my body was EXHAUSTED. Baby didn’t magically bob her way to my breast, or crawl there, or in fact make much effort to do anything. For that matter, nor did (or could) I. Therefore it was with gentle encouragement from the midwife that we got baby to latch, where she fed for about 15 minutes then was sparko again. After a few stitches, we fed again later, again with a bit of encouragement, then 12 hours after the birth we were home. We were told our latch was perfect, and although a possible tongue tie was mentioned, as she could latch this was apparently not a problem.
After 3 days, although I had sore nipples I felt feeding had been going well, we were told baby had lost 9% of her weight. I was disappointed but not hugely worried, as it was within ‘normal’ limits. We were told to carry on, as again apparently our feeding (when observed my a midwife) was good.
I was getting worried by this stage as my nipples were now cracked and PAINFUL. Baby seemed to be unsettled, and had screamed for 2 hours the night before whilst trying to feed. I had no engorgement and didn’t feel like my milk had ‘come in’ – no Dolly Parton impressions for me! Baby’s weight was still static, and I started to feel like a failure. Again, advice on positioning etc were given, and I was told to carry on. With my cracked nipples. Which is a special kind of torture…
Weight was still static. I was distraught, told to buy a pump, pump after each feed to increase my milk supply and give my baby the expressed milk. Off we trotted to the shops with our slightly scrawny but still beautiful baby, and I dutifully spent hours plugged in and pumping. Virtually nothing came out. I was GUTTED. My body was failing my baby who, I felt, was wasting away before my eyes. Many tears were cried, mine more than hers, as I saw one solitary drip of milk ooze from my cracked nipple.
My nipples seemed to be recovering… A good sign right?! I was sure this meant baby was learning and my milk was nourishing her as much as she needed as I was sure she seemed a bit bigger… No. The scales were exactly. The. Same.
This was when the combination feeding started. The midwife told me my milk supply was too low, and my baby needed extra help. Formula.
Now ‘formula’ had not been a dirty word until I became a crazy hormonal mess of a new mum. But now it seemed like it was an awful idea. No antibodies, full of weird chemicals, made up from powder… How could I give my baby something so unnatural? BREAST IS BEST!
One bottle later and my still beautiful but slightly skinny looking baby girl was blissfully asleep, all full of milk.
And so began milk three ways. Boob first, expressed milk second, formula third. The whole process took at least 1 1/2 hours and we had to feed her no less than three hourly. You do the maths about how much time we had between feedings.
So remember that ‘possible tongue tie’? When she was 2 weeks old, I happened to see a breastfeeding counsellor who suggested we see a lactation consultant as she felt there was a tongue tie issue inhibiting feeding, meaning baby couldn’t drain my breast efficiently, so my body had never had the kick up the arse (or the boob) that it needed to make enough milk. So off we went, saw a consultant, and had baby’s tongue tie divided. Problem solved, right?!
2 -3 weeks
I tried, I really really tried, to go cold turkey with the formula after the tongue tie division as I’d been advised. This resulted in mum and baby having a fairly spectacular meltdown after 3 days, and husband sensibly gently removing the sobbing baby from the sobbing mum and giving her a bottle. She promptly fell asleep with that blissful milk drunk look. Mum wailed at the further failing of her body and fell into an altogether snottier messier sleep. So milk 3 ways continued as before, as baby was still not satisfied after breastfeeding, pulled off often, latched poorly and cried at the breast. HARD. WORK.
Today, my 9 week old baby is blissfully asleep on my chest as I type this. She is the perfect weight for her age, is smiling, giggly, strong willed and chubbily gorgeous. And you know what? She still has formula and boob. She regained her birthweight at just after 4 weeks and is perfect. I beat myself up about my failure to exclusively breastfeed for a while, and even now feel slightly cheated of the opportunity to do so. I think the damage to my milk supply was already done before her tongue tie was divided, but we’ll never know.
I’m now proud to say now my wonderful bubba is breastfed about 80% of the time. I don’t see that other 20% as a failure. I’m still crappy at expressing, and sometimes my gorgeous girlie is crappy at breastfeeding. Now however I know that if I want to pop out for a couple of hours I don’t need to spend all day expressing enough milk for a feed, as she is happy with the odd formula bottle per day. Dad is involved in feeding. Our gorgeous girl is thriving. So what was the point in all this ramble?
- Breastfeeding can be HARD. As in harder than anything else hard. Emotionally and physically.
- If you suspect problems, ask early for expert advice other than a midwife. Ask a lactation consultant or a specially trained midwife to assess you and your baby NOW. A waiting list isn’t good enough.
- Some babies just don’t match some boobs. Just because your baby is your baby doesn’t mean they can feed efficiently from your boobs.
- Give yourself a break. You are a new mum, you are amazing, and the fact that you want to give your baby the best means you’re already an incredible parent. Sometimes, the best for baby is a happier mum. And that happiness may involve a bottle.