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Breastfeeding – a personal experience

I was always going to breastfeed. Before I had a baby, that is. It just made sense to me. human milk for human babies, right? It’s free, what’s not to love? And yes, I like to think of myself as a bit of a hippie-ish, earth mama type. I’m all for the natural parenting, babywearing and feeding ‘the way nature made possible’.

And then came Cora. After four long days of labour at home, a brief spell in the calm birthing pool in my living room followed by a fairly traumatic trip to the hospital and an urgent, emergency c-section. Cora arrived very jaundice, so I battled a sleepy baby, a midwife who insisted my nipples were ‘far too flat, she won’t be able to feed off those’ and all the emotions that went with an extended/unexpected stay in hospital to establish our feeding journey.

I was told I must express into a syringe and feed my baby with that, which I really struggled to do. Within hours of her birth, I was thrust a paper record to fill in, how much and how often she was feeding. “It’s medicalised now” one midwife told me – now that you’ve expressed rather than just fed her directly, you’ve got to record everything. Neither had felt like my decision.

My husband left to get supplies and nobody came, when my baby cried. My buzzer might as well not have worked, for all the response when I pressed it. I could not lift or get to her myself, having been opened up in theatre some short time before, so when her tears flowed, mine did too.

We left hospital still breastfeeding, I had always known it might not be easy, but nothing could have prepared me for just how difficult I was going to find that first few weeks of feeding. I listened to all the advice, I called the amazing Koala whose help was invaluable, but I was just not in the right headspace. So when formula presented itself, I grabbed it with both hands.

As a result, I had a perfectly content, happy baby, gaining weight, sleeping 12 hours at night and generally smashing her awesome little newborn life. How was I doing? Not OK…

I didn’t realise til down the line but I was dealing with PTSD that arose from Cora’s difficult birth, and for the next three years, my ‘failure’ as I genuinely thought of it, to breastfeed Cora, caused me untold upset. It did something else too – like a dog with a bone it made me adament beyond belief that I would ‘succeed’ – next time.

Cora was three when ‘next time’ came around. I had intended to attempt a natural birth again, but 42 weeks rolled around and we were ushered off to theatre for an urgent-but-not-emergency c-section. Athena arrived screaming into the world with the biggest set of baby lungs I still to this date have ever heard, weighing an impressed 9lb 7oz. All I could think of was feeding her, and to my delight, she latched perfectly in recovery, just 30 minutes or so after being born, and fed for… well… much of the next 8 months!

I fed Athena for a full eight months. Was I happy? I was proud. Yes. Proud that I did what I set out to do, through sheer grit and determination. I made it through the pain of engorgement and a baby who couldn’t latch on day four and five. I made it despite constantly needing to use nipple shields because my lazy (but very hungry!) baby wouldn’t latch any other way. I coped being the only one who could settle her, and the only one could feed her. I wasn’t enjoying it though.

Breastfeeding did not make me feel like I had super-powers. Far from it. I was tired, because she didn’t sleep more than an hour at a time, in stark contrast to her sleep-loving big sis. I ate the world. Because she was so big born, lost 14% and took 4 weeks to come back to birth weight, it was all panic stations with the midwives. I lived on flapjacks in the vain hope they would ‘boost my supply’ – and gained more weight than I’ve ever carried in my life, including during pregnancy. Breastfeeding certainly didn’t ‘make the weight fall of me’ like so many well-meaning people insisted.

I felt trapped. Stuck on the sofa with a baby who fed 45 minutes on and 15 minutes off, for weeks. I had a three year old who’s disappointment was palpable when I told her for the 15th time I couldn’t wrestle with her on the floor, I was feeding the baby. I hated the leakage, I felt constantly covered in milk. My boobs, which I’ve always been rather fond of, where no longer my own, and if I could have cut them off and thrown them at my husband, I would have! To feed the baby, of course. There was absolutely no other use for them, that whole eight months. In fact I was so ‘touched out’ during that time, no ‘other use’ for them even came to mind!

My bond with my daughter was perfect though. ‘The bond is just amazing’ is so often attributed to breastfeeding – but I can hand on heart say that my bond with my formula fed baby was entirely as strong. I will admit this though: in that first few weeks, when Cora woke, her little cry made me grin, and lift her up with delight, talking to her and kissing her sweet little head ‘hello’. When Athena woke (which was MUCH more often) her little cry made my heart sink. It was time to feed, again!

I decided before she was even close to being born that Juno, daughter number three, would be formula fed. I spent 24 hours nourishing her with colostrum in hospital, before switching to formula the moment we got home. As a result, I am happy, well rested and more able to respond to everything she and her big sisters need from me. They are able to join in with feeding ‘their’ baby and my husband is able to feed and settle her too. Cons – we have to get up at night to make bottles… booo! That bit, I didn’t miss with Athena one bit. We have to be prepared with all the gear when going out and about too – sterilised bottles – CHECK! Formula – CHECK! But… we are getting out to enjoy the Spring sun, all together.

Thousands of clients have come through my studio in the last 14 years, all with their own feeding advice and experiences. Three babies and three completely different feeding journeys of my own. My only advice to expectant mamas contemplating their own feeding choices? Feed your baby. However best suits you!

Happy milky times, mamas!

This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. Hannah

    So needed to read this! I had this exact experience with Ted and thought I was the only person who
    had been through this. He was jaundice and had a lot of mucus on his chest so I was on the ward for a week and it was horrible. I felt insanely stressed trying to feed him with people in and out the room constantly shoving my boob in his face without talking me through anything or explaining why he might not be taking to it. Formula saved me but I still feel so guilty and sad that I ‘failed’. Fed is best at the end of the day! Thanks for sharing this! xxx

  2. S

    Ahhh love this. Everyone has such different experiences and every single one is valid. I honestly couldn’t give a fuck how someone feeds them as long as theyre fed! No guilt no shame X

  3. Jeni

    James was 5 weeks early and taken down to the NICU. I was left trying to get my silly giant boobs to express colostrum into syringes and then expressing for the next 18 days (whilst in NICU) so he could be fed through tube, because he flat out refused to latch to my inverted nipples or take a bottle. my husband even sat on the floor of the nicu offering up James to my boob like a scene from The Lion King. i swear more people saw my boobs in those 18days than i ever thought would in my life. i struggled for the next 4 or 5 months using shields and bottles, feeling like a complete failure as it didnt come naturally but he was breastfed until 15months in the end.

    Sophia was a much easier baby to start with, as i knew what i was doing (position wise) so she fed but she lost weight and needed supplementary feeds and i had so many blocked ducts. i felt so bad because she constantly wanted to feed and i felt like all my time was spent on her.

    breatfeeding isnt always easy and nobody should ever be made to feed guilty for feeding their baby in the way that is best for all involved

  4. Liz

    Very true Amy! All mine have been different too. We put too much pressure on ourselves and every baby is different! Thomas had to have donor milk at first as he just wanted to be drip fed my milk so was on formula a lot earlier than Molly but then Rosie has refused a bottle and dummy since day one and latched perfectly so she’s ebf. Molly was quite happy switching to bottle and to boob! They were all such different babies. I’m glad you’ve had Juno so you could do what you wanted to do and to be at peace with it all xxx

  5. Nic

    When I had my first baby I was 18 scared over due but like yourself determined to breastfeed when my daughter was born @42wks in 2000 I struggled to feed her and asked the midwives for a bottle to be told point blank NO I was upset distraught even my baby needed to be fed and it just wasn’t happening and I felt that the midwives at the time were quite rude to me and even commented on me being so young eventually I managed to feed her but when I got home much like yourself it was constant she was never satisfied fully I decided after 4 weeks to switch to dual feeding to keep that bond but to give her that bit extra I was berated by the health visitor for this but I continued because quite frankly they weren’t the ones getting up with her or trying to settle her and it was the best thing I did.

    Baby number 2 in 2001 yeah a year apart again @42wks horrific birth cord asphyxiation I was so scared but all was good I decided to try again with breastfeeding but it just didn’t work out I had a newborn and a 1yr old so formula again but at 7weeks old she went off her feeds was unsettled couldn’t be put down and what little feeds she was bringing back up I went back and forth to the doctors and eventually after a home visit from a nurse she was blue lighted to hospital with bronchiolitis and was in a oxygen tent for a week her first Christmas it was so horrific.

    Baby 3 in 2003 @44+wks not a single problem he was content and breastfed for 3 months uneventfully plain sailing.

    Baby number 4 in 2004 again @44+wks the biggest baby 9lb 3oz and a hungry baby who dual fed for the first month then went on to just formula.

    Then skip some years to baby number 5 born @36wks long labour that was induced due to my age and also some other health factors he had jaundice was in a incubator with lamp etc midwives were awfully rude disrespectful and spoke to me like I was some sort of novice and as for the breastfeeding I was the same as yourself syringe feeding and trying my best I was not allowed to hold him once he went into the incubator that was stressful enough with out the midwives being so rude we got home and I continued breastfeeding but he was not contented at all so I decided to change to formula however he still continued to be very unsettled and unsatisfied was bringing milk up and generally unhappy and so was I we traced to see family and while there we had to take him to see someone in a walk in and they told me to use infant gaviscon but it didn’t change much once home I went to my own gp who decided to try lactose free milk and like turning on a light I had a content and happy baby that on turn meant a content and happy me.

    They say breast is best and maybe it is for some but my opinion is this a fed and content baby is a happy baby regardless or the method.

  6. Liane Lloyd

    3 very different journeys and I think if I had another he or she would definitely get formula fed, Lloyd (9weeks old) is hungry all the time and isn’t taking to bottles very well so I’m stuck feeding him 24/7… my other issue is I need my gallbladder out which is scheduled shortly after my birthday (no party for me) I’m genuinely hoping we’ve turned a corner by then otherwise things will get awkward. With the mix of breastfeeding constantly and not able to eat very much I’ve dropped over 2 stone and I eat chocolate like its going out of date!!
    I wanted to cry for you reading this blog as I can totally relate, my experience with Terri (almost 5 years old) was similar after 2 days labour and an epidural later, once baby was out I was left on my own as a first time mum not having a clue about anything, asking for pain relief and waiting 4 hours for it, they moved me out of the ward after sending my partner home because baby was crying, but I couldn’t pick her up as i couldnt feel the bottom part of my body and then it was like i didnt exist. I got home and on day 4 everything that could go wrong did… Terri made my nipple bleed from poor latch, my stitches were infected and baby blues hit me like a tonne of bricks. Koala happened to call on that very day and within 2 hours came round to my home, with their understanding i got through it and managed to feed my girl until she was 18 months!
    Thanks for sharing your experiences Amy, we really are all in it together though it seems so isolating at times xxx

  7. Vanessa Gomes

    This is amazing to read… Thank you for sharing!

    I don’t have babies yet, but it’s so reassuring to read your experiences and that there’s nothing no right or wrong in this journey and you mum, always know best!

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