Breastfeeding was always my plan when I found out I was pregnant with my eldest, Liam. It felt so natural and I wanted to give my baby the best possible start in life. Bottle feeding never really came into my mind. Not that I was against it, I just knew I wanted to breastfeed. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the magical breastfeeding experience I was hoping for and it devastated me. I felt repeatedly let down by a lack of breastfeeding support. I was determined things would be different with baby number two. This is my story.
My pregnancy was easy-going and I hoped this meant breastfeeding would go well too
I had a relatively easy-going pregnancy until the last few weeks when I had several episodes of reduced movements and because I live on the Isle of Skye which is three hours away from our big hospital, it was decided I would be induced. My induction failed and it resulted in a caesarean section. My beautiful baby boy was born and placed onto my chest and my journey began.
I never anticipated how difficult it would be or what struggles we would face. Liam would only latch for a few seconds at a time before coming off, frustrated and struggling to latch again. He wasn’t ever satisfied and was very sleepy after birth.
Liam would only latch for a few seconds at a time before coming off frustrated and struggling to latch again.
Had I failed at the first hurdle of motherhood?
The midwives came in one after another and they would grab my boob and my baby’s head and shove them together in the hope this would solve our problems. I can remember it so well and now that I am trained I know that if I had the proper support I would’ve had support with our positioning without anyone having to touch me.
Our positioning was so far from optimal meaning it was impossible for him to achieve a decent latch far less maintaining one. This constant hands on approach from the midwives meant I was in an incredible amount of pain. My boobs actually felt bruised and I cannot imagine how my poor baby felt. The whole experience was incredibly traumatic for us both. I had failed at the first hurdle of motherhood, or so I thought. The reality is that I WAS failed, I hadn’t failed at all. It was the lack of breastfeeding support.
I was handed some breast shields and told to try them
Eventually a lady from the infant feeding team came in to the room; she may have been a lactation consultant I really can’t remember. Finally, I thought. Someone who could help explain why breastfeeding is not going as it should and click their fingers to sort my problem. I got handed some shields and told to try them. No latch assessment, no support to breastfeed without them, no feeding plan in place to support the use of shields, which should always be supervised by a trained professional. I was failed again.
No latch assessment, no support to breastfeed without them, no feeding plan in place to support the use of shields, which should always be supervised by a trained professional.
We were kept in for 5 days until Liam put more weight on. I wasn’t supported to understand why or to solve the problem. I just got told he had to put weight on before we would be allowed home. I was failed yet again. We eventually got back home after a 3-hour journey away from the only trained support available near me but I couldn’t bear staying another day in hospital and unfortunately was so uneducated I didn’t even realise we had a problem.
I was feeding Liam constantly, day and night
At the time I felt great as I was able to feed my baby. Little did I know the problems and struggles we would encounter caused by a little bit of plastic. Shields can cause milk transfer issues as baby can struggle to feed effectively from them and sadly this was my experience. I wasn’t aware at the time it is still important to practice a deep latch even when using shields to make sure baby can feed effectively as possible.
Liam struggled to feed effectively and as a result of this he needed to feed every waking minute of the day and night. I knew babies cluster fed anyway at different times in their development but this was extreme. He was never satisfied off the boob. He would fall asleep on the boob and as soon as I would put him down he was awake screaming as if he hadn’t been fed in a week. I remember the comments at the time, ‘why is he screaming again you just fed him?’ ‘Is he feeding again?’ ‘How do you cope with the constant feeding?’ ‘You cannot be hungry again little man’.
I doubted myself and my body
The longer it went on and the more comments I got the more I doubted myself and my body. At the time I wasn’t aware of baby needing to have 6+ wet nappies and at least 2 dirty nappies a day before 6 weeks and looking back he probably wasn’t having that many but I was never asked this, never told these figures or what to expect.
Looking back at Liam’s growth charts he was born between the 25th and 50th centile and by 8 months he had dropped to the 9th centile. He was putting weight on slowly and surely but this drop in centiles was never picked up on, never investigated and never acted upon. We managed to wean off of the shields by 7 months and went on to feed successfully for a further 5 months! By 20 months he had shot up to the 50th centile again which is above where he started on at birth so this clearly shows a red flag that should’ve been picked up on.
Pregnant with baby no.2
Once Liam was a year old and we had stopped feeding, we found out we were expecting baby number 2! This was my chance to have a successful journey. I did everything I could to prepare myself this time. I joined support groups on Facebook, got books and even looked into training in breastfeeding support. This was so important to me I just had to make it work.
I began training with the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers as a Mother Supporter at the beginning of July 2020. I was determined to do everything I could to give us the best chance of a successful journey. As I got into the course I started to really enjoy it. I loved learning all the information about breastfeeding and it fascinated me. I started to think about how wonderful it would be to support other parents with their feeding journeys in my local area. I had started coming to the end of the course when my youngest boy, Ross was born via planned section. Things took a bit of a hold but I felt like even though I hadn’t qualified yet I was still confident I could make this journey work for us. I felt so cocky going in to the hospital knowing that I was nearly trained and so confident that I wouldn’t need any help. I mean how could someone who was trained in breastfeeding support need help with breastfeeding right?
Things were going well and I felt really proud
In the hospital Ross latched within 10 minutes of being born. It wasn’t the magical experience I had hoped for. I always feel almost upside down on the theatre bed and positioning was awful but we tried. Once back in the ward I managed to feed him successfully a few times and cried so much with pride and relief. It all felt so natural and worlds apart from my first journey with Liam. Everything was going perfectly and I was so proud of myself for putting in the work and effort to prepare myself this time.
I left the hospital the next day and travelled the 3 hours back home. By day 2 I started to feel some mild discomfort but I think at the time I didn’t want to admit it to myself or anyone else that maybe things weren’t going as well as I thought they were.
I carried on and just prayed it would subside. I couldn’t have been more wrong. My nipples started to crack and bleed and I had never felt pain like it. I started not wanting to be near him. My own beautiful baby boy and as a mum I couldn’t bear to be near him. I was terrified of him smelling milk and wanting to feed so I would give him to my partner and go off to bed or find something to do to try and busy myself. I didn’t want to admit to myself that I was failing again. Why did other mums have such fantastic seemingly effort free journeys and mine were both just disasters.
I was terrified of him smelling milk and wanting to feed so I would give him to my partner and go off to bed or find something to do to try and busy myself.
My nipples were stinging and I tried to avail of support
I remember as my milk came in I was bent over a basin of hot water in the sitting room crying my eyes out as I knew I needed to clear the engorgement a little so Ross could latch, but my nipples were stinging in the water and I dreaded the toe-curling pain that consumed me with every feed. I would sit up at night time screaming as he latched on whilst my partner watched trying his hardest to do anything he possibly could to help me. I can’t even begin to imagine how difficult it was for him to watch me in such pain and not be able to do anything about it. Not once did he ever suggest formula to me, he was my biggest supporter and even though he saw me in so much pain he knew this meant everything to me and supported me every step of the way. I really wouldn’t have managed the 2 weeks that we did without him.
I cried over the phone to anyone who would listen and I even emailed a Lactation Consultant but didn’t get a response. Countless midwives came out and tried to help, but they just didn’t have the level of knowledge and training that was required to support me in my journey. Unfortunately unless they undertake extra training themselves, most midwives and health visitors only receive the most basic breastfeeding training which personally for me seems ridiculous, they are the people that need this knowledge!
A lack of breastfeeding support meant I turned to formula
I have blocked a lot of our first few weeks out which is really sad as I won’t ever get those weeks back with my baby boy, but after suffering with excruciating pain, mastitis, misdiagnosed thrush, vasospasms, an opened up section wound and then to top it all off I got a UTI, I threw the towel in at 2 weeks and 1 day and opened the formula. Not to mention the impact this was having on my partner and toddler. I hated my eldest son seeing my cry all the time and not being able to even give him a cuddle because my nipples were so sore I couldn’t even wear a top.
My mental health took a plummet and guilt consumed me and still does even now. I thought maybe I could combi feed for a while but the more formula he got the more I felt completely useless. After a couple of days he was fully formula fed and this is absolutely not okay. If I had of had access to trained professional support at the time I would absolutely not have had to use formula.
My mental health took a plummet and guilt consumed me and still does even now.
Maybe I could try relactating?
After a few weeks I was in a better place and had started to read about relactating. I obsessed over it for a while. I would try my best to pump as much as I could but after a week or so I hadn’t even got a drop and between looking after a new-born baby and my toddler by myself when my partner went back to work it became completely unsustainable. I messaged my midwife who came and picked the pump back up and then the guilt consumed me once more.
I had been given a second chance and it was unsuccessful again. I think the worst thing about the whole situation is the not knowing why both my journeys haven’t been successful. I feel like I haven’t got closure for myself.
Despite what I went through, I’m determined to help others have a successful breastfeeding journey
I put my training on pause thanks to the fantastic team at ABM who supported me every step of the way. When I eventually went back to it and qualified as a Mother Supporter I have never been more proud of myself for something in my life. Passing that course has meant everything to me.
I have already supported a few new mums in my area but most of my time I spend on a Facebook group that I help admin called Breastfeeding Guidance and Support UK. It has over 24k members and although there is a lot which I refer onto more trained admins, I love to do my bit with the less complicated issues that are within my remit.
I have already supported a few new mums in my area
I want to help parents reach their feeding goals
It’s obvious to me now that there is a severe lack of breastfeeding support in the area I live in. As I mentioned above, I live a 6 hour round trip from our local big hospital and this makes getting any kind of breastfeeding support extremely difficult. Throw covid into the mix and it was impossible. This will forever be a regret of mine and this is why I will not stop until I can make sure nobody has to go through what I did in my area without trained support available. I have a burning passion now to support any feeding parent to reach their goals whatever they may be. I have now applied to train as a breastfeeding counsellor and this will open up my remit considerably and allow me to assist in a lot more complicated issues.
I have a burning passion now to support any feeding parent to reach their goals whatever they may be. I have now applied to train as a breastfeeding counsellor
If I could say one thing to any new parent or pregnant mum reading this, I would say please do not be put off by my story. The issues I went through are absolutely not normal and it doesn’t mean it will happen to you. This was not written to scare anyone or put anyone off breastfeeding their baby. It was written to share my story and highlight a huge gap in services in my area and what can unfortunately happen without the proper trained support. If you have any concerns about your baby and feeding then seek professional trained support. You won’t ever regret it!
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