As a first-time mum, I don’t think anything could have prepared me for how my first week of motherhood would go! I could never have anticipated the physical toll my birth would have on me and how much my difficult recovery would impact my breastfeeding journey. I really felt my body was letting me down and I battled with feelings of failure. This is my story.
The calm water birth I hoped for never happened
After 17 hours of labour, 2.5 hours of pushing, and an attempted forceps delivery my baby was born via an emergency-section. Needless to say, my birth was nothing like I had imagined or hoped for. I wanted a calm drug-free water birth and after having an extremely low-key and breezy pregnancy I was hopeful this would happen.
In the recovery room, it felt like hours before I was able to have skin to skin with my daughter, as doctors and nurses rushed around us both. Eventually, I was reunited with my baby and a midwife helped me to express colostrum and showed me how to latch baby. It was sore and strange but my baby girl knew what she was doing right away and took to feeding well. I was so relieved because I had felt that my body had failed me in labour, by not being able to deliver her myself. It felt good to know that it was now doing what it needed to do, I was really a mum.
Eventually, I was reunited with my baby and a midwife helped me to express colostrum and showed me how to latch baby.Louise
A six day stay in hospital was tough going
Unfortunately, after delivery my daughter and I ended up staying 6 days in hospital due to us both having signs of infection and needing a course of antibiotics. After a day or so I was encouraged to get up and about to help get back on my feet. I remember seeing other mums on the ward who had also had c-sections and they seemed to be getting on fine, I wondered why I couldn’t sit up or stand on my own. I felt extremely weak and quite useless. For days I couldn’t even lift my new baby from her cot to feed her and relied on the staff to help lift her every time she needed to be picked up. My recovery was not straightforward, and because I had lost a lot of blood during the c-section, I needed a blood transfusion after I became increasingly unwell by day 3.
I found my hospital stay extremely difficult, both physically and mentally as I didn’t sleep or eat for several days while trying to adapt to caring for a newborn on my own. Due to Covid restrictions, my partner was only able to visit us on two occasions during our stay.
Although it seemed that my baby was feeding well, she would fall asleep on me but soon wake when I tried to put her down. I was also finding every feed quite painful and it seemed to be getting worse as the days went on. Breastfeeding after a difficult birth was proving harder than I could have imagined.
I was advised to top baby up with formula
On day 4 I was told she had lost over 10% of her birth weight and that her doctor wanted her to be topped up with formula. It was horrible to learn that I wasn’t providing enough for her, and again that sense of failure crept into my brain.
It was horrible to learn that I wasn’t providing enough for her, and again that sense of failure crept into my brain.Louise
After her first bottle I immediately noticed the difference. She was so much more content and would sleep for a few hours happily in her cot. The doubt started to set in, why was she not getting enough from me?
Was I ready to give up on breastfeeding so early on?
The staff in the hospital encouraged me to continue trying to breastfeed which I am now very thankful for. However, the temptation to continue with formula was strong. Using bottles was allowing me to get some much-needed rest and my baby seemed to be thriving.
On the other hand, I had been so determined to breastfeed and didn’t want to give up before we’d really truly started. During my pregnancy I had done all my research, attended online classes and even bought all my essentials. Because I didn’t get the birth I had hoped for, I didn’t want to lose out on the experience of breastfeeding too. I didn’t want to feel as though I had failed again.
The last couple of days in the hospital I ended up giving mostly bottles but when she would root for the breast I would feel a pang of guilt, she wanted to breastfeed. I was completely torn on what was the best thing to do. So out of my own stubbornness and guilt too, I decided to push on and try to nurse her between bottles. I thought if I can just get into the comfort of my own home and have the right support around me I could maybe turn this around.
Finally, my milk came in on day 7
To my absolute relief on day 7, now that we were both home at last, I woke to find my breasts felt so different because well, they were full! I was so happy, my milk had finally came in! I hadn’t really thought about how much having a c-section with a difficult recovery would delay my milk production but it all started to make sense.
Of course my body wasn’t able to provide enough milk for my baby. My blood count had been so low, I wasn’t sleeping, I could barely eat, I had already lost a stone by the time I left the hospital looking more zombie than human!
Thankfully, with the support of my community midwife and health visitor I was encouraged to stop topping up with formula and exclusively breastfeed since day 7 and we both continued to recover well at home. My little girl regained her birth weight by week 3, which we were relieved and happy to hear given the slow start we both had!
Breastfeeding after a difficult birth takes time
If I could offer any advice to anyone intending to breastfeed it would be: for a successful start to breastfeeding, mum needs to be well and healthy.
To provide for another human being you need to be healthy yourself, even though your focus is rightfully on your baby you need to look after yourself too. Especially c-section mums, the physical recovery is not to be underestimated and it should be taken slow and steady. If you feel you aren’t recovering from the delivery as you should be then ask for help.
To provide for another human being you need to be healthy yourselfLouise
I would also encourage that, even if you have had a difficult start to breastfeeding, it doesn’t mean your journey has to be over. If you are sure that it is what you want to do, then breastfeeding after a difficult birth can be done with the right support behind you.
I know I would have regretted giving up in those early days because it wouldn’t have truly been my choice. Now 14 weeks into our journey, I am quite proud of what I have achieved so far, watching her grow and get bigger every day makes everything worth it!
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