My pregnancy journey was a little bumpy and filled with nerves after experiencing a miscarriage just before Christmas. When we got pregnant again a few months later, I felt on edge, worrying that the same thing might happen again.
The screening tests found I had low papp-a which can cause the placenta to not work as well and a low birth weight. Cue me being terrified again and worrying about the possibility of my baby being born too early.
With that in mind, I was really keen to at least try to breastfeed if I could. I wanted to have a supply of colostrum to hand “just incase”. I started to collect it using syringes I’d pick up at my hospital appointments and from my midwife around 37 weeks. I’d do it whilst bouncing on my pregnancy ball, watching tv.
I had completed a hypnobirth course whilst pregnant and did lots of yoga and dog walking.
I really wanted my baby to arrive in his own time
During pregnancy I completed a hypnobirth course and did lots of yoga and dog walking. It was important for me to let my baby arrive in his own time, when he was ready and hoping he wouldn’t arrive too early. I had scans every couple of weeks to check his weight and it felt like a new concern popped up each time. There was too much fluid at one point and I was tested for gestational diabetes, which came back negative. His weight dropped on the charts a few times, which made me think “this is it, they are going to want to get him out early, my placenta is failing”. But thankfully he continued to grow nicely.
I had my last consultant appointment and they say they’d book me in for a induction *on my due date*. I knew it was unlikely he would arrive on my due date by himself and was keen to avoid being induced as my placenta was functioning well. Baby was now estimated to be over 6lb and I was approaching my due date, so no concerns about him being born too early.
Pre-eclampsia was a concern
On the day of my planned induction, I called the hospital and said I’d like to be scanned. If the scan showed the baby was doing well, I wanted to be left for a few more days to give him chance to come on his own. I had a scan three days later but was then found to have high blood pressure. There was a concern incase I developed pre-eclampsia, which can be linked to low papp-a.
This meant I now had two risk factors and I decided it was probably best to stay in hospital and accept the induction. A few weeks before my due date, we decided to switch hospitals, and I’m so glad we did. The current hospital only allowed birth partners for a few hours a day (they were still implementing Covid rules) and there was no limit with the new hospital. We took a blow-up bed with us and my husband slept on the floor in our room for 8 days. The induction process was very slow, with lots of stopping and starting due to it “not being safe to continue” as beds were taken on the labour ward below with covid patients.
Induction made my contractions so intense
My biggest fear when accepting the induction was that I’d end up needing forceps or a cesarian, which I felt afraid of. My contractions were so intense from the induction and I was struggling to cope with them from the get-go. I accepted an epidural (which I had been petrified of!) and feel it was the best decision I’d made. It took away the pain and I was able to chat and rest. I went from 4-10cm with no pain and felt zero pain whilst pushing, only the sensation of when I needed to push.
One thing that I did struggle with was that I wasn’t aware that you can’t eat once you’ve had an epidural. I remember thinking to myself, how am I supposed to have the energy to push a baby out when I’ve not eaten for two days?
He latched on immediately and began to feed.
I was told the baby’s head was swollen
When I got to 10cm the midwife said we would wait two hours and then I’d start pushing. It all felt bizarre to me! I asked if I could please have a bite of a banana and I recon that got me through the pushing stage. I was only allowed to push for an hour and during that time my babies heart rate was very fast. The midwife also said the babies head was swollen and I began to worry that something was wrong and had been missed on my scans.
I was given an episiotomy to help get the baby out quicker and I remember thinking – I’m absolutely getting this baby out before they get the doctor to come in. I was able to move my legs with the epidural and moved around the bed. My baby was born and he did have a very swollen head to one side. I believe this was from the induction process taking so long, which I found quite traumatic. He latched on immediately and began to feed. Breastfeeding has officially started
The elation I felt soon disappeared
I remember feeling so elated that I had managed to give birth, with the induction I didn’t want and without forceps or a section.
Unfortunately, my placenta didn’t come out and I was taken to theatre to have it removed as the doctor was unable to. I’ve struggled to process this part of my birth and felt utterly petrified being wheeled away from my newborn baby and my husband. I lay there, thinking about the breastfeeding and skin-to-skin I was missing. I lost a fair amount of blood and needed oxygen afterwards.
What I was thankful for was the colostrum I had collected during pregnancy. My husband was able to give it to our baby and have skin-to-skin with him whilst I was in theatre. When I came around I immediately wanted to hold my baby and feed him. He was very keen to feed thankfully and I asked the midwives several times to help check his latch as it was hurting me and I was struggling to find how to hold him comfortably.
We were allowed home after three days
Three days later we were allowed to go home. I couldn’t believe how overwhelming it was! He was feeding every 20 minutes, awake crying most of the night. I remember thinking – why does nobody tell you how hard this is?! Mentally I was exhausted and felt we had been through quite a traumatic experience. I hadn’t had a chance to rest or recover.
Mentally I was exhausted and felt we had been through quite a traumatic experience and I hadn’t had a chance to rest or recover.
Why did my birth seem much harder for me than others I’d spoken to in our antenatal class? How come I’d not managed the same? My body was sore and I had a tiny baby relying on me to keep them alive.
I fed through the pain of mastitis
A few days later and I started feeling unwell and developed mastitis. I had a fever and I started to hallucinate as a result. It was pretty petrifying and I felt paranoid that someone would come and take my baby away. It was a truly terrible time.
My mum came over to help look after the baby and I would try to sleep and come downstairs to feed him when he needed. I felt so unwell myself but I was determined, more determined than I’ve ever been in my life, that I was going to feed him myself. Nobody was going to stop that one thing from going the way I had wanted it to go after everything else being far from ideal.
I carried on feeding through the mastitis. It was absolutely horrendous. Both of my breasts were bright red, my nipples were bleeding and every time he latched on I would cry. I hated every second. How could it hurt this much?!
Side-lying was an absolute game changer for me as I was able to rest myself whilst feeding.
The side-lying position was a game changer
I managed to get in contact with a breastfeeding support lady and she helped me so much. She checked my son’s latch and suggested I fed him on the bed lying down. I truly believe this lady and this conversation helped us to continue our breastfeeding journey. Side-lying was an absolute game changer for me as I was able to rest myself whilst feeding.
Shortly after that we began to co-sleep as I realised my baby just didn’t want to be away from me. Initially, I kept trying to put him down to sleep on his own after reading all sorts of rubbish on the internet about babies needing to “learn to sleep independently” or to “self soothe”. I soon realised this went against my motherly instincts and I decided to lean in, keep him close & things immediately felt easier. We began to co sleep (following the safe sleep 7) and he was so much more content, as was I.
I soon realised pumping wasn’t working
Initially, I used a Elvie Curve (highly recommend as so handy and only £35!) whilst feeding on one side, I popped that on the other breast whilst at home and would freeze that milk. It felt like minimal effort and meant I had a freezer stash for bottles. It transpired that he did not want to take a bottle. I decided it was more effort for me if dad did give bottles as I’d still need to pump so we ditched the bottles and stuck to breastfeeding.
At times, I did initially feel very suffocated and like I couldn’t have a single second to myself or leave the house without the baby, which I could have done had he taken a bottle. But as he got older and feeding became less often, we found our feet. I found it really freeing that we could pop out and it he needed feeding, we had the milk to hand with no preparation.
For us, breastfeeding has been incredibly bonding
I truly believe breastfeeding helped me to bond with my son during those first few weeks after his birth. It has been the most challenging thing I’ve ever done and my biggest achievement. The bond it has created is indescribable and I feel so blessed to still be feeding him at 13 months.
We feed to sleep and he has milk during the night. Again, things I worried I was doing “wrong”. It gets him back to sleep within a couple of minutes v I don’t have to get out of bed so it really works for us.
I’ve had a few people comment on him waking up in the night still, which is totally normal – I wake up for a drink in the night too sometimes! I see my job as his mum as being there to comfort him and help him to get back to sleep if need be. Those cuddles are the best thing in the world to me and I’ll miss them when he doesn’t want them anymore so I’m soaking them up whilst I can.
I see my job as his mum as being there to comfort him and help him to get back to sleep if need be.
Becoming a mother has been better than I imagined
I’ve surprised myself at how much I have loved becoming a mother and breastfeeding. I was never a broody person: I much preferred dogs than babies! But it has been the best thing in the world.
If you’re hoping to breastfeed I’d suggest getting as much help as possible whilst in hospital, check the baby is latched correctly and it doesn’t hurt. I’d also not worry about expressing until your flow is established and your baby knows what they are doing. Don’t complicate things! Speak to friends who are also breastfeeding and understand how challenging it can be at times, how touched out you can feel but also how beautiful it is.
It is normal to find motherhood and breastfeeding difficult, because it is! People just tend not to talk openly about their struggles. Take your time and enjoy the precious time you have cuddling your baby and bonding together, getting to know eachother. The housework and everything else can wait.