After weeks of perseverance, I went from exclusively pumping to direct nursing

From the moment I was pregnant I knew immediately I wanted to breastfeed. It was just this natural instinct within me. However, due to a difficult birth, conflicting advice about breastfeeding and weeks of waiting for a tongue-tie diagnosis, I was left with no option but to do a mix of bottle feeding using formula and expressed breast milk. But nothing was going to get in my way of breastfeeding my daughter and I fought every step of the way to make it work. This is my story.

I planned to breastfeed – for me it was the most natural thing to do

I’d always planned to breastfeed, from the moment that we decided to try for a baby. It felt like the most natural thing to do and based on my research, the best thing for my child.

I was determined that I wasn’t going to go down the formula route, to the point that I hadn’t even bought any bottles or bottle-feeding equipment when I went into labour. I have nothing against formula; it is a fantastic invention that has kept many babies from going hungry, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do.

I was determined that I wasn’t going to go down the formula route, to the point that I hadn’t even bought any bottles or bottle-feeding equipment when I went into labour.

My pregnancy was tough but I was confident the birth and breastfeeding would go well

It took us a lot longer than expected to fall pregnant and I had a tough pregnancy. I was incredibly sick throughout the whole of it. I suffered with heartburn and food reflux from 20 weeks, I had SI joint dysfunction and SPD, and was diagnosed with gestational diabetes at 32 weeks. So I was confident that my labour would be easy, my baby would latch straight away, and we’d go home and boob away for however long we needed to.

My labour was not easy (but that’s a whole story of its own) and my baby did not latch straight away.

We missed the golden hour after birth

Due to all of the complications, we missed the golden hour, and, apart from a very brief cuddle immediately after she was born, I wasn’t able to hold her again until she was 2 hours old.

I don’t really remember our first attempt at latching, I only know it happened as my partner took photos and we’ve talked about it to help me piece everything together. I truly believe that not being able to hold her straight away, along with both of us being ill, really impacted our journey.

As I was unable to get out of bed for nearly 24 hours after giving birth, I had to rely on someone to bring Isabelle to me. We were in a high dependency recovery room and had 24-hour care. After the third time trying to feed, I started to get really concerned that she wasn’t getting anything.

I was devastated her first feed would not be boob milk

The midwife offered to feed Isabelle some ready-made formula from a spoon. I was absolutely devastated that her first feed wouldn’t be boob milk, but I knew she needed to have something. But we kept trying. And trying. And trying. Isabelle would get so upset after a few minutes and I’d have to give her formula.

I felt like I’d failed. I was exhausted, ill, hooked up to what seemed like hundreds of machines and in a tiny room that I wasn’t allowed to leave.

The breastfeeding advice was so conflicting

As COVID restrictions were in place, I was only allowed one visitor for 3 hours a day and felt like a nuisance every time I requested help from the midwives or MSW. The NHS is great but there is something hugely lacking in breastfeeding support. Whenever it was time for a feed, I would ask for help and the advice I got was so inconsistent. Some said to let her find the boob herself; some said force her face onto the boob; some said hold her this way; some said no, not like that.

I was also told by numerous people that there was definitely no tongue tie and that she would just latch when she was ready. It took four days for my milk to come in and it was on that day that I pumped for the first time. Not much came out, but I was finally able to feed my daughter breast milk.

The hospital pump was great and I was able to pump 50ml at a time really quickly. Unfortunately, though, I’d been told that she wasn’t getting enough from the spoon so I was advised to feed her from a bottle instead.

from exclusively pumping to direct nursing

The hospital pump was great and I was able to pump 50ml at a time really quickly.

Once home, I ordered an emergency manual pump

My partner bought a pump ready for when we got home but when I tried to use it, it didn’t work. I ordered an emergency manual breast pump from Amazon with next-day delivery and went to bed after hand expressing a tiny bit, feeling uncomfortable and wondering if this was going to make my experience even harder.

In the meantime, we fed Isabelle with some ready-made formula. The manual pump worked until an electric one arrived a couple of days later. And so began a cycle of feeding, winding, pumping, washing bottles, and sterilising equipment, as well as trying to get Isabelle to latch. Her dad helped out where he could, but once he was back at work, the majority of it was my responsibility. It’s incredibly lonely, sitting up in the middle of the night, connected to a machine, while everyone else in the house sleeps.

I’d constantly put her on the boob hoping she’d latch

In those newborn days, Isabelle would wake every two-three hours for a feed and the whole cycle would take an hour to an hour and a half, meaning that I was sleeping in chunks of thirty minutes or so. It was hard but we continued on with our cycle, putting Isabelle to the boob as often as possible, in the hope that she would latch.

When she was a month old, she latched! She fed for a couple of minutes and then got very upset. I was so excited and relieved and her next few feeds started on the boob and then were topped up by expressed milk. Two days later, she forgot how to boob and we were back to full-time pumping.

While this was going on, I had been pushing to get her seen by a tongue tie consultant, as I was convinced that she had one. A telephone consultation was eventually booked for when she was 12 weeks old.

The time and date of her first full boob feed is forever etched in my mind

On the 23rd December at 16.30 (yes, this time and date will be forever in my memory) when Isabelle was nearly 10 weeks old, I put her down on the sofa next to me after another unsuccessful attempt at latching her. Out of desperation, I dangled my boob in her mouth. She latched instantly and proceeded to have a full feed while I was stuck in an awkward plank position on the sofa. But I didn’t care! I was prepared to do every feed in that position if it meant that she would be nursing directly.

She latched instantly and proceeded to have a full feed while I was stuck in an awkward plank position on the sofa.

This was the turning point for us. Her next few feeds were directly from the boob, and then that night, I pumped for the very last time (3am, December 24th in case you’re wondering). From that moment on, we have been direct nursing. Her latch was not good and my nipples were coming out lipstick shaped after every feed, but she was nursing and I assumed we could just work on the latch as we went along. But the pain! Those first few feeds were excruciating, to the point where I had tears in my eyes and wondered if I was doing the right thing. But this soon wore off, and we were happily boobing away.

Finally, we got a tongue-tie consultation scheduled

We had our telephone consultation and they agreed that it did sound as though Isabelle had a tongue tie, so they booked her in for a face-to-face check-in three weeks time. Although I understand that we were in another lockdown due to COVID, I was incredibly frustrated with how long it had taken to get to the point and how much stress could have been avoided if it had just been picked up at the beginning and we hadn’t had to wait nearly two months to get a face-to-face appointment.

I talked with my partner about what we would do if it was confirmed that Isabelle did have a tongue tie and we agreed that it would depend on what the diagnosis was. Again, because of COVID, only one of us could go to the appointment. I don’t know what who had the more difficult time of it; Isabelle having to go through the procedure, me having to make the decision and be part of the procedure, or her dad who was sat in the car park, not knowing what was going on.

The diagnosis was a relief

On the day of the appointment, the practitioner took one look and confirmed that Isabelle was 75% tongue-tied. It was a huge relief to finally get my concerns validated, but again I was so angry at how much I’d had to battle to get to this point. They explained that because of the tie, we would more than likely see improvements to her feeding if we were to have it revised. They also said that she could potentially face issues when she started weaning onto solid foods and further on in life. So I made the decision to have it cut. I’d read lots of stories about it and knew what to expect. Or so I thought.

I had to hold Isabelle’s head while the practitioner made 3 cuts to her tongue, which is all done without anaesthetic as apparently babies don’t feel pain in that area. Isabelle was quite distressed during the procedure,  and as soon as it was done, I tried to nurse her so that I could calm her down and stop the bleeding. This did not go as planned; she was hysterical and wouldn’t latch so we ended up with a lot of blood everywhere. At this point I began to question if I had made the right decision, but eventually she began to nurse and we were allowed to go home.

We still struggle to get a ‘proper’ latch

from exclusively pumping to direct nursing

After that initial scare, everything settled down and we didn’t suffer from any further issues. I was warned that she might have to relearn how to latch but we didn’t have any issues with that and her tongue healed well.

However, her latch did not improve. I think I can count on one hand the amount of times I’ve seen a ‘proper’ latch from her. But I did find that my nipples were coming out mostly the same shape as they went in so I just went with it.

Her latch never improved, and now, at 8 months old, it’s probably worse than it’s ever been! I have a really good supply though, and a fast letdown, so she doesn’t even have to do much work to get a feed. In fact, she sometimes now just opens her mouth and lets it pour in! 

Her latch never improved, and now, at 8 months old, it’s probably worse than it’s ever been! I have a really good supply though, and a fast letdown, so she doesn’t even have to do much work to get a feed.

I think we’ll do natural term weaning

I’d never really thought about when I’d stop breastfeeding, and as it stands at the moment, we’ll probably go with natural term weaning. Isabelle has been doing well with solids (we’re taking the baby-led weaning approach) but is still a massive boobie monster. She boobs to sleep for nap and bedtimes and also wakes up a couple of times in the night for a feed. She has just discovered too that she can help herself to a little boobie snack now that she’s very mobile! We co-sleep as she’s only slept through the night about eight times and it’s always been a struggle to get her to stay asleep in her cot.

We have gone to the other extreme now though; she absolutely refuses to take a bottle. I was so worried that she’d forget how to latch that we didn’t offer a bottle from December until around April / May time but it was such a traumatic experience for all involved that we didn’t try again. Her dad had attempted it during the night so I could try and catch up on some sleep but she got herself so upset that she projectile vomited and I had to boob her to calm her down. We recently tried again but still no joy so we’re going to see if she will take a feed from her cup this weekend. We have plenty of milk stored in the freezer that needs using up so we have nothing to lose by trying. 

There is now an expectation that I should stop breastfeeding

She has her two bottom teeth now and so far there has been one little bite, which is both a shock and painful. A few people have asked why I’m still breastfeeding and suggested that it might be time to stop. Apparently responding with “why?” upsets people. Who would’ve thought that questioning someone’s nosiness would be so upsetting, hey?

Don’t get me wrong, the nightly wake-ups are exhausting and I would like to be able to go out for more than a couple of hours, but the majority of the time this works perfectly for us. We battled hard to get where we are, and boobie quickly became one of Isabelle’s favourite things.

Community support for breastfeeding is so important

I wanted to share this story for several reasons, with the main one being to try and provide inspiration for others that may be struggling. Breastfeeding is hard for many of us but it is such an amazing experience (plus it’s cheap, easy, and convenient!). If it’s something that you really want to do, reach out to the support that’s out there. Unfortunately, our health service doesn’t seem geared up to support breastfeeding mothers so it’s really important to find that community that can help. I really believe that our breastfeeding journey would have come to an end within a few days if I hadn’t found the support that I did.

Another reason is that it’s so important to trust your instincts. The only reason we got a tongue tie diagnosis is that I knew something wasn’t right and I kept pushing to get Isabelle seen properly. If there’s something that is concerning you, don’t let anyone fob you off; keep trying until you get seen by the relevant people.

I just want to add a little disclaimer here at the bottom. I understand that some people prefer the term chestfeeding but it’s not something I’ve used as part of our journey so it felt more natural to me use breastfeeding throughout this story.

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