After a very traumatic pregnancy loss caused not by my body but by a lack of care and due diligence taken by the hospital I was under… I was, and remain, very driven by control.
To have absolutely no control of a situation so traumatic and life changing really triggers every sense of needing control, boundaries and as much foresight as possible. In order to survive every day.
I planned everything from how I wanted the baby to be placed on me, his big name reveal, our homecoming, every last detail.
I was determined to have everything under control
So when I became pregnant with this baby, I was determined to have everything under control. Due to a uterine fibroid I was told early on that I would be having a c section. This absolutely suited me as in my mind this was very controlled. It would mean I would know the exact date baby was coming, and I could plan everything! And I did just that. From how I wanted the baby to be placed on me, to his big name reveal, and our homecoming, I planned every last detail. I also planned to breastfeed – for all the wrong reasons! I wanted absolute control. If I breastfeed, nobody else can take the baby off me!
I know, you know, I was wrong. Nothing went to plan! Section was brought forward, baby was born not breathing therefore the birth plan went out the window and we had no skin to skin, and no immediate feeding. I didn’t even get to meet him until 16 minutes after he was born! Of course the baby was exhausted and had spent the first part of his life swaddled in a blanket held by his dad. Not naked on my chest learning my scent and finding his way to feed.
I didn’t get to breastfeed straight away
Due to his traumatic entrance to the world, baby had a severe tremor which had to be investigated at 2am. Hours of bloods, tests, being woken up and handled by strangers. This led to formula. I hadn’t taken any bottles or formula to hospital as I had absolutely no intention of not breastfeeding. As baby was exhausted and hungry and not had chance so far to perfect his latch and take a decent feed, I agreed for him to be cup fed formula. I wasn’t giving in to a bottle. The next day we had lots of support from the hospital staff with breastfeeding and he managed to latch well, feeding regularly. So we went home.
Baby developed jaundice the day after we got home and was so exhausted he could barely wake up, never mind latch
Baby developed jaundice the day after we got home and was so exhausted he could barely wake up, never mind latch. Feeding was becoming very difficult. My milk came in which is something not enough people talk about. We know it happens, we know it’s not immediate and milk comes a little while after baby is born – but nobody tells you it can be absolute agony. Your boobs will be so hard it’s almost impossible for baby to latch to. You have no clue which position is which. Baby may splutter and cough with this new flow of milk as opposed to the thick, sticky colostrum. And basically it’s like starting all over again with a new pair of boobs you don’t really recognize!
I was spiralling into anxiety by day 5
The day 5 midwife visit led me to losing all trust in my own body and spiralling into anxiety and worry that I was not giving him what he needed, especially to clear his jaundice. We ordered an electric pump. I did already have some bottles as I had been open to some expressed milk bottle feeds post 6 weeks. I ended up pumping around the clock. We took shifts 24/7 for 6 weeks, feeding every 2 hours as per midwife suggestion – to clear the jaundice. The 2 hourly feeds worked for the jaundice, so we moved to 3 hourly. Why do they tell you babies feed in hourly increments? Feeding on demand and expecting cluster feeding would be so much more realistic. Nobody tells you that is normal?
In between all of this pumping and continued attempts at direct feeding, bottles from dad etc he needed top ups. Some days I just could not produce enough – or so I thought! Another thing nobody tells you, is that pumping is no indication of your supply! And that a cluster feeding baby is still getting enough milk! I could hardly bring myself to look at the bottles of ready made formula in the fridge never mind see the baby enjoy his bottles of formula! It still makes me sad to think about it now.
Setting boundaries was very important to me
I then had to try to establish paced feeding with my partner. “Please stick to the rules, or I’ll never get him back on the boob”. When family members want to be able to feed baby, or have no personal experience of breastfeeding, it can be hard to stick to your boundaries and intentions. But you absolutely are allowed to set boundaries. It’s not your responsibility to sacrifice yourself for others. In the end it’s worth the awkward moments of tension and the comments about how much he loves his bottles…
The shields were causing baby to have breakouts and sore skin on his face
I was firm with my rules and boundaries: no scents, no dummy, paced bottle feeds, everything was with the view of getting him back on the boob exclusively. I ended up using nipple shields, they really did help with establishing direct feeding! But it’s hard work. The sterilizing, attaching shield whilst unbuttoning, trying not to flash anyone, holding a hungry baby.
My next goal was getting rid of the shields
I’m very comfortable feeding in public and have been from day one but walking along the street trying to hold a shield in place and hold baby, is at the very least just annoying! On top of that, the shields were causing baby to have breakouts and sore skin on his face, probably from rubbing against silicone instead of skin. I was reading how shields can affect supply and all of this was adding to my guilt and the stress of not being able to achieve my goal of direct feeding. It just felt like it was never going to happen. But I refused to give up trying!
One of my best friends had experienced horrendous mastitis, and I knew to get seen ASAP
I remembered in week 7 about a local breastfeeding support group. Unfortunately the peer support was not available for a few weeks due to sickness so I was stuck with the shields for a while longer. I continued to try to wean from the shields but every time he would cry or struggle it made me feel so awful. I would work myself into a state that I’d never achieve my breastfeeding goals of just simply feeding him directly from the boob with no help or issues! On week 11 we finally learned to feed with no shield! We celebrated one feed, then one day, then a week and then that’s it, we finally did it. Exclusively breastfeeding with no interventions!
Then came the sore nipples, blocked ducts and mastitis
I then developed sore nipples, blocked ducts, and even mastitis. One of my best friends had experienced horrendous mastitis, and I knew to get seen ASAP from the symptoms I had. Luckily due to this I managed to get antibiotics before it really caused too much pain or any other associated issues.
I wish more people would talk about the difficulties of establishing breastfeeding as it really can be a very stressful and long process.
I connected with another peer support community group not long after this and learned that so many people have lots of the same issues! And learned better ways of dealing with blocked ducts, sore nipples, bad latch days. Very quickly all of the struggles and hurdles were forgotten.
I wish more people were upfront about the difficulties
I wish more people would talk about the difficulties of establishing breastfeeding as it really can be a very stressful and long process. But it’s important to access support, get your friends and family on board, stand firm in your boundaries. I’m grateful to have had support from my partner, family, friends and peers. And to my baby for persevering with me! I hope we continue to feed for as long as possible. My intention is to continue beyond 2 years of age, and allow him to self wean when he is ready.
Ultimately I still feel so sad that we didn’t get the calm and controlled birth, the seamless belly to boob breastfeeding journey, and that he had to be fed formula. But from triple feeding to exclusively breastfeeding I am thrilled we made it. I can’t pretend I don’t thrive on the full control over my baby’s diet. Even moving to solids after 6 months was a difficult transition! But the bond we share and the difficulties we have faced together are all part of the bigger plan it would seem. And I know these moments of giving in to losing control will help me as we grow together as mother and son.