Even before my baby arrived, I’d decided that I was definitely going to breastfeed. I knew that lots of women gave up but I wasn’t going to. I was going to breastfeed my baby. It was natural. It would be easy.
When she was born, that first latch was amazing, the hormones, the oxytocin. The way newborns nuzzle up your chest to find the milk is incredible! I was feeding my brand new baby, that I had just given birth to. “We made a baby!!” was all I kept saying, and I was keeping her alive. I was all she needed.
After that it all got a bit more complicated.
She was born at 22:27 in Gloucester Royal and by the time we’d got her weighed and dressed and I’d had a bath, it was late. My husband couldn’t stay on the ward at that time, so he went home to get some sleep. My baby slept. I didn’t sleep. I just stared at her. She was perfect. I was petrified. Needless to say, the next day, I was tired but wired. With hindsight, I would really recommend trying to sleep on that first night!
To start with she was very sleepy. Perhaps it was the effect of the drugs I’d been given to slow my contractions, but she definitely wanted sleep over milk. I was instructed to feed every 3 hours but the time passed and she slept on. I remember a midwife making me unwrap her from her cosy blankets in the early hours so she’d get cold and wake for milk…
In the morning I was still only able to get her to latch on to one side. My husband and I had to do the never-not-weird experience of hand expressing and catching tiny drops of colostrum in a tiny syringe. Welcome to Motherhood! Despite still not really being able to get her to latch, we were discharged and headed home, tiny syringes in hand.
Nothing really improved once we got home. She was still sleeping a lot (it didn’t last long!) and just wasn’t keen to feed. My community midwife came to visit pretty early on and threatened that if I couldn’t get her to feed every three hours, she’d lose too much weight and we’d have to go back to hospital. She said,
In actual fact, she was totally fine and when she was weighed had only lost 5% but those words still hurt me today, nearly three years on.
I began to use a nipple shield on one side to help her latch and that seemed to work for a while. Meanwhile, the other side was becoming more and more painful. Pain like I have never felt. Luckily in Gloucestershire we have the amazing charity GBSN (Gloucestershire Breastfeeding Supporters’ Network). My friend took me to BAPS and Elizabeth the Lactation Consultant was amazing! She suggested different holds and positions and took time to reassure me. She also thought that the issue might be a slight tongue-tie. With Elizabeth’s help and some different holds, I stopped needing to use a nipple shield we were getting a better latch but we booked a tongue-tie consultation with the specialist midwife at Cheltenham Birth Centre just in case.
At the Birth Centre, Susie Perks the Frenulotomy Specialist Midwife, was reassuring and supportive. She said that there was a tongue-tie but it was very mild and she didn’t think that it seemed to be causing any feeding problems. She said that they would do the tongue-tie division anyway if we wanted but at the time I thought that the pain must just be how it is as the start and that it would improve. No matter how straight-forward, I didn’t want to put my brand new, tiny baby through an unnecessary procedure.
We went home and I carried on feeding but within a couple of days both sides were excruciatingly painful. I had a split on one side that is now a scar and there wasn’t a day when I didn’t cry. A lot. I couldn’t do it. Three weeks in and I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t understand. This is what my body was made to do. How could it be such a disaster?! It had got worse and worse to the point that I had to psyche myself up to feed her – the tiny piranha angrily heading towards my nipples. I was dreading feeding. She would go to sleep and I would dread her waking up because I’d have to feed her again. I cried a lot.
I started to express on demand and after a lot of guilt and a lot more crying and I gave her a bottle of expressed milk. I felt like a failure (which is completely ridiculous) but at the same time it was such a relief! For a few days we basically moved in with my mum and it was a never-ending cycle of express, bottle-feed, sterilise until I could get another appointment to have the tongue-tie reassessed.
There were no appointments in Gloucestershire for two weeks. I wasn’t sure how long I could keep getting up every two hours (day and night) to pump, sterilise, feed, repeat. It was a two person, full-time job. I phoned my health visitor for advice and she never returned my call. My husband had gone back to work, and without my Mum I have no doubt that I would have had to give up!
After lots of ringing around I called the Birth Centre to see if they’d had any cancellations. They were amazing! Susie was really supportive and stayed late at the end of her shift to fit us in. It was done. It was so quick, they were so professional, there wasn’t even any blood. There was some screaming, more at being held in place than the actual cut, but then she fed straight away and settled immediately. There are very few nerve endings in the area around the floor of the mouth so it doesn’t hurt. It healed perfectly and that was it.
From that day onwards breastfeeding was amazing.
Almost…I got mastitis a few days later as a result of weeks of dodgy latching but with antibiotics that cleared in a couple of days and from then on in it could not have been better.
I went on to feed her for 28 months.
There is absolutely no way that I would be in this position without my husband, my Mum, Elizabeth from BAPS, Susie the tongue-tie specialist midwife at Cheltenham Birth Centre, and my amazing friends.
Feeding can be really, really hard. You need support. You need shoulders to cry on and hands to hold. You need advice and reassurance. You need professional guidance as well as support from family and friends.
I was lucky enough to have all those things. For some people breastfeeding is easy. For some it really isn’t. Before I became a mum I could never understand why people didn’t breastfeed: it’s what we’re made to do, it’s natural. Now, I know never to judge.