I have volunteered in infant feeding support since 2016 and I am currently a Breastfeeding Counsellor for a national charity. I am also a gentle parent and friendly introvert who is passionate about evidence-based parenting support and information.
I don’t normally talk about my own breastfeeding experiences while supporting, but in the interest of getting to know me better as a blogger and a supporter, I thought I would write a little bit about our journey into parenting and breastfeeding.
When I got pregnant I knew I was going to breastfeed, I thought it would just be mind over matter. Nobody in my immediate family had ever breastfed but I was in a privileged position of being in a social circle where lots of my friends had. It had seemed to come quite easy for my friends and I’d never really asked in detail about it. I attended a breastfeeding session at an antenatal class and that was about all the research I did. I remember talking with my husband saying “How hard can it be? Few days to figure out the latch? I don’t know why you wouldn’t do it.” I joke now that someone up there overheard me and turned around and said: “let’s give that cocky one a challenge”.
Despite having a beautifully written plan, the fates had other ideas in store for my birth. I had an emergency caesarean because I became sick during my labour. During the first night after birth, I was sore, tired, still feeling ill, shellshocked, struggling to hold my baby, let alone latch my little one on. She let me know her disapproval vociferously, she was incredibly unsettled. A health care assistant advised me I could give a cup feed of 40ml formula to “stop her being hungry”. I didn’t know at the time what my other options were. In fact, everything was just confusing, I was told I needed to feed at different intervals by different people, I was told to let my baby take herself off the breast, then to only let her feed for 25 minutes per breast. I was told to use the rugby hold, then the cradle hold. Lovely but busy midwives latched my baby on for me, which was fine for them, but it meant I didn’t learn how to do things myself.
I was told I had amazing nipples for breastfeeding and was “a natural”. I didn’t feel like a natural.
After discharge (day 2 and a half) difficulties accelerated. Feeding continued to be painful, more painful than my abdominal incision. My nipples started to crack and bleed and bruise.
On day three I got in touch with an NCT breastfeeding counsellor who thankfully didn’t seem to mind talking to a topless, sobbing woman. She suggested my little one may have a tongue tie and talked about finding a private lactation consultant. Unsure, I called the midwifery team. Somebody came out to see me who glanced quickly in my daughter’s mouth and said she could see a small tie but it shouldn’t cause issues. This same lady told me she knew I would have problems as I was an “English rose” and pale skinned women always had problems with sore nipples. My exasperated husband was slightly more useful. He called a private lactation consultant who divided my little one’s tongue tie the next day. I know I was lucky to have the funds and the privilege to be able to access this help, and so many people are not as lucky as I was. Sadly, I didn’t feel much difference after the procedure. I was upset to have put my little baby through the tongue tie division for seemingly no gain, and the guilt from this helped me power through the next few weeks, “it would not be for nothing” I told myself. I considered stopping breastfeeding quite a lot at that stage. I felt ashamed I “couldn’t hack it”. When it hurt too much, the sense of ‘failure’ with each bottle was bone crushing. “Other people can do it, why couldn’t I,” I asked myself? “What is wrong with me,” I thought as I sobbed? I now know none of this was my fault. I was doing my absolute best with the information and support I had at that time. It was a humbling experience and one which continues to give me empathy with parents who struggle to breastfeed or who feel they have no choice but to stop. In another universe, there is a me out there who took a different path, who didn’t carry on. In this one, I somehow continued to struggle on for the next six weeks. My nipple cracks healed but emotionally I was a wreck. I still experienced continued bruising and pain which I soothed by constantly wearing cold packs in my bra. One of the midwives saw a white coating on my baby’s tongue and diagnosed thrush, so she arranged a prescription for me over the phone. The thrush treatments didn’t work though and I went back to the GP three times and was eventually told by one she didn’t think thrush was my problem so she couldn’t prescribe more medication. Exactly what was the problem she couldn’t tell me though. She looked sad and obviously felt a bit helpless. I left in tears.
Eventually, after six weeks of what felt like constant painful feeding (seventeen hours out of twenty-four is written in my red book!), with a colicky baby who wasn’t gaining weight well, the health visiting team sent a breastfeeding specialist to see me. This wonderful lady gave me the tools and the support I need to continue to breastfeed. She listened to me. She encouraged me. She understood this was important to me. It wasn’t an easy journey ahead, she told me that my baby still had a tongue tie in place, and at just over six weeks old, my baby had a second frenulotomy. This time it was more successful. My breastfeeding relationship improved from this point slowly, with the biggest improvement seen in little one’s weight gain. I had to work on my damaged milk supply so I could slowly reduce formula top ups, and we always had to use some special latching techniques as my daughter had a high anterior palate too, but we got there with the breastfeeding. I remember at one point I realised I had stopped setting those small goals “I’ll just get to next week”, “I’ll just get to tomorrow”. The relief in realising the worst was behind me was immense.
The second big challenge for our family was that even with good breastfeeding support, stable weight gain and cracking nappy output, my daughter continued to struggle with “silent reflux” and was awfully unsettled. There is little more soul destroying than a baby who cries all the time, even if held, who only stops crying to breastfeed and who sleeps incredibly poorly. We were told to see the GP for medications for reflux as A would cough and grimace before screaming her little lungs out, but it didn’t ever really resolve. On a few occasions, I queried cow’s milk protein allergy, since she also had eczema and CMPA ran in the family. The doctor dismissed the idea and assured us she would outgrow it. So we sadly continued to treat A for reflux until she was 20 months old. It was an IBCLC who put the possibility of CMPA back on the table. After a dietary elimination and challenge, we saw a remarkable improvement. We had a continued battle to get her milk allergy recognised by the GP and we ended up changing medical practice. Thankfully I had a lot of support from the health visiting team.
A and I continue to breastfeed, she’s a preschooler now. I would never have believed I would be “that mum” breastfeeding an older child, but there you go. Life surprises you. We are moving towards gently weaning in a way which is respectful to her needs and mine.
If you are struggling to breastfeed, or with parenting in general, I do get it. I remember how scary, how confusing, how overwhelming it can be. I know how lonely it can feel. My experiences drove me on to help other parents, and that is why I undertook the training I have, and why you are reading these words today. I hope in some way, that what I write will help others with their journey.
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