The number one thing I want to say is, I didn’t have a fricking clue about breastfeeding before I gave birth. In fact, I hadn’t even really thought about it. I knew I wanted to give it a go, I had read the leaflets the midwives hand out,I’d been to parentcraft and discussed it, watched the crazy midwife show me her positions with her doll and show me Marmite covered nappies. I thought I knew something.
I knew NOTHING.
One thing people don’t tell you is: Breastfeeding is bloody HARD. It’s not easy, and it doesn’t always come naturally. And, it’s not as easy as picking up the baby and shoving it on your boob. I can fully understand why some people choose not to, or try it and then decide on other methods. I have been close to this myself on many occasions and in fact most days I still think about it.
This is only my opinion and experience, though. Everyone is different.
In my head I had it all worked out: give birth, then after have skin to skin and then have that magical first breastfeeding moment. Feel that rush of love and bonding and attachment. However, what I hadn’t planned on was a venteuse birth, an episiotomy, a cord round the neck and Nancy needing a bit of oxygen as she was born. She was put on me for a few moments before being whisked onto the resusitair. I was in shock, and not thinking straight.
The First Time
My first experience of breastfeeding was holding my baby swaddled up, with a midwife holding my breast to the baby’s mouth, repeatedly trying to get her to latch on – she didn’t. I don’t know why I didn’t ask the midwife to stop touching my boob. Then she told me she’d get someone to help me. I heard her shouting outside my room for someone to help me with feeding – she kept shouting and asking.
In the meantime I got up and showered myself – no-one around to take me to a bath or help me with a shower – and I cleaned myself up, and then someone came in and talked to me about hand expressing. I had to squeeze my boobs and the midwife sucked up the colostrum with a syringe. So my baby’s first meal was a syringe stuck into her mouth with colostrum in it. Not quite the way I’d imagined it….
It seems obvious but it hadn’t clicked I my mind what I was doing on the postnatal ward; again as soon as I got to the bed people hovered around asked questions checked tags and started their postnatal checks. The nurse in charge left some leaflets and charts on my bed but I didn’t really take in what she said.
Now what I failed to grasp is that you need to feed your child on postnatal ward. They need to see how you feed your child before you can go home. It was never spelt out to me Like that and i wish it had. i was too shocked, traumatized and most of all tired to think logically Myself. Thing is, Nancy wouldn’t latch on and so I used the buzzer to get help. To start with I felt silly using the buzzer as if I was making a fuss. Each time a HCA or midwife would come and look at me expectantly. I’d ask them for help. They would grab my boob and start the shoving into gob process. Nancy would have none of it. Then they’d ask me about hand expressing. Most would then start milking my breasts and scraping the milk off into a syringe. I would say they would ask my permission to do this and ask me to say when to stop as it was uncomfortable. However what was i to do otherwise as I didn’t really know what I was doing in the first place!
Nancy’s first few feeds were via the syringe method. She wasn’t latching on or sucking either. During the afternoon having visitors took the focus away from feeding but as soon as it became evening it was centre stage again. By this time I was so tired I felt like I was floating. I really didn’t have a clue. The night went by in a haze of buzzers, hands on boobs and shoving into mouth, hand expressing and scraping syringes and eventual sleep with Nancy on my chest. A midwife got her to latch on and feed for 5 mins in the early morning and I’d done it myself too. However I still didn’t understand what I needed to do to get her to latch on. Every time I asked for help they did help me to latch her on but as soon as they left nancy would come off and id be stuck again.
In the end I spent 6 days in hospital. 6 DAYS! I was actually discharged on day 2 but I asked to be readmitted within hours as nancy wasn’t feeding or latching on. It was after this and a bit of a breakdown that people started to explain things and it started to make sense. They put me on a 3 hourly feeding plan and got me into a routine of change nappy, skin to skin then feed. She was still awkward though and i still had to ask for help and depending who it was i either got the help or they’d Touch my boobs and do it like before. Pretty soon you get used to having your knockers out and get desensitized to people touching them or manoeuvring into baby’s mouth.
I got the hang of what latching on meant and felt like and me and nancy started to get going with breastfeeding. It seemed to be going well until she was weighed on day 4 and she’d lost
11% of her body weight – up to 10% is acceptable. This meant we couldn’t leave hospital and knocked my confidence with feeding. I then had to get someone to check the latch at every feed. Cue buzzing, having to explain they needed to check latch as agreed (some ppl seemed to know some didn’t) and more hands on or off approach. It seemed to go well but next day nancy had lost a measly 5g so they kept me in again. The next night more observation was agreed but this time nancy didn’t play ball and screamed and screamed, refused to latch on and in the end 40ml of formula milk was all that would calm her down.
I was pretty gutted at this point and confused as to what to do. Midwives talked to me about options; expressing my milk, using formula, or carry on breastfeeding but one midwife told me that Nancy was hungry and that not all babies can breastfeed. If she lost any more weight they’d start her on formula anyway. I felt like I’d never leave hospital and I was terrified she would lose more weight. So I decided to express and top up with formula so that we could go home. Which was heartbreaking to do as I’d tried so hard but I was stressed and worried and I had to get out of there!
Being at home was the best thing I could have done. To start with I felt very emotional and upset because everything had not gone the way I wanted to. I was still reliving the birth and all the stress of the last 6 days in hospital, and i felt like I’d given up. Most of all I was very anxious about weight gain. Talking to the community midwife helped who suggested I speak to a peer-to-peer breastfeeding supporter and encouraged me to still try nancy on the breast before expressing and formula. At times she would breastfeed and others she would point-blank refuse to. I contacted the NCT and a lovely lady who was a breastfeeding counsellor came and saw me, helped me to latch on again and started to make me believe in could breastfeed again.
Twitter is an amazing source of advice help and friendship and this is proven when you have a bit of a personal crisis or ask questions. I asked twitter for help about my breastfeeding situation and although I didn’t think anyone could help me, I was inundated by support, help, people who’d been in the same situation and people who put me in touch with people in my local area who were involved in breastfeeding support. This is how I ended up seeing another breastfeeding counsellor who was not only lovely but really helped me to see I could do this and build up my confidence; chatted to me about my experiences; just listened to me. Nancy latched on that afternoon and suddenly we were breastfeeding all the time. The relief I felt was immense. I can’t thank those people I know on twitter enough who helped me.
Now I must say I had been one of those people at parentcraft who didn’t listen to the peer supporter and pooh-poohed why I’d want a stranger in my home to talk to me about breastfeeding; I don’t like meeting new people or talking to people I don’t know so I hadn’t taken it seriously. But I will say this now the help and support you can get is amazing and I am very glad I swallowed my pride and my fears and allowed these people into my home. They do a fab job and I have nothing but praise and admiration for them. In one hour they made me feel better about myself, my breastfeeding ability and proved to me I could do it. All as a volunteer.
So nancy has regained her birth weight; we are still breastfeeding although I worry constantly that she’s not getting enough milk as she feeds pretty much all day. The health visitor has been great and reassuring and when i take her to clinic tomorrow to be weighed I will have some peace of mind. But what matters is that I have managed to do it; overcome my fears and anxieties, and I did what I set out to do and there is no better feeling than breastfeeding your child. Whatever happens in the future I can say I breastfed.
I guess I just didn’t prepare myself enough for what happens after the delivery suite; maybe no-one can really do that as its such an individual experience. What I would say is read up on breastfeeding, get in touch with peer supporters, try to understand what breastfeeding is. I wish I had. I’ll also say I used to think these peer supporters and organisations would be all super-duper pro breastfeeding and try to force it on me – this couldn’t be more far from the truth. In my experience no-one tried to sway me one way or another and didn’t run screaming from the house when I said I’d been giving nancy formula. They were not judgemental at all which I was glad about. So use these resources at your disposal as in hospital they just can’t give you the amount of 1:1 support that these can offer you.
I’ll let you know how I get on with my breastfeeding as I’m still going and I have no plans to stop as yet. I’ve even managed to breastfeed in public. Woop! Let me know if you had a similar experience or if you want to find out more let me know.