World breastfeeding week gave me the motivation to write a post about my experience with breastfeeding, but I I’ve only just felt ready to post it. Nothing in this should be taken as a slight against women who choose not to breastfeed. As long as your child is getting food it is no one else’s place to comment.
I knew before I had Arthur that I wanted to breastfeed. In fact it was one of the only things I did really know. I didn’t delude myself that it would be easy but I didn’t think for a second I wouldn’t be able to do it.
I have inverted nipples which I was assured by my midwife wouldn’t be a problem. Unfortunately she was wrong, and the few days I had to spend in hospital after having him were mainly spent with a healthcare assistant manhandling my boobs trying to get him to latch on and hand syringing the colostrum for me. Manhandling isn’t a good phrase, because they were absolutely brilliant with helping me but it was a constant battle with the latch. Arthur got more yellow and slept all the time (who knew that was wrong!) and eventually the midwife came in and said he had to have formula. Queue first major mummy breakdown of feeling like a failure as I had to watch her syringe my baby whilst my useless boobs were sat there.
We left the hospital armed with formula bottles and my stubborn side fully intending to never use them but to master what apparently should come naturally to women. Or should I say most women, because it certainly did not come naturally to me.
I continued my latch battles which were accompanied with tears and various cushions as we tried every position possible. Midwives came round daily to assist us, I started pumping, I could get a latch with a midwife there and Arthur slung round my body in the most unnatural position. When Chris and I tried to recreate this on our own….no chance!
Then my sister in law in Switzerland talked to me about nipple shields. I decided to give them a go….I was at the try anything stage or I was about to give up. And, they worked! Arthur was able to use the silicon nipple to draw out mine and it was the most amazing feeling…I was finally feeding my son. He put on some weight, got back to birth weight and we were discharged to the Health visitor. My Plymouth HV team were absolutely amazing but they did tell me I shouldn’t use the shields if possible. I was finally getting through days without crying and Arthur no longer needed formula and I expressed as well. The nipple shields were not going anywhere.
At 8 weeks though he stopped putting on weight and we watched him fall down the weight percentiles in the red book of shame as I called it. The doctor advised me to give formula, the HVs gave a lot of support in helping me maintain breastfeeding and we started the stress of weekly weigh ins. It was quite honestly horrendous and I was fortunate to have amazing friends who supported me through this. I also linked in with NCT breastfeeding specialist who gave invaluable advice. Some people told me to just give him formula, but for me it wasn’t a case of ‘just’. This was my one wish for me and Arthur, I couldn’t ‘just’ give up on it. We were back to daily tears as I felt like such a mummy failure. People would say ‘you’ll look back on this and realise it’s not such a big deal’ and I wanted to scream! This was a huge deal, I had people telling me he was ‘failure to thrive’ even though he was meeting every developmental milestone, people telling me to give up on breastfeeding that it wasn’t ‘worth it’. I was being given support yet I still felt so alone. Sat feeding him at night in the nursery wondering what I was doing wrong, yelping in pain every time he pulled the nipple out. I realised I needed a break though so Chris started to give an evening bottle.
We went back to hospital to see a paediatrician and for us this was our first turning point. She told us that he was perfect, small yes, but perfect. Nipple shields weren’t the Devils work, formula wasn’t required if I didn’t want to and although he was dropping percentiles they were not classifying him as failure to thrive. He just couldn’t drop below the bottom one.
Weekly weigh ins continued, there were still tears but we managed to cruise along the line, never quite dropping below. I had a good friend who struggled as well and she was amazing support for me and hopefully me for her…..nothing like talking about cracked nipples over tea and cake as we winced in pain every time they latched!
I tried to stop using the shields, but we had limited success, he was too used to them. I took him to my chiropractor who did cranial massage for his sucking reflex. Not sure if it was a coincidence or if it really helped. Because at 5 months we had the most amazing breakthrough. He completely rejected me with the nipple shield I thought this was it, I was finally going to have to admit defeat. I sat holding my screaming baby as Chris made a bottle when suddenly Arthur launched for my nipple and latched on. Since that day we haven’t looked back and at one year old he’s still a boob fiend.
This was by no means an easy journey but it is one that I am so glad I continued with. I regularly questioned whether I was right to be so stubborn, and for me the answer is yes, but for some of my friends who were having struggles it was no. Neither is right or wrong, it’s what’s best for mummy and baby.
I would urge any mother who is struggling with breastfeeding but wants to continue to look up the support available in their area; latch on groups, health visitors, NCT support, and the national breastfeeding support line all helped me. I personally didn’t find Facebook groups or chat rooms helpful at all. But different things work for different people. Women should be encouraged to do what is right for them and given the support in whatever decision they make.
Just not sure on how/when to stop!!!
Items which helped me:
- silver cups were amazing, they sit over the nipple under the breast pad and naturally soothe, no need for lanolin. (www.breastangel.co.uk)
- MAM nipple shields
- hot flannels
- tea and cake
- a comfortable chair for the nursery
- Comfortable bras! Treated myself to a pretty milk one as well as comfy basics
- Reuseable pads (I found these better than disposable ones)