Like so many other women, my breastfeeding journey has not been plain sailing, as it’s World Breastfeeding week I thought I’d share my experience. As I mentioned in my previous post, Juniper latched on really well while I was in recovery. I was so relieved, I knew that breastfeeding can be difficult; sometimes babies can’t latch on; sometimes it’s hard to get the positioning right; sometimes it’s painful. There are so many different reasons why women are unable to breastfeed and I felt like feeding immediately meant that it would be easy. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
As a result of my gestational diabetes, Juniper had to have blood tests every three hours after she was born so that her blood sugar levels could be checked. She needed three normal results in a row and I was told that I could only feed her when told so that the timings would be right for the blood tests. I found the logistics of breastfeeding tricky and needed help to hold Juniper in the right position. This wasn’t really surprising as I was recovering from major surgery but Juniper could latch on and I was happy that it was all going well. Once the blood tests were all over and (to my relief) all fine I was told that I could feed Juniper whenever she wanted milk. This didn’t seem to be very often, looking back I think that possibly feeding her on a schedule for the first day rather than on demand confused her slightly as she just seemed to sleep and sleep and sleep on the second day.
Late on the second day feeding became more of a problem. Juniper wanted to feed but I was really struggling. I tried (unsuccessfully) to feed Juniper for about five hours. I was in pain, my nipples were bleeding, I was worried that the only sustenance Juniper was getting was my blood. I asked for help but was told to keep trying, that it does hurt to begin with, I should expect toe curling pain and it would be worse the next day. I cried when she tried to latch on. It was painful, I was frustrated and most of all I was scared that I wasn’t providing what my baby needed. Finally at around 1am I admitted defeat. I asked for help, I said I needed something else to feed my baby. I felt like I was doing some kind of illicit drug deal, the care assistant said she knew what I was talking about but she wasn’t allowed to offer it, I had to ask for it. ‘Formula’ felt like such a dirty word and I was so disappointed in myself for asking for it. In retrospect this is ridiculous. My baby needed food and I got her food. I provided exactly what she needed and I shouldn’t have been made to feel bad for that.
The following day I was put on an electric breast pump in a bid to prove to me that there was milk and I didn’t need to give Juniper formula. I spent ten minutes trying to express from one breast and then ten minutes on the other, there was nothing, not a single drop of colostrum. We decided to combination feed, I would continue to attempt to breastfeed but top up with formula. Looking back, I strongly believe that one of the main problems which stopped me from breastfeeding was the food in hospital. I’m a vegetarian and the food choices were very limited. For two days I had a cheese sandwich for lunch and a salad for dinner. Not a huge plate full of delicious vegetables but a plastic tub full of iceberg lettuce with a very small helping of tomato, some depressingly limp cucumber and some egg or cheese. I think I just wasn’t getting enough calories to make milk. Once home I decided to give myself a break. I had a day off trying to breastfeed. I applied lanolin liberally and we fed Juniper formula, making sure that I was the only one feeding her and that she was opening her mouth just like she was latching on. Luckily I had done a lot of research before Juniper’s birth and had bought Mam anti-colic bottles as they are supposed to be good to prevent confusion when going between bottle and breast.
Initially once home I had no idea what I should be doing. I didn’t know how often to feed Juniper or how much to give her. I contacted my local breastfeeding group and they were fantastic. They gave me details of a specialist who gave me some great advice. I felt so much calmer once I had some idea of what I should be doing! Unfortunately due to the confusion and difficulty with feeding, Juniper had lost a lot of weight and we were very close to being sent back into hospital.
After a rest from breastfeeding and a bit of recovery I was feeling much better and a lot less sore and Juniper was calmer as she had been having formula and was no longer starving. I began combination feeding again, breastfeeding as and when I could but topping up with formula. I still needed help to hold Juniper in position to breastfeed and I insisted on continuing to give Juniper all of her formula top ups too, I wanted her to know that food came from me. Gradually Juniper’s weight increased and we reduced the amount of formula we were giving her. I began expressing milk too, it was less painful than breastfeeding while I was healing and it helped to encourage my milk to come in and made me feel better about bottle feeding as I knew that Juniper was still getting my milk. Soon we were able to stop giving formula and rely on breastfeeding and bottle feeding expressed milk.
Over time I became more independent feeding Juniper. My disability still makes it hard to hold Juniper while she feeds. I can only hold her to one breast and I need to use my legs to support her so I continue to express from the side where I can’t hold her. This is handy as it means that I have expressed milk for when we’re out and about. The thought of trying to breastfeed outside our home just seems too difficult at present. We recently popped out to our local church to speak to the priest about a christening. Juniper had just fed and we weren’t going to be long so we didn’t take any milk. What a mistake that was! I ended up sitting on a pew with my feet up on the pew in front desperately (and unsuccessfully) trying to get Juniper to latch on. Paul ended up talking to the priest while I tried in vain to stop Juniper from simultaneously deafening people and flashing my boob to them all.
I am so pleased that I am able to breastfeed but for me it really hasn’t turned out to be the easy option! The expressing means we are constantly sterilising and it’s hard to put Juniper down for long enough to express a good amount. I feel like I’m constantly either feeding or expressing but I’m determined to stick with it. When Lentil died and my milk came in it was like torture. I had all this milk and no-one to give it to, every time I showered and triggered my milk flow I cried. Now I’m just grateful that Juniper is here and I can feed her. So many women find that they can’t breastfeed and I know that I’m lucky that I can. It’s not been an easy journey so far but it’s so worthwhile. I don’t know how long I will continue to breastfeed for but I’m seeing every day as a bonus and I know that if at some point I have to switch to formula she will be absolutely fine, just so long as she’s fed.