I want to talk about my experience.
Goodness, if I thought there was scrutiny over whether I was having a natural birth or a C-section, that was a walk in the park in comparison to the big question of whether I would be breastfeeding or not. The squinty eyes that go with the question: “Are you breastfeeding?” only soften when I tell them: “Yes I am.”
Again, I don’t understand the pressure. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been in a job interview or a doctors consultation that asked me if I was formula/breast fed or if I came into the world via natural or C-section. It’s ridiculous.
Before I was even pregnant, any stories of breastfeeding had a reaction that was my equivalent of a guy grabbing his crotch when someone tells a story of their crown jewels being kicked.
Once I became pregnant, I was worried about breastfeeding because I have really sensitive nipples on an ordinary day. However, I knew that I really wanted to try it and even hoped that I’d have so much milk I’d be able to donate some to orphanages and HIV babies.
On the day George was born, he struggled to suck. I had to teach him how… a nurse showed me how to insert the tip of my pinkie finger and tickle the top of his palate to initiate the sucking motion. In the interim, a nurse squeezed my breasts to get the liquid gold colostrum out. It was really painful, but I didn’t care – I wanted Georgie to get the colostrum even it if was via teaspoon.
By day 2 and 3, George, who was a fast learner was able to suckle, but I hadn’t made enough colostrum and his poor little foot was pricked every 2 hours to check his blood sugar levels, which sadly kept dropping. As a result his body temperature dropped too, so the nurses popped him into an incubator for 2 hours each night and I cried each time. Even though I knew he was fine; I hated being a part from him. The only thing that made me feel slightly better was that Sox went to the nursery to sit with him.
They also topped him up with formula to regulate his blood sugar, which again, wasn’t something I had even thought about, because in my head the plan was breastmilk. It really upset me because I felt like I wasn’t able to provide for him and like I was being a bad Mother.
Why haven’t I learned to stop having plans yet?
On Day 4 my milk came in and my breasts went ROCK HARD. They were completely engorged, lumpy and painful. The problem was George couldn’t latch properly with them being so hard, so he struggled to get any milk out and that night he nursed from 10pm-2am. My nipples were raw and eventually the nurses asked me if I had a dummy so I could pacify him with that, instead of my breasts. It was a welcome relief. The nurses also froze cabbage leaves and nappies that they had wet and frozen. I lay with frozen nappies and cabbage leaves (I smelled a dream) in my nursing bra hoping for relief. It never came. I tried heat packs and hot showers. Nothing worked.
Again, when I planned/pictured how going home from the hospital would be, it was a romanticized idea. Sox driving cautiously at 40km/h, George in his carseat and me in the back watching him. I envisioned us arriving home as a new family of 3, showing him his new home and nursery and then cuddling on the couch with him.
About those plans…
On Day 5 when I was released from hospital, instead of going home, we went straight to Thula Clinic to see Heather Wood, a lactation specialist. I was really sore from the C-section and fibroid removal, but there we were desperately trying to sort my breasts out.
After breast massages and heat packs, Heather suggested I pump/express to try and get the milk out and soften the breasts. We bought a Breast Pump right there and then and we left with the instruction to pump every 2 hours around the clock. Exhausting.
It took me another day and a half to get my breasts soft and the milk out. Milk supply works on your body producing what’s needed…so in the beginning a newborns tummy is the size of a walnut and they literally need 10-15ml of milk. When you get 10-15mls out, your body knows to make another batch and so on… Unfortunately for me, my milk supply was low because my body wasn’t getting the signals to make more with the milk not being drained, so I was behind in milk supply.
In week 2, after a weigh-in, George had dropped too much weight and we were told he’d need to be topped up with formula to make up for what I wasn’t making. To say I was disappointed and gutted was an understatement. I sobbed and felt like such a failure. I know it’s silly to be that hard on myself, but when you have this idea of how it’s going to be and it doesn’t go accordingly, it’s disappointing.
I believe a fed baby is best
and we went to buy formula to top up. At the end of the day I needed to do what was best for him and not what my plan was.
I continued to try and breastfeed George, but because he was so little, he couldn’t latch properly and kept damaging my nipples. The thought of another breastfeed in 2 hours made me shudder and I’ve cried a lot.
I never expected breastfeeding to be this hard.
I can’t believe that something that’s meant to be so natural, is so exceptionally difficult for some. Some friends breastfeed with ease and have no problems. I’m a little jealous.
The first 2 weeks were exhausting. I was pumping/expressing every 2 hours around the clock, then sterilizing and still bottle feeding Georgie with the milk, whilst also trying to get him to breastfeed. I had almost zero sleep.
I was seeing Heather twice a week and I’d have such a good feed at the clinic, but the minute we got home, it would be back to square one and the latch would be painful and I’d land up in tears again.
Breastfeeding is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
I had advice flying at me from everyone (whether I wanted it or not), plus I was also researching how to increase my milk supply. I was put onto Eglynol to boost my milk supply (and still take it), I tried Fenugreek tablets and tea, drank Jungle Juice, and Schlehen Blackthorn Berry Elixir neat. Litres of water, breastfeeding soups… you name it, I’ve tried it.
Just as I would suddenly make 20ml, he’d need 35mls. Suddenly I’d make 35mls and get so excited, only to discover he now needed 50 mls and so on. I was always behind and I’ve never really caught up, plus my breasts go rock hard at least once a week and takes a while to get soft again, so my milk supply gets affected. To this day, I have yet to catch up with his needs.
Today George is 15 weeks old – 3 and a bit months and I have not given up. Perhaps I’m a sucker for punishment, but I just can’t give up – and no, there is no medal or noddy badge.
So many people told me that a happy mom = a happy baby and so many people told me to stop and just move exclusively onto formula because it would be easier for me. I can’t give up just because it’s hard. He might not be getting 100% breastmilk, but while my body is making breastmilk (even though it’s not enough) I’m happy I can provide him with some. At the moment he gets 70% breastmilk and 30% formula. I’d be unhappy knowing I’d given up – that’s just me.
I haven’t built up a supply of milk, because I don’t have enough in the first place, so each express is for the next feed. I envy women with fridges and freezers full of milk. There went my idea of having so much milk I’d be able to donate it to help others.
I am STILL trying to breastfeed and his latch is getting better now that he’s bigger. I use nipple shields for feeds because he slips off my nipples without them and just cannot latch properly. The latch is getting better though. Up until a few weeks ago, to get a good latch (even with the shields) would take a few minutes of terrible latches that were so sore, my nipples cracked. Cringe in pain. Today, we are definitely having more successful feeds.
I’m going to be honest… it’s incredibly inconvenient to be pumping and expressing breast milk every 3-4 hours. It’s double the work. Express, sterilize and then still feed him. However, it is so helpful and wonderful that Sox can do some of the feeds and give me a break.
and Uncle Ross and Aunty Tandi…
This is my expressing schedule (I express for 20 minutes each time): 06h00, 09h00 and then I push it to 13h00 just before I go to work. I then only express again when I get home, which is 18h30. 21h30. 00h30/01h00. I skip the 04h00 express to get some sleep. However, sometimes if George wakes for the 3am feed and my breasts feel too full, Sox will feed him and I’ll express.
The hard thing is Georgie is starting to sleep a little longer at night, and instead of cashing in on those extra hours, I’m still expressing 3-4 hourly.
My breasts still go hard, lumpy and painful at least once a week and in my experience the only thing that softens them is a hot shower and massage (which is really difficult in our water crisis and water restrictions.) I have a cabbage in the fridge and Sox bought me a Happy Hugger heat pack that I can pop into the microwave and that helps.
I just can’t give up yet. My goal is to keep doing this until 6 months and then reevaluate to see how I feel. I’ve pushed my original plan of breastfeeding for a year out of the way.
Admittedly, I am in a routine now. I’m so used to expressing, even though the double work is exhausting, and even more tiring now that I’ve gone back to work. But I’m strangely used to it and it’s become part of my day and night.
What I have learned:
- Stop with the plans and ideas of how you want things. Don’t have a set plan at all, because plans change and you want to be flexible and not disappointed.
- See a Lactation Specialist right away and have your husband/partner present so that he can help too. There is so much going on with your hormones and your head, that you can be quite forgetful. Having someone to assist you and remind you what the specialist said, is invaluable.
- A fed baby is best. Full stop.
- Do what makes you happy. Don’t try to please others based on their opinions.
- People will always give their opinion and advice. They only mean well. Decide who you want to take advice from.
- I’m resilient and I’m proud of myself, even though I can be really hard on myself too – I’m working on it.
Here’s a pic of Georgie (taken last week.) This little guy is so worth it all!