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My Breastfeeding Experience

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.

However,

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 Gran…

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!

 

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17 Comments

  • Reply Amy Brown

    Ah Bailey! I’m so sorry you’ve had such a hard time! I also struggled with breastfeeding – Caleb had reflux, gas and colic and would pull off me and scream his lungs out but still be hungry. Only from about 5.5 months (he’s 7 months now), has it actually become enjoyable and a pleasure. BFing is portrayed as this serene zen-like experience, and it can be, but so often it’s incredibly difficult for mom and baby. You can be very proud of yourself for not giving up and formula or breast, George is growing and happy and health and has the very best mama! Keep going – you’re amazing and it does get better! xx

    September 28, 2017 at 11:32 am
  • Reply Tammy

    Ah Bailey, I’m reading your post while also fighting the breastfeeding battle with my 3 week old daughter. It sounds all too familiar. But your perseverance has given me the motivation to keep trying. Thank you for posting this… and don’t give up! Big hugs! xx

    September 28, 2017 at 11:44 am
  • Reply Labeeqah

    Just hang in there he will get better at it as he grows! I only recently stopped expressing and got my LO to breastfeed fully after I get home from work and during the night. He was born at 25 weeks so I had to express all his milk for months( I know this is super hectic because when everyone expects you to be ‘sleeping’ you actually pumping most of the time, so draining but so worth it at the end of the day) He was in hospital for 109 days. When he finally came home his palate was still too high to suck properly so I had to express each and every feed for him. Now that I am unable to produce enough milk for him I also top him up with formula and he drinks formula throughout the day while I’m at work. All the best !! Hang in there!!

    September 28, 2017 at 12:03 pm
  • Reply Angela von Brughan

    Bailey, good on you for sticking to what you believe in! I wasn’t able to breastfeed (due to many complications etc which I won’t bore you with) and I know how horrible it felt. You feel like an absolute failure as a Mom (even though your NOT) but you just can’t help feeling it… You’re doing a fantastic job! Good luck and keep up the good (hard) work!

    September 28, 2017 at 12:20 pm
  • Reply Caley

    You are incredible Bails, and you can be so proud of the strong woman and mama that you are!
    Well done for persevering, it is a great achievement but also couldn’t agree more that fed is best! I had three very different breastfeeding experiences but very proud that I tried x

    September 28, 2017 at 1:17 pm
  • Reply Liza

    Wow, little George is just GORGEOUS well done. You are doing a fantastic job. And I really have to admire you for persisting with the double duty of expressing and botteling. Well done Mommy Lion and welcome to the roller coaster ride of Motherhood, the most exhausting and most rewarding thing ever. Remember to listen to your own advice

    September 28, 2017 at 2:54 pm
  • Reply Gillian

    It’s not easy. I threw in the towel with Megan at 4 months. With Kaylin I decided to wasn’t worth it and she was bottle fed from 4 weeks. To put additional pressure on yourself wasn’t worth it for me. No sleep made me grumpy and intolerant and short tempered. No none needs to deal with that – hubby or baby…do what is right for you, Bailey

    September 28, 2017 at 3:00 pm
  • Reply Paulina

    It’s like I am reading a page out of my own journey, breastfeeding is REALLY HARD and not so Natural after all! I was quitting 5 times a day every day… It’s hard so well done for being such an awesome mom trying to do the best you can. xxx

    September 28, 2017 at 3:15 pm
  • Reply Karen van zyl

    Hi bailey

    So sorry for your experience with breastfeeding had the same thing however now midwife or nurse to assist me at all had to eventually go and call a nurse but once we got home it got worse eventually I decided that even though I pump out at least he is getting some breastmilk and a top up of formula…carried this on up to 4 months but after that I couldn’t anymore but you are right in saying a fed baby is a happy baby doesn’t matter what he gets to eat especially today that same little boy I had is 2 years old…and o boy wait until they start to cut teeth and doesn’t want to eat anything but soft foods like purity….don’t be too hard on yourself I guess every woman is their own worst critic….you are doing great so do what you feel is best for you boy….from one mom who also didn’t have enough milk they eventually grow and become young handsome boys…you keep doing what you do for george….best of luck.

    September 28, 2017 at 6:38 pm
  • Reply Leeanne

    Well done!! You are doing an amazing job. He is such a cutie! I had (and still have) a very different breastfeeding journey… I am one of those whose breastfeeding journey has been a breeze! My little one is 17 months old and breastfeeding Is still going strong. Your story is inspiring! Keep up the amazing job you are doing, it is tough but all worth it in the end. Xoxo

    September 28, 2017 at 7:22 pm
  • Reply Natasha

    Aah Bailey! While I can’t relate, I just want to say good on you for following your own instinct. I’d just say do what feels rights for you and George! Good luck!

    September 29, 2017 at 6:24 am
  • Reply Rabia

    Thanks for sharing Bailey. Good luck, you are an incredible mama.

    September 29, 2017 at 9:41 am
  • Reply Louise

    Your honesty and vulnerability is what makes this post so touching. I can totally relate to so much of it, even though, after a week or so of battling, breastfeeding got easier for me. But I still went through the mastitis, and cracked, painful nipples where I cried with each feed. It’s “supposed” to be natural, but for eff’s sake, it really is difficult, and I credit the amazing nurse who helped me in the hospital with my first few feeds. She is the reason, in my opinion, that I could breastfeed. Well done on what you are doing, but don’t in any way feel bad if/when you just can’t anymore. It’s tough. You’re doing your best. Please please please be kind and gentle to yourself. None of my “baby plans” worked out either. Not a single one of them. Much love and regards to you.

    September 29, 2017 at 12:04 pm
  • Reply Tanya

    Thanks for sharing your story Bailey. Breastfeeding wasn’t easy for me either and in the end I had to put my baby on formula due to complications. I agree totally a fed baby is best xxx

    September 29, 2017 at 8:42 pm
  • Reply Mariska

    Strongs hun!!! I struggled just as much with my first born but managed to b/f him until 6 months. My second baby was MUCH easier. Remember: you have to do what works for you. You will still be an absolute awesome mommy if you do decide to stop. Hugs hugs hugs. Its not easy. Thats for shure.

    October 2, 2017 at 3:25 pm
  • Reply Lauren Schwarz

    Please, please, please join La Leche League South Africa Facebook page!!! It is a tremendous help and such a source of support for Mommies who breastfeed.

    I am breastfeeding my third baby now and wish I had known about this group with my first born because it has helped me so much.

    Well done for persevering and pushing through – you are trying so hard, and that in itself is to be commended.

    October 4, 2017 at 7:14 pm
  • Reply Cassandra Santos

    I’ve become so used to the sound of your expressing machine in the backround of your insta posts, that if you had to stop it would just be too weird! :p so proud of you for sharing and for your persistence – what a champ!

    October 11, 2017 at 5:41 am
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