World breastfeeding week this week. Breastfeeding conjures up so many mixed emotions for me.
Warning – this post is an in depth post about my breastfeeding experience with talk of breasts, nipples and photographs.
Miss 5 was born in 2011. When attending the antenatal classes at our local hospital, “breast is best” was drilled into us. We weren’t even allowed to discuss bottles and formula etc because it was against NSW Health policy at the time. There was a mum to be in the class who needed to resume taking medication as soon as she gave birth and wouldn’t be able to breastfeed as a result, and she and her partner needed to hang around after the class to discuss separately!
I knew I wanted to breastfeed. Bonding aside, the cost of formula and purchasing bottles etc was something I wanted to avoid. So that was our plan. I would breastfeed.
When Miss 5 arrived after a VERY long labour (a story for another time), she needed to be taken to NICU straight away due to breathing difficulties. When it was time for her first feed, she needed to remain in the humidicrib and receive a bottle. I was devastated! I wanted to be holding her and feeding her myself. At 3am, I received a call to say I should go to the NICU and breastfeed. I was without my husband and without a midwife trained to assist new Mumma’s with breastfeeding. I placed her on as best I knew how and we went with it. It felt strange and a little sore but I persevered and Miss 5 seemed content.
Miss 5’s first breastfeed.
She was released to the maternity ward the next day and we continued on feeding. It hurt, and I mean a lot. Each feed I would get nervous. Each feed I would get tense. Each feed it hurt more and more. Each feed a different midwife would come to the room and show me a different way.
“Try directly in front of you”. “Try the football hold”. “Try laying down”. “Try sitting in this chair with a million pillows around you and books under your feet”.
It was exhausting. It was painful. My nipples were cracked. My nipples were bleeding. One night I pressed the buzzer, ready for the next feed and I was crying. Not a little bit. A lot. I felt defeated. I felt incompetent. I felt like a bad mum and I’d only been doing it for two days. The midwife that came in saw how distressed I was and went to fetch a nipple shield. An argument ensued between this lovely midwife and another midwife.
“Her baby is too young, Mum’s supply will drop and the baby will need to go on the bottle”.
The lovely midwife showed me how to apply it and although the feed still hurt, I felt hope.
Nipple shields are a pain in the arse. They need cleaning, they take time to apply which means you can’t be discreet. But my nipples started to heal. Miss 5 lost less than 10% of her birth weight so we felt like everything was going ok and went home.
Everything took a turn for the worse once we got home. The pain, even with the shield on, was so intense. Each feed was filled with dread, pain and fear. I was having to psych myself up. A countdown for latching. 3, 2, 1 – wuss out. 3, 2, 1 – latch on. Pain, suckling, pain. My husband got up with me nearly every feed, offering support.
The feeds also took a long time. 40 minutes minimum and then time to change her and resettle her. It was exhausting for my husband and I.
I remember searching for lactation consultants who could come to my home, nothing local. The cost, daunting. I remember going to the local community clinic on a Saturday, without an appointment. No interest in helping me. I was eventually appointed a lactation consultant through the Community Clinic and she was a miracle. Hubby went and hired a breast pump from the chemist. I was expressing good volumes into bottles. Miss 5 guzzled them down. I was still using the nipple shield, still painful. Weight was beginning to drop. Nipples were still bleeding. The lactation consultant amazed I had not come down with mastitis. When Miss 5 reached approximately 5 weeks, the lactation consultant said to me that I needed to make a call. I said I really wanted to continue to breastfeed.
Miss 5 was confused. She didn’t know what to latch to. She had been exposed to my nipples, bottle teats and nipple shields. The lactation consultant suggested we apply to Karitane to be admitted for a stay to get round the clock assistance. Forms were filled in. Motilium prescription obtained and consumed.
I used to have to hold my breast at feed times.
And I started to relax. I knew help was on the way. And then a day I will remember forever. Easter Sunday, 2011.
We host Easter Sunday Brunch for both sides of my family. My mother-in-law (Mum-O) and sister-in-law cooked all the food that year, but it was still in our home. Stupid? Probably, but they did nearly everything, I think.
After everyone else had gone home, Mum-O stayed and was chatting with my hubby and I. I had been trying feeds without the shield, and this particular feed, Miss 5 managed to latch on to my nipple and it didn’t hurt. We were at Mum O’s later for dinner and I tried the other side without a nipple shield and it didn’t hurt either. I cried tears of joy! I was elated. 6 weeks of trying and we made it!
From there it was a breeze and I breastfed her for 18 months.
I conceived Mr 3 at the time of stopping breastfeeding and I was apprehensive about what the next breastfeeding experience would be like.
Thankfully, he was a natural. I delivered him and he was placed directly on my chest. After an hour of him snuggling with me, he fed. It didn’t hurt at all. It felt great!
Mr 2, milk drunk!
He was clearly a different baby to Miss 5 and he fed and slept. He fed in under 20 minutes. He settled straight away. My supply was fantastic. I knew when my milk had come in. It was obscene I tell you. I have big breasts as it is – I think I have Dolly Parton a run for her money. It wasn’t obvious with Miss 5. It was all so different. I am grateful I got this easier and less painful experience. I breastfed him for 18 months too.
I remember being out with Miss 5 and my brother one day and he told me he was proud of me for my perseverance and sticking to my guns for something I believed in. I cherish that memory.
As I said above, this is MY breastfeeding experience. I don’t think I’m a better mum because I breastfed and the mum in the next bed didn’t. This is what I wanted for me and my babies. This is the path we chose for us.