My Breastfeeding Experiences

I was admitted at my 36 week appointment with my first baby due to pre eclampsia symptoms and was in for 14 days in total, 7 before his birth and 7 after. It was a very traumatic and confusing time. He was born by emergency section at 36+6 weeks and was immediately taken to Special Care Baby Unit while surgery was finished and while I was in recovery. He was brought back to us after that only to be taken again within 30 minutes due to breathing difficulties. He stayed in SCBU for 5 days as they dealt with his breathing and jaundice. I had planned to breastfeed mostly because it was free and I am lazy, I hadn’t really researched the benefits past that! But when he was taken straight to SCBU and stayed there I lost hope that it would happen. 

 

I was in special care myself after the birth, and about 12 hours after he was born at 8pm a midwife said she was going to show me how to express. I so clearly remember telling her I didn’t think it would work because I hadn’t leaked or changed size at all during pregnancy.  She said we’d give it a go, showed me how to massage the breast not the nipple, and we got a drop! I was delighted. She left me to it with some little syringes and a tiny pot, after much concentration I had 0.5ml in the syringe. I was annoyed to be honest, and disheartened. The midwife came back in, I waved my tiny drop of colostrum at her and declared it pathetic thinking she would agree. But she didn’t. She was delighted, said she would bring it straight to SCBU and literally ran out of the room. That interaction was so great for me, and when she reappeared a little while later and said SCBU were delighted with it too I was so happy. For the week previous to this I had sat in hospital feeling like a failure, I hadn’t managed to get to full term, I hadn’t managed to have a natural birth, I hadn’t even been able to hold my baby never mind feed him. But this, this tiny drop of liquid gold was a glimmer of hope that maybe I wasn’t a completely useless mother already.

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The next day I finally got to meet my baby and hold him when he was 30 hours old, with the help of SCBU staff we both began to learn how to breastfeed. It was incredibly awkward as a well meaning staff member tried to basically dock him on my breast which was obviously exposed, not something I was used to sitting around doing! There were people I knew locally visiting their baby and it was so surreal having one boob out in front of an audience while being manhandled that I came so close to saying “just give him a bottle”, he’d already had formula before I got “meet” him so I thought I’d already lost that battle anyway. But thankfully he was much more natural at it than me, and within 3 feeds (3 hours apart, the only times I was allowed to see or hold him) he had latched on perfectly and was described as a “beautiful breastfeeder” by one of the nurses. 

The following day one of the staff said that for that day she wanted me to feed him as I would plan to at home, so exclusively breastfeed or top up with formula. After one hour feeding on one side he unlatched, disgruntled and unsatisfied. I asked her what to do and she said put him on the other side. That day he fed happily for two hours at each scheduled feed, doing his best to bring in my milk to replace the colostrum of the first few days.  Just as everything was going well another nurse overheard that he was feeding for two hours each time, and sauntered over to tell me in the most patronising tone that “if baby feeds for longer than 20 minutes he’s making a fool of you”. Thankfully I was already on board with the accurate advice I had received before hers, if she had gotten to me first I don’t think we’d have made it another week feeding, as my supply would never have established if I listened to her. 

Breastfeeding took getting used to obviously, especially as for the first 5 days I only ever fed him sitting upright in a school chair (post c-section) beside his SCBU cot, with pillows and phrases to help me figure it out, (belly to belly, bring baby to boob not other way around, relaaaax your shoulders). For months I didn’t know how to feed in any other position, day or night! There were some long nights, until at about 12-14 weeks I decided there had to be a better way and learned about safe co-sleeping, laid back feeding and feeding while lying side by side. 

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Getting used to feeding in front of people was a tough one too, especially when people would offer their opinions and advice, which were usually phrased negatively and around the idea that I couldn’t possibly know he was getting enough, or that I was breastfeeding out of some sort of martyrdom or desire to keep others away from him. If you want to help a breastfeeding mother don’t offer to give the baby a bottle while she “has a break”, offer to make her tea or lunch, or to change the baby’s nappy while she pees, or wait until the feed is over and volunteer for baby snuggles if the mum wants to take a shower or nap. There are so many ways to help a breastfeeding mother without suggesting interrupting the establishment of her supply.

Everything went so well with feeding him that it really helped me after the traumatic time surrounding his birth. I felt like it was the one thing I could do right when everything else went wrong, and I got to just sit or lie around while being so functional! He put on weight at an okay sustained pace, considering he was 3 weeks early and the slight delay in getting feeding started.

I aimed for 12 weeks at first, then at 2 weeks it was nearly taken away from me because they thought I might need a medication that wasn’t suitable with bf. My mom, who thought I was mad to breastfeed based on her own bad experience with it and the lack of support for it, stood up for me and told the consultant to find a bf friendly medication. Lo and behold once pushed he found two, but I didn’t need either in the end. Then I aimed for 6 months, when we reached that I thought why on earth would I learn about and pay for formula now, and so I aimed for 12 months. When we got there I had realised it was the best parenting tool I had and that it’s about so much more than nutrition and milk, so we kept going, even when the “when are you going to stop that?” questions started.

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It was around 12 months that it became clear to us that our son’s wakings and poor overall sleep were not normal. He would wake hysterically crying after 30-90 minutes all night, he struggled to get to sleep even with feeding him to sleep. When he would wake he would cling desperately to our hands, constantly pumping his fingers around ours to make sure we were still there. I brought up his terrible distress and how exhausted we both were at developmental checks, doctor and public health nurse appointments, and moaned about it to most people I knew. Almost everyone said it was normal toddler waking, a few even blaming me for it, saying it was bad habits because I breastfed him for “so long” and because he slept in our bed with us. If he didn’t sleep with us he would be absolutely inconsolable when he woke, but people would always ask did we not just pat him back to sleep. They were picturing a toddler stirring gently in their cot, not a little boy in an already restless sleep waking screaming like he had just been prodded with a hot poker. There is no patting or shushing back to sleep from that, only holding him tight to almost restrain him and repeating over and over that he’s okay until he calms enough to feed back to sleep. 

We happily continued breastfeeding through that time, it was clear it brought him great comfort when he didn’t have the words to express how he was feeling and still couldn’t really understand all of mine. He would sit up on my lap and have a feed, quietly looking around him, up at me, lovely moments of peace in the madness of having a toddler, particularly one who we didn’t realize was chronically exhausted and probably frequently in pain or discomfort. As the bad sleep continued I was broken, I began to believe those saying it was my fault, and so I gently night weaned him at 21 months. Of course he still slept just as badly after that, all I had done was lost my best way of soothing him. I was pregnant with my second baby then soon after, and he weaned completely during that when he was 2 years 2 months, as my supply naturally dropped and he just became a more independent little boy. When we eventually got to the bottom of his terrible sleep the Ear Nose and Throat consultant who diagnosed him with sinus, ear and allergy issues causing sleeping apnea said that breastfeeding him through all of it would have been a great source of comfort to him when he couldn’t breathe and the regular swallowing during night feeds would have cleared his ears. There’s so much more than milk to it and we don’t know the half of it.

 

My second son also ended up being born by c-section, but thankfully even though I didn’t choose it it worked out well. I had a detailed list of birth preferences to make sure things that happened the first time didn’t happen again.  He was placed straight on me in theatre after the delayed cord clamping I requested, and he latched on within 5 minutes in recovery. It was fantastic, a world of difference from my first experience. When we got to the ward he was placed in the bed with me and never left except for cuddles with his big brother, dad and visiting family and friends. He fed all night long on his first night, which I wasn’t expecting as I’d always heard they tend to sleep a lot the first night after the birth and that nights 2 and 3 are more difficult, but he was a fan of big feeds and peaceful sleep cuddled in safely beside me from the first night. 

 

I knew within hours of his birth that there was something not quite right with his latch, his top lip didn’t flare out like the lovely fish lips my first son had when latching and would often click and lose the latch, no big deal to reattach him when I was used to feeding a big toddler!  I had mild discomfort  on one side during feeds but I often had issues with that side with my first when he was teething or in a lazy position or when I had blebs or blocked ducts etc so I knew how to deal with to prevent damage and more pain. From the very beginning he was a very pukey baby, my first wasn’t at all so that was a shock. Constant need for towels and cloth beside us, endless outfit changes, for both of us! I wondered how he was keeping anything in at all with the volumes that came out, but he piled on a pound a week for months so there were no concerns and he was just “a happy puker”. But I was reading something on an online group about tongue tie, which I already knew existed. His tongue seemed fine, but he fit the other symptoms. A HSE lactation consultant confirmed he had one and I contacted a specialist, who confirmed from a photo that he has a posterior tongue tie and lip tie. Luckily because it clearly didn’t affect him putting on weight and I wasn’t experiencing pain like so many mums of tongue tied babies do we didn’t need to get it fixed.

 

Thankfully overall feeding him has been very straightforward, and so satisfying and healing for me again when he piled on so much weight! I don’t do pregnancy or births very well but breastfeeding, that I can do! He’s 2.5 years now and “still” feeding like a trooper, it’s lovely to have experienced feeding an older child who can talk about breastfeeding, let you know how much they love it, do little dances when they are excited for it. Before I had my boys I genuinely only thought as far as it being free and me being lazy, then I learned about the nutritional/health benefits but I am delighted to have experienced it for long enough to learn about the comfort, security and relaxation it creates for both, there are so many hormones and long term effects involved for both that we don’t even realise when all we are thinking of is giving our babies a full tummy. 

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The images used in this section of my site were taken by Kate Nolan, an incredible photographer, as part of The Milky Way Project, a worldwide initiative to promote breastfeeding.