No this is not a “breast is best” post or formula bashing. I could not breastfeed my daughter for more than 10 days and after pumping for 6 weeks it was formula that kept my daughter alive. She did well on formula, like many other babies out there.
But the fact is I could have breastfed her. I had such a strong desire to breastfeed her, I just had no idea what I was doing and it hurt. Breastfeeding needs to be taught and learned most of the time by both Mum and baby and I didn’t realise this.
Despite being the most natural thing in the world, to me breastfeeding was hell. I pumped and expressed while my daughter was in NICU for 2 days and in this time she got used to a bottle as I just didn’t know how to latch her while she was so sleepy. I had nipple trauma from scraping my nipples with syringes trying to catch the colostrum drops.
The midwives did try and help me to latch her once out of NICU but they just didn’t have the proper time to teach me. I didn’t know what a good breastfeeding latch was so after 10 days of feeding her I quit. I had got to the stage where I would cringe when she cried and I would dread feeding her. Feeds were toe-curling painful and in the end I would cry during every feed and my nipples would bleed after. My husband said enough is enough, I hadn’t smiled in days and I stopped feeding her and started expressing to bottle feed her again.
It was the best thing I ever did as I finally started to enjoy being a mum. Eventually my milk dried up and we moved to formula. Despite me feeling like stopping breastfeeding was the best thing I ever did I regretted my decision to stop breastfeeding and felt like a failure.
Once I found out I was pregnant with my second child I decided to do my research so that I would not fail again. I read every breastfeeding book I could get my hands on and attended a couple La Leche League meetings to speak to breastfeeding mums to get advice. I went a little crazy and bought different types of nipple shields and shells to help grow flat nipples, nipple creams, a feeding pillow and a lovely rocking chair all to help me succeed this time.
With my hours of nerdy research I realised that my positioning and attachment was all wrong the first time round; I was always crouched over my daughter and I needed to be sat up straight. I researched and nagged my husband into looking at different feeding positions and what a good latch looked like so that when my son was born we were well prepared.
After my c section in the recovery room my husband and I successfully got my baby boy latched onto the breast within an hour of him being born and it was the proudest moment of my life. That first feed was amazing, I felt like super mum. I concentrated on getting every latch right in those early days even if it meant unlatching him and relatching him 20 times, I was determined to get it right.
Breastfeeding can hurt! No matter what anyone says to you, it felt like I’d stuck a piranha onto my boob each time for those first few days! Even with my latch, positioning and attachment being perfect my nipples still got sore and scabbed over. Every feed hurt and I almost quit. It was sheer stubbornness, determination and encouragement from a couple of breastfeeding friends that got me through it and then suddenly by week 2 the pain had gone. I realised that I had done it. I’d made it past the 10 days point where I had quit the first time and my nipples were not sore at all – it was a wonderful feeling.
I cannot stress enough how hard breastfeeding is. My son cluster feeds a lot for example; on his second day of life he did not stop sucking on my boobs as he was trying to get my milk in. I thought maybe I was starving him as he was never satisfied but I knew from the books I’d read that this was quite normal newborn behaviour to get my milk to come in. And now he cluster feeds about once every couple of weeks (growth spurt I believe) where he will be attached to my boobs for at least 6 hours, again completely normal behaviour. This isn’t easy to deal with but when I see how much weight my sons put on and see the fat rolls forming on his body I can’t complain. I love that I am giving him exactly what he needs.
Then just as I was feeling smug about my breastfeeding success, during week 5 of breastfeeding I got mastitis – which is the illest I’ve ever felt. Imagine lighting your boobs on fire while having the flu and then having to function and take care of a newborn – that’s mastitis and it’s absolute hell.
I’m not telling you this to scare you off breastfeeding. I just hope that it may make other mums feel like they are not failing if they are going through what I have. An isolated mother may quit breastfeeding like I did the first time around because she may think it isn’t normal for it to be that hard, when in reality it really can be. We need to be honest when we are struggling so that we can create realistic expectations for other new mummies.
We talk about how hard childbirth is but why do we not talk about how hard it is to breastfeed? Yes it is completely natural but it certainly wasn’t natural to me at first. A La Leche League leader told me how breastfeeding is like sex. Sex is meant to be completely natural and yet the first time you do it neither of you have a clue what you are doing but after some practise and time suddenly it works. Very crude way of putting it but this is exactly how breastfeeding can be.
Both mum and baby have got to learn how to breastfeed and for some this isn’t easy. Sure you get some mums and babies who know exactly what they are doing, my son for example is a great breastfeeder and loves the boob. My daughter wasn’t a natural and I needed to teach her how to feed but as I had no clue myself this was why I failed. I did not know it can be normal for breastfeeding to hurt. I’m not saying that I would have been able to breastfeed my daughter even with all this support but I would have felt less like a failure, and I would not have had so many regrets if I had given it a good try.
Mums need more breastfeeding support and I’m going to give it by being completely honest about how hard it is. I’m going to be out in the world feeding my baby with so much pride.
I’m not going to start marching about declaring we need to free the nipple or preaching that breast is best as I don’t believe that. But I do believe in honesty to ourselves and other mums and mums-to-be. Breastfeeding can be horrible and detrimental to the health of a mother and it can also be the most wonderful thing in the world. I know because I’ve been at both ends of this spectrum. It hurts and it’s hard and annoying and yes I lactate to any child I hear crying not just my own but I can tell you that it is worth it.
If you can’t breastfeed then don’t beat yourself up about it as a baby needs a happy mummy. Don’t give up on a bad day. Take it one feed at a time, one day at a time like I did and suddenly you’re 2 months down the line successfully boobing still with no signs of stopping. Breastfeeding is amazing and one of the best things I’ve ever done and I’m planning on riding this hormonal high while sniffing his little head for many months to come.