Breastfeeding – it’s a tricky subject isn’t it? So much pressure, so much judgement and all that everyone wants to do is their best. That’s all I was aiming for, I naively thought it would be a simple, natural process – little did I know it would be way harder than I could ever have imagined. So, I thought I’d share our story along with the trials and tribulations we’ve faced so far, so show that breastfeeding is not always a walk in the park, it takes determination and a strong will – don’t I know! This might be a bit of a rambly post, so bear with me. Here is our story so far…..
THE FIRST WEEK
When Violet was born, she immediately latched perfectly and fed really well, we were off to a great start. It felt natural, right and just like it was meant to be. In hospital I was impressed by the level breastfeeding support – they have volunteer breastfeeding support workers that will visit you once a day, plus the midwives were so lovely – I even had a full lesson on latching at 4am! Our first couple of days feeding went perfectly. Things took a turn for the worst when Violet’s jaundice had progressed. Her condition had worsened so we were taken to a private room where she would be in her own incubator with the special lights to cure her jaundice. I was then told I could only take her out of the lightbox for a total of 20 minutes, so I could offer her 10 minutes per breast only- she would then need to be topped up with formula as this was an important step of flushing out the jaundice.
This was a really tricky situation for me. I had got off to such a great start feeding her, I didn’t want to give her the formula topup, but of course under the advice of the medical team I had to do what was best for her health and agreed to start topping her up. She took to the bottle immediately and gobbled down her first bottles of formula like it was a chocolate Easter egg, she seemed to really love it. On day 3 after birth, my milk fully came in. I was engorged and in pain and unable to feed my baby properly left me feeling devastated as she took the formula infront of me, the hormones rampaging probably didn’t help either.
WEEKS 2-3 – CLUSTER FEEDS
When we got home from hospital, I continued breastfeeding Violet on demand, giving her one bottle of formula before bedtime as this would be her most unsettled time with her colic and reflux (theres a whole other post coming up on this!)
During the day we would sit on the sofa for hours upon hours and during the night I’d sit bleary eyed as she fed for 2-3 hours in a row as everyone slept around me. She seemed to just want to feed and feed and feed! I did quite a lot of googling at this point, asking ‘is it normal to breastfeed for 6 hours straight?‘. The midwife visited and stated it was cluster feeding and totally normal, so I continued on – each day rolling into the next in a haze of cluster feeds. All I seemed to do was sit on the sofa, watch TV and feed Violet, all day, every day. Her feeds were so long and so random I also felt I couldn’t leave the house as I couldn’t predict when she would need feeding and when Vee went back to work I started to feel pretty isolated. Whenever anyone visited the house, I’d just be feeding her continuously – they wanted to hold her for a cuddle but she’d just scream to be put back on the boob. It felt like a lot of responsibility to be the only one that could feed her and I needed to be available for her 24/7.
I was also getting quite sore. I bought some Medela Nipple Shields which worked a treat to help me heal up, although when I went to remove them after a couple of days, Violet just would not latch naturally anymore. She would just bob about, unable to find where to latch, even if I showed her, she wouldn’t suck or latch on. She would get so frustrated with this that she’d scream and beat her tiny arms and legs like a swimmer doing the front crawl. So, I ended up putting the nipple shield back on (even though I no longer needed it!) and she’d latch onto this immediately and feed happily again.
So, for around 2 weeks we used the nipple shields full time, which is not recommended – but I think it was better than giving up feeding or putting her through the stress of being so frustrated every time! I did try and take them away numerous times, but she never did learn to latch again.
It was Thursday evening of Violet’s 5th week, I remember the exact date so well – Vee arrived home at 5pm to find me still on the sofa in my pyjamas, this is where she’d left me at 7am that morning. I told her I hadn’t eaten all day, I’d only managed to nip to the loo once or twice and Violet had spent the day feeding. She would scream if I put her down. I was exhausted and Violet was completely overtired too. I just broke down and said ‘I can’t do this anymore, I don’t think I’m giving her enough!‘. I gave Violet over to Vee and we decided she’d try her with a bottle of formula. I ran myself a hot bath and closed the bathroom door, I needed a time out from motherhood, just for 30 minutes to collect my thoughts and recoup. I sat in the bath and tears of frustration rolled down my cheeks, why can’t I just feed her naturally – we had got it in the hospital, how and why had it gone so wrong?!
When I came out of the bathroom, I found a content, sleeping baby in Vee’s arms and breathed a sigh of relief. Finally she had settled. Vee told me that she’d drunk the bottle of formula like she’d never eaten before. She must have been starving, I felt so guilty for letting her get to that point, but I thought I was doing the best thing to keep trying to breastfeed her.
That evening, Vee and I had a long chat about what we were going to do, moving forward. No one was happy with the current situation, I was completely depleted, exhausted and felt like I couldn’t leave the house – this was not a healthy place to be. Violet would spend her days screaming if she was put down, she wasn’t happy either. I didn’t feel ready to give up breastfeeding entirely, I still wanted to try, but I needed to make sure she was happy too.
We decided we would exclusively bottle feed Violet. This was the best decision we could have made as literally it changed everything in an instant. Luckily, as I’m part of the Medela Mum project, I’d been sent the Medela Swing Maxi Double Electric Breast Pump to review (which I’d been using on and off) so I decided I’d pump regularly to create a stash of breastmilk in the fridge, ready for each feed. We’d also give formula at bedtime and during the night.
PUMP, PUMP, PUMP!
So, from weeks 5-8 I have been pumping breastmilk for Violet and its working really well for us all. Don’t get me wrong, pumping is still pretty hard work but in a different way – so much washing up and sterilising! But ultimately, we all are happier, have had more sleep and have much more contented baby, so thats all that matters. V has also been able to help out with feeds too, which has been lovely to watch and to share those moments.
I was pumping around 4-5 times a day, with one pump at 3am, which produced SO much milk. The pump stimulated my supply so I was producing more than ever. I have since dropped my 3am pump as it was just so difficult to do at that time of night. I couldn’t feed her and pump at the same time, so the ‘night shift’ would be so long, feeding her, settling her and then getting the pumps out. Since I dropped the night pump, my supply has decreased a little but nothing too drastic.
FED IS BEST
So, that is where we are at the moment. It’s been a rollercoaster, but we got there. I’m really pleased I managed 5 weeks of breastfeeding. Although I’m sad it didn’t work out for longer than that, I’m proud I continued on, even when things were tough. I am 100% in the ‘fed is best’ team, so seeing Violet content and happy is all that is important to me, however we feed her. Continuing on, I’ll carry on pumping and giving formula so she’s getting about half and half. I honestly think having that pump has saved our breastfeeding relationship, I would have given up without it. Combination feeding seems to be our happy medium so we’ll continue with this and see how we go!
Did you have a bumpy ride with breastfeeding? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below 🙂
Please don’t feel guilty, or that your breastfeeding journey is over yet. As someone said to me, breastmilk is not just about breastfeeding. Pumping, tube feeding, freezing milk, combi feeding, it is still breast they’re getting.
I had undiagnosed thrush making feeding excruciating and switched to expressing and giving bottles in the first week. This carried on for several weeks and it wasn’t until week 14 I think that we got back to breastfeeding. Since then we’ve had a much better journey and just marked 13 months.
It is the hardest thing I’ve learned to do, but it is so important to remember that your baby is also learning a new skill too, and that getting the hang of it takes time, even if they start with beginner’s luck!
You sound like an amazing mum, ready to do whatever to put your baby first. If breastfeeding is what you would like to ultimately get back to, the support is there to help you do that. If not, keep going mama, you’re doing great! And eating lots of oats is great for supply.
Well done xxx
You’re doing the best for her! I just read a post by another friend who has had some struggles with her baby who has a lot of food allergies and has just gone to formula. Like you she thought it would all be very easy and natural, so it’s good that you’re both sharing your stories for others to read.
This is such an amazing post! I bet it will help so many Mums feel much better about their feeding journey too. It certainly reassures me that whatever happens, I will be able to feed my baby what they need, even if it doesn’t pan out exactly as I hope. Breastfeeding is one of the scariest aspects of motherhood for me, and I am not looking forward to it, but I really want to do it! Fingers crossed it is not as bad as I fear and our baby gets on with it, but if he or she doesn’t, bottle feeding is totally an option, and even formula if I have trouble pumping. Like you say, ‘fed is best’. xx
I love reading posts like this. I can completely relate to the cluster feeding, I spent hours sat on the sofa feeding him, and I was so worried I wasn’t enough for him, that he needed more, but because he was gaining weight, I gritted my teeth and persevered. We had a bout of thrush which wasn’t fun for me, but it never affected Dougie’s ability to feed, so again I kept going. Dougie is now 10 months old, I was able to exclusively breastfeed him until he was about 8 months, but when the time came for me to go back into the office, I started questioning what I should do. I wanted to pump and continue just giving him breastmilk, but I struggled with the amount I needed to pump in the office, and the time it took, as well as the lack of facilities available to me. I had been using formula to make porridge for Dougie when he started weaning so I thought I’d try a bottle of it. He was absolutely fine, devoured it, and although I felt really sad the first couple of times, I got used to it. Now he has teeth, and is biting, and BF doesn’t soothe him like it used to, so I think my journey is coming to an end. Currently I’m still doing his bedtime feed, which I think I’ll do until he doesn’t want it, but I know my supply has obviously massively dropped and it is more for comfort at night than anything else. I have enjoyed having more freedom, but I do feel guilty and sad still, I didn’t realise how much stopping BF would affect me!
This is the first post about breastfeeding I’ve read where it’s not felt like preaching or pressure. I respect you so much for writing this. I’m due in two weeks time and one of the biggest anxieties I have is whether I’ll be able to breastfeed and how I’m going to feel if I can’t. You’ve made me realise it’s about doing what’s best for your baby and all in all yourself. So thank you for writing this, it’s made a huge impact for me.
Breastfeeding is such an emotive topic. I’ve fortunately had a fairly easy ride when it comes to breastfeeding my daughter nevertheless i’m firmly in the fed is best camps.
Five weeks is amazing and a real commitment. It sounds like you made the right choice for you and your daughter and that’s all you ever want to do as a mum.
I’m eight months in and now feeling the opposite pressure, to stop. So confusing! http://iwantnevergets.me/breastfeeding-when-to-stop/