As Pearl is now 10 weeks old, it seemed like a poignant time to write this post about our breastfeeding journey. The 10 week marker is significant to us as it’s when I stopped breastfeeding with Violet. It was such an emotional week and a huge turning point in Violet’s early months, it sticks in my memory like a giant red flashing beacon, every emotion etched in my mind forever. Honestly, I can’t tell you how devastated I was at the time that our breastfeeding journey had been so short, but thats a whole other story and it actually turned out for the best in the end. I’m pleased to say Pearl’s feeding journey has been much more successful, albeit with our ups and downs too. We are now ten weeks down the line and still going strong and I couldn’t more pleased to get to this point. Here is our story so far….
BEFORE THE BIRTH…
When Pearl was born, I was determined to give feeding another try but I promised myself I wouldn’t let the pressure get to me if things didn’t go to plan. I knew that I’d have Violet to think of too and had every plan to combination or formula feed, if we needed to – but I ultimately wanted to give breastfeeding another good try as our first port of call. One of my priorities with feeding and even if we did crack breastfeeding was to make sure she’d take a bottle. I knew with two-under-two having someone to help me with bottle feeding would be a lifesaver and give me a bit of freedom too. So, before Pearl was born we got together some essentials, my trusty Medela Swing Double Pump, my silicone pump, a collection of MAM newborn bottles (they are the best in my opinion), a microwave steriliser and we also set up the Perfect Prep machine and bought a tin of Aptamil, so we had it available, should we need it.
About 30 minutes after Pearl’s birth, one of the midwives asked if I’d like to try latching her on for her first feed. I couldn’t wait as I remember how beautiful this moment was with Violet, and now I got to experience it all again! The midwife said ‘Oh, you are a second time Mum, I’m sure you know what you are doing’ – I confidently replied ‘Oh yes, I’ll be fine!’ so she left me to have a few goes at latching on my own. I soon realised had absolutely no idea! This tiny baby seemed so small and delicate and I seemed to be all hands, clunky, still shaking from the adrenaline during the birth – I couldn’t get to grips with it at all. Everything felt so different! I had to call her back and say I was struggling. She was amazing and helped with some latching advice until we got settled into the feed but I remembered how tricky it can be.
Every time Pearl would need a feed this would happen. I just couldn’t get the hang of it, it just felt so clumsy and uncoordinated – why is it so hard! It should be the most natural thing in the world but clearly evolution hasn’t made this easy for us. How did women in the 1940’s cope without breastfeeding support workers or access to midwives 24/7 – we are extremely lucky to be in an era where support is abundant, especially where I gave birth in Brighton. I always seemed to end up with an aching arm, neck, back or getting sore nipples so something really wasn’t right. We were asked if we wanted to go home from hospital after 6 hours from the birth (which would also be midnight!) but I asked to stay until the morning so I could ensure we had feeding cracked before we left for home.
WHEN IT ALL GOES A BIT WRONG….
At home in my own time and space we had lots of time to practice latching, which seemed to be getting easier, although I’d still be in pain every feed. Midwives came and went, each giving me different ideas on things I could do to help the pain, but nothing seemed to work. I felt like every feed was turning into a battle as well as a test of my pain threshold too! By day 3 Pearl was feeding for hours on end and both my nipples were cracked, bleeding and turning purple in places. The midwife visited and told me Pearl was looking dehydrated – what a blow! I felt lower than ever. We ended up at Children’s A&E where Pearl is put on a feeding plan (including formula top ups) which made me feel even lower. The idea of breastfeeding felt like it was slipping further and further away.
Surely this wasn’t right?! I did all the tips – using nipple cream, letting the air get to them but I just couldn’t get a break for long enough between feeds to let them heal. After a few more days I reached breaking point and just couldn’t deal with the pain any longer. Honestly, I’ve been through birth twice and the pain of breastfeeding is worse! Birth is more intense but there is an end, breastfeeding pain is a constant torturous feeling that makes your toes curl, just when you think you are healing up the baby needs feeding again and the pain returns. Urgh, it’s unbearable and I have no idea how we got through this stage, but we did.
By the end of the second week I was in such a state, mentally and physically. I’d still bleed with every feed and started to dread Pearl crying as I knew how painful the next feed would be. I then in turn felt guilty as I didn’t want to feed Pearl! I felt like I was avoiding her, asking other people to hold her as I would hope she wouldn’t root for milk, when actually it was the most natural thing she could do.
At this point I decided that I would just give up feeding Pearl and exclusively pump instead. I did this with Violet but only lasted 4 weeks as exclusively pumping is HARD WORK (hats off to anyone who does it long term!) I felt like maybe my body just wasn’t designed for feeding and this was my only option. I exclusively pumped for 2 days, during this time my nipples had a rest and they healed. I felt like a new woman but finding time to pump around having two children was tricky, we watched a LOT of TV as thats all we could do so I could pump enough. At this point it felt like we were clinging onto to breastfeeding by a thread and the temptation to just switch to formula was more than ever.
One exhausted night I got my pump out for my usual 3am expressing session and decided to just see what Pearl would do if I put her to the breast. I felt just too tired to set up my pump. I was convinced she would reject me, after all she’d had bottles for days at this point, but to my surprise she latched perfectly and it didn’t seem to hurt anymore.
This gave me so much hope that all was not lost. In a last ditch attempt to save our breastfeeding relationship I tried to breastfeed directly at every opportunity so Pearl would get used to this as our primary way of feeding. Suddenly this was the natural feeling I had hoped for, it just seemed to work and I wasn’t in pain – HALLELUJAH!
So around week 3 I truly felt like we’d cracked breastfeeding. The pain was gone (thank god!) and we seemed to fall into a routine where I’d feed directly from the breast most of the day but still express once or twice to have a bottle in the fridge so V could help with feeds or to pop in the change bag for when we are out and about.
So, we are now at week 10 and going strong! I love breastfeeding and feel so proud of myself for sticking with it, even in those darkest times when it all felt it was going wrong. We only ever used a handful of formula top-ups right at the beginning to get us through the worst of it and have dropped them ever since. I’m a firm believer of ‘fed is best’ and thats what we needed to do at that moment and the best for Pearl too. This has been a long post, but I’ve written the realities of our journey in the hope that others going through similar issues will know it’s totally normal to start with. The pain won’t last forever and there is loads of support out there, if you look for it. It is normal for breastfeeding to have a bit of a bumpy start but it’s amazingly rewarding.
Onto the next ten weeks!