I didn’t have a preference when it came to feeding my baby
I have worked as a nanny, putting together routines that work well with babies who have been bottle fed. I have also worked as a maternity nurse and supported mums who have breastfed. Both could work and I originally thought I would start off breastfeeding, but could move on to expressed milk or formula as my baby got older. And I was adamant I would give her one bottle a day so that my husband could do one of the night feeds.
Looking back now, it was a lot simpler to think and plan for it, than actually executing it!
Firstly, I didn’t get to see my daughter for 24 hours after she was born. She had arrived not breathing and despite vitals looking great after 5 minutes, she needed to spend 48 hours in the NICU (neonatal & infant care unit).
I on the other hand felt great! A 3 hour labour, no drugs or exhaustion keeping me down and I was all ready to follow her up to the NICU (a floor above the maternity ward). However, my placenta had other ideas! Due to my quick labour, my uterus closed and trapped the placenta. Every half an hour or so, a different midwife or consultant came in and tried to remove it, but to no avail. I swear they must have had a ‘pool’ going on in the staff room on who could get it out first!
So it was decided I would have an operation to have it removed. But due to 6 emergency c-sections! YES 6! I kept getting bumped down the list and finally went in at 2am to have it removed. (Note Lexi was born at 3pm!) I then had to recover from the exhaustion, spinal block and 2 blood transfusions! And so at 3pm the next day, my husband put his foot down, got me a wheelchair and took me to meet my daughter!
So how did all of this impact my breastfeeding journey?
Firstly, I never got to hold my daughter. I didn’t get the initial skin to skin, or the natural latch and attachment that can happen during that time.
I needed to work hard to stimulate my breasts and syringe the colostrum out (which was then taken up and given to Lexi). I couldn’t do it at all, so one of the midwives helped me.
Then when I did meet her, on a Saturday on a busy NICU ward, I didn’t see any midwives or have any support in getting her to latch correctly. Even when we were both together again on the postnatal ward, 48 hours after birth, I still didn’t get any midwife support. One finally came to see me at 11pm on the Sunday evening, was rude and quite forceful pushing Lexi’s head into my breast. She spent less than 5 minutes with me and then muttered something about how I needed to keep on trying. I cried most of the night, watching my daughter screaming and struggling to feed. At 7am, and with no midwives answering my call, I gave her the premade formula bottle that was in the basket at the end of my bed.
I was grateful to go home that Monday, and we managed to master her latch on the left side. But no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t get her to latch on the right.
I remember those first few weeks as a blur of feeding on the left and expressing from the right. I kept trying to latch her on, but it just wouldn’t work. I felt like I spent a month sitting on my sofa constantly feeding or expressing, whilst watching Grey’s Anatomy and sobbing. And I hated expressing. All that effort for not a lot of milk. And my baby was crying because she was desperate for milk and I couldn’t express enough for her. So I started topping up her feeds with formula.
The support from the local health visitors and midwives was appalling. I got ‘signed off’ by the at home team when Lexi was just 11 days old! When we still hadn’t established breastfeeding! And the drop in clinic was on Friday mornings at 9am-11am (who would be up and ready to leave the house by then with a November baby?!)
The trip to the local clinic was a 40 minute walk or a 30 minute journey by bus/walking and you had to get there a lot earlier than the 9am start if you wanted to get an appointment.
At around week 4, something just clicked!
I don’t know why I didn’t just give up there and then!
But at around week 4, something just clicked. I’m not sure if the bottle helped, if it was because she was bigger, or the persistence worked, but she finally latched!
I dropped expressing straight away! And focused on solely breastfeeding her. This worked amazingly well, my supply was great and I didn’t have any problems with my breasts. The downside was that she wouldn’t let my husband feed her a bottle any more. So I became the only person to feed her! Day and night.
My bond with her is incredible. And I loved the ease of breastfeeding (once we finally got the hang of it!). Lexi used it as a comfort as well as for food and she continued to wake in the night for feeds (every 3-4 hours) until I gave up breastfeeding at 12 months. She still continued to wake for some months after, seeking comfort in other ways (mainly pinching my neck!) and even now (aged 3.5 years), she needs reassurance and comfort from me in stressful situations and we use a bedtime story app that she falls asleep to (she hates being on her own!)
I’m glad I managed to breastfeed, however I’m not sure I would have the time or perseverance to do it again if I had the same problems!