Let me begin by saying that I wanted to breastfeed. I really did. Before Noah was born I researched breastfeeding, attended NCT classes, learnt about positions, bought nursing bras, supposedly did all the right things because I believed that I was going to be a breastfeeding Mum. Sadly things didn’t quite work out that way.
If you’ve read my post on Noah’s birth (which you can find here) you will know that things didn’t go particularly plain sailing. Unfortunately I had a post partum haemorrhage which led to me losing 1.5 litres of blood. So I really didn’t feel that we had the best of starts in terms of getting our breastfeeding bond and my supply established. One of the things that bothers me the most is, Noah was born at 20 minutes past midnight and I didn’t even get to try to feed him till mid morning the next day. Now I’ve no idea if this is normal for when a baby has first been born, but I never could shake off the guilt that he went without food for so long. I don’t remember much of those early hours due to feeling out of it from blood loss, and when I was finally with it, I was too absorbed in getting used to being a Mum for the first time, to query back to those early hours.
Our first attempt at breastfeeding that morning didn’t go too well as I just couldn’t get Noah to latch properly. So instead we tried some skin to skin, which I have to say, I adored. Just feeling his little body warm against mine was heaven. I remember looking down at his tiny face and thinking “This can’t be real. I must be dreaming. How can he be ours?”. I don’t fully remember when our next attempt at feeding was but I do remember that I finally managed to get him to latch on which was a huge relief, albeit a painful one. And that was my general experience of him latching throughout our short breastfeeding journey. It was always painful and I never felt like he was quite latched on properly, despite being reassured by midwives and health care assistants on duty that Noah had a “good latch”. I discovered months later that he had a lip tie so maybe that affected his latch…who knows!
Our second full night in was very difficult. We were still in hospital and Noah pretty much cluster fed non stop. Now at this point I had no clue about cluster feeding. I hadn’t been warned of it in my NCT classes (not to my recollection anyway) and I hadn’t come across it in any of the books I had read. Maybe I’d read the wrong ones. But all I had heard was that initially the baby would feed frequently, as much as every 2 hours for up to an hour at a time, and that sleep would be extremely broken. This I was prepared for. What I did not expect was the hours of continuous feeding non stop. By the time 6am came around I’d had about 2 hours of sleep all night if that and I felt exhausted. And Noah still seemed to be hungry even after feeding non stop for all that time, switching from breast to breast. I asked the midwife on duty if this continuous feeding was normal only to be met with a curt “Yes it’s what they do. You’ll get used to it.”. That was as much of an explanation as I was going to get out of her. I felt her tone came across a bit “well duhhh what did you expect?” which upset me a little as, as a first time Mum, I felt clueless. Here I was scared that my baby wasn’t getting enough milk and that I was unintentionally starving him and all I wanted was some reassurance.
But we persisted. I kept just hoping that things would improve and that feedings would get less painful as time went on. Lanisoh nipple cream became my best friend. I was applying it after every feed in the end, desperate for some relief.
We were discharged home when Noah was 3 days old and things continued in pretty much the same vein. During the day Noah was pretty sleepy but the nights were relentless. He would feed continuously from around 10pm till 3am and finally he’d fall asleep, only to be back awake again an hour later. My nipples were sore and bleeding and mentally I felt broken. I felt weak-minded. I knew having a newborn would be tough but this felt like something else. I think what got to me the most was the pain my nipples were in. I would dread the sting of Noah latching on and I’d wince as he’d suck. I had hoped to enjoy the experience of feeding my son but instead I came to resent it.
I turned to anyone I could think of for help….community midwives, my Mum, friends, online communities but I just ended up swimming in conflicted advice. I tried expressing which I found surprisingly easy. This gave me a temporary boost as I thought I’d maybe found an answer to the agonising nights! I would express a bottle of milk that I could give Noah in the night if he was stuck on cluster feeding, just to give me a reprieve. Only to read online that this wasn’t advised as the baby cluster fed for a reason and it could affect my supply. I felt deflated. I purchased nipple shields to help with the pain and bleeding, only to read that these were no good as they would confuse the baby. During the odd night I caved to a bottle of formula when, after hours and hours of feeding, Noah just wouldn’t settle. A few oz of formula and he’d be out like a light. I just felt like he wasn’t getting enough from me. I was reassured continuously that this was all normal, as it probably was, but mentally I was not coping. I had considered combi-feeding for a while until my supply came in fully but was told by a midwife that this would “damage my baby’s gut”. It was the final straw. I felt like there was an obstacle to any idea I had just to find some slight relief.
I felt so depressed. I knew the early days would be difficult but I felt more and more like I was resenting Noah for simply wanting to do what we are all programmed to do, eat. I went back and forth on what to do and I felt so confused and conflicted. In the end I decided that I couldn’t take anymore. I was nearly 2 weeks into breastfeeding and I didn’t feel like my milk was fully in. Noah’s weight gain was going ok but my breasts just never felt full. Again, maybe this was normal I don’t know, I had no frame of reference. But all I knew is I felt like Noah was never fully satisfied on my breast. He rarely seemed to finish a night time feed looking full. Ironically though, daytime ones seemed ok, which I still can’t figure out.
So, after 2 weeks of breastfeeding, I decided I had had enough and we switched to formula. I cried buckets that day. I felt devastated, like I had failed Noah and I wasn’t worthy of being a Mum. And if I’m honest that feeling stayed with me for a good few months at least. I felt so jealous of anyone that had managed to push through and breastfeed and of people that had had no issues. It wasn’t their fault, I was being completely irrational, but I just felt so envious. After spending years struggling to conceive, this had been one thing I had really wanted to do for our much wanted, miracle baby and I felt like I’d let him down. I still battle those feelings occasionally and he’s nearly 2 now.
But, importantly, I have come to learn I didn’t fail him. I did what I felt was best at the time. Breastfeeding was causing me to sink into a deep depression and, at that point, I’d had to weigh up the benefits vs the impact on my mental health (and on my family) if I’d had a relapse into depression. There were times when I deeply regretted stopping and other times when I felt it was the right decision for us and I still go back and forth on that. I don’t think I’ll ever have a concrete answer in my head. Hindsight is a wonderful thing! I have learnt something though…and that’s to listen to my instincts. If we are lucky enough to get pregnant again, I do plan to try to breastfeed again. But this time I am going to take the advice (unless medical) with a pinch of salt and I’m going to listen to my instincts. Because, at the end of the day, we have them for a reason. There’s a massive part of me that feels that if I had done that to begin with and expressed if I wanted, used nipple shields if I wanted and even occasionally combi fed if I wanted, that maybe I’d have continued breastfeeding longer. I could be wrong but my guts tells me that that would’ve been the case as I’d have been relaxed and confident and doing things MY way. So this is the approach I intend to take next time. I will do what I feel is best at a given time and I will go with the flow. And it may work out, it may not, but I will try.