I remember my feeding class at NCT vividly, we were all given a baby doll and were shown how to breastfeed them. We all listened intently and I thought, this is easy I’ll be fine, she’ll just crawl up my chest after the water birth and we’ll settle right into breastfeeding.
I really was so wrong….
Amelie was a rather traumatic birth and something I haven’t written about but essentially she was an emergency caesarian. In that operation there were moments were I honestly thought I wasn’t going to make it and when it came to hold my baby I found that the left side of my body was paralysed so I couldn’t hold her properly for a good few hours after the birth whilst I recovered. I now know that they saw there is a golden hour after giving birth where you should try and feed baby to give you the best start at breastfeeding. For a number of reasons; the fact I couldn’t move, I was completely traumatised and I didn’t have help from midwives I didn’t feed Amelie in that hour. I’m ashamed to even admit it but there was a point where I had no idea when I’d fed her, it had been hours.
I was completely and totally out of it and shell shocked.
We had a bad start and things didn’t get any easier for us. I started trying to express colostrum for her with a syringe and midwives occasionally came and forced her on me to try and get her to feed but we just kept struggling. She ended up jaundiced and the baby doctors advised we should give her formula to ensure she was getting something as they were concerned about her.
As a first time Mum I was really keen to breastfeed and was so upset and shocked at how hard it was. I found it quite upsetting to be told I would have to use formula, but her needs came first and she needed feeding so we did but with a cup as advised so as to not have any confusion.
When we got home
When we were finally discharged (the wait being due to Amelie’s troubles feeding) nothing got easier. I would sit in my feeding chair crying. Crying tears of frustration that I couldn’t get her to latch, of total exhaustion as she just wanted to feed all day and all night and crying tears of hopelessness that I just didn’t know what to do.
I decided to stop crying and get help. I tried everyone; I called the hospital and asked for a midwife to come and help me, I found a local breastfeeding support group and even though I was struggling to move went to the group and I called my NCT teacher and asked for help.
Through persistence and stubbornness from me I finally got her to feed better with the aid of a nipple shield, I used this for about a week until she finally started to latch on better.
This whole process took about two weeks and I felt like that whole two weeks was a struggle of fighting to get help, fighting to get her to latch and fighting to do what I wanted to do. We were still topping up with formula on advice of the midwives as she wasn’t putting on enough weight but again we were cup feeding as I didn’t want to give her a bottle.
I breastfed Amelie for 14 months in the end but it definitely wasn’t the romantic view in my head that breastfeeding would be. I now really believe she wasn’t getting enough from me as she rarely slept, the only way I could get her to sleep was to walk, and walk and walk. Through my stubbornness to make breastfeeding work for us I didn’t give her a bottle so when we tried to express or give her formula so I could have a break from a night feed she point blank refused it. And finally when I decided I was going to stop I couldn’t just swap to a bottle as she refused it so I had to leave her for 3 nights with Nick to break the association.
I have to say the whole breastfeeding journey with Amelie was hard. A lot harder than I thought it was going to be and I wished I had know how hard it can be for some Mummy’s so I wasn’t quite so shocked and unprepared.
Evie has been a similar if different story. After my birth with Amelie I was given the choice to have a planned c section. You can read more about that here… This time I was more prepared that feeding might not be easy so I had my previous experiences written on my birth plan and asked for more help quicker this time.
As soon as Evie was born and I was in recovery I was helped with breastfeeding her. The first few feeds with Evie went fairly well, I felt she was getting something and I didn’t have to express with a syringe however things started to get harder a few days in. I struggled again with her latch and all she wanted to do was feed.
I found myself getting in a real state again not knowing when or how long to feed her… She would be giving me signals to feed and everything I had read said feed them but it felt as though she was feeding all day and all night. I found myself talking to breastfeeding support counsellors who said feed on her cues but then as soon as I was on my own with her the doubt set it – does she really need to be fed again, should she be feeding this much, is my latch right? As you can tell I was CONFUSED!
When it came for her to be weighed she’d lost weight, when she was weighed again she’d lost more weight. I just couldn’t understand how I was feeding her all the time yet she was losing weight! I was advised by the midwife to top up with formula which I did again, but this time in a bottle. I would feed her for 20 minutes then top her up. Thinking back this was probably the beginning of the end of my breastfeeding journey with Evie. I found she was taking more and more each time I fed her, she’d still be breastfeeding but wanted the bottle as well.
At my next weigh in the midwives were happy to sign her off as she’d regained birth weight and then advised me to stop formula feeding her.
Although the midwives suggested that I stop giving her bottles part of me couldn’t really understand this, she had consistently lost weight when I was exclusively breastfeeding her so I was obviously concerned about stopping the top ups in case she then didn’t get enough and it then wasn’t noticed in time. I also had the baggage of the awful experience with Amelie and I am sure this knocked my confidence of my ability to feed Evie so all of my Mummy instincts said I should try and mix feed her.
I tried to ask the HV and midwives on advice on how I would go about mix feeding her and got little back so I started to talk to fellow Mum’s to see how they fed their babies, mentioning that I was mixed feeding Evie. I found it amazing that so many Mummy’s did this, but no one really talks about it. I got lots of advice and felt so much better about my decision and knew I had some friends who could support me. I started to feel like there were lots of other Mummy’s in the same situation as me but didn’t ever feel like they could talk about it.
So, here’s how I found it. At first it went really well, I would feed Evie and then top her up, I would only breastfeed her at night and give her the bottles in the day. This worked well for the first 3 months then I started to get the feeling that she was only really using the bottles for her nutrition and the breastfeed was more of a comfort to her. I started to feel like doing both was confusing things and I didn’t really ever know how much to give her and didn’t want to space the feeds out as per formula guidelines as I believe in being fed on demand but I also felt Evie was snacking and therefore not sleeping well.
At 3 ish months breastfeeding kind of came to an end. I had started doing a few only bottle feeds and she became happier with that and I suppose took less and I produced less. I don’t even consciously remember the last feed which I think was a night one as in the madness of life with two it just kind of faded out.
The guilt of stopping
I felt a massive guilt when I stopped breast feeding Evie. Guilt because I breastfed Amelie for 14 months, guilt that it wasn’t the best thing for her, guilt because she was having formula and guilt that we didn’t have a really lovely last feed as I did with Amelie.
I have talked to lots of Mum’s about this and it appears I am not alone. I now feel:
PROUD that I persevered even though it was hard and I had such a difficult time at the beginning.
PROUD that I gave her the best start after her delivery and that she fed so well in those first important feeds
ADMIRATION for every Mum as feeding your baby anyway can be so hard – hard to establish breastfeeding and hard to find your way with all the crap thrown at us about why we shouldn’t formula feed our children.
I think the hardest thing I have found with both the girls is the mixed advice that you get, you see and speak to so many different people; different midwives, different health visitors, breastfeeding support lines, family and friends that I found myself completely confused – especially in the early days when you are sleep deprived and just trying to do your best. I can see now after feeding both of my girls why some women go straight to bottle feeding, you know when and how much your baby has had and if they have lost weight you know you are giving them enough.
Saying all of this and taking everything into account if I had another baby I would 100% breastfeed them again but now I don’t feel as much pressure to breastfeed and wouldn’t feel so guilty about stopping breastfeeding.
In my opinion fed is best, all I want for my children is to have nourishment and wherever that comes from and whatever works for them is fine with me.