I have so much to say on this topic that I should probably apologise before I begin for going off on a million tangents. I would also like to preface this post with a nod to the fact that it’s heavily coloured by my own experiences and it’s not a representation of every woman’s experience – I know a great many women who have taken to breast feeding like ducks to water or had good help from their midwives if they didn’t – and not gone through what I did myself. However, I do also know a lot of women who have had very similar experiences to mine and I’m determined to turn the negative into a positive this time, learning from the first time around to hopefully have a better time of it with feeding baby number two.
First time around I coasted blissfully toward the birth of my child with no doubt in my mind that I would breastfeed and adamant that this was going to go off without hitch…how wrong I was. Looking back we were a perfect storm for failing at breast feeding and I use the term failing because that is how it felt, it really stung. Harry was born with a tongue tie, we now know that I have a hormonal imbalance that certainly does not help when it comes to milk production and I was also woefully ill prepared and ill educated on how to actually feed correctly – combine this with how distressed I was about being unable to feed my child like I had read and been repeatedly told by various people in my life that all women are perfectly made to do, and you have a stressed out recipe for disaster.
Breast milk works on a supply and demand basis so the combination of Harry being unable to latch and stimulate production because of his (severe) tongue tie, and me not having much to begin with meant that my supply was not enough to sustain my baby and we ended up at the doctors on day three with a very poorly little boy. This was traumatic for both him and me, but sadly quite a common story I find when talking to other mums.
I asked the midwives at the hospital what to do when he was born, as I knew he may not feed very well with a tongue tie and was told to just keep putting him to the breast and not to offer any formula and that he would get the hang of it. I was not given any other help or advice, and was sent off on my way. It’s really no wonder the poor thing was starving and dehydrated within a few days.
None of this however has put me off the idea of trying again this time, it’s just made me more determined to educate myself so that I’m well equipped to give it a proper go, and secure enough in my knowledge to know if and when it’s time to give up, this time without feeling like the worst mother in the world.
I know from a friend who is a midwife that despite the UK guidelines stating that all babies should ideally be fed exclusively by breast for the first 6 months of their life, that only 1% of women currently do. Based upon my own first experience I would say this is in large part due to the fact that you get more information (of a more helpful and accurate standard) on how to feed a pet goldfish on purchase, than many women get on feeding their baby. Our NHS is stretched and even the very best midwives don’t always have the time to dedicate to getting women off to a good start, that’s if it’s even properly discussed – my experience has seen pretty much no conversation on breastfeeding with any medical professional I have seen throughout both of my pregnancies and speaking frankly, by the time you know that you need help it’s really too late if you ask me.
I discovered Clare Byam-Cook just after I had given up on combination feeding Harry and found her no nonsense approach like a breath of fresh air, here was a leading expert on breast feeding who contradicted the unhelpful things I had been told. She doesn’t agree that every woman is perfectly made to breastfeed, acknowledging that some women don’t produce enough milk for whatever reason – pointing out that these women are not useless failures and the situation is through no fault of their own (she uses the comparison of some people having to wear glasses because their eyes don’t work properly; why are people be so adamant that all breasts work perfectly when it’s accepted that pretty much any other body part can be a bit faulty?) She also has some very clear and simple methods for latching babies on which are tried and tested, and that I hadn’t any idea about first time round.
So, this time I bought her book and her DVD and I read and I watched and I felt a lot more prepared. I also read The Breast Feeding Mother’s Guide on How To Make More Milk, by Diana West and Lisa Marasco which goes into a lot more depth on specific problems like hormonal imbalances, dietary issues and stress, the effects these can have and some ways to help yourself if you’re suffering from any of them. I would recommend arming yourself with all three.
I have also now hunted down a list of all the breast feeding support groups in my local area so that I can pop along to them should I feel the need when baby comes, again off my own back – not one of the medical professionals I have seen to date in either pregnancy has so much as mentioned breast feeding to me, let alone given me any information or advice on it. Having said that, I’m still pregnant so there’s still a small window of time open for someone to surprise me.
I couldn’t possibly have been prepared for the level of trauma involved in unsuccessful breastfeeding, I can’t imagine that anyone could to be honest; it completely blindsided me. I was desperate to give my son the best start I could and I felt helpless and inept when it transpired that he was severely dehydrated and not getting the nourishment he needed. It just hadn’t occurred to me how badly I would take it if I couldn’t do this thing that I had committed myself to and it took me until very recently to not get emotional about this when it’s discussed. Bearing this in mind, if me writing this helps even one person to know that they aren’t on their own in trying and things not being perfect and that being okay, then I will be happy. I wish I had read up and got some frank, real life experiences both good and bad before I tried it the first time – my appraisal of the situation would have been a lot more balanced and I would have been kinder to myself when things didn’t go to plan.
There are so many incredibly useful and helpful things I have learned from the books and the DVD I recommended earlier in this post, none of which I knew before, a handful of which that may prove useful are as follows:
Latch is everything – look up Clare Byam Cook’s preferred method and her tips on how to check your baby is correctly latched. Crack this and you avoid battered nipples, pain and most importantly your baby can feed properly keeping them nourished and your milk supply stimulated. She also gives you pointers on how to spot it if your baby is or isn’t correctly latched which takes some of the uncertainty and guess work out of it.
Weak, starving babies cannot feed effectively – it is not best to give only breast when your baby isn’t getting anything out of it. Of course you don’t want to give too much formula as your aim is to get breast feeding back on track but if your baby is tired and weak they won’t be able to feed – again I advise you to look up Clare Byam Cook’s advice in this regard, it contradicts what the hospital midwives told me with Harry and to my mind makes a lot more sense.
You can improve your supply by pumping – but your best bet is to hire a hospital grade pump until your supply is established (at which point you can opt for a consumer electric pump or a hand pump) Remember – supply and demand, if you stimulate your supply with regular feeds and effective pumping your boobs will make the milk.
Stress is your enemy – pretty simple really but stress affects your milk supply so be nice to yourself and try to get as much healthy food and rest as you can.
Obviously breastfeeding requires perseverance and effort, feeding around the clock initially and that’s very tiring but for me it also has so many pros to outweigh these cons. It’s the most natural food for baby and it’s full of things that are good for their immune system, it’s also a great way to get rid of my new and most unwelcome beanbag thighs – a serious calorie burner. It’s cheaper than formula, doesn’t require bottles and sterilisers (unless of course you want to express and let others help you out) and it’s always ready, at the right temperature and on your person.
My hope for baby number two is that I can use what I have learned to get off to a much better start, and to feed my baby for as long as possible. This time will be different though no matter the outcome, because I will not give myself a hard time if it doesn’t go to plan. I will know that I have tried my very best and that’s all I can do, and of course I now have a very robust toddler who was exclusively formula fed from 4 weeks old who’s bright as a button and perfectly healthy to remind me that I can keep another human alive and it’s really not the end of the world if my tits don’t work properly.