Breastfeeding. How hard could it be?
I mean, precious baby meets boob and nature takes its course, right? All the mums I remember seeing breastfeed make it look so simple and beautiful so of course I’m going to breastfeed my child! That was always my train of thought pre-baby. I admit the antenatal breastfeeding course did open my eyes to the potential challenges but still, I thought that vital deep latch would happen quickly and easily.
Unfortunately, that was not my experience. Apparently, that’s not the experience of a lot of mums out there. Breastfeeding has been one of the biggest challenges in my life, right up there with childbirth. My name is Megan and here’s my story:
After some quick breastfeeding advice from a midwife, I went home from the hospital with my adorable little boy, Judah. No bottles, no formula, no pump and no back up plan. The dull pain I felt in the hospital now turned to sharp pain, increasing after each feed. The colostrum days were agonising and I would dread the next feed! When it came time, I would breath like I was having a contraction and swear (which I rarely do!). But I kept telling myself that if I endured for a short time, surely we’d arrive at the happy place of breastfeeding!
Then my milk came in and Judah wouldn’t latch at all. I knew I had to seek out some help so my husband and I went to a breastfeeding café for support. Our baby was looking really yellow and so tiny. After the Breastfeeding Support team weighed him and witnessed the state of my nipples and that he wouldn’t latch, she immediately sent my husband, James, out to buy formula and instructed us to go to A&E as he’d lost 12.9% of his birth weight. I was gutted. I felt like a failure. We landed back in the hospital for several days.
The Breastfeeding Specialist at the hospital showed me how to pump which was an incredible relief! Being engorged was super uncomfortable. We started a feeding schedule of pumped milk and formula. I wasn’t pumping a lot of milk and what I did pump took ages! While still in the hospital I tried breastfeeding again but it was still painful so when we arrived home, I continued the pumping and formula routine. Sometimes more formula than milk which again made me feel like a failure.
During that time, we were moving across London because James landed a new job…not ideal timing! At that point, I stopped attempting to breastfeed and decided to retry once we were settled into the new place. I became a pumping machine (feeling like a cow!) and supplemented with formula. By that point, I had come to terms with the reality of breastfeeding and embraced the humbling fact that ‘fed’ is actually best!
When I felt ready to try again, James and I went to one of the breastfeeding support groups in our new area. To my surprise the latch went well and only slightly uncomfortable! I came away from the group with a boost of confidence and couldn’t wait to get home, have skin to skin time and feed him again. Unfortunately, my confidence was very short lived as the feeding went downhill once we were home. The pain came back and I melted into a weepy mess wondering how I was going to overcome this. For the next couple of trips to the support groups, it was the same cycle…he would latch fairly well and then once we got home, it ended in unbearable pain and I became an emotional puddle. I felt angry at my baby and
frustrated with myself. I nearly gave up. I thought, if I can’t get this right by now, it’s probably never going to happen!
However, I remembered someone mentioning the term ‘breastfeeding boot camp’ which means going to a support group every day. I was so desperate to make this work that I decided to do it as a last resort. The trend continued with a good experience at the group and then bad experience at home. The Peer Supporters had great advice and were very encouraging but the pain continued and by that point I was also experiencing intense burning and stinging during and in between feeds. A Health Worker said I may possibly have nipple thrush. I used the Thrush cream consistently but nothing seemed to change. The burning and stinging continued and finally a very clued up Peer Supporter suspected that I had a rare condition called vasospasm which can easily be mistaken for nipple thrush. I booked an appointment with the GP to do a swab for nipple thrush so I could rule it out. Sure enough it came out negative.
I was advised to see an Infant Feeding Lead and after meeting her and reviewing all my symptoms she advised me to book an appointment with the GP for a prescription to help with vasospasm. She confirmed that the latch looked correct which was such a relief and I felt like we might be getting somewhere!
I started on the prescription and within a couple days I could feel a big difference! The stinging and burning started fading away and for the first time breastfeeding was actually feeling normal. It was just coming up to 6 weeks and although breastfeeding wasn’t perfect, it felt better with each day.
Breastfeeding can be so challenging but it’s absolutely worth it! I was never a failure in the process and I learned that taking it slow (it’s not a race!), seeking support and persistence was key. Both mother and baby have to learn to breastfeed and that’s not always easy or quick. I realise that all the mums I’ve seen breastfeeding in public have their own stories of what went on behind closed doors, especially in those early days, weeks and months. Oh my, what gratitude I have for all the available groups and peer supporters which became a life line in my breastfeeding story