My Early Breastfeeding Struggles
When I found out I was pregnant with my little girl, Pearl, my perfect plan was to have a natural birth and to give breastfeeding a go. As a first time mum, I didnʼt know much about any of it, so being a little on the obsessive side, I decided to prepare myself as best I could. I read voraciously. I read about hypnobirthing and practised the breathing exercises daily. I read books and blogs about hypnobirths and breastfeeding. I walked miles every day. I swam 3 times a week. I attended an NCT course and breastfeeding classes and I watched endless YouTube videos about breastfeeding and the perfect latch.
After months of research, and with my due date looming, I felt ready. I
positively visualised a short, calm labour, with no pain relief or interventions followed by skin on skin with my new baby who would then crawl to my breast and self-latch, just like in those online videos! I was going to be the quintessential Earth Mother. Easy peasy, right!? Well, as a matter of fact, I had the most wonderful birth experience in the Birth Centre at Northwick Park. Our beautiful girl came roaring into the world after a short, surprisingly serene labour, with no pain relief or complications. I was absolutely thrilled.
We had 2 hours of uninterrupted skin on skin, and our bouncing baby latched on to the breast all by herself! It was textbook perfect and just as I had envisioned. I must admit, I was feeling more and more smug by the minute. Look at me, birthing and breastfeeding effortlessly, like the Earth Mother Goddess that I am! And whats all this about breastfeeding being difficult!? Pearl fed a few times whilst we were in hospital and it seemed to be going ok, uncomfortable perhaps, but the midwives were happy with the latch. All was well and we were discharged home.
The next few days went something like this:
Day 1: Weʼre home! Nipples chafe a bit. I’ve barely slept in 24 hours but Iʼm so happy and in love!
Day 2: Hmmm nipples are a bit sore. Google, is it normal for a newborn to feed every 3 hours around the clock!? Gosh, Iʼm tired.
Day 3: Nipples. On. Fire. Dreading every feed. Google, is it possible for nipples to shrivel up and fall off!? I really need a lie-down.
Day 4: Major meltdown. I can’t feed Pearl because my nipple is cracked, blistered and so, so painful. My poor husband Doug is dealing with our tiny baby screaming in hunger as he tries to offer words of consolation to me as I lay on the bed and sob. I’m exhausted, in pain and I feel like a massive failure. However, I think this must be normal, maybe my nipples need “toughening up” a bit. This is the most natural thing in the world, I must be doing it right, I am, after all, smug-faced Earth Mother, right? So, I get up and carry on feeding through the searing pain. The most
important thing is that baby is feeding well and getting the best possible start in life. Seriously, I’m exhausted.
And then……Day 5: the midwife comes to weigh Pearl and to our astonishment she has lost more than 10% of her birth weight.
My self satisfied, Earth Mother grin is well and truly wiped off my smug face. I am absolutely gutted. Hours and hours a day spent feeding and in agony and she is still losing too much weight. The midwife schedules a visit a few days later and mentions admission to hospital if she hasn’t put on enough. She also advises topping up with formula as she suggests that I may not be producing enough milk. I feel utterly defeated and an even bigger failure. By the way, did I mention that I’m bloody KNACKERED!?
Despite all of this, I had become even more determined to breastfeed. I had read so much about the incredible benefits of breastfeeding and I was hell bent on getting it right. I had read that the most successful breastfeeders sought support as early as possible, so straight after the midwife left, I hobbled off to one of the drop-in clinics with my husband and our tiny 5 day old baby and saw the wonderful Infant Feeding Team Lead, Julie. We deduced that the latch wasn’t ideal and we were given help with attachment and positioning with immediate improvement. There was lots of practical advice about how to increase my supply but just as importantly, we were given encouragement and reassurance that my baby wasnʼt starving and that we could continue breastfeeding without any need for formula top ups. I was absolutely delighted, and over the following weeks, as suspected, Pearl thrived.
Pearl regained all of her birth weight within 3 weeks with no need for hospital admission. We made almost weekly trips to the drop in clinics(they must have been sick of the sight of me!) for help with occasional latch discomfort and for reassurance of course. And by week 6, it just clicked. Breastfeeding was suddenly completely comfortable, enjoyable and the most wonderful bonding experience between me and my beautiful little girl.
Thanks to the Infant Feeding Team (and not forgetting the support of my wonderful husband Doug) we sailed past our goal of 6 months exclusive breastfeeding and 9 months in, weʼre still going strong with no end in sight. Pearl is flourishing and apart from the occasional runny nose, she is never, ever sick. Must be all of that amazing breastmilk!
I have now become a Breastfeeding Peer Support Volunteer because I want to help other women who may be struggling. Breastfeeding has been one of the hardest things Iʼve ever done, but with brilliant support and dogged determination, it has become one of the things Iʼm most proud of. And that smug, self-satisfied Earth Mother grin? Well, maybe occasionally, but now I think Iʼve earned it!