R is only a couple of days old here, I’m exhausted but so so happy.
As I write this it is World Breastfeeding Week, so there is a lot of discussion currently occupying the news and social media about breastfeeding. This inevitably brings up the debate of breastfeeding vs. bottle/formula – a topic that is emotional for many people. Well I reckon that this motherhood malarkey is pretty tough going, and the only opinion that matters is YOURS. You are making the decision for your child and what is best for you as a family. More support for every mother is what is needed, especially with the recent news that maternal mental health is being severely neglected. Anyone trying to rain on your parade, be that your battle scarred nips, or the twenty million bottles you have accumulated trying to find the one that is best for your baby, can sod off. You’ve got this mama.
Our breastfeeding story begins whilst I am legs akimbo, newborn baby R on chest, in a birthing suite that is on lock down as there is someone with a ‘weapon’ on the floor below. Hi baby, welcome to Manchester. An hour of basking in newborn loveliness later they are ready to stitch up my ‘perfect example’ of a second degree tear. I can only hope this was said ironically as there aint’ anything ‘perfect’ about a tear down there. I was encouraged by both consultant and midwife to latch baby on and try breastfeeding as the lovely hormone rush would help with the pain, YEAH RIGHT. I can’t vouch for that, but it was adorable watching R’s little head bobbling around as he attempted to clamp onto my nipple. I hadn’t a clue what to do and neither had he, no help was offered to us, so looking back I doubt he got anything from that first feed. Fair enough, I am happy that all focus was on repairing my vagina, but we were quite obviously struggling.
Six hours later we are on a ward: R has shit all over me, the bed and his daddy, a midwife has laughed at our attempts at putting on a nappy, and we have enjoyed a lot of cosy cuddles. I haven’t tried to feed him again because he hasn’t cried and you feed a baby when it cries right? WRONG. A midwife pops in to ask about breastfeeding then promptly tears me a new one (alongside the new one R tore earlier) when I say he is yet to feed properly. She tells me he will be too sleepy to feed, he will get dehydrated and that his tummy is so tiny he needs feeding every three hours on the dot. I feel awful, shocked and embarrassed that I am already failing at being a mum. It’s a feeling that pervades throughout my stay on the ward. She squashes my breast into a burger shape, wedges R on and leaves. Thankfully he loves the boob, and the feeling of feeding him is amazing.
I set an alarm for three hours later. But this time, I can’t do it. I’m trying to squish my nipple into R’s teeny tiny mouth and its just not happening. I don’t want to buzz for help as I don’t want another bollocking. When I eventually admit defeat, a lovely student midwife answers and I am eternally grateful for the time she spent with me showing me different positions, techniques and for returning to check how I was doing throughout my stay. It was invaluable information, and I felt confident in what I was doing.
Thankfully once we were discharged R took to it perfectly, launching onto the boob with the ferocity of a tiny piranha and the accuracy of a stealth bomber. It didn’t feel weird, it felt very natural and the time spent holding this tiny baby knowing my body was nourishing him was indescribably precious. Yes it was bloody difficult, never mind having to wake him every three hours – he wanted feeding every two hours at first, and when going through growth spurts he could cluster feed for an hour or more at a time.
A picture taken mid major-meltdown. I had no idea what was wrong so tried some skin to skin nursing, you can see my worried face and R’s flailing arms.
We did face a fairly major issue in that R spat up milk in volumes I could never have imagined. Well all babies spit up, I hear you say! Not like this. We could easily get through six outfit changes a day, within three days of R being here I had Amazon Prime-d emergency muslin supplies. There was milky sick over the sofa, over us, staining every carpet in the house. It was awful, I did a dizzying dance of googling and asking the HV’s about his symptoms before becoming convinced he had something wrong with him. CMPA? Reflux? Another rare allergy? But he was happy, the spit up didn’t bother him and after a while we just got used to it. Our little puking monster was putting on weight, hitting all his milestones and we even grew to love his perpetual cheesy odour.
The main barrier to being completely confident with breastfeeding at this point was other people’s opinions. And pro tip: anyone reading this who is currently breastfeeding DON’T BLOODY LISTEN TO THEM. Formula seemed to be the magic answer to my problems. I was told that it was something I ate that was affecting R (it could have been but I kept a track of it and there was no triggers), but it made me feel like a terrible mother – my own milk could be making the baby sick? Equally I was advised to give him formula at night to make him sleep. I think the most painful comment came when I took R out aged three months, he was going through a growth spurt and would cluster feed twice a day for over an hour. After confiding this I was greeted with the notion that ‘no kind of a life to be doing that’. Well no shit Sherlock, but this bub ain’t going to be attached to my nip till he’s eighteen now is he?
Being bloody stubborn is what got me through. I sure as hell wasn’t going to give up just because other people were pissing me off. However there was still a lot of crying and fretting about what my milk-makers were producing. I can report that a hot mug of tea and a mince pie brought by D at 3am to the bed when I was on the fourth nursing session of the night also helped me power through. I breastfed anywhere and in front of anyone. I’ve nursed R in coffee shops, in restaurants, in a library and in a memorable moment on a packed train carriage in rush hour. I researched loads, learning as much as I could about what my body was doing, and felt like a superhero.
This continued until we hit a really bad patch of teething when R was seven months old. He started clamping his six sharp little teeth down on my nipple and whipping his head back, giving me a severe cash of niplash. Like seriously, he damaged one nipple so much I had to stop nursing on that side whilst I pumped to try and keep my supply up. All the advice I had been given was if he bites, to put him down, indicate the nursing session is over and return to it when he is quiet and settled. Nope. Uh-uh. My tiny bundle of teeth and fury was determined to chew my tits off.
For a whole fortnight he bit me every time I tried to latch him on to feed. I was hooked up to the faithful breastpump four times a day, and a tortuous 2am pump as well to keep providing enough milk for him. And that is killer. Hats off to you ladies who exclusively pump, but washing and sterilising all the parts, trying to keep R occupied whilst I pumped and then getting up in the night when I could have been getting some precious sleep was soul destroying. Every nursing session was approached with fear, despite me knowing this wasn’t helping, something had changed. It was no longer a lovely moment, it was painful and frustrating for us both. It reached a point where I had R screaming in my lap, wanting milk, but still biting me because his teeth were hurting so much, and I just started crying too. I hurt, I didn’t want to give up breastfeeding, but I was exhausted mentally.
I cried and cried and cried for three days after stopping. I felt utterly bereft and so sad that we hadn’t a lovely last nursing session to remember. But R still bit every time I tried, and I think by this point he had realised that milk from a bottle was a lot easier (and he could chew the teat!).
So I started introducing formula. I slowly reduced the number of pumping sessions so he got used to it gradually and my milk dried up relatively free of pain. That’s where we are now. R was eight months old when I stopped breastfeeding, so that’s nearly two months ago now. He has three bottles of formula a day, and we are doing baby led weaning which he absolutely loves so he eats plenty of food alongside this.
Just demonstrating the force behind those sharp little teeth, feel sorry for my nipples!
I never expected to be so emotionally invested in breastfeeding. It hurts still, I wish we had been able to continue for longer; however I took my own advice. I prioritised my happiness as well as R’s and decided to move to formula. That was a struggle mentally as I am so pro-breastfeeding but it has made me realise that however we feed our child there is a lack of support and help. I had no idea what formula would be best, how to make up a bottle, how to store it correctly and the HV had no interest in assisting. I was instead advised to persist with the breast.
So back to my original point, do what is best for you and your family. And if you have a friend, relative, random lady on the train next to you, who is feeding their baby ask if they need anything. Because breast or bottle, she sure as hell might be in desperate need of a friendly face.
With love, B, her well worn nipples and her new constant companion, the Tommy Tippee bottle x