I was never too sure what to think of breastfeeding, or whether I would do it or not. That was until I feel pregnant and from that moment I knew instantly, of course I was going to breastfeed, I couldn’t imagine not. I never went to antenatal classes but my health visitor came round and she explained how to latch correctly, she talked me through and gave me some leaflets which I read several times, and I was prepared. I mean how hard could it be? It was the most natural thing in the world to do and women had been doing it since, well forever.

 

When Tommy was born he didn’t latch at first, but I was told that was normal so it didn’t phase me. After a short while he latched, and he was feeding, skin on skin, and it just felt amazing. I woke Josh who was having a quick snooze from what was an exhausting 2 days. “Look look” I got him to take a photo of Tommy’s first feed and that was that, easy. “Every couple of hours for 15-20minutes” I would proudly tell the midwives as they asked how he was feeding. “He’s got a perfect latch” they’d say as they observed. Easy.

On the second night, results came back as we expected that we needed to stay another night to treat the mild jaundice Tommy had. 8pm came and Tommy was finishing his last feed as visiting hours ended and Josh had to leave. Once he had finished he was going in his crib under the lamp for the night while I tried to sleep for the first time in over 72 hours. 30 minutes went and he carried on… and on… 2 hours, surely this isn’t right? Every time I thought he’d finished I would put him down and he would cry for more. After 4 hours I was knackered and called a midwife to ask if this was normal. “Completely normal,” she said as she gave me a quick scripted speech about cluster feeding, colostrum and how a breastfed baby can’t eat too much. She left and I cried about how impersonal her advice was and how quick she scattered off despite my desperation for help, or sleep, or a cry. 7 hours, still going, until he fell asleep and let go. I managed to put him down under the lamp that he so desperately needed to be under, I breathed a quick sigh of relief, took a celebratory photo, and then he woke up. 

I changed his nappy and as I picked him up he threw up a whole stomach full of colostrum and immediately cried and signalled for more. Back on. 2 more hours went by and by now it was 5.30am and the midwives were back to their rounds… “Oh, he’s feeding I’ll come back in a bit” “No, come back” I shouted and instantly burst into tears as I explained that it had been none stop for over 9 hours now. She started off with the same script I’d been told 5 hours ago, but she was different, she saw the desperation in my eyes. She gave me a hug, some warm words and told me to sleep while she tried to settle him, she asked for my permission to give formula if she couldn’t settle him, which I agreed to. An hour later (but no sleep for me) she brought back a snoozing Tommy who had apparently cried the whole time until she gave him 3ozs of formula which he guzzled and konked out straight after.

Day 3 and a very short sleep later and breastfeeding got easy again. My milk came in and the head midwife high fived me, gave me a hug and said “It’s all plain sailing from here, you’re over the hard bit” but she was so wrong. A couple more feeds later and I was in agony, he latched and I would scream. I’m not talking a bit of pain or uncomfort, I’m talking get me back in the delivery suite squeezing an 8lb6 baby out rather than this… kind of pain. I’d read in the leaflets, and the midwives kept saying ” if he’s latching correctly it won’t hurt” so they would check the latch and continue to tell me it was perfect. So I soldiered on, at least 9 different midwives and 2 lactation consultants saw me over the 4 days that I was on postnatal and each one told me the same thing. No other advice just “if he’s latching correctly it won’t hurt” and “He’s latching perfectly”

Night 3 and Josh convinces the staff to let him stay on the ward with me and gives Tommy formula during his night feeds so I can sleep properly for the first time in days. Day 4 and the pain gets worse. Day 5 and we’re discharged from hospital after managing to get Tommy under the lamp after his formula feeds. I went home and after one more excruciating attempt at feeding, I took myself into the next room and pumped. I pumped and pumped for 45 minutes until no more would pump out. 2ozs I got. 2 ozs. 2ozs that he drank in less than 5 minutes and then cried for more. That was it, in that moment I had decided, it was formula from now on.

My decision

So my attitude towards this decision completely depends on what mood I’m in. I read these inspirational blogs from Mama’s who didn’t ‘give up’ who struggled through and can proudly say they’re still breastfeeding, and I feel ashamed. Like I ‘gave up’ like I wasn’t strong enough to give my baby what was ‘best’ for him. In the early months, when feeding in public, I would cradle him so closely to hide the bottle, just so others couldn’t see I was formula feeding and judge me.

But ask me on a different day and there would be no regret in my decision. I did what I needed to do to get through a tough time. I’ve never really explained it to anyone else other than the 1 midwife who told me I was being silly. But I felt like if I had carried on trying to feed Tommy through all the pain, I would have ended up resenting him. I already cringed every time he cried. I prayed for a dirty nappy, or wind, anything that meant I didn’t have to feed him. I would try to settle him any other way but boob, but he was hungry. The pain was too much and there was no one to give me an explanation as to why, or how to improve it, so in that moment I had no other option, he had the formula or he went hungry. Our breastfeeding journey lasted 5 days, EBF for 2.

Could it have been different?

Yes. Absolutely. I was underprepared and undersupported. I knew nobody else who had breastfed. Nobody. I knew nothing of mentors, helplines, support groups, online networks. And if the 9 midwives and 2 lactation consultants couldn’t help me, then who could? I still to this day have no idea if the pain I had was normal. If it’s the same pain other mums are describing, and they powered through, or if there was some underlying problem. was it because of what my health visitor decribed as a ‘ferocious suck’ when she saw him bottle feeding, or was it something else completely? I don’t have the privilege of saying “I couldn’t breastfeed because of…” I had simply ‘given up’. But I never saw it as giving up until I read all these other posts and I still don’t. I see it as making a decision. One that in the moment saved me and stopped my baby going hungry. Our breastfeeding journey lasted 5 days, EBF for 2.