Monday, 24 November 2008

This is a bit of a rant more than anything else about my experience of breastfeeding....

When I was pregnant I was determined to breastfeed my baby exclusively for 6 months. It wasn't that I had done hours of research or had a huge spiritual conviction, I just wanted to and felt it was the best thing to do. As anyone who knows me knows, I am stubborn and if I set my mind to do something I won't give up until it's done.

I had Sam and he was briefly put to my breast to feed. Briefly, because I was rushed to theatre to have a manual removal of my placenta which stubbornly refused to come out! (How rude!) I don't remember much about that first feed as I was so overwhelmed to have my beautiful son in my arms and at the same time frightened that I could hemorrhage if my placenta wasn't out quickly.

In recovery I tried to feed him again but he wasn't too keen so we both slept a bit. Later on the ward with help I fed him again but getting him latched on was hard. We followed the same pattern for the next week where he struggled at first but eventually he latched on and fed well. All this time I stubbornly persevered even though I was in increasing amounts of pain which I put down to me not doing it right because some feeds were better and worse than others. I had the most amazing support from the midwives and support staff at St Mary's, they were encouraging and gave great advice as well as hands on help! By the time I was discharged feeds were at best uncomfortable but at worst I was experiencing worse pain than anything I had felt in 37 hours of labour and childbirth. I was utterly convinced it would come in time, it was my fault and I was failing my baby after all breastfeeding's supposed to be the most natural thing in the world, most people have no problems etc etc...

When my midwife visited the following Monday I was exhausted and miserable. I was in agony and weeping my way through every feed. This was despite taking advice from the Internet, good friends, midwives and breastfeeding helplines! The midwife came into my living room and looked at Sam and said... "He has tongue-tie." This diagnosis of my 10 day old son changed everything and explained everything all at once. The solution? A 3 second procedure carried out at a local hospital. It corrects the skin under the tongue to make it the right size to breastfeed effectively. I was so excited to get it done - the plan was coming together for me!

In the meantime before the op I expressed breast milk and gave it to Sam via bottle. It was an amazing first feed. I was smiling down at my beautiful son. He was drinking breast milk and doing so happily, not getting frustrated or upset. I talked to him rather than crying over him. In the space of 20 minutes my experience of motherhood changed and I loved it.

10 days later we went to the hospital with Sam and his tongue-tie was treated... kind of. His tongue tie is very severe and it could only be partially corrected. To such an extent it made very little difference to our experience of breastfeeding. That and the fact Sam enjoys his bottle feed - it is quicker and easier for him to get his milk - he is a boy and didn't take kindly to being made to work for his food again.

I decided at this point to mix-feed. By this I mean express milk regularly and supplement with formula. I simply couldn't keep up with exclusive expressing when Pete went back to work - practically it didn't work - I only have one pair of hands and you need two pairs if the baby needs you while you are expressing!!

I kept this up for 8 weeks. I am proud that I kept it up for 8 weeks, it is exhausting. I just expressed tonight for the last time I think. (I might do it again if I feel I need to and can.)

Over these 8 weeks I have been surprised at the attitudes I have come across when it comes to feeding your baby. When I say surprised I mean pleasantly...

Everyone knows what they think that's for sure. But no one has told me what I should think. Maybe it's me and people know better...

My determination to breastfeed never changed. I just refined it, picked out the important bits, my priorities for my son within what was actually physically possible:

1. The whole bonding thing... When I or Pete feed Sam, we look at him, we talk to him and tell him how much we love him. He doesn't have to be attached to my nipple to get that. Plus he gets the added benefit of a feed from his daddy. Oh and I get more sleep while Pete feeds...

2. Happiness and comfort - for both of us. Why should such a crucial part of Sam's existence be a source of stress? He doesn't need his view of his mummy to be one where she is in floods of tears and battling not to resent having to feed him. Why should I be in agony? That's not healthy self-sacrifice, it's masochism and who does that benefit? Neither of us.

3. His health. Sam gets the best of both worlds. (Oooh controversial...!) He got colostrum (antibodies etc) and breast milk ('nature's best'). Plus he got formula. And let's remember it's formula, not poison!!

Breast may technically be best but guess what, it's not always possible for everyone - even people like me who were determined to do it. I tried. I did everything I could - within the boundaries of my heath, personal sanity and common sense. (Plus the advice from healthcare professionals.)

I refuse to feel guilty as so many women end up feeling. I have done what is right by my son who I would die for. Have I short-changed him? No.

My son is happy, healthy and thriving. That is all that counts for me.


slave2boys said...

Absolutely well said Liz!! I had 2babies who screamed through every feed. It was hell and, like you, I sobbed through it as well. When we gave them a bottle I felt like I could bond with them so much more. I also felt that, for the rest of my family it wasn't fair for them to have that stress. Having 2 other little boys to look after I couldn't sit there all day attempting to feed a baby. Putting them on the bottle was not only best for our particular babies, but best for our family as a whole - and lets face it, the baby isn't the only person in the famly - they have to slot in with everyone else (especially when you have more than 1!). Well done - you've done really well!

Eleanor said...

Great rant!!! I've been truely amazed by your determination. Expressing is far more dedicated than actually breastfeeding. I couldn't have done it. It's much harder work & takes twice as long. Well done babe!
E x