I have two daughters, Bella 2 & Lauren 9 months. I don’t know when I decided I was going to breastfeed or whether it was even a conscious decision, but when I got pregnant with Bella, the decision had already been made. I remember going to the breastfeeding antenatal class & coming out thinking “yes, I can do that!”. I read the books, I was looking forward to breastfeeding my daughter when she arrived. I had no reason to believe it wouldn’t happen. I knew about cluster feeding, growth spurts, I’d seen how a baby should latch. Simple, right?
Bella arrived on her due date after a long & tiring labour. I’d planned a drug free labour but ended up having a relatively new labour drug called remifentinal, offered by my hospital. I asked for that 16 hours in because I’d been advised it wouldn’t cause my baby to be drowsy, unlike other forms of pain relief, such as pethadine & an epidural. I had skin to skin with Bella as soon as she was born & tried to latch her onto my breast, but she showed no interest whatsoever & after an hour, we decided to try again later, once I’d been stitched up & moved to the post-natal ward.
For 16 hours, Bella showed no interest whatsoever. I tried, the midwives tried, & she simply fell asleep. I hand expressed miniscule amounts of colostrum which was syringe fed to her instead. Then, late that night, she woke crying & a midwife came to help me latch her on. Bella would latch on but wouldn’t suck & before long, she became so distressed that she started to scream & I ended up having a midwife shove her onto my breast, causing her to cry further. The night continued like that & both Bella & I were crying. I continued to hand express for her & begged the midwife not to give her formula.
We stayed in hospital for 4 nights because I couldn’t get Bella to feed from me. In this time, she was tested for jaundice on several occasions, but her levels were ok, though she was very sleepy & quite an alarming shade of yellow. On day 3, my milk miraculously came in, in spite of her not suckling & I started using a hospital grade pump to express, & cup feeding her. Finally, on our 4th night, she seemed to “get it” & began feeding, albeit only from my right side in rugby ball hold. A midwife spent several hours with me that night trying to get Bella to feed from my left side, but didn’t succeed. I accepted that I would probably have to feed her from one side only, but this didn’t concern me. It seemed a small sacrifice to make if breastfeeding was going to work out. On day 4, the midwife who’d helped me so much the night before weighed Bella before we were discharged at my request. She had, somehow, in spite of the shaky start, only lost 5% of her birth weight, so we were free to go home.
Back home, I just couldn’t get Bella to feed at all. It didn’t matter if I tried to feed her before she was crying, or when she was crying, she’d latch on & then pull right off. After 5 hours, she fell asleep, clearly exhausted, but she’d not fed so I knew she would wake hungry again. She did, & the whole process repeated itself. I sent my partner out for nipple shields the next morning, & when a midwife came to see me, she tried over & over to latch Bella on, with no success & she left, advising me to keep trying & to express & feed that to Bella if need be. For the next 8 days, Bella was almost completely express fed. I did, rarely, get her to latch on with a nipple shield, but that would be following several hours of screaming, then a 5 minute or so feed before she’d fall asleep exhausted, only to wake minutes later & the cycle to repeat itself.
I was so tired I could barely keep my eyes open. I knew having a newborn baby was going to be hard, but I didn’t think it was supposed to be like this! I blamed myself, I barely stopped crying & was wondering if we could return the baby. No-one could tell us why breastfeeding wasn’t working & why Bella wouldn’t latch. Just that “she’d get there eventually”.
The worst night of my life was when Bella was 12 days old. For some reason, that night I was completely unable to express. I had no milk to give Bella, it was a Sunday night & I had nothing to feed her. I called the midwife unit at my hospital begging for help & was told we could go in & they’d give us formula. When we went there, Bella was screaming with hunger, a midwife gave me 4 bottles of formula, told me to go to bed & let my partner take over the night feeds & let me go to sleep, then gave me some sleeping tablets & sent us on our way. We had no idea how to formula feed & my partner was as tired as I was. I woke at about 1am to hear him crying, Bella was throwing up the formula & screaming & in desperation, I called the midwife unit again & eventually we were readmitted after I pleaded with them to help. When we arrived, Bella was taken away from me for the night, I was given more sleeping tablets & put away in a make shift room at the end or a corridor after a midwife asked “did you not think having a baby would be hard work?”. The next day, I pumped what I could for Bella & was later (wrongly) diagnosed with PND & put on anti-depressents & discharged. We didn’t leave the hospital that day, I wasn’t ready to go home, I needed more help. & I spent another couple of nights on a nicer ward, with kinder midwives, who helped me combine feed with formula & expressed milk Bella & reassured me that my experience wasn’t “normal” & that what I was doing was ok. We left hospital when Bella was 15 days old with a much more settled little girl.
I continued to express until Bella was a month old, but my supply was dropping in spite of round the clock pumping with a hospital grade pump & I made the decision to formula feed her exclusively. I was never happy with this decision, I’d wanted to breastfeed so much & failed. I mourned what we should have had & felt guilty for not being able to give Bella the best. I tried to relactate many times over the next few months, but Bella screamed if she was placed anywhere near my breast & I had to accept it was never going to be.
I found out I was pregnant again when Bella was 8 1/2 months old. I was overjoyed, but I was also determined to “get it right” this time, yet haunted by my breastfeeding experience with Bella & this played on my mind throughout my second pregnancy. At my lowest points, I almost made the decision not to try in case I failed again.
I armed myself with more information, I went along to breastfeeding support groups to make myself “known”. I called the lactation consultant at my hospital & told her my story & asked for her advice for the second time round. She promised me she’d keep an eye out for me going into labour & help me if need be.
I gave birth to Lauren 5 days after her due date. My labour was very different to Bella’s, it was shorter, I kept active, I managed it drug free & she was born in the water at the midwife led unit at my hospital. While we were still in the water, I tried to latch her on, but she was fussing & after half an hour, the midwife suggested we got out & had skin to skin on the bed & try again. I honestly believed at this point that it was going to be history repeating itself. Once on the bed, the midwife instantly got Lauren latched on & she fed for 1 1/2 hours on both breasts. I cried with happiness.
Lauren’s almost 9 months old now & our breastfeeding journey simply went from strength to strength. She really was born to breastfeed. She really was a textbook breastfed baby, cluster feeding, growth spurting, comfort feeding. She has healed my wounds from “failing” Bella, I’ve realised that some obstacles are pretty much insurmountable & I did everything I could with Bella, it wasn’t meant to be. I’ve since discovered Bella has a severe lip tie, & I suspect a lesser known posterior tongue tie, neither of which were ever picked up. This may have been why it didn’t work, who knows?
I’m loving feeding Lauren & am looking forward to hopefully continuing to do so until she self weans.
National Breastfeeding Helplines
Breastfeeding Line 0300 33 00 700
7 days a week 8am–midnight
La Leche League
0845 120 2918
The Breastfeeding Network
Supporterline 0870 900 8787
7 days a week 9.30am – 9.30pm
BfN Drugs in Breastmilk Helpline 0844 412 4665
Association of Breastfeeding Mothers
0300 330 5453
National Breastfeeding Helpline (NHS)
0844 20 909 20