National Breastfeeding Week

The first decent latch after the tongue snip. Note my messed up hand thanks to a dodgy canula.

Hello, a second post in one week? With two kids?!? I don’t know how I’ve managed it,  but I have!

It’s National Breastfeeding Week apparently. Although I do find all these “National Potato Day” and “Dog Walker Awareness Month” type things baffling (OK, I made that last one up), I thought I’d write a little something about breastfeeding since I’ve now done it twice with two very different experiences.

Baby number one (aka Audrey!):

No labour, emergency C-Section, surprise Down’s Syndrome diagnosis – a scary start to motherhood. Looking back I didn’t have time to consider that breastfeeding might not work out since I’d had a C-Section (which I understand can cause problems; your body needs to know it has given birth) and apparently babies with DS can struggle to breastfeed.Neither of these things were at the front of my mind when, around (20?) hours after she was born, I was taken up to try her on the boob. 

I love the way Ted remembers this moment. He sees it (rightfully so), through rose tinted spectacles – a memory of a mother falling in love with her baby at the instant she brought her to her breast. There was a lot going on that’s for sure,  but I do remember that nerve-wracking moment I was wheeled up to visit my poorly baby to try to feed her… And out came the boob, on went the baby… It worked! It was pretty exciting, although before that point we’d spent a day expressing collustrum in an embarrassing tricky manoeuvre involving my boob squeezing and Ted “hoovering” it up into a syringe. It was a bizarre experience.

And as breasfeeding progressed (in uncomfortable plastic chairs, surrounded by beeping machines, with my baby attached to various machines by wires and tubes), we were “lucky” enough to be thoroughly supervised by a lactation consultant. One who advised we use nipple shields intially to help with Audrey’s latch. This seemed to really help and within 8 weeks we were no longer using them and Audrey was breasfed until 8 months. 

I do remember the early stage being stressful and uncertain, but once we found our groove, I could leave the house confident I had a boob, so she would be fine for food. It helps packing light.

Our main issue with Audrey in those days was the reflux – the rivers of puke. They thought a floppy larynx probably caused it, but she couldn’t keep her feeds down and we were covered in milk sick all the time. She was changed (no exaggeration) at least 5 times a day. 

And when it came to saying goodbye to the boob, I was reluctant to let it go, it was sad, but then, Audrey was happy with a bottle and literally couldn’t care less at the change. We took away boob, put her in a cot and in her own room – all in the same week and got her sleeping through the night after one night of “training” (Ted going in for comfort when she woke instead of me feeding her). Job done. “Booby finished” as Audrey would say.

Baby number two (Rex):

My memory erased any issues I may have had with Audrey and when Rex popped out, I just hoped he wasn’t a puker and stuck him on. It seemed simple… But my nipples did hurt a bit… Then they hurt some more… Then they cracked and bled, oh joy. I think it was 7 days in that I cried out in pain so much that we decided something had to be done and that the NHS appointment several weeks away was not going to help. We paid for a private lactation consultant to come and snip the posterior tongue-tie and finally feeds were no longer so painful that I lived in fear of each one, flinching as I put my newborn to my breast *shudders at the memory*. 

Well meaning midwives had said he latch looked OK and that I should persevere, that the nipples would heal soon, that perhaps he just needed to grow a bit. I’m glad we didn’t give up, but I’m also glad I didn’t just ride it out because a few more days of pain and I would have bulk-bought the Aptimil and sacked off the boob forever!

As it is, breastfeeding Rex is on the one hand fantastic, convenient, bonding, amazing… On the other hand a pain (we think he has a cow’s milk intolerance so I can’t eat dairy!). The funny thing is, I  vowed to combi-feed with Rex (as we were eventually made to “top” Audrey up with formula to give her more calories and the bottle turned out to give us some independence), but because we think he’s intolerant, we can only give him prescribed formula… But I can only get the prescription by testing his intolerance by introducing dairy… And I can’t face him being a shit, even if it is just for one night. He basically writhes around with wind and wakes a lot. Which he does anyway, but less so when I’m not touching dairy. It’s frustrating to watch, hideous to wake up to and just a really exhausting aspect of having a baby. This time around I am thinking about switching to formula at 6 months and I cannot wait for Rex to be eating solids. I need him to sit up, get his wind out and sleep more!! Please!!

Anyway, ranting aside, breastfeeding is amazing if you can do it. I look down at him drinking from my body and I can’t quite believe it, it’s pretty magical. However it is also really hard for some (lots of) people and no one should take it for granted. I could so easily be formula feeding right now if we hadn’t paid privately to get his tongue snipped, I didn’t have the strength to keep going in pain, on the promise of midwives that it would get easier with time. The funny thing about time is… yes, 6 weeks is a speck in the scheme of a lifetime, but it’s a bloody long time when you have to keep a human alive by doing something scream-out-loud-painful about 10 times a day. 

So let’s celebrate #nationalbreastfeedingweek but also not forget those who wanted to do it but couldn’t because it was bloody hard.