I have two children, a daughter Rebecca who is six and a son Sebastian who is four months old and my two breast feeding journeys have been completely different. When I fell pregnant with my little boy I was determined not to make the same mistakes I made with my daughter 6 years ago.
I had my daughter at home in what I would say was the perfect home birth. I was assisted to bed and my midwife asked if I would like to try and feed my baby. She latched on straight away and fed well. The next day we were up early and had numerous visitors, the lead midwife, my midwife and various friends and family. Looking back I don't remember offering my baby the breast that much. I just remember being absolutely exhausted and feeling extremely dizzy and nauseous.
For the following few weeks I continued to feel sick and lived off lucozade and cream slices. By day 5 Rebecca had lost 12.5% of her birth weight and I really didn't want my baby to be taken into hospital. We agreed that I would breast feed and then express and give top up's. She was then weighed every other day for another 5 weeks. Strangers turning up whenever they felt like it, walking around my home telling me what I was doing wrong all the time. It was incredibly stressful. I spent my life with a baby on my breast or a pump, it was exhausting. I also wasn't getting much sleep as Rebecca wanted feeding every 1.5 hours throughout the night. Week 6 came and Rebecca had dropped back to birth weight so the decision was made to start formula top up's, I was devastated!
I had worked so hard but to no avail. For the next 6 weeks I continued to express and give formula bottles as Rebecca had stopped feeding off the breast due to nipple confusion. One morning I went to express when she was 12 weeks old and nothing came out. That was it, my breastfeeding journey was over and I felt like a failure. I was so exhausted and frustrated, why had she not put on weight? What was the problem? All anyone had ever said was that she had a good latch and was feeding well. I felt like such a failure, why couldn't I feed my baby? What was wrong with me? Fast forward 6 years and I'm pregnant with a little boy.
This time I am determined to feed my baby, exclusively breastfeed my baby till he is 6 months old. I started researching, planning and visualizing me breastfeeding my baby. My partner planned healthy nutritious meals and snacks to keep my energy up and I made it very clear to my doula Jo how important breastfeeding was to me. Firstly, we planned to limit visitors dramatically this time (this was a lot easier due to the covid restrictions) and my main focus postnatally was to solely focus on feeding my baby and doing anything and everything to succeed. Baby arrived this time very quickly and due to this I had delayed skin to skin whilst I was attended to. A couple of hours after birth I am reunited with my baby and he latches on and feeds. Again the latch is good and he feeds well. First hurdle cleared and this time I am full of determination.
Like previously, I feel exhausted and nauseous but the difference is we had planned for this. My partner encouraged me to eat and drink and there was always something in the house I could manage. We limited visitors and when we did have family to visit they didn't stay too long. I also carried on offering Sebastian the breast whilst they were here. My family especially were very supportive of my breast feeding goals. At day 5 I was incredibly anxious going to see my midwife. I was dreading the weigh in, how much had he lost? My midwife knew about my feeding history and acknowledged my anxiety with such kindness. He had only lost 5.5%! The relief overwhelmed me, I had done it, I had achieved my goal! We were kept under the midwives for 3 weeks as Sebastian was slow to get back to birth weight and still jaundice. Apart from a referral to the delayed jaundice team we were discharged and we went on our merry way.
At 8 weeks the health visitor came and weighed Sebastian. Apart from some silent reflux we had been doing well. He fed every two hours for around 40 mins to an hour, breastfed babies do feed frequently though, right? That didn't leave much time to get stuff done but he must be putting on weight well as he feeds so often? I proudly handed him over and he was weighed. The health visitor commented on his jaundice and we said we were waiting for our appointment the following week. She then marked his weight and explained that he had dropped two centiles, he had lost too much weight! How had this happened again? He can't have lost weight, he is feeding all the time? She advised me to give top up's which could be expressed milk but when would I find the time to express as I was pretty much feeding all the time.
This is where my preparation was really beneficial. I knew I now needed specialist support as I wasn't happy to give top up's or formula. So we contacted a lactation consultant and had an hours video call. During that call lots of red flags started to appear; frequent feeding for long periods of time, silent reflux, colic and weight loss. The consultant then questioned whether it may be tongue tie. We then booked in for a tongue tie assessment, this would have to be with someone else as our consultant was pregnant and it needed to be a face to face. A couple of days later we had the tongue tie assessment and it was found that Sebastian had a 80% posterior tongue tie (which is harder to spot) and he could barely move his tongue. We made the decision to have this snipped as it literally took seconds. They swaddled the baby up and I had to hold his head very still. As I am a nurse it didn't bother me but my partner being incredibly squeamish decided to step out of the room.
By the time he had reached the door, it was done and the baby was quickly placed on my breast. It felt completely different, I couldn't even tell he was feeding. The practitioner kept checking and he was feeding well, it was just the fact that he had been clamping on my breast with his gums previously. The next few days were bumpy, he didn't always latch on or feed and we did have a few meltdowns but slowly feeding got quicker and easier. He was weighed again after two weeks and he had put on weight. He had followed the curve of the lower centile he was now on but he was still two centiles down from birth. The lactation consultant suggested top up's. I started to express a bottle for the evening just before bed. It gave my partner the chance to feed the baby whilst I got ready for bed and sometimes even got a head start on sleep. However, I started to really struggle with blocked ducts and I ended up taking sunflower lecithin to help reduce the risk. Unfortunately I still struggle with blocked ducts and we are reassessing again our current feeding regime.
I knew the breastfeeding journey was going to be difficult, however I never realised how difficult it would be. I just thought that success was determined by whether or not a good latch was achieved. However there are so many more issues and obstacles and things change constantly. Even with all the challenges I am still so determined to continue and have recently reached the 4 month point.
If I was to give any advice I would say do your research and be as prepared as you possibly can be. I follow a few lactation consultants on instagram and my doula Jo had some numbers of lactation consultants. I would definitely recommend having an assessment if you are having any issues. There are not many things that your baby desperately needs and we decided it was worth the investment to be able to continue on the journey we had planned.
Ultimately, as with the birth, I found having a postnatal plan of how I wanted to feed my baby extremely useful. I knew that I wanted to breastfeed and then introduce an expressed bottle around 6 weeks once breastfeeding was established. This was so that I could get a break but also so that the baby could get used to having a bottle incase we decided to go out and I didnt want to feed in public. I knew I didn't want to pump after every session as that really affected my mood with my first and I didn't want to introduce a bottle too soon to reduce the risk of nipple confusion as it did with my first. I also had my bedroom set up with everything I possibly could need. I had a breast feeding box with lots of snacks, bottles of water, nipple cream, vitamin D drops etc and lots of pillows. I basically just spent the first 5 days snuggled up in bed feeding my baby, recovering and eating flapjacks.
Breast feeding is possible in the vast majority of cases and for me it was worth persevering with. It is a constantly changing journey though and you and your baby may need support from a specialist to guide you. You will get there though and it can be done and I'm now always happy to help and advise people and share my experiences with people who are having issues - I have even thought about becoming a lactation consultant as I find it so interesting and have learnt so much on my personal journey.