Breastfeeding Story; Holly’s Experience
They say it takes a village to raise a child. I never really understood that and assumed it meant you needed lots of people around you to share the caring responsibilities. You know: friendly neighbours that would babysit every now and then or a nice local nursery. It’s only now, three months into life as a mother that I realise it’s not good babysitters that you need, it’s good support, collective knowledge and kindness.
Looking back, not once during my antenatal classes did anyone tell me that breastfeeding would be pretty difficult in the beginning. I remember the benefits being applauded and practicing different feeding positions with teddies (so totally not the same as trying with a baby!) and I knew it was absolutely something I wanted to do, but no one warned me that it takes time for both you and your baby to learn how to do it. When you think about it – of course it would. We’d both never done it before and whilst you’d think suckling and nursing should be pretty instinctive, you still have to fall over and stumble a few times before you can walk.
That said, I fell into a false sense of security whilst I was in hospital. Even though I knew our latch wasn’t 100% right, my baby (affectionately known as Pickle) did feed and I could feel something was happening. Obviously, I couldn’t see how much Pickle was drinking but I was confident he was getting enough and he didn’t seem to be in distress. The midwives were happy with how we were getting on and I was enjoying as much skin-to-skin with Pickle as possible. Easy peasy…That was until his first couple of weigh-ins…
At three days old, Pickle had lost almost 10% of his birth weight, and the community midwives wanted to come to see him every other day to monitor him. At the first weigh in, I was fairly optimistic. I knew most babies lost a bit of weight after they were born, and as I said, feeding seemed to be going fairly well so I wasn’t concerned. Earlier that day, I’d been visited by a local breastfeeding support worker who gave me lots of advice and her phone number if I needed it but I was confident all was well. At five days old, he was weighed again. He had put on weight (yippee!) but when the midwife told me it was only a 20g improvement, I was distraught. I managed to hold it together whilst she was there, but all day, the lack of significant improvement gnawed away at me. How could he only have put on 20g? That’s nothing. I felt like I was feeding him ALL THE TIME and for all of those night time cluster feeds to have only amounted to 20g, I figured I must be something really wrong.
By bed time, I was in a frazzled mess. Those pesky Day Five hormones were contributing towards a full on melt down. Pickle was crying for a feed and I was so anxious and stressed that we just couldn’t get it to work. Every time he latched on, I was in toe-curling pain. He was picking up on my distress and was coming on and off the boob like he had an inbuilt yo-yo function, which of course, was creating even more pain. I was panicking: how was he ever going to put weight on if he didn’t have a good proper feed? My husband didn’t know what to do to help. Tensions were escalating and escalating. Pickle was crying. I was crying. I just couldn’t carry on like this. I asked my husband to get one of the ready-to-drink formula bottles we’d bought as a back-up and Pickle drank the lot. The rate at which he drank this bottle made me cry even more. He was obviously hungry and I felt so upset that I wasn’t able to quench his thirst in the same way. I’d ‘failed’ at giving birth naturally and I was ‘failing’ at this too. What was wrong with me?
Pickle soon fell asleep and when I should have been resting and trying to get some sleep, I was wide awake and tormenting myself. I felt like I couldn’t do right for wrong. I wanted Pickle to get the nourishment he needed, which is why I gave him the formula, but then I was beating myself up for ‘giving up’ and I didn’t want my breastfeeding journey to end like this. Would all my milk dry up if I’d substituted that one feed? Had I fallen at the first hurdle? At 3am, I sent a text message to the breastfeeding support worker. This is what it said:
‘I thought I’d been doing fairly well with breastfeeding, but poor baby has lost almost 10% of his birth weight and in the last two days has only put on 20g. It’s really knocked my confidence and I’ve been really upset about it tonight and not fed well at all. In the end, I was so distraught and worried that I gave baby a bottle of emergency formula. Now I’m panicking I’ve ruined everything. Is there any kind of support available to me today (Thursday?). I was already planning to attend the clinic on Friday but I’m worried how I’ll cope in the meantime and obviously worried about baby and how best to progress.’
Early next morning, I received the best phone call EVER. A lovely lady called Marja rang me first thing and spoke to me for over an hour. Straight away she said that when I thought it was going well, she believed me and that it probably was! Pickle’s drop in birth weight probably had more to do with how he was born rather than anything to do with feeding. She then accurately predicted exactly how my labour had gone. ‘Let me guess.’ She said. ‘Were you induced?’ Yes. ‘Were you given IV fluids?’ Yes. ‘Was he born via c-section?’ Yes. ‘Then he was always going to lose a lot of his birth weight, regardless of how well you fed him.’ She explained that the IV fluids that were pumped into me, would have also passed through to Pickle. All of that fluid would have caused him to have an inflated birth weight which he’d lose quickly once he started to wee it out. My c-section would have slightly delayed my proper milk coming in too so he was less likely to bounce back as quickly.
I was INSTANTLY reassured. It explained a lot and maybe I hadn’t been doing such a terrible job after all. She went on to explain lots of Pickle’s feeding behaviour as completely normal. All of those cluster night time feeds? Just Pickle’s clever way of boosting my milk supply when my prolactin levels are naturally at their highest. Always getting his hands in the way when trying to feed? Again, a natural way of trying to stimulate milk flow. Wanting to be close to me and not really settling to sleep on his own? He’s a newborn baby and instinctively wants his Mama to protect him. All this was completely normal and nothing to worry about. Why hadn’t someone just told me this beforehand?
Oh Marja! She was my savour! I visited her the next day at the breastfeeding clinic and she checked my latch and offered me help with a few different holds to try. She was so calm and knowledgeable and all of my worries and insecurities soon melted away. My confidence was restored and I knew that together, Pickle and I could overcome this little blip and get his weight back up. Two days later? He’d put on 100g. The following week? Back up past his birth weight and officially signed off from midwifery care. We’d done it.
I couldn’t have imagined it then, but it’s now fifteen weeks later and I absolutely love breastfeeding. No longer do his hunger cues fill me with dread, but I’m eager to scoop him into my arms and have a lovely relaxing feed. Any nipple pain stopped after those first few weeks, and I’ve been really lucky to not have suffered from blocked ducts or mastitis. I’m not only proud of my little chunky monkey baby, but also of myself. I’m so grateful for the support I received. Without it, I definitely wouldn’t be as happy and content as I am now.
In a couple of weeks’ time, my local hospital is holding an information session for women to train up and become volunteer breastfeeding support workers. I’ll be first in the queue. I absolutely can’t wait to learn more about how amazing our bodies are, and pay forward the kindness that was shown to me. Because it isn’t necessarily as instinctive as you think: you do need to learn how to breastfeed. You need the knowledge and advice from others. You need the support. It really does take a village to raise a child.
A huge thank you to mum, Holly for sharing her breastfeeding experience. If you would like to share your breastfeeding experience, please email our PR team on firstname.lastname@example.org.