My Breastfeeding Story: Latch, Breastfeeding Positions and More
The next in our series of real mums’ stories and accounts of breastfeeding…
New mum, Sarah, shares her experience of breastfeeding her baby boy. Sarah describes her breastfeeding and expressing journey. Within Sarah’s story, she covers difficulties with latch and jaundice, help she sought from breastfeeding support clinics and expressing breastmilk.
When I found out that I was pregnant with my first baby my intention was to breastfeed for the first 6 months. He arrived at 41 weeks plus 6 days and we had a fairly uneventful labour (although it did end in theatre with forceps and a spinal block!). During pregnancy, I had read and been told about how important it was to have skin to skin contact immediately after birth, and to try and breastfeed more or less straight away. Both things I attempted as soon as he was placed into my arms. However, due to my inexperience (not to mention my exhaustion, elation and a million other things) in hindsight I’m not sure how thoroughly I attempted them. After my first attempt to feed my little boy hadn’t latched on, but was happily snuggled up in my arms asleep. All was well.
When we were eventually taken onto the ward it was about 11pm. It was dark, quiet and unfamiliar. I was hastily given a packaged sandwich and pretty much told to go to sleep- yeah right! My partner was sent home until the morning, the curtain around my bed was closed and that was it for the night! I laid awake all that night with my hand clinging on to my precious baby boy’s cot- unsure of who on earth might be beside us!
Due to having a spinal block I was unable to move from my bed that night, so when my baby boy woke for his feeds I had to call a nurse to pass him to me. At no point was I asked about feeding or offered any support during the first 12 hours of my son’s life. I desperately tried to recall everything I’d learned- recounting the tips given to me on a breastfeeding workshop I had attended whilst pregnant. I thought I was doing everything right but still my baby wasn’t latching on. These things needed practice though right? And after each attempt and a few tears he snuggled back into that deep, new-born sleep and I’d lay him back in his cot confident that we would get it right next time.
This continued until about lunchtime the next day. We’d had all our new-born checks and things were going well. Still no questions about feeding though. Family were asking me about visiting but as my baby and I were both doing well we were hoping to be discharged. It was the discharge nurse who was the first person to ask us about feeding and only then was she shocked to find out that my baby boy still hadn’t had his first feed- breast milk or otherwise! In a bit of a panic they tried to get him latched on, but to no avail and it was at this point I was told that until they had observed him feed successfully at least once I wouldn’t be allowed home. Understandably my baby was now pretty hungry and it was becoming harder to settle him after each unsuccessful attempt. My confidence was dwindling too. Eventually we accepted that we weren’t going home that night so some family came to have a quick visit and then it was back to trying to get latched!
That evening (so my baby was now 24hrs old) the hospital lactation volunteer came to help me. She taught me how to express the colostrum into a syringe and use that to at least take the edge of my baby’s hunger. It made sense that all the while he was starving hungry he’d be less patient, and therefore less likely to latch on. I felt slightly more at ease knowing that a) I was definitely producing milk and that b) some of it was getting into my baby’s hungry tummy.
This cycle of expressing and attempting latching-on went on throughout that evening and all through the night. Each time the lactation volunteer sat with me, tried different positions (which didn’t make a difference), looked for tongue tie (all clear) and consoled me when yet again I failed to get my baby the most natural thing in the world! We hit a real low that night when a moody midwife interrupted our session, sitting on the bed and having a go at helping herself which was unsuccessful. Feeling like a total failure I was overcome with tears. It was at this point the volunteer suggested giving him bottle feeds, get discharged and work on it all again when we were in the comfort of my own home.
After the awful experience I had with that midwife I was just desperate to get home, so I did what the volunteer suggested. I didn’t ask for any more help from the hospital, fed my baby formula, and was discharged the next day.
"Don’t give up- it was day 4 before my baby even latched on and we went on to enjoy 12 months of breastfeeding. If you want it to happen badly enough, it can."
On our drive home from the hospital we had to stop at the supermarket to buy formula (I didn’t buy any in advance thinking that if it wasn’t in the house I wouldn’t be tempted to give up on my attempts to breastfeed). I remember being sat in the carpark with my teeny baby boy, while my partner went in to get the supplies. I was totally deflated.
The community midwife came round the next day and yet again although we all checked out well (bar a slight case of jaundice), she still couldn’t get him latched on. She did however arrange for someone to come round out of schedule the next day, who would try again. This lady turned out to be my saviour! Her name was Hayley and she was so lovely and warm from the minute she came in my house. Perhaps it was the fact that I’d probably just about given up on my desire to breastfeed, but on her first attempt she latched him on as if it was the easiest thing in the world! I couldn’t believe it! She let him have a feed, then made me try the other side- again it just worked! She then taught me several different positions to try, and he latched every single time!
I can’t put in to words how happy I was! But the challenge wasn’t quite over! My baby boy was now into his 4th day with us, but my body wasn’t used to the amount of milk he was now taking. I was advised to keep ‘topping him up’ with formula as he was mildly jaundice, so it was really important to ‘flush this out’ by feeding him well.
By day 7 I was still combination feeding him and he was still jaundice, so I decided to go back to the hospital to their breastfeeding clinic. It was busy, but after a short wait I was seen by one of the midwives/ feeding specialists. The first thing she commented on was his jaundice, and despite it being no worse than when the community midwife had seen us the day before this lady was talking about us being readmitted to hospital!!! She hastily took a measurement of how jaundice he was and my heart sank when she went off to find the results. She had seemed like he was seriously affected and I was sure I was going to be stuck in this awful environment again where I felt they were to blame for us even being in this position! Again, I felt totally rubbish and my confidence was knocked. Was I doing such an awful job?
Thankfully when she returned it was less severe then she had anticipated, so she proceeded with helping us with latching techniques and yet more positions- all which worked fairly well. The best thing to come out of this visit though, was that she told me to stop the topping up, she explained that if I kept giving him formula he would never have a full feed from me, and therefore the supply and demand triggers in my body wouldn’t catch up. So from that day there were no more formula feeds and we began our journey to exclusively breastfeeding.
The thing I found with breastfeeding was, although incredibly rewarding, it was full on! There were certainly days where I felt like my baby was attached to me for 23 out of 24 hours! But as hard as it was once we reached my original 6 month goal I saw no reason to stop and so continued to breastfeed (alongside weaning) for the next 6 months too.
When my son was about 4 months old I decided I would like to express so that his dad could feed him if I was ever unavailable. We then had a total drama around getting the baby to take a bottle (jeez kid- throw me a bone!). After a 6 week struggle (which included spending a fortune on new-fangled bottles which promised success) he accepted expressed breastmilk. I was happy that we’d ‘cracked another nut’ so- to-speak.
Since then most things about feeding have been pretty plain sailing, but now that I am expecting my second baby I am ready to start the challenge all over again! Be assured that NO midwife will talk to me the way that one did in the middle of the night. Good luck if they try!
Advice I would have for new mums would be:
- No matter what time your little one makes their appearance make sure someone helps you get them latched on straight away (if you wish to BF). Don’t worry about waking other people up/ disturbing the nurses etc- this moment is about you and your baby.
- Don’t give up- it was day 4 before my baby even latched on and we went on to enjoy 12 months of breastfeeding. If you want it to happen badly enough, it can.
- Use all the support you can get- clinics, local groups, community midwives- someone will do something that just ‘works’ for you.
- Finally, fed is best. You’re not going to let your baby starve so find your solution. What’s meant to be will find a way!
Thank you to mum, Laura, for sharing her breastfeeding experience. If you would like to share your breastfeeding story please email firstname.lastname@example.org