Friday, 4 July 2014

Liquid Gold; My breastfeeding story

Within a day of Joseph being being born, my nipples were already really sore and tender from breastfeeding. Three midwives on the ward checked Joseph's latch before I was discharged and they all said it looked fine and that my nipples just needed to toughen up, but I was already dreading feeding him by day two and using Lansinoh nipple cream religiously. Joseph seemed to be quite a hungry boy, needing to be fed very often, probably due to being so tiny. He didn't like being on his back, preferring to be held as much as possible, and liked to sleep on my chest in the night... well, it was the only thing that would keep him quiet on the ward after hunger and wet/dirty nappies had been ruled out.

When my community midwife visited the day after my discharge from the hospital she observed his latch and how long he fed for (her whole 45 minute visit and he hadn't finished when she left) and said that my milk was sure to come in tonight and that my body probably thinks it's feeding twins! She suggested I go to a La Leche League group for support and advice.

Sure enough, later that evening I awoke from a nap looking and feeling like I'd just had a boob job. My boobs had tripled in size (they hadn't really changed in size throughout pregnancy) and looked as though they were about to burst out of my skin! They leaked as I scrambled to find my packet of breast pads... The leaking not helped by the fact that I spent 99% of my time topless as clothes hurt to the touch. Cabbage leaves became my best friends over the following few days; I stuffed the leaves in my bra but was careful not to over-use them as I'd read that they can affect milk supply. Sometimes it was difficult for Joseph to latch on for the engorgement so I tried hand expressing which sort of helped.

The feeding dread got worse and worse as my nipples felt bruised and there was rarely a boob that wasn't sore for him to feed from. Joseph used to fuss a lot at the breast at every feed, taking anything up to an hour to latch on - both of us crying with frustration and pain from hunger (him) and scratches & bites/failed latches (me). We tried putting scratch mits on him but they'd come off whilst he'd fuss and we'd have to stop to try and put them back on. The fussing got so bad at one point that Ruari used to have to hold Joseph's arms back. Ruari said that sometimes I looked as though I was pulling Joseph toward me, yet pulling away from him at the same time because of the fear of the latch pain. At this point I was feeding Joseph in the cross cradle hold position.

During week two I tried nipple shields, unsuccessfully, ice packs and heat packs to try to relieve the nipple soreness and the general aching of the boobs which was making it hard for me to even hold Joseph. I bought a Phillips Avent single electric breast pump, and one night I expressed milk which Ruari gave to him; he drank from the bottle eventually but was crying within an hour with hunger, so I expressed more but it didn't satisfy him so I gave him the breast. I went to a La Leche League support group, but as luck would have it, Joseph didn't want to feed for the whole hour and a half I was there, because he'd needed feeding not long earlier, so they didn't get to observe him feeding, but they did advise on my position which I tried when I got home. In hindsight, I palmed Joseph off at every opportunity, only taking him back when it was certain that he needed feeding - which seemed to be excruciatingly often.

Joseph also used to cry for hours every night which required Ruari to walk him around the house, clocking up some serious mileage whilst I tried to get some rest. The anxiety about feeding made it difficult for me to relax, much less sleep, so exhaustion set in quite soon. Joseph rarely slept on his back, or if he did it wouldn't be for long. If he was taken out of his cot to feed, he'd rarely settle again afterwards. We tried warming the cot with a hot water bottle before putting him back in, which would sometimes work, but I found it easiest to just let him settle on my chest, so I slept on the sofa with him every night.

I was discharged by my midwives and now had a health visitor who observed Joseph's fussing at the breast when it came to feeding and suggested that his evening crying could be colic, for which there's nothing you can do to help. I unintentionally started feeding Joseph in a biological nurturing position, placing him on my chest and letting him find the nipple - only guiding him very slightly. I found that helped somewhat with the latch anxiety as this way I wasn't putting him to my nipple (and subconsciously pulling away), I was just letting the inevitable pain happen - often by surprise - but it seemed to happen quicker than when I was holding him. This worked for about a week but pain and discomfort, aside from the 10ish seconds of latch pain, would happen whilst he was feeding. Sometimes it was unbearable and I'd have to pull him off and start again, whereas sometimes I'd just grit my teeth to avoid the latch pain.

One day when I was crying in pain and frustration from feeding, I called my local NCT breast feeding advisor who suggested the position that I was already using, the only difference was that I should create a cradle for his feet with my hands for him to push off from. She also suggested I try nipple shields and come along to the support group the following day.

I went along to the support group, which was much larger than the La Leche League group (which only had 3 people in it) and I felt very intimidated. I brought Joseph into the hall and wasn't greeted by anyone as everyone was talking amongst themselves in different parts of the hall, so I sat looking at Joseph for a while, crying, before leaving. I drove to my mum's house but she wasn't in. I felt guilty for leaving and felt I owed it to Joseph to go back and try again. So I did. This time a nice girl came and spoke to me and asked if I was ok - I burst into tears and we went into a private room. She was a peer supporter and empathised with my pain and frustration. She observed him feeding in the biological nurturing position but said she she could still see nipple once he was latched which wasn't right, so we changed to cross cradle. She observed his initial good latch but it then slipping when he got lazy which was causing me pain. She called in the breastfeeding advisor who I'd spoken to on the phone, who suggested biological nurturing and nipple shields again but also said that 'you can't help everyone'. After about an hour and a half, I went home (after buying breast shells to relieve the chaffing) feeling slightly better as we'd found that feeding from the left breast was less painful and the ladies said that it was possible for me to just feed from the one breast if I had to. I persisted with both breasts for the rest of the day, but the right breast became so painful that I began just using the left breast - which soon became very painful too and no longer the better breast.
Luckily, Joseph will take a bottle from anyone!
After a terrible morning the next day, two days before he turned four weeks old, I gave up. Guilt-ridden but exhausted, I bought ready made formula and took him to my mother in law's house which was nearby hospital as I was having my Pyogenic Granuloma looked at later that day. She was incredibly supportive and we fed him, initially with some milk that I'd expressed, then with formula. He was so quiet for the rest of the afternoon, sleeping and generally contented, that it was as though he'd been drugged which I again felt guilty for as I felt as though formula was, in a way, a sort of drug. I expressed more milk that night to relieve the engorgement and he took that but most of his feeds for the following two days were formula. The guilt was horrendous, especially when my breasts were aching from being so full and he was crying, yet I wasn't feeding him from them. I used the breast shells to relieve engorgement from time to time and when I tipped the milk away, I used to cry from the guilt.

After a failed night out for one of my best friend's hen nights (within 10 minutes of arriving I was in tears so left again), I decided that I was going to express three times a day - that way he was still getting breast milk which, to an extent, relieved some of the guilt. I quickly upped it to four times a day as I'd read that milk production was best between 1am-5am and as I was getting up in the night to feed him, I may as well spend some time expressing afterwards to then give him as 'breakfast'.

Joseph will be 11 weeks old tomorrow and I still express 4 times in a 24 hour period, roughly every 6 hours. He has two formula feeds per day, one in the afternoon and one in the middle of the night. On good days he only has one formula feed if I've accumulated enough excess milk from my regular sessions to make up a whole bottle. I have found that my milk supply has increased in line with the increments of formula, without extra pumping sessions, so when I began we offered him 4oz at each feed whereas now it's 6oz. On a hungry day, he has more in a feed and in the beginning I'd sometimes need to top up with formula, but these days I tend to have enough spare breastmilk to give him.
Leftovers from breakfast; second breakfast; laters.
I find that I can almost always pump 5oz easily (although in the early days it was between 2-4oz). Sometimes getting to the 6oz mark is a struggle, which is what I currently aim for, other times it's easy. Sometimes I can pump 7oz and on occasion I've pumped 8oz. I use an Ameda Lactaline double pump and hands-free bra, both of which have been lent to me by a kind mum who had similar breastfeeding struggles. I pump when Joseph is napping or sitting contently (although sometimes I have to bounce him on my knee) and during the evening sessions I now write this blog!

Joseph no longer cries for hours every evening and will happily sleep on his back at night. I believe he's now much more content. Since switching to the bottle, Joseph's now in a routine, which was impossible before. I now get a solid block of sleep because Ruari does the 11pm feed and it means I'm much more able to cope with Joseph. Oh and now my boobs aren't sore I can actually hold him, happily, without fear of pain or any anxiety.

I'm happy to pump in the middle of the night, although I don't know whether to drop that session once he no longer wakes in the night, I've yet to decide.


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1 comment

  1. Hi Nicki, I just came across your blog and had to comment to let you know how reassuring it is to read another mother's story so similar to my own. I pumped 3 times a day and supplemented with formula from day 8 for almost 7 months, after a bad latch made breastfeeding directly practically impossible for me despite desperately trying for 14 weeks (bf groups, lactation consultant, cranial osteopathy... you name it!). And whaddya know? My bonny 9-month-old is just as awesome and happy as I could ever hope for. Keep up the great work, your lil' guy is gorgeous x

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Thank you so much for reading and taking the time to leave a comment. It really means a lot! Nicki x

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