My Breastfeeding Experience
Before Oliver was born I had all the good intention to breastfeed him just like how my own mum breastfed me. I equipped and educated myself with resources I could get my hands on from the Australian Breastfeeding Association guide book, breast pump, breastfeeding pillow down to the feeding chair. I even took time off of work to attend the all day breastfeeding seminar at the hospital. I was ready, all systems go and pretty confident to be able to pull it off. I mean, how hard could it be right?
Oliver was born nearly 3 weeks early, which took us by surprise as we were told most first borns are born later than their EDDs but we were very thrilled nonetheless. The birth itself was pretty good I thought (although not sure if there is such thing as ‘pretty good’ when it comes to pushing out a 7 pound baby out of your business area!), I lost quite a bit of blood through the process but as I told Darren, my husband, I could do it ten times over compared to what happened in the next couple of weeks.
I attempted to feed Oliver pretty much soon after and in the midst of my fever and going in and out of consciousness, I couldn’t tell if he was nursing correctly or not but we had some skin-to-skin contact for a good half an hour at least. The next day I tried to feed him with the assistance of the midwife but somehow he just couldn’t latch and seemed disinterested at feeding so the syringe came out and the midwife helped extracted the colostrums that was then fed directly to Oliver. That went on until the next day when I begged to have a lactation consultant (LC) to assist us, the LC came and after a few maneuvers, seemed like the football hold was what Oliver liked the best and I thought yippy we’re doing this! We managed to get a few feeds going although I noticed feeding could go on for over an hour and he always fell asleep soon after he got on the breasts, which I didn’t think much of at the time. He got a bit unsettled sometimes half an hour after a feed and that kept going all night, the word exhaustion just didn’t describe how I felt anymore, I needed a new word for it! The day after Oliver couldn’t seem to latch on again, I called the midwife to help and this particular one noticed that he had a tongue tie and mentioned that a tongue tie snip would help make feeding better. The pediatrician came, had a quick look and said although he didn’t agree with the practice but if we wanted it done, he’d do it. We said yes and off they went, 10 minutes later Oliver was back with only a little drop of blood visible. He seemed to be able to feed after.
When my obstetrician came to check up on me, she noticed that Oliver looked a bit more yellow than she liked so the pediatrician was called. After holding and turning Oliver left, right, under the lights, away from the lights he ordered for a blood test to be done. So they took him off of me just as he was feeding to have his heel pricked to draw some blood and returned him back soon after. A couple of hours later we were told that his bilirubin level was quite high and he needed to have phototherapy in the neonatal nursery, which meant he wouldn’t be rooming in with us until he recovered. I was heartbroken, as a first time mum it was pretty hard watching them wheeling your son away from you. From then I had to go down to the nursery every 2-3 hours to feed him, for the next 2 days that was all I did and from then on Oliver began to refuse feeding from my left breast so the breast pump became my companion. The details of everything that happened is all a blur to me now, all I remember was how I felt as well as the pain I began to experience on my nipples but I brushed it off and thought soon enough they’d toughen up and the pain would go away.
After the last blood test, Oliver was taken off phototherapy and we were discharged even though his bilirubin count came up higher compared to the previous test (he got tested a few times a day, poor fella) but we were told we could go home and to give him as much sunlight at home as we could, as well as to get another blood test done in 48 hours. In the meantime, the feeding battle continued on at home; Oliver still refusing to nurse from my left side, we still fought at the breasts at least for 15 minutes prior. With each fight came each tear from me and lots of screams from him. I never thought it would be that hard, especially when one was also battling the baby blues. Every day was a struggle; I didn’t look forward to feeding my baby. At one stage I even felt some sort of resentment towards my son, which felt even more horrible but I couldn’t help myself. The pain on my nipples continued, it hurt more and more that I grit my teeth so hard each time Oliver started sucking. Darren always had to be by my side each time I fed him to give me moral support and literally to wipe away my tears. I never cried so much in my entire life.
The next 48 hours came, another blood test and again, another hospital stay. His bilirubin count was off the roof, way higher than the last test so at 8pm off we went again. We only just unpacked our bags. This time Oliver went on for the double phototherapy and we were under strict instructions to only pick him up for his feed and to change his nappy, nothing more. I tried to feed him as much and as long as I could so that he would recover quicker and be hydrated again (the paed mentioned that Oliver was dehydrated at admission) even if it meant the pain on my nipples were worse than giving birth itself, at least this time he seemed to want to nurse from my left breast. His test results were slowly getting better each time so at day 3 he was off the lights and back in the room with us. That night Oliver was very unsettled; we fought so hard at the breast and every half an hour after each feed he would kick and scream as if he hadn’t had a feed yet. Coupled with exhaustion and extremely painful nipples, I was beginning to lose my mind and did one thing I initially told myself I’d never do; feed my baby formula on top of my expressed milk. You can judge me but unless you were in my shoes or there with me the whole time, one really has no right to judge. I did everything I could but my baby seemed to be hungry still, I’m not one to watch and leave my newborn baby starving. No sir.
The day after was meant to be the day we could all go home once and for all but after another fight at the breast early in the morning, in the presence of Darren and 2 midwives who were there to assist me, I had a breakdown. I screamed as Oliver bit down on my right nipple as the pain was so excruciating and I broke down in tears; I was tired of the fight and I felt like I’d failed as a mother and I felt incredibly alone in my battle. An LC came, saw my battered nipples and didn’t think they looked right so she instructed me to express for the next 24 hours as she swabbed both nipples to test if there were any infections and encouraged us to stay another day so I could be looked after. I breathed a sigh of relief when she said I could just express instead; it was liberating, no more fights! But my relief was short lived as with the stress, I’d been losing my appetite as well as the much needed rest a lactating mum needed. I could only express 5ml at once, when previously I could at least get eight times more than that. So again, Oliver was fed formula on top of my expressed milk for the next few days. I felt the word FAILURE was imprinted on my forehead.
The swab test came back and both my nipples were “badly infected”; that was the exact words the GP used. I was immediately put on antibiotics and told to further express until they were both healed. Soon after we went to a breastfeeding day stay in the hopes that we could get breastfeeding going again, at this point my milk supply had re-established and Oliver had been getting full EBM (expressed breast milk) with no formula top ups through a bottle for at least 4 days. He was thriving as he had re-gained his birth weight and a lot more when the LC weighed him that morning. We spent 6 hours in the hospital that day and never once did we manage to get him back to feed off the breasts despite the different positions and approaches we tried. He’d turn red, cry, arched his back and got frustrated. The feeling of failure crept back into me and I shed a tear as I confided on the LC at the end of our day stay. She encouraged us to return for another session in a couple of weeks in the hopes that as he got older he’d be able to latch on correctly. In the meantime, I continued expressing and occasionally tried to coax him back on the breast, in that 3 weeks we got 6 short successful attempts at the breast, I say short because they were never a full feed and only lasted 5 minutes tops. We returned for another day stay and although he did better, it was still nowhere close to what he should be doing and I thought fighting over the breast for 40 minutes was a bit much. This LC noticed that he was still tongue tie despite the snip the was done weeks earlier so she advised us to consult with a pediatrician surgeon who specializes in tongue tie for a second opinion. That could explain the reason why when he was breastfeeding it would take over an hour and yet he still seemed hungry afterwards (including falling asleep on the breasts a lot as with a tongue tie, feeding could be tiring for them to do) as well as the infections on my nipples. We managed to be squeezed in within a few days as his appointments were all taken for the next 3 months.
There we were in the surgeon’s room and after looking at Oliver’s tongue he could see that he was in fact still tongue tied, perhaps the scar from the prior snip had healed over, which could explain why he still had trouble feeding, who knows? He said he could snip it again, which may or may not fix the feeding problem. When he said that, I thought to myself maybe I shouldn’t go ahead with it but he added that he saw how much joy his wife and children got from breastfeeding. Despite my hesitation, I gave him the green light. The small sharp object came out and I thought to myself, what am I doing to him?? But before I could digest my thought further, it was done. Oliver was in that much agony, at first he couldn’t even let out a cry but he let it all out as soon as he was back in arms. To my eyes there was a lot more blood than I’d like to see, there was blood on the cardigan his granny bought him, blood on the bottle teat as I tried to feed him, blood on his bib and the crying didn’t stop. He didn’t even want his milk at all, there was too much blood going down his throat and he hated the taste. I didn’t cry but heart sank and for a split second I thought I was going to upper cut the surgeon! Of course I didn’t. But I thought to myself, when has it turned to be all about him to become all about me? Where do I draw the line? He was a happy baby even on the bottle and he was thriving, his child health nurse was impressed with how far we both have come and Darren told me that too everyday so as I sat there holding Oliver in my arms with blood coming out of his mouth I thought, this has now become all about me. It’d be me who’d feel so much better if he could feed off of me whereas Oliver probably wouldn’t know any better. He’d still love me for me, not for my breasts not for anything but for me; his mummy who feeds him every day without fail, changes his wet and dirty nappies, gives him cuddles and kisses and gives him everything else that he needs.
So when we went back to see the LC soon after he had the second snip done and he still wouldn’t go back to the breasts, I didn’t feel like a failure anymore. I gave myself a pat on the back. It had been a long, hard and trying 7 weeks for us but we had come so far. I tried everything I could to fix the situation, I saw everyone I could see to find an answer and a solution but perhaps the answer lies in exclusively expressing. I have an abundant amount of milk, sometimes I could even get more than 200mls under 15 minutes, and a baby who loves drinking it to the last drop so even if he couldn’t get it straight from the source, I didn’t care anymore. If he’s happy and thriving then I know I’m doing something right even if it’s outside the norm.
I’ve had other mums look down on me as I pull out that bottle and feed Oliver. They may think that I’m feeding my baby formula (even though there is NOTHING wrong with formula, after everything I believe that each mum is entitled to make their own choice based on their OWN set of circumstances, there is no right or wrong, all there is is whether your baby is happy and thriving or not) when it’s actually breast milk. Well, I’ve actually had a woman who made a comment, despite me telling her that it’s EBM in the bottle, that babies are settled better drinking off the breasts, that hurt me and if I didn’t know better I’d probably given her a piece of my mind. But I realize that I’d always have to explain myself with the road I’ve chosen, not many understand why a baby can’t breastfeed nor understand why I wouldn’t just feed Oliver formula instead and save me the hassle of always expressing on top of washing bottles. But I’ve come to terms with that and I’m okay with it. To me as long as my son is happy then I am the happiest mum in the world. I’ve done everything I can to make it happen but one can only try so much and nobody, absolutely NOBODY, can accuse me for not trying.
So to all mums out there who are successfully breastfeeding their children, hats off to you and I envy you for being able to do that. Count yourself lucky that you have the privilege and the easiness to do so. But please don’t be so quick to judge when you see a mother pulling out a bottle out of her nappy bag. That may be EBM and a mother with the same struggles as me or even worse. She could have a baby with a cleft palate or she could have inverted nipples. Or it could be a mother who shouldn’t be breastfeeding due to an illness, you just never know. We place a lot of guilt onto ourselves enough as it is so there is no need for you to pass comments or give us that look. And for those mums who are formula feeding for medical reasons or another (yes there is such thing as low supply!) and are constantly being looked down upon, tell those people where to go because as long as your children are healthy and happy that’s all that matters. I’ve been on both sides of the fence, I know.
As one friend told me, you have to choose your battles. Once you have a child, it stops to become all about you to be all about them, well at least for the next 18 years! Happy mums = happy babies. So don’t judge me, don’t look down on me, I could only try and I’m still learning.
Update: for the past 5 weeks Oliver have started breastfeeding again. He prefers the left side as the nipple on the right side is smaller & shorter but that’s okay, I’m grateful for every bit of progress he makes. Alhamdulillah :)
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