Our new hypnobirthing teacher, Steph, shares her feeding journey. This is one tenacious mother.
Florence was born a healthy but dinky 6lb 3 at full term, on paper we had the ideal conditions for an optimal start to breastfeeding – natural delivery, no drugs, skin to skin straight from birth, supportive partner etc. Unfortunately from even before we cut her cord I had a niggle that something wasn’t quite right. She didn’t seem to seek out the breast, and even when we actively tried to get her to latch she didn’t seem to be able to open her little mouth wide enough to get a good latch. We were assured babies didn’t need much soon after birth and to let her rest.
The next day after her having a good nights sleep I expected to see more of a desire / ability to latch well, but she was still struggling. I was noticing soreness but the midwives and our visitors over the next few days all reassured me that we both needed some time and practice to learn the art, and to work on our positioning to get a deeper latch.
My milk only came in on day 5, and by then she has dropped to 5lbs 11, and hadn’t done a yellow poo yet. The midwives were a little worried but as my milk had come in said to keep trying, or offer a top up of formula if we wanted to. They said if she hadn’t gained the next time we saw them that she would likely need to go into hospital for monitoring and to be fed an alternative way. I was gutted that after such a great pregnancy and birth that breastfeeding wasn’t going well. Thankfully I then had an abundance of milk and on day 7 she had gained just over 2oz, and from here she gained quite steadily, remaining on a fairly low centile, but I was happy with that.
What I wasn’t happy with was the pain in my nipples, which started radiating out across my breasts within a few weeks. Florence was still struggling to open wide and latch well, and when I used methods like the ‘flipple technique’ I found despite initially taking a deep latch she slipped down after a few sucks, seeming to chomp on my rather than undulating her tongue! She developed blisters on her lips, silent reflux symptoms and her poos can only be described (TMI warning!!) as ‘blended broccoli’ in colour and texture! My nipples were misshapen after feeds and not only cracked but became open wounds which were agonising-far worse than any pain I felt during labour! She also clicked loudly the whole way through a feed which most people found amusing and sweet.
I kept bringing my worried up with my midwife/HV/GP but was repeatedly told she was fine, we just needed to practice and get her latch right and let my nipples toughen up! At 3 weeks the GP said it must be thrust and gave us some medicine, when I dropped it on her tongue she gagged and projectile vomited instantly, deep down I knew it wasn’t thrush so never gave the medicine again! I spent hours and hours googling for advice and reasons why this might be so hard for us, and one answer kept jumping out… tongue tie! At her 6 week check with the HV I begged her to refer us to have it checked out, she was reluctant and said it couldn’t be that as she was gaining weight and could just touch her bottom lip with her tongue. Probably because she was faced with a very emotional and annoyed new mother she put the referral though and we were seen at Southend’s tongue tie clinic less than a week later.
There she was assessed and it was deemed there was no problem with her physically (tell that to my screaming nip’s please!!) the whole experience was disheartening and I begged again for more support. The infant feeding specialist came down from the maternity ward to offer advice. She was brilliant, she said she could see something somewhere was obviously not quite right or I wouldn’t be in so much pain, and asked the Dr to have a second look. He said she was fine and left us to it again. She kindly reminded me that I was able to ask for a second opinion, and when I said I’d been looking into IBCLC’s she agreed it wouldn’t harm. So despite being reluctant to pay for more support, rather than stopping at the shop for formula on my way home (which definitely crossed my mind – by this point I was dreading each feed and beginning to resent it, yet knew I’d be disappointed in myself to stop so early) I spoke to TCBS’ lactation consultant who listened to me describing our symptoms, and despite usually having to see someone in person to refer she said they were all classic signs of tongue tie and referred us to the Evelina in London.
A week or so later (so 8 weeks of painful feeding and generally unhappiness all round) we were seen in London, I had gone alone as Matt wasn’t able to take the time off, I really thought they’d dismiss us too but the Dr immediately said she had a posterior tie and that he was happy to cut it there and then. I was both overjoyed at the prospect of a solution, and gutted to have to watch her at her now alert age, be swaddled and have the frenulum cut. She screamed, I cried, then she fed. And for the first time she fed with minimal clicking! I fed her on the train home sat next to a Suit, and for the first time wasn’t embarrassed at the noise she made. Hoorah! That night she fed beautifully, almost asleep, all night.
Then the next morning the clicking was back, and the pain though to a slightly lesser degree, and we seemed almost back to square one. I gave it a few days figuring she needed to learn to use her newly free tongue, then called an IBCLC who was closer to home, she saw us the next week and said that her tie must have been a deep one as she could see where it was divided but explained they can ‘come forward’ once the initial tightness wears off, and she said she would need another division and that cranial osteopathy may help.
So a week later (now nearly 11 weeks old) we were back at the Evelina where the Dr confirmed that she did need more cut, and did it there and then again. This time the clicking didn’t stop but my nipples felt a lot less pinched when she fed. We saw a cranial osteopath over the following few weeks who really loosened her up (she used to only lay with her head turned right, but after 2 sessions was no longer a ‘banana baby’!) and feeding gradually improved, it took until 20 weeks for the clicking to stop but thankfully the pain, dodgy nappies, lip blisters etc stopped within a few weeks.
Of course we still faced smaller hurdles over our feeding journey – cluster feeding, growth spurts, teething (she cut her first at 16 weeks so not long after things finally became comfortable for me), sleep regressions, bottle refusal, a minor nursing strike etc, but I was just so happy we were feeding with no pain most of the time (a tiny toothed biter is not pain free by any stretch!) and really loved knowing I could nourish and comfort my baby any time any place with no preparation needed.
Her first birthday came around fast, and I just couldn’t imagine stopping just because a milestone day had passed, so we continued. I lost track of how many times I was asked ‘are you still feeding her?’ Sometimes from a genuinely interested stance, often from what felt like a very judgemental stance. I found that my previous confidence to feed anywhere and everywhere slowly eroded the further we got past her birthday. Despite the WHO guidelines recommending breastfeeding until 2 years, I found there was a lot of negativity around feeding a toddler, and not just from strangers! By the time she was 18 months she was pretty much only feeding when she woke, and before bed. I loved these moments and look back so fondly on our morning snuggles, and that she started to feed to sleep on my arms around her birthday too-pure bliss!
As she got closer to her second birthday she began to be less interested in her bedtime feed, for as short time she asked for ‘beaky milk’ or a beaker of cows milk to you and I, and just had morning boobs. Eventually they tailed off too and it might be a few days between feeds. The last time she really had a good feed was the eve of her second birthday, she had a busy day with a party, seeing all her friends and opening presents. After her bath she came and almost shyly asked for ‘mama milk’ gently cupped on breast in her hands and had the longest feed she had had in ages, with me just sat on her bedroom floor. Then she looked up and asked ‘two?’ Before doing the same on the other side and falling asleep there. She has occasionally asked for milk since but hasn’t really latched on, and I think the gradual weaning meant my milk soon went completely but even now she will ask if we share a bath or shower but she doesn’t do much more than kiss/lick my nipple (whilst I freeze and panic that she might bite me as she seems to have lost the true latch needed to feed).
I feel so lucky that I found the support we needed. It may have been hard (really bloody hard!!), but it was so worth it and along side giving birth its one of my biggest achievements and I am so glad I fought for what I knew I wanted for us both, and I hope one day she too looks back glad I persevered.
For now I’m just ‘feeding’ dolls, monkeys and the occasional crocodile, to keep her happy when she asks me to! I can’t wait to have another breastfeeding experience one day though. Next time it’ll be easier – I am better educated and empowered, and have a fantastic support network around me now. I’m even planning to train as a breastfeeding supporter to be able to help other women achieve their breastfeeding goals too, be that a day, a week, a year or beyond.
Steph teaches private hypnobirthing courses and pregnancy relaxation groups in and around Southend. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org