The lovely Sarah answers some questions about her journey…
What did you know about breastfeeding before got pregnant?
Interestingly despite being well into my 30s and several friends with babies, before I was pregnant I didn’t know a huge amount from friends or family’s experiences as it wasn’t something that was openly shared, I have noticed since having a baby though people are much more open. Also unfortunately both my husband and I had lost our mothers when we were young, so we didn’t have that side of information or views either. However due to my profession as a dietitian I had learnt the benefits during my training and felt that ‘fed is best’ but being taught about it in a clinical setting and experiencing it in real life I knew could be very different.
There are definitely things I wish people had told me or given me before such as nipple cream is your friend, you can never have too much (I didn’t have any when I started!). Also I wish I had realise that it’s all about the latch, it is the key and take the time to ensure you understand how to and how to check, it is undoubtedly the most important part.
– What did you learn whilst you were pregnant?
During my pregnancy my husband and I both did lots of reading and research, I have to admit we both felt the NHS antenatal classes were not quite as informative as we had hoped, but we also did do a group NCT class which we found useful and have made some great friends from. From all of this my husband and I decided we wanted to try and exclusively breastfeed but understood that if there were problems or that it didn’t work we were open to whatever was best, as I love the quote now, ‘fed is best’, it became my mantra.
– What sort of start did you have?
On Good Friday, Theo was born at 3.34am, as you can imagine I was exhausted and as expected we tried to breastfeed pretty soon after birth. It was trickier than I expected, but the midwives were really helpful, but unfortunately it was all a blur, but apparently it seemed ok. After I slept for a couple of hours we tried again and the student midwife was very patient at going through it all again. However during his check up it was discovered that Theo had tongue tie, but apparently it wasn’t severe so were told it shouldn’t be a massive problem but they referred us immediately to the tongue tie clinic (unfortunately being Good Friday everything was closed and we were likely to be contacted after the bank holiday about it – which we were but over 6 weeks until the appointment!). During the course of the morning we had several midwives come in and talk us through things regarding feeding and gave us lots of support and after another successful feed we were discharged home just after 1pm that day. However we soon discovered that the feeding wasn’t going right, with Theo latching frequently and feeding for hours at a time and by the time the midwives came for my next day follow up at 4pm, my nipples were cracked and bloody and feeding was extremely painful. My sister and father had even gone out to get formula in case we needed it, as it was a bank holiday, and were we’re worried about dehydration. However the midwives were brilliant and spent so much time helping me latch and different feeding positions and encouragement but also there was never the pressure to continue if I couldn’t. However they did diagnose me with mastitis after a few day, and referred me to the GP for antibiotics and encouraged me to continue breastfeeding, despite the excruciating pain, as it is one of the best ways to help clear the infection (which I did but with the assistance of a double dose of antibiotics!). This fantastic support carried on daily for 4 or 5 days and then every few days until I was discharged to my health visitor at 2 weeks. Unfortunately though on her first visit Theo had lost nearly 10% of his weight and she immediately referred us to the Breastfeeding Specialist Midwife at the hospital and got us seen that day! (The HV was surprised we hadn’t seen her or been referred already). The midwife was amazing and gave me reassurance, advice and support. Thankfully she also got us seen earlier on the tongue tie clinic as were struggling so much (my father in desperation had tried to find a private clinic to help).
I hoped this would help settle down the feeding but unfortunately it didn’t. Theo continued to struggle with feeding, getting upset and agitated during feeds. To cut a long story short he was diagnosed with silent reflux. We continued to breastfeed and commenced medication for his reflux after seeing a private paediatrician as my GP wasn’t interested, which did help improve feeding, he was less agitated and fussy but a feed would still take at least 45 minutes.
Then when we thought things would start to improve the Consultant thought Theo had CMPA (Cows milk protein allergy) so I went dairy free, for 6 weeks but after reintroducing dairy it was apparent it wasn’t the case and likely a case of allergic colitis from my earlier courses of antibiotics.
Unfortunately Theo continued to gain weight too slowly and dropped off the bottom of the centile chart, after being born at a good weight of 7lb7 (25th centile) and although I know the charts are not the be all and end all (thanks to my training and some great support from friends and my Health Visitor), we knew we needed to do more. So at 4 months we started to introduce a bottle of dairy free formula (we had already started top ups of expressed but it wasn’t helping). After a slight improvement of weight we realised we needed to increase and over time Theo started to gain better weight and we saw an improvement in him. He had always been a cheery baby but now it was for longer periods as he was more content as no longer hungry.
However introducing this bottle feeding led to him getting frustrated with breastfeeding. He would always latch well but after a while would get agitated, I can only presume as he wasn’t getting as much milk as quickly as from a bottle (feeding sessions had continued to be over an hour). I continued to express and try topping up with formula and breast milk but over time my milk production started to slow and we finally stopped all breastfeeding just about a month ago when he was 9 months old. However he is now back to a good weight and remains a happy chappy that is an extremely terrible flirt!
During this rollcoaster of a ride my husband, family and friends have supported me amazingly , although they were concerned for my sanity and discomfort. They did occasionally say are you sure you should be carrying on, after a discussion with my husband, he was very supportive of my decision each time. He was just checking in on me to ensure I was ok and that I understood he supported me no matter what I decided/needed to do. I do have to admit though one or two people did keep commenting on why was I bothering to keep breastfeeding once we introduced formula. However although it ended up being formula fed with a breast feed top up, I wanted to give him as much as I could as something would still give him some benefits.
By the time we finished breastfeeding completely I was at peace with our breastfeeding journey. Although it had been extremely hard at times (I won’t lie, there were some dark times) and painful, it was also rewarding, that I could actually feed him at all as I know many women can not. I know that he is a healthy, happy, gorgeous little boy and however we have done it, it has been right for him and us. Now we are weaning he is a right little hunger monster and loves his food!
Sarah undoubtedly Did It Like A Mother – navigating the unexpected and making choices as needed for the benefit of her family… we are all about that here – there’s no one right way to do anything when it comes to babies, but coming out of any situation knowing you did what was right for you is what matters to us!
If you’ve got a feeding story to share and inspire with, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org