My Breastfeeding Hell
Every now and then I see a mother bottle feeding a baby and make the judgement “that baby is very young to be bottle fed” before I catch myself. I am the last person who should judge because breastfeeding my first child was hell. It was a very long time ago so it is easy to forget. When I look back I remember how difficult it was. I see in hindsight I should have saved myself and my son the anguish and weaned him far earlier than I did.
Joshua was born at 40 weeks 6 days after a very difficult pregnancy filled with morning sickness, antenatal depression and great anxiety. It was an unplanned pregnancy and right up until the moment I touched his little foot for the first time it was an unwanted pregnancy. That first meeting him moment changed everything for me. I fell in love and my whole world tilted on its axis.
The birth itself was not great. I was induced because he was in distress and rushed to theatre because his heart rate wasn’t what it should have been. He was born by C Section and rushed away because his cord was around his neck and they thought he was oxygen deprived. There were nine people in the room not including my partner and myself and five of them were part of the NICU team for Joshua. But when they bought him back to me I felt an instant connection to him.
That first night in the hospital I still had the epidural in my back. I had to ring the nurse to get them to pass him to me to feed. I spent most of the night fearing that he would die as punishment for the nine months I had spent not wanting him. To make it worse, in the morning they took him away to the NICU because his temperature and heart rate were not as they should be. I was beside myself because I still couldn’t walk. When I finally got down to the NICU, having taken three hours to get the feeling back in my legs and vomiting twice on the way to the next floor, he was fast asleep because they had fed him formula without my permission.
Over the next two days I tried to go down at the times I thought were his feed times to find that they had already fed him. So I only managed to feed him once. The rest of the time I was trying to express which was both was painful and unsuccessful. On day four Joshua was finally allowed to stay in my room with me but I was told by the midwives he need to have formula after each breastfeed because I didn’t have any milk yet. Being a first time mum I didn’t know any better.
On day six my milk finally came in and boy did it come in! I had already gone up a cup size with my pregnancy weight gain but I am sure I went up four cup sizes on that one day. You could literally see the skin stretching and blood rushed to the surface on the new stretch marks that make a sun formation, that still scar my breasts. My poor hungry boy drank and drank for a couple of days and we went home thinking everything was hunky dory.
I was wrong! By about day 10 Joshua seemed to be a very fussy baby. He didn’t settle or sleep very much at all. Around day 14 our breastfeeding problems had fully kicked in. When I went to feed him he would initially latch on but more times than not he would pull off again and scream. My milk would often end up gushing in his face as he threw his head frantically from side to side refusing to latch. Other times I would get him to relatch and he would bite down on the nipple really hard and throw his head around. I got to the stage that I had to use the silicone nipple shields just to protect myself from the damage he could do when he bit down. Even without teeth he bit so hard you could see the bruising. Some feeds were worse than others especially the ones at 3 am and 6 am. More often than not we would both cry at feeding time.
I spent most nights trying to feed and settle him and when he did sleep I was unable to go to sleep myself so I was desperately sleep deprived. We lived with my in laws at the time and my awesome mother in law would come and take him at about 7 am just so I could sleep for a couple of hours. To my great frustration he would happily drink my expressed milk from a bottle for her. The irony was I had loads of milk. I know so many women struggle with that and my heart goes out to them. But too much milk can also be problem. My midwife told me she wanted to take me around the corner to help a mother of twins who didn’t have enough milk. I could express 300 mls in a few minutes because my milk came so fast.
I should have just expressed and bottle fed Josh but I wasn’t thinking rationally at the time. I felt guilty that I hadn’t wanted him when I was pregnant, I felt guilty that I hadn’t had a vaginal delivery and I thought I wasn’t a proper mother. I felt that if I bottle fed him my mother in law would take over and I wouldn’t be needed. The truth was my mother in law just wanted to help me. But I thought this because I was suffering from post natal depression. Interestingly my depression was actually aggravated by the breastfeeding and I would get huge waves of sadness just before I felt my milk let down.
At eight weeks my Plunket nurse sent me to the Family Centre because not only would Josh not feed well but also he didn’t sleep for any longer that 90 minutes. He was always colicky and uncomfortable and his bowel motions were explosive. The plunket nurse at the family centre spent the day with me and at the end she suggested I give up breastfeeding. Then I sought the advice of a La Leche nurse who also suggested I give up but asked me not to tell anyone that was her advice.
But I soldiered on. I started to realise that it was the speed that my milk let down that contributed to the problem so I tried feeding him lying on my back. I tried putting cabbage leaves in my bra and other things you do to reduce your milk when you are trying to wean. I was feeding him in a cafe once and he pulled off and to my great embarrassment I squirted milk all across the table. I asked if I should shorten the length of the feeds because he was making massive weight gains each week. But I was told you cant over feed a breastfed baby. It was so hard to get him to latch properly so in the times he did I just let him feed for as long as he wanted to.
At 12 weeks he suddenly started sleeping through the night after not sleeping well at all. With more sleep I was more able to cope with the fact he was unsettled during the day and the fussy feeds. I carried on feeding him until he was six months. At six months he got five teeth all at once. One day I was feeding him without the nipple shields because he had been more settled over the previous few days. He suddenly started to scream and bit down on my nipple so badly he cut into it and drew blood. I put him down on the floor and fled to the bathroom in tears. From that day on Joshua was bottle fed. After a month of expressing I transitioned him to formula.
When my daughter, Maia, was born I was really nervous about breastfeeding. She was born by vaginal delivery so things happened more naturally. My milk came in fairly quickly but within days she started to be very unsettled. Thankfully she didn’t bite but you could hear her gulping trying to keep up with the flow. Once she came off the breast she would burp and then start screaming. When she was a week old my midwife (a different one to my first delivery) suggested I shorten my feeds for her. Unbelievably we shortened her feeds to just 6 minutes. With that amount she was more settled once I got her to sleep and gained the desired amount of weight each week. I had fed Joshua for up to 20 minutes and looking back I think I was over feeding him which must have contributed to our problems.
The down side to the shorter feeds meant I was more susceptible to mastitis and I got it several times with both of my daughters. I also had to have an infect duct drained with a frightening large needle.
At three weeks our midwife said she thought Maia had reflux and when we explained what had happened with Josh she said it was likely he had it too. If only I had known! A few years later our third child, Isla was also diagnosed with reflux too. However while both Maia and Isla may have cried after feeds I could cope because they didn’t bite. I fed them both until they were 13 months old.
After being through such a difficult experience with Joshua I found it could cope with most things when it came to breastfeeding. I didn’t need to sit in a special chair or use a nursing pillow. I could sit cross legged on the floor or wander around a shop and feed them. Anything felt easy as long as they didn’t bite. Luckily both girls didn’t get teeth until they were 13 months old and needless to say I weaned them as soon as their teeth appeared.
So in those times when I catch myself making judgement and I remind myself of those early breastfeeding experiences. There are so many reasons why a woman chooses not to breastfeed and they are all valid and need to be supported. The priority needs to be that mother and baby are happy and healthy. Many years later I realise that how my children were delivered or how long I breastfed them for has very little bearing on my abilities as a mother. It is really what I have done since those days that has had the greatest effects on my children.
So mums if you are struggling with breastfeeding you are definitely not alone. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Things have greatly improve in the ions of years since I had my children. To continue or not to is your choice and what is best for you is in fact best for baby. A happy mum bottle feeding mum is far better than a depressed breastfeeding mum!