In celebration of World Breastfeeding Week I thought I would share my breastfeeding journey. Like my postnatal journey my breastfeeding experience has been somewhat challenging. As Oli had bowel surgery shortly after he was born he was unable to feed. This was then increased to having teeny tiny feeds every 6 hours through an oro-gastric tube then bottle feeds then EVENTUALLY breastfeeds after about a week and a half. The only problem was Oli had no idea of what to do! Neither did I really, but with the help of the NICU midwives I was confident that I would get the hang of it fairly quickly. How wrong was I?! Due to Oli's prematurity and our separation he had no idea. The suck, swallow, breathe reflex was all too much for him and he just screamed or slept! To be quite honest I don't remember much of trying to breastfeed, I think I've blocked it out of my memory. All I know for sure was there were many, many tears. All I wanted was to be able to breastfeed my baby but it felt like it was such a distant goal that I could never achieve. I was pumping every 4 hours day and night, at least I knew I had a lot of milk!
I found the midwives in the NICU to be helpful but completely busy and run off their feet with new mums. There was one midwife allocated to the unit for each shift - morning or afternoon. When you are learning to breastfeed the last thing you need is a busy midwife who is rushed and trying to hurry you along. On the same note the last thing you need when you are a midwife trying to teach breastfeeding is a ward full of new mums and babies who don't want to feed! Some of the advice I got regarding my attempt to breastfeed included giving up and formula feeding or keep on pumping until I get home then try and find a lactation consultant to teach me how to feed! Well I was having none of that. I would go home every day defeated until one nurse encouraged me to try something different...a shield.
Working as a student midwife I learnt there are two types of midwives. Those who like and use nipple shields and those who despise them! Well all I can do is speak for myself and say a nipple shield was the ONLY way that Oli was going to breastfeed in the beginning. It was a complete saviour and it established our feeding. I think it just came down to the fact that he couldn't attach, as much as we tried he would slip off or not get on at all! The nipple shield was easy for him to latch onto. Just when I was thinking it was an amazing achievement to get our breastfeeding established Oli had to go back into surgery to have his stoma reversed. This meant that I was fully pumping again and didn't breastfeed for more than 24 hours. When I started feeding again he was sleepy, less hungry and a tad lazier than before. I became a little too relaxed with my pumping and because Oli wasn't as efficient in emptying the milk as the pump I began to feel a problem.
Two days before we were discharged home I began to feel a deep aching sensation in my left boob. I thought it was weird but ignored it as I couldn't feel a lump. The hours and days passed and this sensation escalated to real pain. On the day we were discharged I could hardly rest my arm again my left side without the intense pain. I had been watching this spot in the mirror and it had become darker and darker red. I knew I had mastitis or a blocked duct but I didn't want to say anything in case they wouldn't let me take Oli home. Not really rational thinking I know but I wasn't staying another night! I saw one of the midwives and she told me to get to a doctor ASAP! Of course I thought, I didn't get to the doctor until 2 days later, by this time I was in a shit load of pain and quite unwell. I was beginning to feel feverish and very ill. I was prescribed antibiotics and started taking them straight away. A few days later I found myself in bed, hot and cold, nauseated, in extreme pain and unable to even get up to Oli. I practically crawled into the lounge room where Ian was feeding the always hungry Oli. I was crying and couldn't see properly. I needed to get to the doctor stat!!! After a trip to the doctors I was given another type of antibiotic and started taking that which made an enormous difference. I honestly felt like I was going to die.
A few weeks later my red boob began to flare up again. My midwife and I tried to troubleshoot why I kept having this problem. We tried feeding Oli without the nipple shield but he just wouldn't attach. On further investigation Mel picked up that Oli had a tongue tie. We got this snipped at a surgical follow up appointment and soon after I was able to get rid of the shield! It had served its purpose and for that I was forever grateful however I was ready to say goodbye to it. It was becoming quite messy, I was spilling milk all over the place. Just ask my brother & sister in laws black leather couch!
My feeding journey has been quite a complex because of Oli's CF and extra dietary requirements, teamed with my extreme anxiety issues! I found it so difficult to hear that Oli wasn't putting on weight from my breast milk and that I needed to supplement breastfeeds with formula or EBM with formula added. When the dietitian told me this she said I could keep breastfeeding if I 'wanted' to. She quickly became my worst enemy. It's terrible saying that, but it was at a point where I had been feeding Oli for an hour, every hour of the freaking day for the past few weeks. It was like a kick in the guts, I felt like she came and said 'you aren't good enough' 'you are doing a shit job' She clearly didn't but I was a blubbering mess and thats how I interpreted her message. We decided to give Oli a few formula top ups but mainly just continue to breastfeed. He was okay but then was increasingly unsettled. Probably hungry the poor little mite.
When Oli was about 4 months old I was at my wits end. He was so unsettled with breastfeeding he would scream when I even tried to put him near the boob! I booked into the breastfeeding centre where I gave birth as a last ditch effort. Boy am I glad I did this! It was so helpful and the lactation consultant was amazing. We weighed Oli naked before and after a breastfeed and it turned out I had about 20mls in one boob and only 15mls in the other! No wonder he was hungry! I was sent home with a pump, a plan and an order to give him formula top ups. I accepted the top ups this time, maybe because it was coming from someone who was more on my side.
I tried numerous things to boost my supply. I started pumping again, I wasn't too keen on this due to my previous experience. I was reassured by the LC that I got mastitis because Oli was unable to drain my boobs due to the nipple shield and a tongue tie which were no longer issues for us. My magic pills that I SWEAR by were fenugreek tablets, I was taking 9 a day at one point. I truly believe these were what made me produce lots of milk! I also tried stout with lemonade...yummy! not sure if it worked? On top of this I fed lots and had a lot of skin to skin time. My nightly ritual would be to feed Oli when I was in the shower. This would calm us both down; he would be unsettled because he was damn hungry and I would (and still occasionally do!) get very anxious around feeds. In the bathroom I would light a candle, jump under the warm water and feed and rock Oli til he was nice and full!
My breastfeeding journey hasn't been easy but I'm very proud to say that at 8 months we are going strong! There are still ups and downs but overall we are doing well. I couldn't have done it without Ian's support and reassurance. Breastfeeding is natural and beautiful but its bloody hard, it makes you self conscious, it can hurt, its so entwined with your emotions that it can make you a total blubbering mess. Its fabulous though, its handy, convenient and has been a beautiful way for me to bond with Oli. In saying that I will always remember what our teams psychologist told me when I was so upset about the prospect of giving up breastfeeding.
"..all your baby knows when he's getting fed is that he needs are being met by his mum, it doesn't matter whether the milk is coming from a bottle or a boob, if you are meeting his needs in a loving caring way all he feels is pure love..."
On that beautiful note here are a few of our breastfeeding (AND bottle) pictures to share in celebration of world breastfeeding week.