Baby, Baby #1, Breastfeeding, Motherhood, Parenting

My trials and tribulations of breastfeeding

I’ve been putting off writing this blog post for a little while now. Breastfeeding is still a touchy subject for me and my bad experience of it still feels very raw.

A couple of nights ago I was up in the small hours of the morning, unable to get back to sleep after feeding Jasmine. I was browsing the usual social network sites on my phone and up popped a Facebook message from an ex-work colleague. She’d given birth to a sweet baby girl just two days before. The message simply said “please tell me that breastfeeding gets easier”.

For a minute or so I didn’t know what to say, I didn’t want to lie to her but nor did I want to discourage her. I’ve been that person wanting reassurance and I know all she really wanted me to say was “yes, it gets easier.” But for me, it didn’t get easier.

Breastfeeding didn’t get off to the best of starts for Jasmine and I. Right after she was born and I had been stitched up, the midwife disappeared and we were left alone in that birthing suite for several hours. I hadn’t yet tried to breastfeed Jasmine. I knew from the research I did during pregnancy that the secret to successful breastfeeding was all in the technique. I knew it was important for my baby to latch on properly so with this in mind I wanted to be supervised by a midwife the first time I got Jasmine to latch onto my breast.

So I waited….and waited… and waited for a midwife to come in and help me. I was getting frustrated that there was seemingly not one person around to assist and Jasmine seemed to be getting agitated too. In hindsight, I wished I’d just picked my baby up and tried to latch her on myself but I had it in my head that if I didn’t get it right the first time then I’d never get it right. Eventually a midwife did turn up and casually asked “have you fed your baby yet?” I replied no and she then asked me to just try it without any instructions from her (so I had gained nothing by waiting).

I felt all fingers and thumbs but eventually Jasmine did latch on and it hurt like hell. I let out a yelp and the midwife said “yep, it’ll hurt.” She walked over to me and said “relax” as she pressed down on my shoulders. It was only then that I realised how tense I was, my body was completely rigid. Jasmine didn’t suck for very long, she fell asleep and came away from the nipple. The midwife left the room again and we didn’t see another soul until the morning. Nothing about this felt natural to me and I was left feeling confused and frustrated. Was I even doing it right? It didn’t feel right.

The next morning after Jasmine had been checked over by the pediatrician another midwife came in to check on us. She watched me try to get Jasmine latched on again but baby girl was just too sleepy. I was advised to strip her down to just her nappy and try again so that’s exactly what I did. She still wouldn’t latch on. I was feeling fed up and just wanted to go home. I had gone from wanting assistance to being desperate to learn how to feed Jasmine in the privacy of my own home without being manhandled and constantly told to relax.

Every day for the next week or so I was visited by a different midwife, each one requested to see me feed Jasmine. I’d just had a baby, I felt tired, emotional and vulnerable so stripping off and trying to feed my baby in front of a perfect stranger made me want to scream. They’d all tell me that Jasmine’s latch was perfect (although it was still really hurting me at this point). It wasn’t Jasmine’s latch that was the problem, it was the fact that she didn’t want to work for mummy’s milk. She never seemed to stay attached to the nipple for any longer than a minute. I didn’t think there was any way she could be getting enough to drink.

A week later, in the presence of yet another midwife, my suspicions were confirmed when Jasmine had lost 11% of her birth weight. I now know that the average weight loss for a healthy breastfed newborn is between 7-10% of their birth weight. However, at the time, the midwife told me that they didn’t like it to be anymore than around 8% and made a huge deal about it. After that, as far as I was concerned I must’ve been doing it all wrong and I was practically starving my baby to death.

Later that night, with all this playing on my mind, I was attempting to feed Jasmine. She latched on and I instantly burst into tears because it was so painful. I immediately pulled her away from my breast as I just couldn’t take it any more. I didn’t understand how I had managed to give birth naturally and yet here I was struggling so much with the pain of feeding my baby. Jasmine was screaming out, hungry. I wept and said to Stephen, in between sobs, “I just can’t do this”. At the sight of the two of us so upset he began to cry too. We sat on the bed just holding each other and sobbing.

Jasmine’s cries grew more and more intense and I just felt so hopeless. Stephen looked up at me, wiping away his tears and whispered “shall I go and get some formula?” Cue another round of crying from me before I eventually answered “Okay.” With that, Stephen put some clothes on and headed out to the nearest 24 hour supermarket as it was past midnight. Jasmine wailed the whole time he was gone as I held her against my skin and repeated the words “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.”

When Stephen got back with the formula we made a bottle up and Jasmine glugged the milk down way more enthusiastically than she ever did on the breast. I was so relieved that she was finally getting some food in her. Gutted, but relieved.

I knew breastfeeding wasn’t going to be easy as I had read up on the subject and gone to workshops during pregnancy but there was still part of me that naively thought that maybe I’d be one of the lucky ones who just took to it like a duck to water. Before Jasmine was born I’d refused to buy any formula or bottle-feeding paraphernalia so I couldn’t give up on breastfeeding so easily. Having that stuff in the house, I probably would’ve given in even sooner.

The truth of the matter is that I should’ve been enjoying my baby and relishing those first newborn days but instead I was hating being a mother. A week in and I already felt like a complete and utter failure.

My breasts soon became engorged, making me even more miserable. I tried to hand express my milk but even the act of gently kneading my breasts with my hands was agony. We rushed out to buy a breast pump and I expressed my milk that way. I continued to express my milk for Jasmine for the next few weeks, topping up with formula as needed. I was glad that she was getting to have my milk, even if it wasn’t under the circumstances I would’ve liked.

I found it hard to keep on top of the expressing, particularly when Stephen returned to work, as Jasmine required so much attention. I seemed to spend my whole day paying more attention to a plastic pump than I did to my baby.

Pump. Feed. Sterilise. Repeat.

A midwife had suggested that I should express milk every 2 hours, I have no idea how she thought this was possible. After 6 weeks, inevitably my milk dried up and now Jasmine is solely fed formula milk.

I know I shouldn’t, but I do feel ashamed every time that I bottle feed Jasmine in public, especially if I’m in the company of breastfeeding mothers. I wonder if they look down on me or even pity me. The reality is that they probably don’t give a crap how I feed my baby, I’m sure they’re far too concerned with feeding their own! Still, these thoughts enter my head. Every time. It doesn’t help that I’ve been berated by my own friends (who have yet to have children of their own) for not continuing breastfeeding. They make comments that suggest they feel I just gave it all up without a second thought. Like it was an easy decision for me. They couldn’t be more wrong.

I don’t know why I continue to beat myself up about the whole situation, it won’t change anything. I honestly couldn’t tell you if my own mother breastfed me or not. I have no idea and I wouldn’t love her any less either way. I guess, I just feel that I’m denying Jasmine all the benefits that breastfeeding brings with it. What I must remember is that I’m not denying her my love or total adoration. I will always try to do what’s best for her. That’s what us mums do, right? We try our best.

I’m happier, she’s happier and surely that’s what matters most?

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19 Comments

  • Reply Jo Smith May 29, 2014 at 10:01 am

    Well this made me cry jenna. I feel so sorry that u never felt supported by midwives when your instincts were telling you something wasn't right. The thing is, you're not a bad mum for using formula. Far from it! Having a happy mum is much more important than a stressed or in pain mum because they pick up on that. I love this post and I'm sure it will help others too.
    Thanks for linking to #BabyBabble xx

    • Reply Jenna May 29, 2014 at 10:50 am

      I must admit, I cried a lot whilst writing this post but at the same time it was an extremely cathartic process. I hope it will allow me to move on and be happy about the way I feed my baby.

      If reading this post helps others then at least something good has come from what was, and still is, a tough situation for me.

      Thank you so much for hosting a wonderful linky and taking the time to read my post. xx

  • Reply Ruth Hissett May 29, 2014 at 2:28 pm

    What a great post. Never feel guilty, you have done what was best for you and your baby which makes you a great mum xx

    • Reply Jenna May 29, 2014 at 2:37 pm

      Thank you so much, Ruth. That really means a lot. :) xx

  • Reply Victoria MyLittleLBlog May 30, 2014 at 2:16 pm

    i was reading this post and felt that my eyes are watering, i feel for you, in just few weeks time i will have to go through the same thing

    • Reply Jenna May 30, 2014 at 4:37 pm

      Thanks for reading, Victoria.

      I hope you have a much easier time of breastfeeding. Wishing you the very best of luck! xx

  • Reply Lianne H May 30, 2014 at 2:18 pm

    I was also in tears reading this! Well done for posting this hun!
    I plan to attempt to breastfeed this baby at first, but I must admit, the thought of it scares me so much! I've bought everything ready for bottle feeding – 'just in case' – but as much as it pains me to admit it, I'm almost hoping I can't breastfeed, as although I'm well aware of the benefits, it just scares me, incase I can't do it!! :(
    I don't know how I'll feel at the time I guess, time will tell!
    But well done for writing such an honest post!
    Lianne | TheBrunetteSays…

    • Reply Jenna May 30, 2014 at 4:49 pm

      Thank you, Lianne.

      It was a very tough post to write but if there's other people out there going through the same thing, I want them to know that they're not alone. Breastfeeding definitely isn't easy but much like pregnancy and labour, your experience will vary from everybody else's. I think part of the problem is the pressure we put on ourselves and also the pressure from healthcare professionals. I was awake all night worrying about telling my midwife that I wanted to switch to formula, I wanted her approval which is silly because it's MY baby I'm feeding, not hers! I wish you the very best of luck and I hope you have a wonderful breastfeeding experience. If it doesn't work out for you, that's fine, just do what's right for you and your baby. Happy mama = happy baby. xx

  • Reply Jessica Thornton May 30, 2014 at 5:44 pm

    Gosh what a tearjerker! I went through my newborn not latching then I had mastitis, engorgement, sore cracked nipples, he had thrush and tongue tie so I feel your pain. I felt helpless and cried when we gave him formula when my boobs hurt too much to continue.

    I'm sure you got the advice to keep feeding through the pain and I honestly wanted to punch those people lol

    I've managed to get Jasper to continue feeding but it's still painful and I get an awful feeling in the pit of my stomach each feed.

    You've done the best thing you can do in choosing what's best for your baby. Formula is full of goodness and what's most important is that you're happy as that's a reflection of bambino!

    Great read lovely �� please done feel guilt you're doing fab! Xx

    • Reply Jenna May 31, 2014 at 3:22 am

      Thanks, Jess! :)

      I've been reading your blog over the last few weeks and have been so impressed with the way you have dealt with all of those breastfeeding issues! You are one strong mama! :)

      I definitely had the same reaction to the "feed through the pain" advice! Heh.

      Every day I see that my baby IS growing and thriving before my very eyes and the guilt dissipates a little more. She's doing just fine. Better than fine. Gotta keep reminding myself of that.

      xxx

  • Reply Zena Goldman June 17, 2014 at 9:25 pm

    This sounds like what happened to me with my second daughter. I didn't get the support I needed in those first few hours after labour and I'm convinced it's why things went wrong. I hope you stop feeling guilty soon as you should be enjoying your baby and all that matters is you've done the right thing for your family. Don't be put off trying again though, as all babies are different and this sounds like something you can learn from. Thanks for linking up with #BFingDiaries

    • Reply Jenna June 18, 2014 at 9:30 am

      I still get the odd pang of guilt every now and again but on the whole, I am a lot happier now. It definitely hasn't put me off trying again with any future babies as at least now I know who to ask for help. It definitely was a learning curve.

      Thanks for hosting #BFDiaries. x

  • Reply Amy C June 18, 2014 at 7:10 pm

    Oh this is so sad! I'm so cross with those bloody useless midwives for not supporting you properly! I had an awful time with BF first time round too and cried many many tears over it. This time round my baby was fully breastfed til 4 months and now just has one bottle at night so Daddy can put him to bed while I sort out the toddler. So sorry it didn't work out for you this time #BFdiaries (2boys1mum)

    • Reply Jenna June 19, 2014 at 3:41 am

      Unfortunately the midwives just didn't have enough time for me. There were BF'ing peer supporters within the hospital but as I only stayed one night in the birthing unit and not on the ward where they were I never had contact with them until it was too late. Hopefully next time I'll have more support from the get-go. x

  • Reply bettyandthebumps.com June 19, 2014 at 12:01 pm

    Hi!

    I had lots of problems with breastfeeding too and I too thought it would come more naturally than it did. I just felt like Gwenn was a slippery little frog that I was trying to get in the right position – impossible!! We ended up combination feeding for nearly 10 months and I'm happy with that now. No point beating yourself up about it, It's not like on your little one's first day at school they'll have to wear a tee shirt spelling out how they were fed. No one cares!!

    My best friend found out she was pregnant 12 weeks after me, so when she was having problems with breastfeeding she called me and said her GP has suggested exclusively expressing as well. As if this is an actual option!! I know it is suggested as a means to continue breastfeeding if that's what the mum wants but who has time to do that? Total madness. I did a lot of expressing in the early days and it is really hard work.

    I totally understand how you feel about what happened but you did what was best for everyone and you are happier, baby is happier, and that's what's important.

    xx

    • Reply Jenna June 20, 2014 at 12:30 pm

      Thank you for that. You are so right, nobody else really cares about how my baby is fed (nor should they). Well done for managing 10 months, that's fantastic. :) I felt like expressing was like a full-time job, there just wasn't enough time for anything else, including enjoying my baby. I think the only way it really works is if you're doing it a couple of times of day, like when a mum goes back to work for example. But exclusively breastfeeding long-term just isn't impossible, something's got to give and I wasn't willing to sacrifice all that precious time to hold a plastic pump. We're all a lot happier now and I know that although it was tough, I made the right decision. xx

  • Reply Brighton Mama January 10, 2015 at 12:14 pm

    Hi Jenna, I know this is an old post but I completely agree happy mum + happy baby = happier situation for all. I am breastfeeding and I am happy but it has not been easy, lots of challenges along the way – going to write a post about it soon. But have friends who continued, despite problems and were so miserable & stressed because of it. Once they switched to bottles they were much happier too :)

    http://www.ourseasidebaby.blogspot.co.uk

    • Reply Jenna January 26, 2015 at 9:16 pm

      Thank you, I appreciate you reading and commenting on this post even though it's an old one. I think there are only the lucky few who manage to breastfeed with no challenges whatsoever, well done to you for sticking at it. I think there is so much pressure put on mums to breastfeed that they feel like a failure when they struggle (like I did). Happy mum = happy baby. Always. :) xx

  • Reply Catherine June 15, 2016 at 6:54 pm

    Jenna – your post really resonated with me and I feel very strongly that it’s high time the negativity regarding formula was replaced with some practical useful advice ! Why is it that in order to promote breastfeeding women who formula feed have to be made to feel inadequate and failures as mothers? Some people simply can’t exclusively breast feed or choose not to: that is our choice as mothers as whilst I wholeheartedly agree that breast feeding should be promoted I don’t understand why bottle feeding formula needs to be demonised. My experience with breast feeding was similar to yours – my first son was born 6 weeks early and with jaundice. We spent a week in hospital with him having UV treatment. He was so underweight, I was “attempting ” to feed and pump and the whole thing was a total disaster. This charade continued for weeks until a friendly neighbour who used to be a midwife popped over and said to me in no uncertain terms that my attempts to establish exclusive breast feeding had not been successful and clearly my supply was low . She advised that my baby needed a bottle. The poor boy was ravenous. I never looked back and bottle fed him formula and expressed milk for 3 months then moved onto formula exclusively. And guess what. Billy is amazing. He is tall, robust, healthy happy and smart. Yes breast feeding has benefits , but it’s not worth starving your child to try and tap into them because there are a lot of factors which result in a happy healthy child, and the milk you give them is just one of them.

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