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?