Overcoming breastfeeding difficulties: my personal story

My breastfeeding relationship with Rosalie has been riddled with difficulties, and we found it a struggle for several months. Every feed was a hurdle to overcome and a relief once over. Each extra week I fed Rosalie my milk I felt was a small triumph.

The difficulties and what we tried to overcome them

Sleepy baby whilst feeding – tickling her feet, stripping her down to nappy, cold flannel, blowing on her face, gently pushing under chin to simulate suckling.

Chewing hands whilst latching – clamping one arm to my side and holding the other to her side; could try swaddling, but no good for us due to sleepy baby problem.

Poor latch – trying different positions, speaking with various midwives, visiting the breastfeeding clinic, checking for tongue-tie, persevering.

Sore/cracked nipples – lanolin cream or breastmilk after feeds, nipple shield for some feeds. I didn’t get on with expressing, but it’s worth trying.

Engorgement – hand expressing a small amount until comfortable.

Plugged ducts – hot flannels and massaging/hand expressing, feeding on that side when really hungry.

Long feeds – this reduced once we got the latch sorted and she became more efficient.

Reflux – keeping her upright for 30 minutes after each feed; the bouncy chair came in very handy during these times.

My Story (unabridged, sorry!)

Rosalie and I did not get off to the best start with breastfeeding. With the nature of Rosalie’s birth, I didn’t get to try feeding her for several hours after she was born, and we didn’t have any skin-to-skin contact. When I eventually tried feeding her, I couldn’t get a good latch and the midwife was too busy filling in paperwork to be much help.

We were bundled off to A&E 7 hours after Rosalie was born and I had to stand (sitting down was extremely uncomfortable) for about 4 hours before being taken to a room. I tried feeding her in A&E, but again with little success and no support. In the small hours a nice lady with a knitted boob tried to give me some assistance with latch, but being unable to sit up meant I had to try the lying down position which I just didn’t seem to be configured for!

In the morning some midwives got rough with me and Rosalie and we had our first successful feed, it wasn’t comfortable, but it wasn’t painful, so I considered that a success. I was also instructed in hand expressing of colostrum into a tiny syringe. After another successful feed I was discharged and we made our way home.

I struggled a lot in the following few days as my milk still hadn’t come in but Rosalie was screaming for food which I couldn’t seem to provide. The midwives who visited each day did their best to help with latch, but each time we undressed her and placed her little body on their scales her weight was dropping. We were advised to give her formula but due to it being 5pm on Christmas Eve there were no shops open to sell us formula until Boxing Day, so we struggled on.

When my milk eventually did start to come in I suffered terribly from engorgement, alongside the cracked and sore nipples. I tried a manual pump with little success.

Rosalie has always been a very fidgety baby, when she was tiny she would always be stuffing her hands in her mouth, so when I was trying to get her latched on I would have to fight her arms away from her face, and her kicking legs; I needed at least six hands of my own! No matter how many times I tried ‘nose to nipple, tummy to mummy’, I just couldn’t make it work. And if another midwife shows me one more yellow ‘Off to the Best Start’ leaflet….

I also struggled a lot with Rosalie falling asleep during feeding; we tried everything, from tickling her feet, to stripping her naked, to a cold flannel, with varying degrees of success. Frustratingly she would fall asleep feeding, but as soon as I would stand up to lay her down in the carrycot, she would wake up!

Due to the poor latch it would take Rosalie a long time to get the amount of milk she needed, so I would be feeding her for 40+ minutes at a time, giving my nipples about an hour of respite before we had to start all over again. Lansinoh cream or a little expressed breastmilk worked best to soothe my soreness in-between feeds.

We received so many different bits of advice – each midwife we spoke to offered contradictory advice to the previous ones – you must feed for 20 minutes on one side before switching; feed for 10 minutes each side and no more at each feed; only feed on one side per feed – argh! Which is it?

I became so wound up about latching on that just the thought of offering my breast had me in tears. I would get myself so worked up, and I think Rosalie could sense my tension, so she would get worked up too. I would scream in pain and wince, which would make her cry and then it would be a downward spiral of frustration on both our parts.

Our bad breastfeeding relationship infiltrated every minute of our lives. If I wasn’t feeding Rosalie then I was thinking about it and dreading feeding her, or talking to my mum in tears trying to figure out a way forward.

Thinking back now, I can’t remember many times in those first few months when I was actually happy, I was so stressed with the feeding. When you have this tiny helpless baby in your arms, and the one thing you are meant to be able to do so naturally, you just can’t, you feel like a complete failure.

I don’t even know where the pressure was coming from – mostly I think I was putting the pressure on myself – I didn’t want to be a disappointment. I always give things up when they become hard, but I didn’t want breastfeeding to become one of them. I wanted to succeed, and I wanted to be able to give Rosalie the best start. But what Rosalie probably wanted was a happy mummy, not crying all the time; she wouldn’t have really cared if the milk came from me or a bottle… As it was, we struggled on, and at each feed I would think, I’ve come this far and suffered so much pain, I can’t stop now.

I have to say a massive thank you to all the breastfeeding mummies who, via their own personal experiences, inspired me to continue and encouraged me towards the light at the end of the tunnel. I am thoroughly glad that I persevered, but I regret all the wasted time I spent being angry, frustrated and crying when I should have been cuddling and enjoying my newborn . I wish I hadn’t been so hard on myself.

I just hope it won’t be this hard next time around…

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