The aim of this series is to get beyond the mother-blaming which goes with the abstract way breastfeeding is pitted against bottle feeding to show that, in reality, it is a lot more complex. Mothers usually use whatever methods seem right at the time to do their best to feed their babies, often in the face of a tremendous lack of support and an absence of shared wisdom, or even interventions from health professionals which are experienced as unhelpful.
If you would like to contribute to this series, please send in 200-700 words about your own experience feeding your baby to firstname.lastname@example.org Submissions can be published anonymously.
I was determined to breastfeed my baby. The message from public health campaigns was clear – breastfeeding is very beneficial, and many people stop or don’t even attempt it because they do not realise how important it is. I knew it might be hard, but I read that there are very few people who genuinely can’t breastfeed, and that many people give up too quickly. Breastfeeding is natural and normal and great, and of course I was going to do it.
I had a long and difficult labour. After an attempted forceps delivery, I ended up having an emergency caesarean section. I was desperate to get skin to skin contact with my daughter as soon as possible, as I knew this was important in establishing breastfeeding. I managed to get her on my chest in the operating theatre, but the gown thwarted my attempts, and the nursing staff said I would have to wait until later for that. I was so relieved that we had both come out of the birth alive, but later realised that we were both probably traumatised.
I tried to follow everything I read about allowing my baby to use her instinct to find the nipple and latch on, but the midwife on hand seemed to think this was a bit unrealistic and positioned her for me. My daughter seemed to latch on eventually, and I thought she was feeding, but no-one who came to look was quite sure. They kept suggesting slightly different ways of holding her, and it seemed very strange that military precision was required, and I needed a cushion (or I really shouldn’t rely on a cushion, depending on who was advising). It was all tweaks and contortions, and she still didn’t seem to be getting satisfied. She quickly drank all the colostrum I had expressed prior to birth from a syringe, but didn’t seem to be getting much from me.
Once I was home, midwives and breastfeeding support worker visited and continued to offer advice, often conflicting, but no-one seemed too concerned until the day 5 weigh-in. My milk still didn’t seem to have come in properly. My baby had lost over 15% of her birth weight and the breastfeeding support worker that day looked very worried and urged us to feed her a bottle immediately and take her to children’s A&E as she said she was likely dehydrated.
My daughter turned out to be fine, but my husband and I were terrified, and it didn’t feel safe to wait and see. She immediately took to the bottle, and after that would no longer even try to latch on to my nipple and would get very distressed whenever I tried. From that point forward, I started pumping my milk. It was very taxing, as I had to pump every 3 hours at first, and it was hard to keep my daughter happy and comforted while doing it. I eventually found a double electric pump that worked well, and I had two special bras that kept the funnels in place to free my hands.
I kept trying to establish breastfeeding for another 3-4 weeks, but after my husband returned to work it became too taxing to keep attending groups and support sessions, on top of the punishing pumping schedule. Every time I asked whether I could just pump instead, and whether it was crucial that my daughter got the breastmilk from the breast, the various lactation consultants and support workers seemed to think it was a bad idea, and kept repeating again and again how important the skin to skin element was for bonding. They looked sad and urged my not to ‘give up’. I felt awful, and hated that people thought I wasn’t trying my best for my baby. I pumped for 8 months, with the occasional bottle of formula where needed.
From about 4 months I was also able to get my daughter to latch on and feed at night when she hadn’t fully woken, which was a wonderful, joyful experience. I was so glad to have those moments eventually, and felt very close to her through it.
Photo: Torbein Rønning
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