Tuesday, 10 April 2012

On Boobie and Bottle

In case you didn't guess from the title, this is not a Warcraft post.

On Tuesday 21st February I gave birth. The following is the tale of my progress through the world of feeding this amazing Level 1 Human. I'm sharing it because I recently read this.

I gave birth via C-section and thus wasn't able to have the precious skin-to-skin moment with our little boy until I got into the recovery room. However, he had a clear sucking reflex (he almost took my little finger off!)  and I tried to latch him onto the breast to feed. I didn't succeed.

We got up onto the ward and the mid-wife who had been with me through the c-section handed over to the ward midwife. Unfortunately I didn't see the ward midwife over the next two days unless she was on the "drugs round". A high birth rate meant that the ward was stretched to the limit and the midwives just didn't have time to care for the new mothers. The support workers were doing their best too but weren't really able to assist me very well. I continued to attempt to breast feed over the next 48 hours. Each member of the hospital staff seemed to have their own piece of advice to give out, one telling me that if he was sucking on my finger and not complaining then he obviously wasn't hungry and another telling me that "oh he'll come up to the boob when he's hungry". He was only a few days old, he didn't have the neck control to do that!

Looking back now, I realise I was very naive. I thought that since my mum and sister had breast fed, it would come naturally to me and I'd be romping away, happily feeding my little boy whilst talking to people, drinking coffee in a cafe and totally blase about it all. I had read virtually nothing on the pitfalls, the possible problems and I didn't realise just how much hard work it could be. I wish now I had.

Two days after he arrived in the world, Level 1 was looking rather yellow and had quite a bad case of jaundice. The ward had calmed down a little and the midwife who came on duty that morning came to see me and spent time trying to help us crack the latching on. When it was clear that we weren't getting anywhere she said she'd get the lactation specialist to come and help us. At about this time we also encountered the first of the support workers who actually helped me with latching on and getting more than 2 sucks on the boob from Level 1. My lovely man, Cray Dutch Man pushed for us to get a pump so that I could start expressing and getting some milk into the little one via a bottle. The midwifes ummed and arhed about us using a bottle, stating that they preferred us to use a cup but not stating that this was because bottle feeding whilst still establishing the boob feeding could lead to nipple confusion and thus prevent Level 1 from being able to feed direct from me in the future. In the meantime we waited for the lactation specialist to come and see us. And waited. And waited. We carried on with the expressing and feeding, taking him onto the boob at each feed and then using the bottle with expressed milk to ensure he'd fed well, pushing the jaundice through his little body and trying to get home! But the latch on was still difficult to maintain, Level 1 latched on initially but came off and it was difficult to get the same contact.

So we called in the cavalry, my sister. My sister had breast fed both her children. She came in and sat with me through a full feed, repeatedly helping me latch Level 1 on and adjust my position till we found something comfy and working for both of us. The thing I found most surprising was how firm she was with him and with me. I'd been so afraid of hurting my baby that I'd just not been confident enough to shape my boob properly or to hold Level 1 onto the boob long enough that he would latch on correctly (some babies "faff" at the boob to start with). At that moment, I felt the support that had been sorely lacking in the hospital.

That was 7 weeks ago and I'm still breast feeding. I am using nipple shields because I've suffered with very very badly cracked nipples, a result of the poor latch on I was experiencing before my sister straightened us out.  I'm now weaning him and I off them. Throughout the time I've been using the shields I've kept putting Level 1 back to the breast for a few sucks so that he didn't loose the knack and I'm happy to say that we're getting back on track. My sister helped with a total of 3 feeds and that helped us crack the latch on problems and get the positioning right so that I don't get my nipples torn to shreds again. Thanks to her support, the constant "You're a great mum" from Crazy Dutch Man, we have been able to continue with breast feeding.

We also use the bottle. After the c-section I was extremely tired and once we got home I was struggling to recover so Crazy Dutch Man took the late-night feed and we used formula. We're still doing that and the rest and recuperation time it's given me has been invaluable. There are many reasons women choose to use formula and there are plenty of judgements passed around about it. Which there shouldn't be. Feeding your baby is your choice. Breast feeding is incredibly hard work. After you've been through labour and birth (not to mention the pregnancy itself) your body is full of drugs, hormones, possibly anti-biotics and you can be a complete emotional wreck. If feeding on the boob is painful, your adrenaline kicks in and you work yourself up into a state. That means you're stressed out and your baby feels that, making the feeding you're already dreading much harder. A happy mummy equals a happy baby, if that means going the formula route then so be it.

Having been through this experience in the passed few weeks I honestly believe that if the NHS was able to spare the resources to give new mothers 1-on-1 care for breast feeding and more follow-up visits at home, then fewer women would give up on it after a few weeks. Reading the article I linked at the beginning of this post just re-iterated for me the importance of that support. If you're planning to breast feed your children, read up about it and find someone you know well and trust who is willing to help you. Your partner MUST be on board because it's going to be tough, but having another woman there who knows what to do is invaluable. Hand-on-heart I've been close to giving up plenty of times. Two things have kept me going, knowing I'd be seriously pissed at myself for giving up too soon (fyi, "too soon" for me could be different to some one else's too soon) and the fact that formula costs a lot of money. We don't have money to spare at the moment and daft as it may sound, when there's needles stabbing you in the nipple and you're thinking "Oh ffs just get the bottle", you will take any motivation you can get.

Breast feeding is an achievement. Raising a healthy baby is an achievement. They are both hard work. Do not under estimate either of them. And be proud, whichever route you take, you're a great mum and you're baby is thriving because of your care.

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