How I beat the odds, and successfully breastfed my second child!
Previously I have shared how I was unable to breastfeed my daughter and the heartache I feel daily as a result of knowing I could have given her a better start. It is truly devastating for me, as a Mother.
What I didn’t mention was the defensiveness that came with my failure to breastfeed her and how all things boob suddenly felt like an attack.
Literally every time someone told me they were breastfeeding I would jump in with my explanation to as why I wasn’t, stating how hard I had tried and how hopeless my attempts had been. I would make sure that they understood that it had nothing to do with me. I had indeed tried so incredibly hard and now facts felt like attacks.
If someone ever queried the quality of formula milk I would repeat the words of the health professionals that had previously reassured me. “Formula is the second best option. It’s quality milk and your daughter is thriving”
If someone told me that breast milk was optimal, again I felt attacked and acted unreasonably. I would respond that formula was just as good, although I knew that wasn’t the case- it made me feel better! When I heard about someone who had had an easy time establishing feeding, I felt bitter and jealous. Feeding choices are so personal and the biological need to be the best mothers we can, often makes us deffensive instead of honest.
When we decided we wanted to add another child to our family, I knew I needed to take control and educate myself rather than rely on health professionals to make breastfeeding happen. I spent day and night researching issues that could arise, read stories from mothers with the same physical issues as myself and started using aids to help “loosen” my nipples in the same way a glass of wine does with my non-existent rhythm.
It was painful and exhausting, but I knew it would be worth it.
We were blessed with another pregnancy and I knew I had to do everything I could to make sure I didn’t “fail” to breastfeed him as I had my daughter. I went into efficiency mode for 9 months.
You see, I’m one of these people who like to be freakishly prepared and when it came to breastfeeding, my tendencies of perfectionism didn’t disappoint. I had a copy of my birth plan prepared in a neat bullet point presentation and it included a harmonic home birth. Unfortunately, as I developed pre-eclampsia towards the end of pregnancy, my plan never saw the light of day and an induced labour in hospital took the place of my perfect home birth.
Upon arrival at the hospital my husband carried a red backpack filled with my breastfeeding essentials. The bag never left my side and accompanied me to the labour suite. In it I had a breast pump, Lansinoh nipple cream, breast milk storage bags, a SNS system and sterilised nipple shields, ready to go. This time I would breastfeed, against the odds.
“With my daughter I was only told of nipple shields when she was 10 weeks old! At which point it was too late. Yet these would become the aid that made breastfeeding my son possible!”
After a speedy delivery our son had arrived but due to complications he was taken away. I was so distraught. I had pinned my hopes on the magic of skin to skin and suddenly it was just me and my concerned husband in the room! I felt empty and confused and watched the seconds tick by on the supersize wall clock. I didn’t speak, I just waited.
Although we were only separated for a few hours, it felt like a lifetime. When he was finally back in my arms, pink and snug, I wasted no time. I instructed my husband to hand me the nipple shields and received some odd looks from the midwife.
“Shall we try without shields first?” she queried.
I knew this question would be asked but with my daughter’s nipple refusal fresh in mind I had decided to use shields from the first feed. I would rather feed with a shield then not at all. I do wonder if a shield at the first feed would have changed the outcome of how I fed my daughter.
Soon after my daughter was born I asked for support to latch her on. The midwife repeatedly jammed her little head on to my non-existent nipple causing her distress. She kept doing it until my daughter turned purple from crying hysterically. I should have spoken up. I should have said “stop“.
My daughter became petrified of my chest and I was determined not to let this happen again. I dismissed the suggestion of a shield free feed and asked her if she could please help me latch my son on with the shield. The midwife complied and helped me fit the shield. She fiddled about with positioning and helped me support both baby and breast like only an expert would.
She smiled at me, she was optimistic! Yet, as my son started to root without achieving a latch, I felt all hope fading. Immediately I felt as though I had gone back in time to the moment my daughter tried to latch unsuccessfully. The midwife gently reassured me and repositioned my little boy. Suddenly I felt a tickle and a seal. I felt my son latch and I cried, overwhelmed with relief and happiness. This moment was one I had never experienced with my daughter. It was bitter sweet.
The midwife stayed with me for the next 2 hours. She helped me reattach the shield and work on how to position with a large chest. Every time my son came off she returned, ready to help. She was the support I desperately needed.
The following morning, a breastfeeding support worker visited. She was encouraging and lovely but was unimpressed with the use of shields. She informed me that my son would be able to breastfeed without them, just as I had been reassured the same with my daughter. She explained to me that positioning would be the key and she asked if she could try to help latch him on. I expressed that I appreciated her expertise but that I knew my nipples better than she did. Yet after debating it for what felt like hours, I agreed to try without the shields, as long as my son didn’t get upset. “I don’t want him to fear my breast as my daughter did,” I explained.
She laid my son down next to me, encouraged him to open his mouth wide and tried to latch him. Then again. And again. My breast was met with frustrated screams. Somehow I gathered the strength to tell her I wouldn’t be needing her support anymore. I realised I would have to do this on my own.
In hospital there is a policy that you must have established feeding before you are discharged. Apparently breastfeeding with shields wasn’t considered “established” so we were at a crossroad. I refused to accept “help” and they wouldn’t let me go home until they were satisfied he was fed properly. I was tired and I wanted to be reunited with my daughter, so I lied. I told them I would be formula feeding. We left that night, and I fully intended to exclusively breastfeed.
Our journey wasn’t an easy one. I think we must have experienced most obstacles. I had retained placenta which meant my milk took longer to come in which of course didn’t help! My son was neat and a “slow gainer” so I expressed to top up. I had blood blisters and cracked nipples, mastitis and blebs. Blocked ducts were frequent as a result of oversupply.
We persevered and together we got through it, a team of two!
There was such a stigma attached to the nipple shields and I found professionals continually dismissing them, expressing how they could interfear. In our case, they didn’t and in fact they went on to saving our breastfeeding relationship. I used shields during breastfeeding, for four months, after which were we’re able to wean off them.
When I’ve told my story, one of which I’m incredibly proud, I often get asked if it was “worth it” and my answer is always the same. “Absolutely,yes! I wouldn’t have had it any other way.”
I also find that when I share my struggles I’m met with defensiveness. I’m met with explanations and excuses for why someone hasn’t breastfed. I’ve been called “judgey pants” and “sanctimonious”. I’ve been told that formula is just as good as breast milk and of course there are endless accounts of babies who have been formula fed yet are healthy as anything, and breastfeed babies who are continually ill.
Instead of reacting to these and entering in to an argument, I have learned to empathise. I’ve been the mother who felt attacked as a result of someone else’s breastfeeding achievement. I’ve been the mother who had to come to terms with the fact that she had to give her baby something that was never going to be optimal. I’ve been the mother desperate to defend her actions and solutions. I know that often that mother is hurting and all she needs is love and support. However, I don’t believe we should shield mothers from the facts, just be careful with how we present them.
My success isn’t an attack on you. It’s not an attempt to belittle you or make you feel that you’ve failed your child. My success is a result of determination and luck- it is not an achievement beyond yours. It’s just a different one.
I’m incredibly proud of the fact that I’ve breastfed my son- that is not a reflection on your achievements.
It’s only just my story.