Little Sunday story time by Joanne

Our daughter, Nora entered the world at 00.07 on Wednesday May 8th after what I can only describe as the best experience of my life. Her birth was empowering, wonderful and I can only look back at it with amazing memories. When Nora was passed up to me through my legs for some skin-to-skin I remember thinking back to our NCT session on breastfeeding. The leader was hilarious but she poo-pooed any breastfeeding accessory, said you only need the boobies, the milk can be used to soothe sore nipples instead of balm, there’s no such thing as tongue ties, the babies know how to crawl up and latch on, and away you go. Simple. 

‘Will you breastfeed your child?’ A question I must have been asked 10 times in the lead up to Nora’s birth. ‘I’m going to try, but if it doesn’t work out I won’t put any pressure on myself to continue’ would come my reply. How wrong I was. So as Nora was layed on my bare chest in the delivery room whilst I was put back together, she just stared at my nipples, licked them occasionally but absolutely no latch whatsoever. 12 hours later, she still hadn’t latched and most of my colostrum over the first day’s were meticulously syringed from my boob  and dropped into her tiny mouth. We were supported in hospital by the infant feeding team who were amazingly patient and tried so many different positions and occasionally she’d latch on (or looking back, I rammed my nipple into her mouth so hard she took some sucks). Less than 24 hours after her birth we were home, feeling hopeful I’d load the pillows high on a chair and we’d have some short feeds. Day 2 on the phone in tears asking for further help, Nora’s first trip out was to the feeding team at our local birth centre. Nora was struggling to latch so much she’d get tired, give up and sleep. All I remember her doing in those early days was sleep. The syringe feeds continued. 

‘Don’t have any visitors on day 3, your milk will come in and you’ll be an emotional mess’. Saturday I woke up to the biggest boobs I’d ever seen and felt AMAZING. Nora liked the big boobs, she fed seemingly well all day and I felt like we had this nailed (with the very meticulous use of a feeding cushion and 63 rounds of nipple balm each day). Day five, weigh in, Nora only dropped 4.5% of birth weight and I felt incredible. We continued with the cushion and balm and she was back to birth weight in 16 days. Midwives continuously checked latch and position and so we thought we were doing it right. Day after day of cluster feeds lasting five-six hours I’d cry my way through but tell myself it was totally normal and she’ll be bringing in more milk. Day 10, engorgement, holy hell, the worst pain I’ve ever felt. Boobs so hard even Nora wouldn’t latch, another phone call to the midwife, and after my first use of a breast pump and cup feed to interest Nora again we were away! One month in, Nora’s weight gain was good, still nailing it, I thought. 

Week 5...Mastitis, so bad I ignored lumps and the pain for a good two weeks. Two and a half weeks of double dose antibiotics, a trip to hospital to have a breast abscess drained, and a screaming Nora throughout. The all day feeding continued, if she wasn’t feeding she was screaming. We put it down to the antibiotics, not hunger, how could she be hungry, she was feeding ALL day?! Surely it’ll improve once I’m off the antibiotics?! 

My birthday, a day spent in so much pain we spent it at the BF cafe getting yet more advice (how much conflicting BF advice can there be??!). I was repeatedly told the all day feeding was normal, ‘if you offer her a free snack, of course she’s going to take it’ I remember being told. 

The antibiotics came to an end, the lumps in my right boob subsided, surely we’d be turning a corner now?! Wrong. My right boob was so blocked with infection my milk supply dropped through the floor. It’ll return in a couple of weeks, the consultant said, just carry on. All the while Nora’s multiple poos a day had stopped, Day 7 without one. 

Week 7...browsing through insta during yet another cluster feed. I spotted a post on tongue ties, we fitted every single symptom listed. I mentioned it to my partner James and we both said ‘she doesn’t have a tongue tie, she can lift her tongue really well’... we’d seen it enough whilst she’d been screaming. The next day things FINALLY started making sense, I went to yet another support group, the leader assessed Nora for a tongue tie and thought she had one and excess tissue on one side of her mouth, she observed a feed and said it wasn’t at all effective, Nora couldn’t use her tongue to effectively extract enough milk. This explained the mastitis on my right side, her exceptionally long feeds and why we were still waiting for that elusive poo (her body couldn’t spare any waste at all). 

Still no poo the next day so I took her to the GP, she was weighed for the first time in a month and weight gain rate had halved, we were referred to the paediatric team at the local hospital. At 7 weeks old Nora had her tongue tie divided privately, the best £150 I’ve ever spent, the next two days we had effective distinctive feeds and I finally knew what I was looking out for during feeds. She latched properly and went through all the sucking motions I’d only ever heard about. We were warned it could take two weeks to see results. After 12 days of waiting she did the biggest poo I’ve ever seen and I cried with relief.  

Weigh in at week 8 and still no improvement. The paediatric team said we had two weeks to improve the weight by offering expressed top ups before thinking about formula. This is when I gave it my EVERYTHING. Three days of naked babymooning, pumping every spare minute of the day, silly money spent on lactation smoothies, popping every supplement under the sun, a hacca pump constantly sucked on to my non feeding boob, all in the hope or increasing my supply on that still empty right boob. We had an amazing week, clear breaks (of one hour) between feeds and she seemed SO much more settled. I even felt milk in the right boob and for the first time ever, sometimes saw milk spurt, rather than drip from my boobs if I gave them a squeeze. 

Week 9, weigh in, we were so hopeful surely this was where our BF journey could really begin. She looked like she’d grown so much. Right? Wrong! Nora only gained 20g in a week...the worst rate yet. How??! Nothing made any sense. Yet another feeding plan for the next four days and she’s being weighed again tomorrow...for the past 48 hours we’ve been switch feeding and pumping and continuing to give it my all to further up supply.

Who knows what the weight will say tomorrow, but I really don’t think there’s anymore I could do. And if formula is recommended, for the first time, I may well just consider it. She spends at least 12 hours a day sucking on my boobs and has way less interactive time than other children her age, we haven’t even made it out to a baby class yet. And with tears rolling down my face as I write this now...I ask myself, what’s worse: supplementing her diet with formula or depriving her of fun, interactive awake time, that I so long for her to have. 

She’ll be 10 weeks old in 3 days time and I’m secretly hoping my small stash of frozen breastmilk will get us to then. (Why though, just so can I say she was exclusively breastfed for 10 weeks??! like it makes me some sort of winner) I know I’ve given it my everything and I really am so proud of myself. I haven’t given up, I will not give up. I was always told I was stubborn, I never knew the lengths I could go to for my daughter.

Part 2

I come back to writing this 13 days after I wrote the above. Nora was weighed the following day and had gained 90g in four days, much more like it. Phew! Our amazing breastfeeding supporter Sally said we were doing everything right and to continue waking Nora for a feed between 10pm and 2am and continue offering expressed top ups when she became unsettled quickly after a feed. On we marched, things got better, Nora would feed and have at least an hours chilled, happy, interactive time before getting hungry or tired again. I was beginning to think we can live like this, this is exactly what we want. 

When Nora was 10 weeks old, a friend brought round a ball pit, Nora absolutely loved it and that afternoon we finally made it to our first baby group in 10 weeks. It made me well up seeing Nora settled and interacting with the other children, this was what it was meant to be like!! Weigh in day slowly creeped up on us again and I was scared...last time we’d had such positive signs, she’d only gained 20g but this time was different. 250g in a week, no way!! This is what euphoria felt like! I was speechless, our hard work was beginning to pay off. My partner even wondered if that was too much gain. 

We’ve been advised to weigh Nora fortnightly from now on and to continue with the nighttime waking and top ups if needed until her weight gain stabilises. We’ve had another brilliant week and I’m slowly learning that crying doesn’t always mean feed me, like it used to! I’m still feeling huge pressure to keep expressed milk at good levels in the fridge but the Hakka and the Elvie have become my best friends.

At the most recent weigh in, I felt elated, yet strangely it was then that Sally and I had our first conversation about formula. She explained that the pressure I feel to maintain our expressed stash is not good for me, nor sustainable, and if we need to give Nora a formula top up occasionally then that too is far better than me stressing and not leaving the house all day to express. Having this conversation following a positive weight gain completely changed my feelings on giving Nora formula milk, and when the right time comes, I want it to be viewed as progress rather than failure. Currently Nora is still exclusively breastfed and I feel on top of the world to still be able to say that. Hopefully we won’t need to go down the formula route just yet, and who knows, maybe there will be a time where she can get everything she needs from these boobies without the expressed top ups too! Must get back to life, it’s pretty good right now!