Little Sunday story time by Luana

I watch her eyes open. On top of me with her red and white knitted hat in the labour ward. She is stunning. Dark hair. So delicate. Deep down I always knew it was a girl. 

Next thing a midwife is rubbing my breast to get baby to feed. She massages and squeezes me until baby took a bit. The squeezes were painful but I didn’t care. Then they took her away from me. I notice I desperately need her back on top of me for endorphins. I begin to feel a lot of pain, I beg them to have her back to help me. Deep down I still feel this is where it all began to go wrong for our breastfeeding journey. 

I had PPH and I feel like I had my baby on top of me for 15mins or less. I still can’t tell. 

After theatre I see baby with my husband he tells me it must have been 2 hours. I feel weak. 

They tell me to rest. But I can’t sleep. I want to hold her but I can’t pick her up from the hospital crib as I agreed to an epidural before going to theatre. 

They begin to ask me how I’m gonna feed and I tell them I want to breastfeed. But I have inverted nipples from previous breast infections and what it seems like no milk? Or so I thought. Many breastfeeding midwives come and go squeezing me, massaging, forcing baby on. She just screams for waking and undressing her. They put pressure on me in what you want to do next? I want to breastfeed I insist. 

The reality was I don’t know what my options were. I don’t know breastfeeding could be a problem. In fact I don’t know what’s going on. I cry with sadness as they suggest cup feeding her formula. Need to feed her somehow, so the decision is forced on us. 

The thing is I was going to a breastfeeding clinic, at the hospital on a Monday. I wanted to learn how to collect colostrum due to my gestational diabetes when I was 37 weeks but baby beat us to it when my waters broke on Saturday night and she arrived on Sunday afternoon. 

I insist I want to breastfeed so they give me their electric pump. They tell me to pump every two to three hours. 

It hurts like hell. I can’t tolerate the machine for more than 10mins at a time. I try as much as I can but nothing comes out. 

A midwife tells me I have to get on with it, do a whole cycle which is an hour and a half long and need to pump every two to three hours. “The 10mins aren’t gonna do anything”. 

I burst into tears because I don’t know what’s going on. Because I don’t know how it all works. Because all I want to do is feed my baby “naturally”. Because I had no idea anything could go wrong. Because it’s painful. Tears roll down my face as I put on my headphones and try Hypnobirthing techniques I learnt for birth. Which does help, at least takes the edge off. 

I can’t even remember when, maybe it was my second day in hospital at what must have been 3am. I saw this tiny bit of colostrum in the pumping machine. I am SO happy, SO proud. I go to get a syringe and carefully collect all of it. Afraid to spill any drop. I filled less than one syringe 0.6ml. 

Baby still doing ready made formula by cup. Increasing the amount everyday. We give her the colostrum. Until they put pressure again saying she’s gonna need more than a cup. So my husband buy bottles and I’m left devastated. 

I continue to use the machine every time she feeds. Again only tiny bits come out. But it went from one syringe to two. Though pumping still painful, I seem to be getting used to it. 

We’re discharged but still bottle feeding. I love my girl even more when giving her the bottle she holds her middle finger to it! I know I will go out of my way to make this happen. Baby was with me in this. 

We buy an electric pump, still small amounts of milk coming out but I can see a bit of an increase. I’m tolerating the pain much better now. But my milk is well behind her bottle at this stage. The bloody machine didn’t even last a day. I get angry and burst into tears. Ended up talking to my hypnobirthing tutor and she kindly gave me a manual tomee tipee one as a present. She told me she found the manual ones better. Once I tried I agreed. It gives me more control to speed up or slow down according to how much I could tolerate.

For the next six weeks I go to the hospital’s feeding support every single week. Sometimes even twice a week. 

First week in the issue that baby was super drowsy and sleepy. Not sure if because she arrived at 37 weeks. Sometimes she wouldn’t even wake up to feed. We had to wake her to feed many times. So whenever I placed her on breast she either screamed or fell asleep I felt completely rejected. Why did she hate my breasts so much? Doesn’t she like me? I’m only trying to feed her!

I breakdown a lot during the initial clinic drop ins as I’m told a range of things. The most painful one to hear was that maybe my breasts are not mature a condition that may mean I can’t breastfeed at all. My supply is low. The consultant suggests I go on Domperidone. Side effect of this anti nausea medication is lactation. I agree to it. I also take fenugreek, cornflour porridge, dark chocolate, whatever food is meant to help milk supply. 

In the meantime my family and best friend are giving me advice. “Be careful she doesn’t get used to bottle”.

“She’ll get confused using bottle and boob”. 

“You’re too gentle with her. Need to be stricter”. 

“Force her on, even if she’s screaming. It’s for her own good”.

The first time I did that I hated it. She hated it. My husband hid himself in a room. As baby screamed onto my breasts for the suggested 20 minutes. I felt horrible but I was desperate. 

Second week in I reach out to the breastfeeding class tutor from NCT. She emails back and agrees when I say it doesn’t feel right to force her. She’s delicate and force doesn’t suit her. So she told me to have her on breast when she’s not hungry, when she’s calm have relaxing music make it a good experience. Which I do and I’m pleased she’s not screaming at it. I squeeze a bit of milk into her mouth she’s ok with it. I find it hard to have skin on skin when I’m pumping so much. 

Pumping became everything. First for 5 minutes, then 10 minutes, then 15 minutes then even 20 minutes each side. I see an increase from 5ml, then jump for joy as I see 15ml for the first time. Collected throughout the day. I realise it’s the skin to skin that kicks in. Milk has a good increase. Then see 30ml. Then see 60ml. Overjoyed when I caught up with bottle. 

We’re three weeks in, I’m freaking out I’m running out of time. “She’ll never take breast after bottle feeding”. Said a relative trying to be helpful. But of course it’s a lot of pressure on me. As I watched my baby down a bottle so quickly. It was clearly all so easy. So in my head I’m running out of time it’ll be a month of bottle feeding next week. 

When I go back to feeding clinic I say that and lactation consultant tells me “I don’t want to be unrealistic that might happen”. It breaks my heart, that’s not what I wanted to hear. But main thing is that baby hasn’t been losing weight. 

We can feed her my milk at least. But that wasn’t enough for me. I never envisaged much in my life. Always went with the flow didn’t think too far ahead. But I always knew I’d have kids and that I saw myself breastfeed. 

 

I had in laws saying “it doesn’t matter if you can’t” but I figured out it did matter massively to me! The Brazilian side of my family was encouraging for me not to give up, even though all had their opinions good or at times bad. My godmother in Brazil decided to pay for my cousins doula to do a Skype consultation with me to help. As a present for us. The doula suggests I talk to a post natal psychologist, I did two sessions that changed my entire perspective and breastfeeding expectations.

She questioned if I’m expressing and baby is getting my milk what’s the problem? I tell her it’s too much. It’s so difficult. I hated sterilising bottles, having to heat up formula, I’m always pumping, I can’t fit skin to skin among all that, it’s something I’ve always wanted. I want to know what breastfeeding is like. All for her benefit too. 

The psychologist was the one that made me realise that it did matter so much to me and that was ok. 

She made me realise that breastfeeding is hard work, she burst the unrealistic bubble I had about it. I grew up watching it everywhere. I have always been proud at how normal it is in Brazil. “It’s natural”, “Everyone does it” (true in Brazil, untrue in the U.K. - my feminist side was another reason for me to want to do it so badly. In my head I was ready to take on anyone who might have looked down on me for it in my vision!) 

My father then tells me my mum breastfed us for two months then I went to a wet nurse. Due to an infection she got. My mother never told me that. I don’t know why nobody had told me anything about breastfeeding until I started talking about my struggles no wonder... I had an unrealistic expectation. I am still shocked about the lack of dialogue about it! I don’t understand the secrecy. Is it shame? Is it fear to scare others? It might be hard to hear but at least it would’ve given me a more realistic idea. Not a fake one that was ten times harder to deal with emotionally. 

I confess to psychologist in my head giving up is NOT an option! But I understand that breastfeeding is a journey, it’s not  gonna happen in an instant. I did start to prepare myself if it couldn’t happen, but that wasn’t my focus. Which took all pressure and stress off. 

She told me to not take it too personally in regards to the rejection I felt. To understand that baby and I are still learning about each other. That baby will have bad days and so would I. I accepted everything. 

The increase in my milk supply next time I go the clinic is good. So is my mentality. We cheer at all small steps I make. Consultant manages to latch baby and she feeds for a straight five minutes. It doesn’t hurt. It’s everything I thought it would be. She looks up into my eyes on the laid back position. I feel her suckling and I know that’s what I really want to do. Ok so now we know she’s not tongue tied, she can latch. Plan is to keep trying at home. Which I still struggle between the pumping but I somehow manage. Most of that credit goes to my husband who took on everything else to help. 

Five weeks in she latches again and feeds for 5 to 10 minutes. Baby shows more interest in breasts and I figure out I can only do this when she’s calm after a bit of formula but not fully fed or she’ll sleep. Consultant tells me to keep practicing at home. “Milk is there and she wants it”. 

I try to learn to do laid back nursing. Initially only the koala hold is how I get her on. Hold baby straight and me in a squat... baby head leans back a bit and she attaches, once on I then lie back. 

Eventually we kind of manage without the koala hold but then the pain begins. I know she’s not latching properly. It hurts but I keep her on because I want her to feed. I’d take her off when I couldn’t take the pain any longer. She only feeds off the left. Screams at the right side. I come to terms she may only feed from that one side. It’s because the nipple on the right side was a lot more inverted. I try nipple shields which helps bring nipple out a bit. So does pumping. 

At six weeks we are phasing off formula. In fact she pulls a disgusted face if we had to top up after my milk. I am happy about that!

I think that was the toughest week. I go to hospital clinic to try learn cross cradle position. The laid back is not very practical in public. There I do it perfectly. Amazing latch no pain just feel the suckling of baby. I love the flutters, I love the gulps from the let down I am in cloud nine. Then I manage again in mothercare nursing room! Only when I get home I can’t seem to do properly anymore. I get by over the weekend, but I feel sore. I wish baby would take the other side to give me a break. So I find another drop in clinic, I learn I wasn’t holding her head properly. Do it a few times there successfully. I am puzzled at how hard it is. Baby’s hand gets in the way, so I need a hand for that. Then I need the other hand to hold her head. Then can hold the breast in place and I feel like I don’t have enough hands for all this. None of the online videos I saw had the baby flapping hands around, getting it in the way. None were screaming with hunger. Head moving in weird different directions. 

But as soon as I get home I seem to lose it again! She falls asleep on breast then loses the latch. So I stay with the pain because well... she’s feeding. Even though I’ve been told to take her off. Sometimes I left her on because the latch was so strong I couldn’t take her off. Other times I left her on because it took so long to latch at all, I don’t want to start from scratch again and get her angry. 

So I look for another drop in clinic on a Wednesday. I get there, but no one from breastfeeding there today. I am so upset and in pain by then. They get my details and tells me about this amazing consultant she’s the best. They ring me same day but that doesn’t change anything. 

Day after I go to a different drop in centre and meet the consultant everyone told me about. She watches us at first then explains to me baby has a high palette. Must keep hold of baby head for deep latch. I’m still in so much pain during and after all her tips. 

I ask if she’s feeding enough. She explains not to worry about how long baby feeds. Just take her off after 45mins as she wouldn’t be getting anything after that. But sometimes baby may just want a drink and be on breast for shorter time. Then she might want a big meal and feed for longer. 

That same night I try to put her on breast but can’t handle the pain any longer. I burst into tears and for the first time think “I can’t do this. I just can’t. I can’t take the pain anymore.” Then another part would think “this is what you wanted, stop complaining”. 

I seek help online too. Messages on Instagram all helps me emotionally during the early hours. 

I return to original consultant I’ve been seeing on the Friday. I have the same meltdown in front of her and she reminds me what a long way I’ve come. She tells me how I’m at the stage all mums come across. I’m just a bit behind. It’s ok. You could be sore from baby drawing the nipple out. She teaches me the flipple technique. I feed baby there twice then find a new set of determination among the pain. 

I tell my husband that day I’ll express but I need to heal. So took a day off. Day after on the Sunday I put all the techniques together, flipple, keep holding her head for deep latch and we manage it. Things start to turn around I start to feel more good latches than bad. She no longer needs formula on the seventh week. I am proud of baby and myself. We can and are doing this!

Around eighth week I notice baby knows how she should latch. They told me to still try placing her on the other breast. Though initially no interest. All of a sudden whilst trying the other week she started taking the right breast, I am SO proud of her yet again. Baby has not let me down! Then it started to hurt again I think it’s the drawing out of the nipple again but it’s starting to not hurt anymore. 

She has turned three months is full of laughter and I love watching her develop and learn new skills. She moves her legs loads now and sometimes comes off breast because of it. I did have comments of “she’s feeding again? Your milk is not sustaining her”. I end up educating them that my milk is all they need and baby is the one who knows if she’s hungry or not. Their stomachs are smaller. My milk is digested quicker. Have gone from not knowing anything to learning on the job, reading, asking questions. I know new challenges will arise as we continue full steam ahead on our journey. I’m glad I didn’t give up even though it felt like all the odds were against me at the time. 

I am so grateful for all the support that I found offline and online, they were all invaluable. 

When baby grows up and have kids of her own, I will make sure to tell her about these struggles that can be part of a breastfeeding journey. I don’t want to hide the reality from her, like I felt everyone hid it from me.