Little Sunday Story Time Peach by Rachel
My own mother breastfed and had told me about the benefits from a young age, so I never even questioned if I would breastfeed when I was pregnant. It was a given. We had a difficult delivery due to a long induction, lack of available hospital beds and a failed epidural, but when Sonny was born he latched straight away and had a small feed. Success, I thought! Unfortunately over the next 12 hours he wouldn’t latch on again and developed an infection, giving him a fever for which he needed antibiotics. We had to stay in hospital for a week while he received treatment. During the time he was ill he wouldn’t latch, so I pumped my colostrum and then milk for him when it came in. It was a really hard time, London was experiencing a heat wave and it was 35 degrees on the open ward with lots of crying babies and upset mums! We were so happy to be discharged and start our new life as a family of three. Once we were home, I tried latching him again and again but he just couldn’t seem to get it. A midwife at the hospital had suggested trying nipple shields. So we tried them and lo and behold, it worked. He latched. I was so incredibly relieved that he was feeding from me I almost cried. No more pumping... or so I thought!
This was the start of our breastfeeding journey and Sonny fed from me successfully, albeit it using the shields, for the next eight weeks. One day our health visitor came to visit and did a routine weight check. “He hasn’t gained any weight in three weeks” she said, looking alarmed. We discussed how Sonny was feeding and she advised I pump as much milk as I could and give him this as a top up after every feed. I agreed immediately. I was so upset he wasn’t gaining weight like he should and was anxiety stricken that something was wrong with my milk or that I didn’t have enough. For the next few days I pumped and topped him up with my milk after each breastfeed. This was going great.... until he suddenly stopped feeding from me. He screamed and screamed every time I put him to my breast and I became more exasperated with every attempted feed. He was crying and I was crying, “Why won’t he feed?!” I cried to my husband in the middle of the night. I had no choice but to pump my milk for him and feed it to him using a bottle. And so our routine went... I would attempt a feed (lots of crying would ensue) and I would then give up defeated and feed him a bottle of pumped milk. Every three hours. The rejection was so upsetting, especially as feeding had been going well for the past couple of months. Why would he now drink from a bottle but not from me like usual? I now know that he very quickly developed a preference for the quick flow of the bottle which was less work for him than breastfeeding directly. Babies are smarter than we think!
I had a lactation consultant come to visit who said Sonny had ‘breast aversion’. It was so bad that even an attempt to lower him to my chest would cause him to become distressed. So I continued to pump. I pumped every 3 hours around the clock for days, and days turned into weeks. I pumped at 1am and 4am throughout the night, every night. I would do this, feed Sonny a bottle and then try and sleep before he would wake again for the next feed. It was exhausting. Anyone who has had to exclusively pump knows how draining and emotionally difficult it is. It’s much easier to wake up and cuddle and feed your baby, than hook yourself up to a machine for half an hour multiple times a night! I felt trapped in my home as unlike other breastfeeding mums, I couldn’t be out and about for long. I couldn’t breastfeed my baby in a cafe or park, I had to get home to pump. I felt like a failure while all my NCT friends were directly feeding with success.
When Sonny was 11 weeks we took him to Scotland to see our family and friends. I didn’t break my pumping routine and had to excuse myself every few hours during family get togethers and parties to celebrate our new baby. I felt awkward and embarrassed having to explain over and over why I was pumping for him every time someone asked, “Are you breastfeeding him?” Which seems to be the no.1 question people ask when you have a new baby! A question which can bring such dread to a new mum if feeding isn’t going how she planned. During the time we were in Scotland, I didn’t attempt to latch Sonny on at all. I couldn’t face the upset that it caused, and the stress of it wasn’t something I could handle when we were surrounded by other people, even though they were family. The break from trying to make him feed turned out to be the best thing I could have done.
The night before we returned home we stayed in a hotel. With my husband asleep next to me, I thought ‘hey let’s just see if he’ll feed from me’ (fully expecting him not to). I used a nipple shield like before and he latched. And did a small feed. I was elated, but even then I didn’t let myself get too excited. He’ll give up again tomorrow I thought. But he didn’t.... he breastfed at the next feed, and the one after that, and so on and so on. Until we were back to 100% breastfeeding and no having to pump. Even days later I couldn’t believe it and was so over the moon! Days turned into weeks and we didn’t look back. I was nervous about weaning from nipple shields in case that restarted any problems, but it only took a couple of days.
Sonny is now 5 months old and exclusively breastfed. When I’ve told friends this story they’ve said ‘oh you did so well getting him to feed again’ or ‘all your perseverance paid off’, which is lovely of them and maybe true in some ways. But I also think it’s down to luck and Sonny himself. If he hadn’t chosen to go back to feeding then there would have been nothing I could have done. I’ve learnt that you cannot physically make a baby breastfeed, no matter how many tips you follow and how much you want them to! Because of that, I would never judge a mother who has had to stop breastfeeding. You just don’t know what difficulties she’s been through.
Now feeding is so routine I don’t give it a second thought, but occasionally I look back and think WOW, those weeks were tough. I really think more education is necessary for mums-to-be on the difficulties they may encounter while feeding. And it’s also sometimes overwhelming to be solely responsible for the growth of this little human who you love so much. We were very lucky and I’m so glad it worked out for us.