Sunday story time by Emma
I had always planned to breastfeed. As the daughter of a midwife, it was something I had talked about before even falling pregnant and something my mum had made sure I knew the benefits of. When I had my son, Albie, I never felt any pressure to breastfeed him from anyone but myself. I felt determined from day one that I would make it to the six week mark but it was a lot harder getting there than I ever thought it would be.
Things started out well with Albie latching on well in the hospital just minutes after being born into the water. I remember so clearly the feeling of warmth and completeness I felt as I held my newborn baby in my arms and felt him feeding for the first time. This had been what nine months of pregnancy had been leading up to – this first moment of bonding. He fed another couple of times in the hospital and that evening we were sent home.
That was the last time he fed for twelve hours. It wasn’t until the next day, when the midwife visited and started talking about syringes and hand expression that something clicked and I realised just how little he had actually latched on since we left the hospital. Feeling determined, every moment Albie showed any sign of wanting the breast I would try to latch him on, with the help of my mum. Finally, that afternoon, he finally latched and fed for more than just a few seconds.
Over the next few weeks breastfeeding sadly didn’t get any easier for us. Although after that first feed at home, Albie barely let go of my boob for more than twenty minutes, it became increasingly more painful. My nipples became cracked and let down felt so painful I would cry every time he latched on. I was so disappointed that breastfeeding wasn’t the enjoyable experience I’d hoped it would be. I barely got a break between feeds and my breasts were constantly painful. The midwife suggested that Albie had a shallow latch but other than continuing to practise getting the latch right, there wasn’t anything we could do. According to her, he’d get better at it.
I sought support online and at a local breastfeeding support group and it was there that it was suggested Albie had a tongue tie. A visit to a consultant confirmed this but the consultant was adamant that, as it was only small, snipping it would not make a difference and she too felt confident it would improve with time. So that was it, persevere.
I don’t know for sure what kept me going through the pain but there were so many times I considered giving up. One thing that kept me going was something a friend said to me, “Never give up on your hardest day because tomorrow might be better.” So at times when the discomfort was at its worst, we would soldier on, hoping for a better day tomorrow. Another thing that kept me going was using a nipple shield just once or twice when my nipples were really bad. I know they’re not advised because of potentially causing supply issues, however, when you’re in so much pain and the alternative is stopping, once or twice seemed like a more sensible decision. Finally, and possibly the main reason I continued had nothing to do with me at all, but with Albie.
Albie loves breastfeeding. During our worst time, those first five to six weeks, he would feed for hours on end. Continually. Just when I thought I was going to get a break and he would unlatch to sleep, he would sleep for ten minutes and be back on. He would, under no circumstances, accept a bottle. We tried. I expressed and we tried different positions, different people, different times of day but he was having none of it. Maybe if Albie had accepted a bottle of expressed milk, we’d have taken that route but he just wasn’t interested and it was simply easier, despite the pain, to continue to breastfeed. Yes, I also considered formula but as he wouldn’t accept a bottle of my milk, it seemed even less likely he’d accept formula. So we just kept going. And then it got easier. Not one day, one moment, but gradually over a period of time. Slowly, the awful days became less frequent and the better days became more frequent until around 8 weeks when feeding was finally not painful anymore. Don’t get me wrong, we still have our off days even now at nine months in. When he’s teething or particularly sleepy and his latch slips, it hurts. Or when he bites, that hurts too. And mastitis isn’t much fun, either. But none of these feel like issues at all, because 99.9% of the time I love breastfeeding, and I’m so glad I didn’t give up.