What does it take to be a born-again breastfeeder? In a word – courage! It takes courage to accept that you could have done better, courage to try again, and courage to face unpleasant memories and painful truths. Success is the award for those willing to rewrite their story. Yet success, as sweet as it tastes, is not without its paradoxes. Success can birth pride and a sense of fulfilment, and at the same time, it can reopen old wounds, triggering feelings of guilt and regret.
Here is one mother’s emotional journey of failing to breastfeed her daughter, and then succeeding to breastfeed her son.
“I am part of a breastfeeding family. My mom fed me till I was 18months. My cousins all were breastfed to at least this age. My mom was an LLL member and she had all her friends breastfeeding. Her best friend is an IBCLC. Breastfeeding is my norm. I was raised with it. I didn’t think there was any other option.
When I fell pregnant with my daughter I was absolutely confident that I would breastfeed. I purposely didn’t buy dummies, or bottles or formula. I was going to do this. End of story. My gorgeous perfect little girl arrived in this world on the afternoon of the 14th of May 2009. Instant love.
She was born via forceps as she had the cord around her neck three times and her heart rate dropped dramatically. Yet despite her traumatic entrance into the world, her apgar was 9 and then 10. She was healthy. We were so thrilled.
Refusal to latch
In the delivery suite I struggled to latch her. I kept asking for help and a million different midwives came to try and force her on. I remember even at this early stage in life, she cried and cried. And all I wanted to do was latch her on and feed her and make her feel better. But she struggled. After 24 hrs in the hospital begging nurses over and over to help latch her I was bleeding and my baby girl was frustrated. She would cry her heart out. Latching just seemed to make it worse, no matter what hold we tried.
The hospital midwives told me that she was hungry and needed formula. A paediatrician examined her and reiterated that formula would kick start her kidneys. Eventually she was given a few ounces of formula because she hadn’t passed urine (although she was passing muconium). I called in a lactation consultant to help, however she didn’t arrive until the morning we were discharged from the hospital. My daughter was in her second day of her life and already my dream of breastfeeding was in tatters.
The lactation consultant said I had no milk yet and also that my daughter wasn’t using her tongue to suckle. Instead, she was shredding my nipples. I was told to top up with formula and to start a regiment of 10 min on the breast followed by 10 min pumping then a break and 5min pumping. Everything was on a schedule. It was devastating. I knew top ups were a bad idea. But she was the expert and she was telling me to
Supplemental Nursing System
Whilst I was pumping my husband was told to top up our daughter with a bottle of either expressed milk or formula. This was the beginning of the end. Over the following weeks my husband and I moved heaven and earth to exclusively breastfeed. I did everything in my power. I pumped continually, I took all the potions and medications: egglynol, domperidon, herbal remedies such as mother milk tea and prolak. I even tried a SNS, but when I used it I couldn’t latch her without help from my husband. My baby hated the feel of the tube and I had to feed it in a specific way for her to take it. I couldn’t do that and hold her at the same time. So I was unable to take care of her alone. It was awful.
Nothing seemed to work. Although my breasts would become painfully engorged I could rarely express more than 20ml. The LC said this meant I had a very low supply. I was confused and sad. It felt not only like my body had failed me, but also my child.
The whole feeding process was mechanical, clinical and terrifying. I had lists of when she fed, how long she fed for, and how much top up was used. Feeding involved pumps and devices and watches. It was immensely stressful. I would wake up in the night adding up ml’s and working out how much formula vs how much breast milk she had had. It made me feel completely inadequate.
There was one golden day when my baby was around 8weeks where she fed from me all day with no top ups. But this was all. Eventually, because of the SNS and bottles, she stopped latching completely at age 2 and a half months. I carried on trying to express, but could never express enough.
At 4 months and 2 weeks I gave up. I was completely gutted. Those 4 months of struggle robbed me and my daughter of so much. It destroyed my faith in my body and my ability to mother. I was now the first in my family to formula feed. It was soul destroying. It seemed like a reflection on me as a mother. The first priority is to feed your child and I had failed her.
A second chance
When my daughter was 2 yrs and 7 months, my son was born. Up to the moment he was placed in my arms I was convinced I would have to formula feed again. I hated this feeling. It wasn’t natural to me. It felt awkward and forced. I was also convinced from my LC’s previous advice that I just didn’t make milk. This time I bought formula and bottles.
But my son was so different. His birth was calm and beautiful. He arrived on the morning of Christmas Eve 2011. Our time together was peaceful and harmonious. The midwife on duty suggested that I feed him. I was incredibly nervous but decided to give it a go. He latched perfectly immediately and our journey was to be one of total joy and ease. He even slept a thousand times better then my daughter.
Milk supply, take 2
Did I have supply issues? Nope, I had more than enough milk. Not a drop of formula has passed his lips. The tin of formula I had bought ‘just in case’ was eventually thrown out unopened. The bottles passed onto a family member who would be returning to work and was expressing. Whereas the LC we saw with my daughter had insisted on a schedule to feed her, I fed my son on demand and at any opportunity. My motto was: “When in doubt get them out!”
I did see a different LC when my son was 3 or 4 days old. I did this simply for reassurance as my faith in my body had been shattered. I needed to hear he was ok. She was more than happy with him.
He is now almost 2 years old and we are still going strong. The second time can be so different. It is all about having the strength to try again. In contrast to the experience of feeding my daughter which was mechanical, clinical and terrifying; feeding my son has been calm, peaceful, and gentle. It has been natural and easy. A pleasure for us both. He enjoyed feeding, was never angry at the breast, simply gulped down his milk. Feeding him made him instantly happy and calm. I felt empowered. A true mother.
When I look back I am certain the biggest issue with my daughter was the forceps delivery and the pain it caused her. I truly believe that if we had seen a physio or chiro and I had been allowed to feed her directly from me, eventually we would have gotten it right. I know it could have been different.
I still feel immense sadness and guilt, knowing I could have had this experience with her, knowing that I could have given her more protection from cancer, increased her IQ, and so on. It’s still a bitter pill to swallow. I am lucky in that I have a close relationship with her. Lucky that she is so healthy, vibrant and intelligent. But there is still the niggling feeling of ‘what if’. I can’t help but feel I have let her down. My husband is always reassuring me that I did my best, and I am slowly letting go of the anger I feel toward the LC.
Feeding my son has been a true gift and a healing process. It has taught me to have faith in my body again. Faith in myself as a mother. Being able to breastfeed has meant that I am able to be the mother I want to be. Formula feeding was unnatural and not who I am as a mother. It is a wonderful feeling to be able to be the natural mother I am.
If I could send a message to formula feeding mom’s who are contemplating breastfeeding their next child, I would say, do it! Throw out all your memories from the first time and view this as the first time you have breastfed. Follow your baby and just feed, feed, feed. In the end it is worth it. Just give it a go. It can be completely different.”
Inspired? Email me with your story to appear on Triumphant Tuesday!