My breastfeeding story Part 5: The low points
Before Christmas, I started writing my breastfeeding story, beginning with my experiences in the first hour of Little Man’s life, and most recently with my story about the local breastfeeding support group.
I’ve been putting off writing the next part of the story because it deals with a very difficult time, and I’m finding it hard to write about. This is partly because it’s upsetting thinking back on it, and also partly because I’d hate to think that my experience would put anyone else off. But there’s no point in recounting this story unless I am going to tell all of it, so here goes.
I had been prepared for the first two to three weeks of breastfeeding being difficult. But I’d also heard that once you got over those first couple of weeks, it was all relatively easy. So when Little Man was four weeks old, and I was finding feeding more painful rather than less, I had a hard time accepting it and dealing with it.
At this stage, I no longer had a sleepy newborn on my hands, who had to be roused from sleep to feed. Instead I had a hungry growing baby, who wanted to feed every two to three hours during the day, and every four hours or so at night. That doesn’t seem too bad until you realise that it was taking me on average 20-30 minutes to get him to latch on at the start of the feed.
We would try and try, but he’d latch on, give a few sucks, and then latch off again. And the more we tried, the more upset he’d get, and the more stressed out I’d get. It’s hard to remember clearly now, but I think that because I was so sore, I was only offering one side at each feed at this stage. And there was a noticeable difference between the two sides. He seemed to have much less of a problem latching on the right side. But the left side was always a disaster. Even when he did eventually latch on, the flow of milk was so strong from that side that it would often overwhelm and choke him.
When I would eventually get him to latch on, I was inclined to leave him on, regardless of whether or not the latch felt right, simply because the thoughts of having to start the whole process again was so much worse than sitting there and putting up with the pain. I learnt the hard way what a mistake that was. I damaged my left side so badly on that weekend when Little Man was four weeks old that it was nearly two weeks before I could feed him from that side again.
People have since asked me why I didn’t just quit at this point. To be honest, the answer to that question is complicated – it’s probably deserving of a post in its own right. But ultimately, I think the reason is that I didn’t want to, and I wasn’t ready to.
That’s not to say my mind didn’t waiver at times. Definitely that weekend when Little Man was four weeks old, I seriously considered it. As I sat in a rocking chair in our sitting room, holding a crying baby in my arms, and crying because I couldn’t just latch him on and feed him, Charlie asked me to please think about how long I wanted to continue like this for. He just wanted all of the crying – from me and from the baby! – to stop. But I couldn’t quit. I wasn’t ready to quit. I know if I had switched to formula at that point, I would have felt like a failure, no matter what anyone said to me. And I don’t like to fail.
So I searched for help. I found a lactation consultant in my area, and tried to arrange for her to pay me a visit, but she was on maternity leave and wasn’t available. I phoned my local Public Health Nurse, and she told me to contact La Leche League. On a Bank Holiday Monday, I could barely hold it together while I talked to a wonderful La Leche volunteer named Maria. She stayed on the phone with me for over an hour, calming me, reassuring me, advising me on positioning and identifying a good latch. I felt so much better when I got off the phone to her. But a few hours later, I was struggling again to get Little Man to latch on.
I phoned my mother, and she reassured me that whatever I decided was okay. I think I needed to be told that, to be given permission I guess. Once I heard her reassurances, I felt that no matter what I chose to do, Little Man would be okay. And with that permission to quit, I felt I could give it just a few more days, and then I’d stop if I had to.
It became apparent to me that I wasn’t going to be able to breastfeed Little Man “normally’ like I wanted to. Since I wasn’t ready to switch to formula, I started expressing. I had a Tommee Tippee Closer to Nature Manual Breast Pump. With that pump I was able to express two to three ounces from each side in about twenty minutes. Of course, I couldn’t wait until Little Man was showing signs of hunger to do this, because he certainly wasn’t going to wait twenty minutes to be fed. So instead, I had to plan my day and my pumping times to suit his feed times. I had a reasonably good idea about when he would need to be fed. I had been tracking all his feeds, using an app called Baby Brain, since the day he was born, so I could see that at fed at similar times each day. I started setting alarms to remind myself to pump 30 minutes before his next feed was due. For 48 hours, I stayed just ahead of his schedule like this. It was exhausting, but it was working.
I sent Charlie out to buy a second manual pump so that I wouldn’t have to go downstairs and wash and sterilise the one I already had in the middle of the night. I could have a second one lined up and ready to go for the next pumping session. We developed a new night time routine. I would pump a bottle and feed Little Man at around 11pm. While I was feeding the baby, Charlie would wash and sterilise the two pumps, and bring them back up to our room.
At 2.30am, my alarm would go off, and I’d get up and pump another bottle. Then I’d lie down and try to get some sleep before Little Man woke. Sometimes he’d wake while I was still pumping and sometimes he’d wake an hour or two later. Depending on when he woke, I’d set my next alarm for around two hours after his feed. And I’d do it all again.
After two days of pleasant feeds, with no screaming baby, I was feeling so much better. Then Little Man slept through one of his feeds, and suddenly I was a feed ahead of him. This made all the difference. I no longer had to set an alarm. Instead, I could sleep for as long as Little Man slept, and just feed him when he woke, and then express when he went back to sleep.
I started offering Little Man a breastfeed from the right side once he had finished the bottle of expressed milk. It was great. Once his hunger had been sated, he didn’t fuss as much latching on, and as the days passed, I got better and better at latching him on. My left side was still too sore, and it would be a couple of weeks before I was really able to make a reasonable attempt at feeding him from that side again.
When I look back now, I feel like I was living in a bubble during those few weeks. No matter what happened, I was determined to find a solution to allow me to continue feeding Little Man breastmilk rather than formula. When the manual pumping became too time-consuming, I went out and bought a Tommee Tippee electric pump. During the day, I used the electric pump, and at night I used the manual pumps. Charlie and I spent a lot of time during those few weeks washing and sterilising bottles and pumps!
It wasn’t all plain sailing from here. The constant expressing was exhausting. And it still bothered me that I couldn’t just breastfeed normally. I was determined to put an end to the constant expressing, so I started researching online to try to figure out where I was going wrong. As far as I could tell, the reason I was feeling pain was because Little Man was latching shallowly, and this was also contributing to excessive windiness in him. When he was six weeks old, I went to the breastfeeding support group, confident that now I had a fair idea of where we were going wrong, the Public Health Nurse would be able to tell me how to fix it. Unfortunately, the nurse on that day was pretty dismissive of me. She told me that if my baby hadn’t learned to latch properly by six weeks old, he never would. I was gutted. For two days, after that, I planned how to wean Little Man onto bottles. On the third day, I replaced one breastfeed in the day with a formula feed.
And on the fourth day, I started my internet search for a solution again. But you’ll have to wait until the next part of this story to find out just what that search turned up!
Update: Friday July 1, 2011: submitted this post to a breastfeeding blog hop