I was going to title this post “My breastfeeding journey” but I thought if I was being honest, which I aim to be with this blog, failure was more appropriate because that’s how I feel. A failure. It’s the most natural thing in the world isn’t it and I couldn’t do it so therefore I am a failure.
Where it all began…
I’ll start with how I planned to feed Dylan before giving birth. I was breastfeeding all the way. Feeding with formula never even crossed my mind. I started leaking pretty early on in my pregnancy at around 18 weeks. So I naively thought I was going to be an absolute pro. I excitedly bought tonnes of nursing tops and bras and I had my nipple cream and breast pads all ready to go. I bought a breast pump so I would be able to express if I ever needed to be away from Dylan for any reason. Whenever anyone asked how I was planning to feed my baby (which now I think “what business is it of yours?”) I would always answer with “I’m going to try breastfeeding.” It was never “I will be breastfeeding.” I didn’t want to put the pressure on myself but maybe I knew it wasn’t going to work on some level.
Off to a good start
Fast forward to the day Dylan was born. Within an hour of being born he was already rooting. With the help of the midwife he latched on and fed away. It wasn’t painful in the slightest and I remember thinking in my little euphoria bubble, this is it, I’m meant to be doing this. Dylan latched on a few times before leaving the labour suite and each time the midwives said he was latched on great.
The difficulties first reared their head when we went to the post labour ward. I couldn’t get Dylan to latch on my own so I was buzzing the midwives all the time. Each time they would come and help and he would feed away for a little while. It wasn’t until the night shift staff took over that a midwife pointed out that Dylan had a tongue tie and this may cause problems with breastfeeding. Nothing more was said and I continued to buzz away for help with getting Dylan to latch on.
Going it on our own
In the morning one of the midwives said she would refer Dylan to the dentist so that his tongue tie would be cut. We were asked if we wanted to stay another night but I knew if we did I would worry about going home even more. We had managed to get breastfeeding in the lying position pretty much down so we agreed to leave with the hospital providing us a couple of bottles of ready-made formula ‘just in case.’
Once we were home I continued to struggle with breastfeeding. Dylan would want to feed all the time and would be latched on for ages but would still pop off screaming as if he wasn’t full. So of course we turned to the emergency bottles the hospital had given away with us. Dylan was satisfied after some formula and went to sleep.
The next day the community midwife came for a visit and watched me attempt to feed Dylan. She provided me with a nipple shield and showed me the ‘rugby hold.’ This seemed to help loads and she was happy with how Dylan was latched on. Even though I was more comfortable with this new feeding position we still struggled and I sent out my husband to buy more of the ready-made formula bottles. I attempted to feed Dylan by the boob each time he was rooting but it never seemed enough and he only ever seemed satisfied following some formula. Also, by now my nipples were hurting. A lot. My right nipple was actually hanging off, you could have got a 2p piece down it.
As we continued to struggle I contacted the breastfeeding support team who came out and again said he looked like he was latched on perfectly. The support worker shared her story of struggling with breastfeeding when her baby had a tongue tie and said once this was cut it was like night and day. I asked the midwife to chase the referral to the dentist up and we were finally given an appointment a week after Dylan was born.
We arrived at the dentists looking like extras from The Walking Dead. We hadn’t had much sleep the whole week as I continued to persevere with breastfeeding. It wasn’t until I would give in and turn to the formula that Dylan would go to sleep for an hour or two. The dentist even commented on how tired we looked. I was terrified about Dylan having his tongue tie cut but I needn’t have been. We placed Dylan in his car seat on the dentist’s chair and with a snip of some sterile scissors, his tongue tie was gone! Dylan slept through the whole thing. There wasn’t even much blood.
I was eager to try breastfeeding again after the tongue tie was gone and as soon as Dylan looked for food I was ready to go. It honestly was nowhere near as painful. I finally felt we were on track. Breastfeeding support came out and were happy with his latch. My friend came to visit who is a breastfeeding pro and she commented on how well he was feeding showing me all the signs of him taking a good feed. We made the decision to stop topping up with formula as I felt we were finally passed that. Or so I thought.
The midwife came out on day 10 to weigh Dylan and discharge him. I happily told her about how well I thought breastfeeding was going now although Dylan was still feeding for ages and screaming when he had finished but this had been put down to colic. My mood quickly changed when the midwife look horrified as soon as Dylan went on the scales. He had lost weight. A lot of it. The midwife told me she couldn’t discharge us due to this and suggested we start topping up with formula again. I burst in to tears. I felt like such an awful mother. My baby was clearly not getting enough from me and in my crusade to breastfeed he was suffering! She arranged to visit in 3 days times to weigh him again.
My husband and I had to get a steriliser and bottles as up until now we had been using the ready-made bottles they use in the hospitals. We decided to still use ready-made formula though since it was sterile and neither of us had bothered to look up how to make a powder formula feed thinking I would be breastfeeding. I continued to try breastfeeding with Dylan but each time he would pop off screaming. As soon as he got formula he was content, he was like a new baby.
Making a tough decision
By the time the midwife came back 3 days later we had made the decision to stop breastfeeding. It clearly wasn’t working for anybody. I think I cried for those 3 days constantly. I felt awful. I kept saying to my husband that I was failing our son. I was terrified he would get ill and it would be my fault since I never breastfed him. I turned to google for reassurance (I know, what was I thinking!?) that I was making the right decision and I found nothing but posts from other women saying to keep going, how it was the best thing for babies and formula was evil. I was prepared for my midwife to say the same and I never slept the night before worrying about telling her. As soon as I told her she breathed a sigh of relief. She said how she thought it was the best decision and it was now time to enjoy our little newborn. She was right, I hadn’t been enjoying him. I had started to dread him anytime he was hungry. The pain, the screaming in dissatisfaction. What’s enjoyable about that? The midwife weighed Dylan and he had thankfully gained weight. We were discharged with her words of encouragement.
When I asked why Dylan looked like he was latched on great but obviously wasn’t getting enough milk she said it could have been that Dylan had got used to an ineffective sucking technique when he had his tongue tie and was used to getting milk really easily from the formula bottles. I’ve spoken to other mums whose babies have had a tongue tie and heard similar experiences. Some mums said that their baby fed great after the tongue tie being removed but that this was done within a couple of days of being born. I think that a week was too long for Dylan. He was used to getting milk instantly from the bottle and didn’t want to work for it.
Finding an alternative
I made the decision to continue expressing. I had wanted to breastfeed so much that I still wanted to do that in some way. I have to say I found expressing more difficult than breastfeeding. I felt like I couldn’t go out and do anything, as I would need to feed Dylan then express afterwards. In the early days I was pretty much tied to the couch. I managed to express for 3 months before my supply went. I made the decision to get out more with Dylan and in doing that I missed times when I should have been expressing. Also during the nights it would take forever to settle Dylan back down after a feed so by the time he would be asleep I would want to sleep instead of pumping for another half hour. I tried several times during these three months to get Dylan to breastfeed again but with no success. As much as I was worried about Dylan no longer getting breast milk, I enjoyed the freedom that formula feeding brought.
When I look back at the first two weeks of Dylan’s life I really don’t know how we made it. All three of us were wrecks. If we are lucky enough to have another baby and they have difficulty with breastfeeding, I won’t hesitate to give my baby formula. I will never say breastfeeding isn’t best but I think that in praising women who are able to breastfeed (which they totally deserve because it is really difficult) there comes the connotation that women who formula feed aren’t doing the right thing. You can guess who is formula feeding their baby on Instagram by the lack of photos of their baby feeding. I would worry about posting a photo of Dylan feeding from a bottle in fear of the judgement it may bring. There is a shame surrounding it. I have definitely experienced this in person when bottle feeding Dylan out and about. It’s even caused me to delay Dylan’s feed until I can get somewhere private. I get so angry when this happens because these people don’t know my story. They don’t know my friends story who couldn’t breastfeed because she needed an operation to remove large abscesses from her breast. I will always remember one comment I saw on a post when looking for encouragement that it was ok to formula feed. It said, along the lines of, back in the days of before formula you would have to breastfeed or your baby would die so keep on breastfeeding. That stayed with me for a long time and contributed to me feeling like the biggest failure ever. Nowadays, I’m thankfully more confident with feeding Dylan formula after seeing how well he is developing. The screaming after a feed stopped and he seemed more content. When I think about that, I know we made the right decision.
If you speak to a mum looking for reassurance to stop breastfeeding, please just give it to her because I can guarantee she will already have beaten herself up enough. Yes, lets normalise breastfeeding but can we just normalise feeding altogether please?