Sparkles & Stretchmarks: A UK Parenting & Pregnancy Blog: Our Breastfeeding Struggles

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Our Breastfeeding Struggles

Sailor may be my third baby, but in so many ways I feel like he's another "first"...I'm not sure why that is, except that I feel that after 3 years as a Mum I have finally started to find my feet and understand what matters to me as a parent and what kind of parent I want to be.

I struggled for a while to find this out for myself, and to stay true to my own wishes and thoughts without being influenced by people around me or by the preconceptions I'd had before having my own children. The idea of me as a mum I had in my pre-children mind is a pretty far cry from the Mum I have naturally become, I think that's probably something that happens for a lot of people...but it's taken me a while to realise it.

Infact it's taken me until my third child to actually decide to try the things I want to try and do things the way I want to do them.

So far with Sailor I've done a lot more baby wearing than I ever did before and it's something we're both enjoying and getting a lot out of. I've shunned the purchase of a double pram in favour of a wrap, and I'm spending far more time with him physically attached to me than I did with either of the others .

That's not to say that I wasn't very hands on with Tyne and Noah because I was and I have always considered myself something of an attachment parent, but I fell into the idea that a pram was an absolute necessity for a baby because that's how its always been for people around I didn't ever bother to think about alternatives or what I might prefer.

Another area of change, or at I'd hoped... was the way in which I wanted to feed this baby.

When I was having my first child, I was undergoing treatment for my graves disease - an autoimmune disorder affecting the thyroid gland - Graves disease is quite serious and can be fatal if not well managed, and so when my specialists advised me that it would make life a lot easier for them when it came to treating my condition post-birth if I would avoid breast feeding so that they had total freedom of medications to use - I agreed. I didn't really think twice about it - a specialist was telling me that this is what should happen, so I went along with questions asked.

When Noah was born, I was no longer on medication so the decision was really mine to make on whether to breast or bottle feed - I decided that I didn't want to pressure myself so I would make my mind up at the hospital.

Once he arrived and the midwife asked me how I wanted to feed him, I answered that I wasn't sure as I'd never tried to breastfeed before - I think I expected some kind of help or encouragement to breastfeed as I had always heard that midwives were quite pushy about the whole "breast is best" thing but I was pretty shocked when she simply said "Well he needs feeding now, so we need to decide...shall I just get you a bottle?" - I simply agreed, she handed me the bottle and that was that.

So, when I was pregnant with Sailor, I made the conscious decision that I was going to breastfeed this baby - I wanted to try it, I wanted to give it a good go and see how we did...if it didn't work out, fine but I at least wanted to know I'd tried.

And so he was born - and when asked how I wanted to feed him I didn't hesitate..."I want to breast feed, but I've never done it before"...the midwife helped me to get into position and he latched on right away, and fed for half an hour. The midwife was delighted with him and kept saying how well he'd taken to it and what a natural he seemed to be...

How ironic her words seem now!

Sailor is now 10 days old, and our breastfeeding journey has been a's been so much more traumatic and stressful than I could ever have imagined.

After Sailor's initial feed, when I tried to latch him on again he seemed unable to get it - I asked the midwives for help, and they would come and show me different holds and try to help me get him to latch.

Sometimes it would work and he'd stay on for 10 minutes or so, but never any longer than that - after a couple of days things started to get quite bad.

I was trying to latch him on all the time but he seemed to have completely lost the ability to do it at all - but he was always crying, and I was so worried that he was hungry.

One morning at about 6 am when the day staff came on duty, after I'd spent all night awake trying desperately to latch him on, I rang my bell in tears and asked the midwife who came to me to help me...I told her that it had been hours on end since he'd fed, he was hysterical and I had been trying all night to get him on the breast to no avail...then I said "If he doesn't latch on soon I'm going to have to give him a bottle because he must be starving!"

Instead of offering me any help, she simply went away and returned a few moments later...handing me a bottle and leaving. 

Just like that.

With my screaming baby in my arms, I didn't know what else to do - so I sat and cried while I fed him the bottle...or at least I tried to, as he struggled to latch with the teat too and drank very little of the formula.

A little while later I asked another midwife for advice...I told her what had happened, and that I desperately wanted to try to breastfeed him but it didn't seem to be working.

The paediatric doctor examined him, found his sucking reflex very weak and said that he had a posterior tongue tie which was affecting his latch - she said we'd need to have it snipped and that she would refer us to the lady at the hospital who deals with it. In the meantime she advised me to give him formula top ups from a cup to ensure he wasn't going hungry.

By the time we left hospital, Sailor still wasn't latching...his jaundice was now really bad and he had lost 10% of his birth weight. I was so worried that my keenness to breastfeed him was causing him more harm than good, and we were still waiting to hear back about the tongue tie.

I started to express breastmilk via pump, and spent hours watching youtube videos on how to help a newborn latch and googling tips on how to increase milk supply when exclusively pumping.

At the time of writing this post we are 10 days in and no further along - Sailor still can't latch even though I try every 2 to 3 hours to get him on. I am exclusively pumping but my supply is dwindling fast and soon I'll be out of stored milk and out of options - I'm taking fenugreek capsules to try to boost my supply, eating oatmeal and having plenty of skin to skin time - but I can't go on like this forever as I simply can't keep up with what he needs from me.

The tongue tie woman still hasn't returned our calls despite every midwife I've seen stating that they've tried to chase her - I've been put in touch with someone who can treat the tongue tie privately but I simply can't afford the cost at the moment. 

I fear that its already too late, that Sailor is too used to being fed breastmilk from a bottle now and won't ever be able to learn how to feed directly.

I really thought if breastfeeding didn't work out for us I'd just shrug my shoulders and move on - after all, I formula fed my other two children so why should I mind?

I can't begin to explain how sad it makes me feel that we've ended up here.

That despite how much time I've spent with my breastpump, how much time I've spent looking up techniques and trying everything I could find, despite the cracked bleeding nipples from his bad latch and the heavy aching breasts full of milk ready and waiting for him - it hasn't been enough, and we seem destined to fail.

I see other people who've given birth around the same time as me who are able to breastfeed well, whose babies are latching and cluster feeding all night long...and I feel jealous, and like a failure.

I feel cheated. 

If Sailor is my last baby then I've missed out on this bonding experience. I've missed out on one of the most natural parts of motherhood.

I don't know what else I can do or could have done, but I know that I feel like I must have done something wrong - I didn't read up on it enough beforehand, I didn't try hard enough - whatever the reason, the cold hard fact is that I didn't breastfeed Sailor directly and that's what I had so wanted to do. So in my own mind, I have failed. 

And it's the worst feeling.

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  1. Dear Hayley,

    If you can get access to someone from La Leche League I would highly recommend it! There are some local groups, but also on Facebook. I have bad invaluable advice from them with my second baby (who is the same age as your Noah:-) ). Breastfeeding is never ever easy, but with the right support it can be an amazing experience. I hope you get some help! X Anna @

  2. I completely feel your pain. My youngest daughter (now 11) was 5 weeks early and we didn't think we'd have anymore children. Katie was born a little early and although she was fine to begin with, she started turning blue when I was feeding her. Midwife sent her to special care for 3 days and I was discouraged from trying to feed her myself. I expressed but it didn't work very well at all. When she got home I spent so much time trying to wean her off the bottle back onto breast but it never happened. Try and get an appointment with your own gp and explain it to them, sometimes they can refer you quicker than waiting on a phonecall. In the meantime, try not beat yourself up about it (I know it's hard). You haven't failed in the slightest, the health service has failed you. Katie was a really tearful baby and I wasted her baby years thinking it was my fault she wasn't as settled as her sister. We give ourselves a hard enough time as mums, chin up :) xx

    1. Good reply, getting good support is invaluable(and you my dear by no means a failure)!xoxoxoxo

  3. Oh Hayley I really really feel for you! Has Sailor had his tongue tie snipped yet? If not the hospital should be sorting it for you, theyre supposed to do it right away so it doesnt affect feeding.
    I've had similar struggles this time round, breastfeeding was causing me so much pain in the first week, Archer was losing too much weight and I got mastitis and felt like I couldnt carry on. After feeding him formula for 12 or so days and once my mastitis had gone I started googling whether it was possible to start breastfeeding again and there were loads of people saying it was possible. I thought after having a bottle for so long (and dummy) he wouldnt be able to latch again but with a lot of perseverence we've managed and are breastfeeding again. I know it's different for you because of Sailors tongue tie but just wanted to give you some hope that the bottles dont necceserily mean he'll be unable to breastfeed once the tongue ties sorted, and your milk can be re-established too. Massive hugs to you lovely, I know how stressful it is xxx

  4. Tongue tie is awful - my little one also had tongue tie and, although he fed well, his latch was poor and didn't empty my breasts fully, leaving me with mastitis and blocked ducts more times than I care to remember. Please stand your ground and demand the help you need - get back in touch with the Pediatrician that referred you to the Tongue Tie lady if you need to. The longer it goes on, the harder it will become for Sailor to learn how to latch efficiently. I wish you all the best xx

  5. I definitely second getting support- and not just any support it has to be the right person for you. I had a similar problem with Estella, they told me that she wasn't tongue tied but in hindsight I think that she was. I went to all sorts of support groups and whilst they could get her to latch, I could never get her to do this at home. Rufus on the other hand was a breeze, I had amazing breastfeeding support at the hospital who showed me exactly how to position him. She also recommended a feeding cushion (my breast friend-amazing!!) which helped tremendously. Rufus does actually have tongue tie, which made it extremely painful for me to breastfeed him but as he was latching on I decided not to get the tie snipped. Whist I know how extremely frustrating it is when breastfeeding isn't working out, what I will say is that now my two are 2 and 4 and (touch wood) there is absolutely no difference in them with regard to health, weight, intelligence blah blah so please don't feel guilty however things work out. Good luck lovely and please give me a shout if I can help with anything xx

  6. This was how I felt when I struggled breastfeeding Blake. We just couldn't get the latch right and had to keep topping him up with formula in the end it got too much for me and after 4 weeks of mixed feeding I had t give up and just go to formula.

  7. We are in such a similar situation at the moment. My son is 3 weeks and also has tongue tie. He's a nightmare to latch and I can see my supply dwindling - every time I express, there's just less and less there. Fenugreek worked well for me with my 1st baby, but I'm not sure it's helping this time.
    We've just had our tongue tie appointment through - for the end of March! I'm devastated, especially as they said that because he was born on a Sunday, if I'd stayed in until the Monday morning, the doctor could have snipped it there and then. It's insane.
    You haven't failed at all, from what you've said you've done everything you can while looking after two other children who are still babies themselves. Hugs to you xx


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