Keep your tits about you new mums…it’s breastfeeding awareness week

Breastfeeding awareness week. If you’re a new mum, regardless of what side of the breastfeeding voyage you may be on, depending on who you follow on social media, it’s likely gonna get annoying. And ironically here I am adding to the plethora of personal accounts on the subject.

A quick scroll through Instagram this morning and I’ve already been bombarded with photos of mums with their offspring hanging off their nips. Or one of those motivational quotes about the benefits of breastfeeding, that it’s the most natural thing in the world, something to behold and treasure. That it’s absolutely best for your baby nutritionally, neurologically and with regards bonding. None of this I dispute.

Let me cut to the chase real quick; I *am* breastfeeding my little baby. It hasn’t been easy but I’m like a dog with a bone with things I want to achieve so I’ve been doing all I can to make it work after a complicated start post 5-night hospital stay after her birth.

I am feeding Elodie direct from the boob (am doing so while tapping this particular sentence out on my iPhone in fact) and after a visit to an amazing lactation consultant recently this is finally becoming the default, go-to way of feeding her at last. Yet, I am also expressing my milk when there’s a spare 10 mins (cue hilarity at the word ‘spare’. The only spare thing in my life right now is the little tyre around my waist). I express to a) keep the milk supply flowing and to bank some to feed her from the bottle or to rub some into her dry skin because boob juice really is freaking incredible at treating little ailments topically.

However, I am also topping her up with our chosen organic formula.

Formula.

The dreaded word to some.

I recall myself in my NCT class pre-baby saying ‘I mean, why would I give my baby something with a list of ingredients I don’t even understand, words beginning with x and z, no thank you!’ Oh Vicky. And while it’s true, I still feel that way to an extent, there came a point when my little premature and jaundiced baby just needed GRUB. She had to start putting on weight and me sitting in a hospital bed for hours on end squeezing my tits into oblivion to syringe the few drops of colostrum from my nips just wasn’t enough. My main milk supply had been delayed.

A quick reality check as to why my boobs were possibly scared off at first and why we missed that alleged important 30 minute to 1 hour window post birth to get baby on the boob…

  • The birth wasn’t as hoped. I’ll divulge more soon but it ended in surgery after 21 hours and achieving the heady heights of 4 contractions in every 10 mins.
  • Post surgery I was in a complete blur. My vision was hugely impaired, my speech slurred. I was so worried they’d hit some sort of neurological nerve thing with the spinal injection.
  • In recovery I could not stop shaking. It was verging on violent. Apparently linked to the anaesthetic wearing off.
  • After ‘recovery’ I then started to vomit for about an hour. I couldn’t stop. So I couldn’t see properly, speak properly and now I was profusely chundering.
  • Baby was so small at 5lb12 and because of certain factors was put on antiobiotics that were administered every 12 hours in a little Canula in her TINY hand for fucks sake.
  • Baby had jaundice and the important thing was that she started feeding asap to help flush that out and negate the need for treatment.
  • Midwife and nursery nurse onslaught; this is the biggy I think. Though the hospital were brilliant in so many respects, truly, my god did we face a barrage of conflicting opinion, advice, meddling hands and a few shitty comments that have really stayed with me. For example one midwife was talking to Elodie but directing this little humdinger straight at me: ‘…come on Elodie, I’ve got an even more premature baby next door who is already breastfeeding!’ Thanks love. Nothing like instilling a sense of competition into the equation too. That must mean that the mum and baby next door are better than us. They’re possibly more bonded too, naturals. Whereas I’m still trying to coax my little bubba onto the boob. And a real classic was this one when I asked about any dangers of jaundice (because at this particular time I felt like a mum on the edge, so scared of anything that might happen to my darling girl…) ‘…well brain damage is the worst thing that can happen but you know what gets rid of jaundice? Breastfeeding’. Once again me = failure. Letting my baby down rather than achieving the other sort of let down. Breastfeeding in joke. Soz. She in fact just needed more feed, not necessarily my milk.

So yes, our beautiful baby girl was lifted out of a 5 inch slice in my tummy after a turn of events rendered it impossible for me to deliver ‘naturally’. The more ‘fake’(?) delivery of our precious bundle was the least desired route for what may be my only experience of childbirth. I’d done the hypnobirthing, selected a hospital where water births were possible and our preference, written my birth preferences to include very little pain relief unless indicated, soft lighting, aromatherapy, candles etc. I was gearing up for a beautiful calm experience for my baby, husband and I. It was going to be beautiful. I’d done all the leg work.

And in a way it still was beautiful. I had the mood lighting, the aromatherapy, the birth ball, a wonderful doula massaging me and encouraging John and I through the complete unknown. I felt the sheer ‘can’t talk right now’ intensity of contractions, which call me mad, I’m so grateful to have experienced. Baby was head down, perfect positioning and wasn’t getting distressed. My body was trying to birth this bubba naturally but once again my cervix was the culprit (long story but I believe my cervix has been the issue with me failing to successfully conceive all along).

I just didn’t dilate at all in all that time. Not 1cm. So into theatre I went. Crying and scared.

It’s so simple on paper; birth baby, feel all the love, plonk on chest, baby will root and bob and find your nip, latch on and suckle there getting the early good shit, colostrum. Clever baby. Brilliant mumma. Such naturals. So impressive, as nature intended. Tick tick tick.

Except, the reality can be quite different, it’s all a matter of circumstance, knowledge and I truly believe, bedside manner if you happen to be in a hospital for the birth. Plus, the simple act of personal choice, preference.

Breastfeeding is tough. Regardless of if you can’t get baby to latch properly or if you can. Your baby could take to the boobs like a duck to water but this can render mum hostage to the tot, relentlessly feeding for hours on end, missing out on crucial sleep and rest. There have been hours  on end of little 10 minute feeds for Elodie and I. You think baby is done and then nope, cry cry, more please. And thats fine, they’re the boss, I’ll do anything to give her what she needs as long as I am ok too. Because the minute I become not ok, that will effect her too.

My boobs have taken a battering over the last 7 weeks. They’ve cracked and bled. They’ve been hard as rocks that have needed some proper kneading in the shower, they’ve had thrush (a consequence of baby getting oral thrush due to the antibiotics we were both on…seriously sometimes you cannot win!) and I developed a weird rash on my left boob that I was worried was the start of mastitis…it looked like little pinprick blood spots. God knows what that was. The sheer touch of clothing on them sometimes feels excruciating.

But still we continue and every day is different as we turn a corner that yes, still has me combi-feeding but with the ratio of breast to formula starting to even out and tip into the favour of the boob. For that I am really proud of myself.

I’m taking fenugreek, eating oats, drinking tons of water and nursing teas, making boobie smoothies. Fenugreek was a bit of a game changer. My milk supply really changed after 3 days of 6 tablets a day.

Yet still, there are dark days and we still haven’t perfected the latch. Sometimes as baby flings her head back to come off the boob my nipple is lipstick shaped. The sign of a bad latch. Sometimes when she’s sucking away, each suck makes me visibly whince. Another sign. But as she’s finished gulping and pulls away and there’s milk all around her chops followed by a huge burp, I feel triumphant!

Top tip – place baby on boob when they are screaming blue murder. You get a really wide mouthed baby then. Latchtastic.

I find myself asking friends that have been there and done that what they did, how long for, what it felt like. Am I doing this for genuine advice or to help validate my choices/situation? Because if my super smart lovely friends chose a certain feeding route then it must be ok. Mum guilt is real.

Of my NCT group, not everyone is breastfeeding and every story is different as to why. We shared birth stories last week at our first post-baby get together and my god the range in experiences was jaw-dropping. But there’s no judgement. We are all super proud of the group for how we are caring for and loving our little tots. As we share updates on whatsapp of each babies latest weight, we are all YASSSS mumma!

We know that breastmilk is the best milk. We KNOW. You only had to tell us once, that kind of shit sticks in your brain. But that doesn’t mean that alternatives are bad. Yes they are inferior to the breast milk but not bad. And as I asked one midwife who was badgering me during a home visit in those early and vulnerable days since Elodie’s birth, ‘is it more important this baby is fed or that I crack breastfeeding?’, the answer was fucking obvious. Bye bye.

I am a bloody champion of women and now that I am one, mums. Especially brand new rabbit in the headlights mums. I love that the NHS are now looking at how to help midwives support new mums more in those early days of trying to get in to the swing of breastfeeding. Or not. If that’s their choice. We shouldn’t feel shamed or embarrassed if it doesn’t happen or that we hate it (I don’t btw, breastfeeding over bottle every time for me…but some genuinely do hate it).

What new mums are desperate for regarding feeding their babies unless they tell you otherwise, is encouragement, an ear, to be taught and to gain respect whatever their choice. That’s it.

If you didn’t got to any sort of antenatal class you may have missed the memo about breastfeeding. As part of NCT classes, we at least saw some laminated photos of it in action, lolled over one particular pic of a mum squirting a jet of milk directly into her babies eye and got to massage a crochet boob.

But in these sessions it really is all about the birth, not just the course material but your own focus. It’s hard to see beyond it, let alone imagine your boobs being breakfast, lunch and dinner and all the snack in between for a defenceless little bubba.

You can so easily get caught up in comparing yourself to others when you are in this new mum bubble. Wanting to know who is doing what and if you measure up. But here’s all I am certain of from the 8 NCT pals I have made…

  • 8 are feeding their babies and helping them gain weight
  • 8 are doing the best they can
  • 8 are making informed decisions about what’s best for their baby AND their own mental health. This is crucial. ‘Happy mum, happy baby’ one of my wonderful friends keeps assuring me.
  • 8 are at times unsure if they are ‘doing it right’
  • 8 cry more than they used to just now
  • 8 are sleep deprived and powering through
  • 8 are absolute heroes

When I see a pic on social of a breastfeeding mum I feel in awe and it almost makes me want to wake Elodie up from her slumber to put her on the boob. Almost. Otherwise I wouldn’t be able to write this in the spare 5 mins I seem to have been granted would I?

But my clever baby can now go from boob to bottle with no issue, she stares up at me with her beautiful blue eyes from both methods of feeding. Her little arms and legs are no longer saggy from being so small. She’s filling out and filling many nappies.

For now I am going to enjoy this phase of her life rather then put myself through the mill because again, this part of my motherhood journey hasn’t gone to plan. I don’t want to miss this gorgeous stage as she blossoms day by day simply because I think I should be doing a better job. Mum friends keep warning me that this stage goes so super quick. I want her and I to have fun working this all out.

Well done to all mums feeding their babies. Here’s to their cracked nips or the endless sterilising or pumping. You got this.

Vx

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1 comments so far.

One response to “Keep your tits about you new mums…it’s breastfeeding awareness week”

  1. Anna says:

    Well done Vicky, you are doing so well! It’s defo not easy feeding a baby but it all works out in the end! you are right, defo don’t stress about it. I could only feed the twins for 2 months before I realised they hated it as much as me. I felt guilty at first as I remember always making excuses about why I should give a bottle rather than boob. When We made the decision to just exclusively bottle fed, they put on weight and were so much more content as they were full after a feed rather than hungry all the time. You are doing so well to continue to try with it so if it works out, it will be worth it, if it doesn’t, I guess that means it’s for the best. I guess the positives of combination feeding is that john gets to bond too. That was great for tom. Thanks for sharing xxxx

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