I’d like to firstly start by saying that I have no problem with how anyone chooses to feed their baby; at the end of the day, I believe that women should be entitled to make choices that are right for both them and their family. I have friends who didn’t want to breastfeed, that’s ok. I’ve met mum’s who couldn’t breastfeed for medical reasons, and I’ve got friends who are huge advocates and feel very passionately about breastfeeding. I truly believe in the phrase each to their own.
During pregnancy, I decided I’d like to try and breastfeed. I’d looked into the health benefits for both myself and baby (those that stood out to me particularly were reduced risk for baby of asthma and allergies, reduced risk of respiratory illness and, with a history of cancer in our family, reduced risk of childhood leukaemia). And for me personally, with a grandmother who has suffered from osteoporosis, knowing that breastfeeding could lessen my risk in the future just made it all seem like an obvious choice. One thing I did promise myself though, was that whilst I was keen for breastfeeding to work out, that I wouldn’t punish myself over it; if it wasn’t going to work for us, then that was ok. I told myself I’d go with the flow.
In the immediate hours after my c-section, we thought Maxon was latching well. I didn’t actually feel anywhere near the pain I’d anticipated (possibly still a little numb from the spinal) and I remember getting back to the ward, doing skin to skin and thinking brill, we’re on the way to getting this locked down. How naïve I was. By midnight it was becoming more and more apparent that Maxon was struggling to latch; he was agitated and hungry. By 3am I was a weeping mess as a midwife helped me hand express some colostrum into a syringe so we could make sure he was getting something (a stranger pawing at my boobs whilst I sobbed over her probably wasn’t even my least dignified moment in those first few days). I was told by midwife after midwife that ‘he’d get it eventually’ and while they were extremely supportive, (I even stayed an extra night to get help with latching), it’s frustrating to me looking back that no one noticed his very obvious tongue tie.
My husband noticed the tongue tie the day we came home from hospital and sure enough, the midwife confirmed it when she came out to take a look. We waited 3 weeks for an appointment for it to be snipped. I was very lucky in the sense that I wasn’t in any pain from the poor latching; I didn’t once get cracked nipples and I barely used the pre bought Lansinoh cream that I’d been told I’d need. Maxon however was massively affected by the poor latch and dropped a staggering 9% of his birth weight in 5 days. I cried hysterically when he was weighed and saw the look on the midwife’s face. Because he was having to work harder owing to limited tongue movement, he wasn’t able to feed for as long as he needed to; and therefore wasn’t taking in enough. From here on in I began to time the feeds to every 2 hours (even setting alarms through the night) in a desperate quest to get his weight back up. The thought of trying to give him formula and bottles didn’t even enter my mind (in spite of my previous plan to ‘go with the flow’), I was on this path now and I felt very determined to make it work.
By day 7, Maxon’s weight was heading in the right direction and he’d regained so that he was now only -4% birth weight. The midwives couldn’t believe how much I’d managed to get him back up in just a few days and I felt proud at being so headstrong. What I perhaps failed to acknowledge was how incredibly physically and mentally drained I was owing to this 2 hourly schedule. I was like a woman possessed and felt very defensive when people questioned me as to why I was so bothered to continue breastfeeding. I couldn’t articulate my feelings then and I feel that I’m still unable to now. The only thing I can now perhaps see is that I felt like my ‘birth’ wasn’t a ‘natural birth’ in my head owing to having a caesarian, so breastfeeding (in my head) was my way of restoring the balance of being ‘natural’. Again, not necessarily logical thinking but I don’t think anyone is thinking logically in the rollercoaster of those first postpartum weeks.
Maxon’s tongue tie was snipped in a clinic at 3 weeks old and aside from an initial cry, he was totally fine. I instantly noticed an improvement in how long he was able to feed for. He still fed very regularly but I stopped timing the feeds and relaxed a little, confident in the knowledge that he was now able to latch correctly and could feed efficiently.
Shortly after this I started to express with an electric Medela Pump. Initially I was terrified of feeding in public (whereas now I’ll feed wherever and whenever), so when we did go out and about, I made sure we had expressed milk and bottles should he need feeding. He took bottles fine from me, my husband and other family members. And I enjoyed the short breaks while he was fed by others.
The ad hoc bottles stopped at around 6 weeks old, when Maxon had an operation to correct an Inguinal Hernia. Looking back, I can now see how incredibly clingy I was with him in the weeks after his operation. Although a fairly routine procedure, I was terrified at him having a general anesthetic at such a young age, and handing him over to the surgical team that day was awful. Afterwards, I wanted him close to me, and feeding gave us that closeness. I saw expressing as a waste of time and was intent on living in the present. I think this lack of consistency with bottles from this point is perhaps the root cause of the bottle refusal issue that we are still facing today.
At 10 weeks old, I eventually left him with my husband while I went for a lash appointment and when I got back to a screaming baby, found out he’d refused the bottle I’d left. We passed it off as a one off; he was generally an unsettled baby prone to bouts of screaming so I didn’t initially read too much into it, but once we’d gotten a month further down the line and he still wouldn’t take a bottle, I began to feel anxious about leaving him in case he needed feeding. I was his only food source and this made me feel both incredibly proud, but also trapped and limited. Our breastfeeding experience, was (and to a degree) still is, largely conflicting for me due to this.
At almost 8 months old, I can count on my fingers the amount of bottles Maxon has taken in his life. I’ve tried different bottle brands; Mam, Nuk, Tomme Tippee, Dr Brown, Medela and Minbie (I’ve spent around £200 trying to ‘fix’ this ‘problem)’. I’ve tried latex, silicone, cheap, expensive, long, short teats…it makes no difference. On one occasion, exhausted and feeling completely overwhelmed, my poor Mother in law drove 3 hours up the country to try and crack him; me and the boobs left and she still couldn’t get him to take even a few ounces after 8 hours.
If you’d told me pre baby that a mini human could dictate to you how they were to be fed I would have laughed at you, but here I am! On the one hand I feel extremely privileged that I’ve been able to breastfeed. I’ve never had any pain, any supply issues, any bouts of mastitis. On the other hand however, Maxon’s insistence on breastfeeding exclusively has meant that I’ve never left him for more than 3 hours in his life (he still feeds extremely regularly) and don’t get me wrong, I love my son, but I’d love a night where I get to sleep. The bottle refusal has meant every single feed is on me, 24/7. And I’d be lying to you if I said that hasn’t been incredibly exhausting and draining, both mentally and physically.
Breastfeeding for me has been one of my biggest accomplishments; I’m incredibly proud of my body for nourishing my son, and I love the bond that it has given us, but it’s also been one of the hardest and most frustrating tasks in my life to date. If we are talking about it as a journey, we are still very much on the road with no clear destination in sight. So as it stands, I’m trying to remember the words of my pre pregnancy self and just go with the flow, and that flow is currently dictated by Maxon’s love for boobs (flattering really, no ones ever been so enthused by them!). Instead of feeling anxious about the bottle refusal, I’m learning to be appreciative of our feeding time; yes, it’s all on me, but those moments of closeness really are priceless and I know the future me will look back and miss the days of being needed so completely.