Why Nobody Tells You Breastfeeding is a Bitch

If you’re a new Mum or even a seasoned one, you’ve no doubt heard the breastfeeding mantra; “breast is best”.

Saying this three times isn’t enough as I have no doubt that almost every person with an opinion will force this on you – your midwife, your mother-in-law, your friends, your next door neighbour… hell even the lady at the supermarket probably has something to say!

Now I’m not negating the fact that breast milk is best for your child, with its antibodies and milky goodness it’s full of great stuff for your baby. And colostrum? Well that stuffs just liquid gold right there. However and this is a massive however, what people don’t tell you just how tough breastfeeding really can be.

When I was pregnant I thought I would aim to breastfeed for approximately six months. A solid effort in my eyes and if it was the best thing for my baby girl, why wouldn’t I do it? I had heard how difficult breastfeeding could be but surely those people were just unlucky, that wouldn’t happen to me. It can’t be that hard, can it?

YES IT CAN. 

And this is how my story of struggling with breastfeeding began.

When Casey was born she was just shy of nine pounds, she was a big girl and man was she hungry.

The first time I tried breastfeeding one of the midwives intervened to show me what to do. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate the help, it’s just a little unnerving when a stranger starts touching your boobs like it’s the most natural thing in the world. Over the course of six days I can’t even recall the number of midwives that touched my breasts and milked me by hand like an animal. I know their intentions were good but when you have a new midwife every shift rotation and they are under-resourced, stressed, and tired, it doesn’t help the situation – each time you feel like you’re meeting a stranger that’s witnessing you at a very overwhelming point in your life.

To top it off unfortunately Casey’s blood sugar levels were low and we had to undertake the horror of heel prick tests. Basically, Case would have a prick to her heel with a small needle and then the result of her blood sugars would be read. Four tests had to be completed in a row (every three hours) and by the fourth test if her levels weren’t above the required number we had to go back to square one.

We weren’t getting the result we needed t, therefore, e of the midwives suggested that we add a small top up of formula after breastfeeding to try and stabilise Casey’s blood sugars. I’d had a c-section and my milk was taking it’s sweet time to come in and it certainly wasn’t helping the situation. We had to top up with formula several times and in the end we completed four sets of tests – that’s right we completed a total of twelve blood sugar tests, each one where my baby girl had a prick to her heel and literally screamed. What made it worse was the fact we had to be woken every three hours to do the tests so for the first two days we didn’t actually sleep… we never got a chance to.

Finally when day three rolled around I thought hey, I’ve got this breastfeeding thing down. No pain, Case seems to be latching well and we’re fine. Or so I thought. That’s the thing with breastfeeding, it tricks you. Just when you think you’ve got it, it turns ugly. It was from here that I started to notice the “issues” beginning. I was gutted that I wasn’t producing enough milk for my hungry baby, I felt like I was failing her by not being able to provide her the food she needed… cue midwife action once again.

Here I received an abundance of suggestions from every midwife I saw, including their various feeding methods. Hubby and I were taught by one midwife how to “cup feed” which is exactly as it sounds – you express milk or use formula in a teeny tiny cup and baby laps the milk up with their tongue. When the next midwife was rostered on we were then told to “supply feed” whereby we used a syringe with a small hose that was inserted it into Casey’s mouth while I breastfed her. Although finicky the main benefit of supply feeding is that it stimulates supply and you are able to feed on the breast at the same time. And finally, of course there was bottle feeding.

Over the course of three nights in hospital and two in Birthcare, we would have seen over a dozen midwives, someone for the hearing test, another for the PKU test, another taught us how to bath our baby, we saw our surgeon, two midwives came to visit that I’d met with over my pregnancy, plus a lactation consultant (who said Casey may have a tongue tie which could hinder feeding), and basically we became inundated with advice. By the end of the five nights I had cracked nipples that bled, next to no sleep, a milk supply that still hadn’t come in, a baby that was hungry, and I was still as confused as ever.

I wanted to do the best by my child but how would I know which advice to take considering there were so many conflicting factors? Don’t feed formula as “breast is best” – but what if my baby isn’t getting what she needs from me? Don’t bottle feed as it can cause latching issues on the boob – but if I need a break (let’s face it we all do), I don’t expect others to try supply feed from their finger? Don’t use shields as they too can cause latch issues – but my nipples are so painful I don’t even want to feed?

After a week my milk still hadn’t come in and I started taking domperidome,  a medication which is meant to increase milk supply. Casey would feed for hours, one stint where I fed almost constantly for seven hours straight. I was exhausted, emotionally drained, felt overwhelmed, and Case was still hungry. I remember texting my Mum and she came down that morning after I’d been up most of the night. When she opened the door I broke down in her arms, saying “I can’t do this”. If there was ever a low point, that was it.

From there I went and had Casey’s tongue tie cut and saw another lactation consultant. I was shown a different way to breastfeed, it was much more comfortable and Case seemed to be feeding well. I felt empowered, like I could finally do this and get on with enjoying my baby girl. Unfortunately not even a week later and it was back to an unhappy baby who was always hungry.

I contacted the lactation consultant and she recommended topping up with formula each feed by using the supply line on my breast. Great I thought – just another thing to add to the mix again. Case would feed for almost one hour on both boobs plus 30ml of formula.

Week three rolled around and I was tired and felt like I still hadn’t conquered this breastfeeding buzz. My midwife was concerned as Casey wasn’t putting on any weight and she could see how hard I was trying – I wanted to do what was best for my baby girl but I was starting to suffer myself. That’s when my midwife finally intervened and said that what I was doing was not working for me, or my little girl. I was over the supply line feeding and she suggested I top up with 60ml of formula after every feed, using a bottle to save my sanity.

After one week the midwife came to visit me again and I felt like a new person. I was sleeping and Case was a different baby however the big test was to see whether she had put on any weight. The last three times she had been weighed we had not seen an increase so I was really nervous and hoped for a change. I waited with baited breath and watched the numbers on the scale… finally Casey had put weight on! I was ecstatic, it meant that we had conquered another hurdle.

Two weeks went by and Casey continued to put weight on but I did notice that she was getting tired from being up for so long. It would take almost an hour and a half to breastfeed and bottle feed her and it was too much. I expressed to see how much milk I was getting from each breast and it only equated to 30ml total and that’s when I knew that there was definitely an issue with my milk supply.

My Mum suggested feeding Case for five minutes on each breast and then giving her the bottle. This changed everything – finally after five weeks both Casey and I were happy. She was satisfied, sleeping well, and still putting on weight. It was the best decision we had made and it was the right choice for us.

It was at this point that I decided to block out any advice or interjections from anyone else, I had been so inundated with recommendations that it made me worry that I would do the wrong thing for my baby girl. I felt so guilty for not exclusively breastfeeding that it weighed heavily on my shoulders and when I would hear comments like “just keep at it” from other mothers, they had no idea how that made me feel – as though I had failed my baby by not sticking it out.

In the end exclusively breastfeeding wasn’t working for us and I had to use formula otherwise I had an unhappy baby that wasn’t gaining weight. I really believe it’s true what they say – “fed is best”.

In the end looking back now I wish I had bottle fed with formula top ups sooner as it would have enabled me to enjoy my baby more rather than worrying about whether I was doing the right thing. It just goes to show that sometimes what works for one person may not work for another and if you are struggling with breastfeeding don’t be afraid to ask for help – you never know there may be a reason why it’s not working for you 🙂

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kylie is a survivor. She’s endured events that no-one should have to experience. That’s why she wants to share her story; to help other women live beyond their pain so that they too can take control of their life, and live the life they deserve.

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