Surely the goal for new mothers should not be to breastfeed successfully but to FEED successfully? Breastfeeding is wonderful when it works but can be soul destroying when it doesn’t. I wrote an account of my experiences of breastfeeding second time round. It’s not a happily ever after story – I’m never going to be a great breastfeeder – but we did come up with a solution…
21 April: It starts in the recovery room, a few moments after leaving the operating theatre. I can’t feel my legs after the anaesthetic and I’m holding Alfie wrapped in a towel. He hasn’t opened his eyes yet. We’re enjoying the peace after the bright lights and noise of the operating theatre. “Do you want to try him on the breast?” asks the midwife.
She strides towards the bed, unwraps Alfie and plonks him on my chest. He squeaks angrily, burying his face into my chest.
I’m not feeling at all confident about breastfeeding. Hector never got the hang of it. The staff in the neonatal unit where he was born insisted it was the best thing, and so I persevered, which meant baring my chest to various women who attempted, sometimes pretty aggressively, to get him ‘latched on’. He wasn’t feeding properly when we were discharged and three days later we were back in hospital, Hector losing worrying amounts of weight and suffering from apneas.
I was accused of having the wrong nipples, the wrong milk flow and a baby with the wrong shaped mouth. He did latch on when he got stronger but he’d always want a top up from a bottle afterwards. I got used to expressing bottles for every feed and it became easy – much easier than breastfeeding, anyway – so I fed him in this way until he was seven months and the sound of the pump was driving me (and everyone else) crazy.
I’d really like to breastfeed Alfie: no sterilising, no warming up bottles in the middle of the night. But equally if it’s not working out, I’m not going to persevere for the sake of it. I don’t want him losing weight when he could be thriving on formula or expressed bottles. Particularly given he was born a bit early and only weighs 5lb10.
So, when he doesn’t latch on in the recovery room, or once I’m back in the ward, I feed him some breastmilk with a syringe. End of day two he is drinking bottles of expressed milk. We’re let out of hospital on day three because even though he is tiny, his weight loss has been negligible.
Clare Byam-Cook, breastfeeding consultant, manages to get Alfred latched on first go. I called her up in despair after Alfie still wasn’t feeding two days after we got home. She points out a number of issues we might have stemming from his size and my anatomy but doesn’t see any reason why he won’t breastfeed.
Before we get started she encourages me to disregard anything I’ve be shown in hospital or by visiting midwives and use her methods which , she says, are based on logic and are proven to work…
- Lie baby on pillow on your knee, on his side, as close to you as possible with mouth, NOT NOSE, an inch away from your nipple, then let go of him.
- Hold his head and shoulders firmly so you have control (using arm closest to the baby’s feet)
- With your other hand shape squeeze your nipple at the 3 o clock and 9 oc clock position just on the outside of your areola using thumb and middle finger. Encourage him to open his mouth by gently brushing your nipple against his lips. As he opens them, swiftly “shove” his mouth over the nipple.
- Once he has latched on and is sucking, gradually let go of your breast and remove your hand.
It worked! And I was even able to do it myself a couple of times. I couldn’t really believe it.
The hard part was doing it when Clare wasn’t around. I think I managed to get Alfred properly breastfeeding just twice in the first two weeks of his life. When he was particularly hungry he’d scream with frustration and I just couldn’t get him in the right position. I felt a total failure and resorted to feeding him a bottle of expressed milk at every feed.
Then a couple of days ago (Alfred now 2.5 weeks old) I tried breastfeeding him again. Miraculously he latched on immediately (with a nipple shield) and since then breastfeeding has been getting better each time I’ve tried it (three feeds yesterday and four today). I give him a top-up bottle of expressed milk each time (which he gulps down, slightly disappointingly), so the whole ordeal takes quite a long time but it feels as if I’m getting somewhere.
Another breakthrough yesterday. Alfred breastfed for three feeds in a row (!). No bottles. He was calm (having been going through a really bad post-feed screaming phase) and so I decided to continue without bottles through the night. This didn’t work quite as well – screaming, struggling to get into the right position etc. I could sense my husband’s frustration that I didn’t just give him a bottle and let us get some sleep but he knew better than to open his mouth.
So Alfie was eventually diagnosed with silent reflux. Once he’d received medicine (losec) he became much more comfortable although breastfeeding was never wholly successful. At six months he is still fed mainly expressed bottles, although I do breastfeed him in bed in the morning (a ritual I absolutely love) and, if he’s settled, for a couple of short feeds during the day.
Our curious mixed feeding routine works for us but a friend, who has successfully breastfed her three children, practically cried for me when I told her about it. I tried (and failed) to explain to her that I’m perfectly happy with it.
It’s a plan B but Alfie is thriving and I’m happy. There is life after breastfeeding and it certainly isn’t the only way to a happy and healthy mother and child.