I put this blog together from notes and messages collected on my phone, during night feeds, and periods of insomnia, throughout the first 12 months of being a mother. Wanting to remember how breastfeeding felt at the time, as I knew that I would forget. It’s not beautifully written, but it’s our success story of breastfeeding. A bumpy start with a beautiful conclusion.
It's a long one.
edit: It's taken me 6 months to get round to actually sharing this - my son is now a toddler. A walking, talking 19 month old. And breastfeeding remains a part of our day-to-day.
When I got pregnant I assumed I would breast feed. I read a few extra books, went to the NCT class and a local NHS class, followed a few different people on Instagram, and bought some feeding bras. On the advice of a friend I also joined a local support group on Facebook - just in case.
I made my list of birth preferences - at home, in the water, to include the golden hour, the fact I wanted to breastfeed, lots of skin to skin, to try for baby to do the breast crawl. I even made a preferences list for a c-section - just in case.
My birth wasn’t ‘picture book’ but it was fairly ‘text book’ for a first time- long labour, slow dilation, even slower after moving from home to hospital (supposed lack of available midwives for home), and then the subsequent inevitable cascade effect of interventions resulting in emergency c-section. Which was all actually very calm and in control. A healthy little baby boy. He didn’t latch straight away but he’d had a rough few hours too, and was a little sleepy. Fair enough.
I count myself very lucky for the amount of support I had in hospital. Having spoken to friends who are parents and midwives, I know that most people don't experience this. The ward I was on was tiny, and I was in a room with one other person. There were 3 or 4 midwives to 8 people on the ward, so there was always someone close by to help out. I had lots of support with latching and feeding when I needed it - the phrase nose to nipple became like my catchphrase.
Latching was a bit tricky - I used a syringe for some feeds, and one amazing midwife spent nearly an hour with me in the middle of the night, trying different feeding positions, aiming for that infamous nose to nipple. In fact all the midwives had different suggestions for what might work and with the exception of one, all the midwives were incredibly supportive. It took some practice but we kind of managed it, and after 2 days we went home. My milk hadn’t come in but everyone seemed happy. And I knew that it was normal - the first few feeds are mainly colostrum.
What I didn’t realise at this point, and had somehow missed despite all my reading, was how much of an impact having the emergency c-section might have had on my milk supply.
So the first day at home, day 3, was an evening of feeding almost non-stop. I woke hourly through the night, trying to get my baby to latch on and feed, trying different positions, unlatching and relatching to make sure he wasn’t swallowing too much air, that he’d got his mouth wide enough.
Nose to nipple, nose to nipple - this isn’t really working, why isn’t he opening his mouth wide enough?
Or he’d open it wide but then close if so fast it was impossible to move quick enough. I needed ninja skills I just didn't have. Unlatch. Try again. Fall asleep. Repeat. Exhausting but was it to be expected? I was sure it would get easier.
After a mix up with the community midwifery team (we moved house 2 weeks prior) I didn’t get to see a midwife at home as planned, and when I finally got hold of one on the phone, they asked about how my baby was doing, and if he was having frequent wet and dirty nappies.
Hmmm now you mention it he hasn’t really had any today I don’t think. I don't know though. The day is a blur.
Probably fine, but give the ward midwives a call and see if they want you to go in. They were quiet so we went for a quick check - latch still seems fine (nose to nipple), still no milk, baby’s lost 8% of body weight (normal), so all good. But seeing as you’re here already, why not pop over to see the paediatrician next door and she can check him over too? With hindsight, we should have gone home then.
Enter first problem. (This is how I remember it, in my hormonal, sleep deprived state)
Dr: Your baby is a bit dehydrated. You don’t have enough milk yet. Go down to the ward, give him this bottle of formula, wait til he has a wet nappy then go home.
Yeah, I’d rather not give him formula, can I just do some expressing?
Dr: No, there’s no time, he needs to have a bigger feed than you can express, give him this formula.
But I expressed on the ward with the syringes - can I do that again?
Dr: No, you know formula isn’t evil, you don’t have to worry about that, he needs to be given XXml (calculated by body weight) before you can go home.
I know formula isn’t evil - I fxxxing work for them! That’s not the issue.
But whatever, I’m too tired, exhausted, upset and out of energy to fight you. I’m frustrated and angry but I admit defeat. Down to the ward to see the midwife. A different ward to my post-birth bubble - lots of people, very busy and noisy. I don’t want to be here.
I’m a new mama, get me out of here.
I need to stay here until he has drunk this milk and had a wet nappy. It’s 9pm. Does that mean overnight?
No, no, I don’t want that, don’t make me stay in this ward. And you're asking me to give this huge bottle with a massive teat to my tiny baby. Can I use a cup for the milk?
No. We want you to use the bottle. We don’t use cups here. We don’t have any. The bottle is better, it will be easier.
But everything I’ve read said I can, and should, try with a cup?
Shrug. I’ll leave you with the bottle.
I sobbed. For the entire feed.
He drank the milk. He threw it all up. I cried some more. Then latched him onto boob.
The midwife came to chat and check my latch- latch looks good (nose to nipple, ) I probably would have let you try with expressing first, the paediatricians can just be a bit like that with the formula.
Great - what a lot of help after the event! Baby has a wet nappy, she lets us go home even though it’s after hours. Thank goodness. Take a bottle of formula with you. Just in case.
My milk came in the next day, and wow did that hurt. Engorgement = owwww. At least now I can feed my baby properly! But latching is painful - his mouth was so tiny, it was really hard, and he just didn’t seem to want to open his mouth wide enough. The midwife watched a feed at home. You’re doing it right, just try and get his mouth a bit wider (how exactly? Nose to nipple, nose to nipple, nose to fxxxing nipple).
A painful 2/3/4am feed led to some Dr google and I messaged a lactation consultant. But it was August and so many people are on holiday. No one can come out for a week. So I kept going with videos and websites and Facebook groups. I sent my husband out for a formula starter pack (‘my’ brand, a sense of loyalty and trust) - just in case.
I kept one bottle by the bed, and it stared at me, daring me to use it. No. No. I can do it myself. Ow ow ow. Why won’t he open his mouth?!?!
3am Amazon order. Lanolin. Nipple shields. Compresses. I thought breastfeeding was free?
I ventured out to a local breastfeeding support group. By the time we’d got dressed and ready, and walked 20 minutes to the group (uphill, with a pram, 1 week post c-section. It was absolute agony), it was 10 minutes from the end of the session. How do you know who is a parent and who is the support worker when no one says hello? Is anyone in charge? Do we just sit down? Should I start feeding? Oh everyone is packing up. Someone said to try this video and look for nose to nipple. The baby in the video is opening their mouth really wide without any help. But mine isn’t doing that. Now what do I do?
Day 9 I saw a lactation consultant at home. She was so helpful. I felt so much relief at someone sitting and listening to me, and giving me some advice on what to do. Having someone spend more than 5 minutes checking, helping, talking. It helped a bit. I had a professional on text support at least, and I could send her videos. For £80. I thought breastfeeding was free?
Whatsapp ‘I thought we had it [feeding] and then it’s like he completely forgot what to do. He has moments where he latched perfectly and then others when I have to redo it about 20 times. The tears are almost always ready to appear’
Week 2.5, a different support group. Someone made a cup of tea. It was hot! The best. I haven’t slept all night. Custer feeding. Growth spurt? Everything is a growth spurt. He’s sick a lot. There’s so much sick, after every feed! And the noises! Bizarre. Anyway the group. Bit clique-y. Not really welcoming. Watched my latch - looks good, nose to nipple! But it really hurts. Toe-curling pain. And I’m getting white ridges on my nipples, is that normal? Just keep going with the lanolin. Keep feeding.
Whatsapp ‘ I struggled even at the breastfeeding group to actually ask them for help because everyone else there seemed fine and it was like it was just a social’
Whatsapp ‘there is something horribly lonely about breast-feeding and not sleeping, even though you’ve got another person literally stuck to you’
Whatsapp ‘I’m still not convinced about latch - he’s gotten really fussy the last 2 days and has cluster fed almost the whole day. Apparently there is a growth spurt around 5 weeks so it must be that. But he’s being very exhausting and annoying. He fussed on the boob and throws himself off, then cries to go back on, for literally hours.'
Week 6, a different support group. This one with a lactation consultant as well as peer supporters.
So Welcoming. Hot tea. Actual time listening to me, and time watching us. Lots of tips, lots of support, just generally good vibes all round. Suggested an osteopath? His jaw seems very tight, probably from the csection. Come back again though, try the different positions and let us know how you get on. I love this group and these people. (I went back almost every week until 6 months)
Text to a friend ‘ Feeding every hour since 11pm last night. How is he still in a growth spurt?? I’ve managed to escape from feeding for an hour and I’m hiding / recovering / relaxing in the bath. What an exhausting 24 hours. I’m really hoping it doesn’t last long.’
Is it normal to want to escape from your baby after only a few weeks?
Off to the children’s cranial osteopath. Is it evidenced-based? Is it just a load of hippy nonsense? By this point, I really couldn’t care less. If it sounds plausible and someone says it works, I will try it. Is it my imagination, or just wishful thinking, but is it working? Is he more relaxed or is it just me? 4 sessions later and we’re feeding fine! Amazing! Miracle workers. His latch is so much better, I feel better, although £200 worse off. There must be some irony in using money earned from my job at a formula milk company to pay for breastfeeding support? Anyway, I thought breastfeeding was free?
I reckon it took until around 3/4 months for us to really ‘get’ breastfeeding. And the biggest thing was the support. From friends, family, breastfeeding group, and in the very early weeks @mother.in.motion - for the 3am texts. GIFs and memes helped a lot too. As did the mantras repeated in my head in the middle of the night.
This too shall pass.
Night waking is normal.
You are amazing.
This too shall pass.
I’ve had moments of absolutely hating breastfeeding. Hating the complete reliance on me and only me. Hating the pain, the discomfort, the waking, insomnia, the sight of someone else sleeping whilst you try, again, to move the baby from your boob to the cot without stirring.
There have been lots of tears. Mine and his.
But then when it hasn’t been awful it’s been amazing. I can calm him in an instant. We’ve gone from struggling to fit together, to having laughs and giggles whilst feeding. How can you not laugh when they try and feed upside down, with their foot on your face.
One of my best friends said to me ‘it’s the hardest thing in the world, until it’s the easiest’ and it’s so true. I wish our journey had been easier, but I wouldn’t change where we are now for the world.
If you need support with breastfeeding, don't wait to reach out. There are amazing people out there waiting to help.
The Breastfeeding Network have a helpline and online chat.
La Leche League have a helpline and local support groups.
Feed Eat Speak is a lactation consultant and provides online courses.
Lucy Webber is a lactation consultant in North Somerset.
Emma Pickett is a lactation in North London.
A directory of lactation consultants can be found here.