When I’m asked if I enjoyed breastfeeding my son, I never really know what to say. Ours was a VERY long, difficult, painful and exhausting journey that pushed me far beyond my limits and what I believed I was capable of.
My son Henry was born in theatre with a full spinal block, forceps and episiotomy (he was OP & VERY stuck after hours of pushing/moving & hoping). My Dr gave us literally one chance to birth vaginally before performing an emergency caesarean, and my pure determination saw him born straight on to my chest, just as I had been dreaming of after birthing my daughter 2 1/2 years earlier by caesarean under general anaesthetic.
Within five minutes of resting on my chest, he began to feed, all of his own accord. I was amazed and delighted. I had been unable to even meet my daughter until 4 hours after her birth, and didn’t get to attempt attaching her for well over six. Needless to say, I felt detached, pointless and like an absolute failure when I did not succeed in breastfeeding my daughter.
And here he was, feeding so naturally. I felt that immediate overwhelming wave of love for him like I never had with my daughter (at least, not for a while). I couldn’t believe that I would be so lucky to be able to do this amazing thing for my baby.
But then my boobs started to hurt. And I mean really hurt. I checked and double checked and triple checked the attachment. I asked a midwife to assist and watch during every feed. They told me it was normal and would settle after day three when my milk came in and the hormones settled. But it got worse. Every feed was a nightmare. I dreaded the passing of time because he would wake, and then feed. And I would cry.
During my home visit on day five I mentioned the pain I was feeling to the midwife who came to see us and she casually looked into his mouth and all but shouted “Oh my Lord! This child has the worst tongue tie I have ever seen!” I was shocked, most especially since he had seen the paediatric doctors and it was the first I had heard of something being wrong. I didn’t even know what a tongue tie was. “Does it look like he could lick an ice cream to you?” she continued.
And it didn’t. So the next day we took him to a Dr who specialised in frenotomy (tongue tie snipping). He confirmed that he had a severe tongue tie and we took care of it, with assurances that feeding would be a breeze now the problem had been dealt with… music to my ears!
But when I got home and offered Henry his next feed, I realised that instead of better, my nipples felt worse. Much worse. I continued on for a few more days and when feeding became so painful I felt the need to tear him off me rather than hold him close, I organised an emergency meeting with the lactation consultant at the hospital. She watched us feed and confirmed perfect attachment but saw the pain in my face as we nursed. So she looked into his mouth and discovered the beginnings of oral thrush, which was also reflected in my bright pink and damaged nipples.
I was relieved. With instructions on how to deal with this new problem I went home and vigilantly followed every instruction to the T and went so far as to change my sheets and towels every day and walked about bare chested even in the sun to aid in healing. Feeding gradually became easier. I dutifully attended the newborn clinic in my area and excitedly told my midwives how great things were going, and how relieved I was to finally be able to feed my baby pain-free.
But to my disappointment my midwife did not share my enthusiasm. During all this time my milk had been coming in with a force and I had been having a lot of trouble with engorgement. She warned me that until my hormones settled and Henry regulated my milk properly I was at risk of developing mastitis, especially as we had been fighting the thrush infection and I had such damaged nipples.
And then it happened. One moment I was fine and the next it was like I had been hit by a freight train. My body shook, I was freezing cold one moment and sweating the next and had no strength whatsoever. I couldn’t pick up my crying baby or feed my hungry toddler. And there was a lump in my right breast the size of a bouncy ball. My husband found me on the couch shivering with two distraught babies when he arrived home some time later and took me straightaway to the Dr where I began a course of antibiotics. I began to feel better straight away.
Until two days after I finished the course. And then the thrush returned with a vengeance. I did everything as I had before but I could not get rid of it. Two weeks passed by and my nipples were so tender and the let down so painful I made the decision to formula feed my son. I was distraught. I had always carried a deep guilt and sorrow over not feeding my daughter and I was so disappointed to have failed again. It was like my body was working against me. I couldn’t birth babies without help and I couldn’t feed them either.
I cried as I fed him his first bottle. He accepted it straightaway and took the full bottle and settled to sleep beautifully (I had also had a lot of trouble settling him and keeping him asleep through all of this!) but then half an hour later he woke and was so violently ill I took him to the hospital. We found out through trial and error with the Drs and nurses that he had a very severe sensitivity to the protein in cow’s milk and if I was to wean him onto a bottle he would require prescription formula.
I remember holding my sore, sore breasts and thinking what a terrible thing it would be to feed his sensitive little tummy something so sub standard to the nutritious ready-made-to-exactly-Henry’s-needs-milk I had there on tap.
So I cried. And went home and continued to follow my strict thrush eradication regimen. It dragged out for weeks. And weeks. For some reason I just could not kick the hold it had on me. And then, one day I noticed I hadn’t even felt him attach (I used to feed side-lying and co-sleep as I was so exhausted from dealing with the pain and his inability to settle) and as the let-down happened I realised we were finally on the other side. I was feeding my baby and it didn’t even hurt. After a few days, it even began to feel good, being so close to him.
He was a full eleven weeks before we were tongue tie, thrush, mastitis and lump free. We then discovered that he also had a big issue with reflux (why he couldn’t settle) which we ended up needing to treat with Zantac.
I was so glad though that I had stuck it out. I was even glad that the bottle feeding hadn’t worked out (though needless to say I wasn’t glad he had a food allergy). Nursing my son got us through his and my medical problems. It was the thing that calmed my poor overtired baby that just couldn’t sleep. It allowed me to catch some small amounts of sleep during the night when we successfully nursed in bed. It solidified our relationship through the hardest weeks I’ve ever endured in my life. And it made me feel like a superstar.
We went on to nurse until he was just shy of his first birthday, when he weaned to a bottle (not long after I returned to work), preferring the faster flow of the teat and being better able to see the world around him.
So did I enjoy feeding my son? Well, no. At least not in the beginning. I hated it, and was scared of it. I felt isolated, useless and totally lost. But I was determined to do what was best for him. I knew that what was best for him wasn’t necessarily my breast milk (although it really was). The best thing for him was me feeling like I was doing MY BEST for him. And after carrying the deep guilt and sorrow I had over not breastfeeding my daughter, I knew I had to do it for me too. We both needed me to breastfeed my baby. And I am so glad I did. Our success has set me up with supreme confidence with breastfeeding which is going without a hitch now with my third child.
Jeannie Richter wrote this lovely blog about her breastfeeding journey.
For simple, breastfeeding information, see the ebook and recording package (listen as you feed your baby) Breastfeeding Simply by Pinky McKay, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant.