On the 29th of March after a horrendous pregnancy and much anticipation I delivered our baby girl Isla. She is my third and last baby and by now I felt like things would just fall into place I felt like I might be considered an ‘experienced’ mother. Well Isla had other ideas.
I was very much looking forward to breastfeeding again as my other two children were 3 and 6 it had been a few years since I had breastfed. I also had different ideas about how I wanted to feed and had more knowledge about how breastfeeding works. My other two babies were mixed fed from about 4 months with a night bottle as I had a cluster feeder and I just thought I didn’t have enough milk, this as I now know was the start of the weaning process. My son fed until 11 months and my daughter was not interested after 8ish months. This was my last chance and I wanted to exclusively breastfeed for 12 months and beyond.
Ok, so first proper feed with Isla there was not much drinking and just what felt like a struggle, she preferred one side to the other and I would have to get myself into all sorts of uncomfortable positions to try and feed her. We somehow got through the first 48 hours and I had a midwife home visit, I expressed my concern about her not liking that particular side and she asked if I had a nipple shield handy (I did as my first two had a tongue tie and we used it for the first 6ish weeks with no real dramas getting them off) I got the shield out and that was it Isla would then only feed with that.
I made an appointment with the hospital lactation consultants (LC) as I just wasn’t happy with how we were feeding, she was called a very gentle feeder and a fussy girl, we tried a few different things but she would not latch without the shield.
When Isla was 2 weeks I had my own health complications where I ended up in hospital for a couple of nights, I had to have a lumbar puncture on my spine which caused a terrible spinal headache for almost a week but during the hospital stay I ended up seeing the LC again and we noticed that her weight was dropping. It was then we started up feeding, me expressing and topping her up with a syringe to get more milk into her. We kept going like that for a couple more weeks. It was after the 5th appt with the hospital LC and the second time I got a blocked duct with flu like symptoms that I knew I couldn’t keep going and decided to get a Private LC. This was after multiple baby chiro, osteopath and also bowen therapy appts she wasn’t even six weeks. I was determined to find out what was hindering our feeding and I didn’t care what it cost as this was just so important!
Isla was six weeks old and I had my first visit with Jill, she watched what was happening and determined that she had a very weak suck and a slightly high pallet, no tongue or lip tie. She told me what I needed to do which was ditch the nipple shield as it wasn’t doing any good, she was basically sucking it like a dummy and was relying on my let down to get milk which was why she was always hungry even though I felt like I was always feeding her.
So from that day on what I did was stopped breastfeeding her and I fully expressed and did suck training syringe feeding. I was told that it would work in re training her, but we just didn’t know how long it could take. Its certainly not a simple process, there was constant washing of the pump parts and the syringes I also had to find the time to express every 2 -3 hours and look after my baby as well as my two other children which included the school run. To say I was stressed to the max and exhausted was an understatement.
After a week I tried her on the breast and she turned her head screaming with terror in her eyes. For a mother who desperately wants to feed her baby this was very distressing and I had to do my best to just relax and stay calm, try again another time. During this time skin to skin contact as much as possible was what I did. I needed to let my baby know that the breast was ok. Whatever chance I could I would undress from waist up and undress her to a nappy and just cuddle her on my chest or let her sleep there, this was all to help her get used to being around my breast with no pressure to feed. Sometimes I could tell she knew the milk was there and she wanted it but would get herself so upset and that was very hard for me. We spent a lot of time in the shower and bath together this is something that proved to be a bit of a breakthrough for us. She was relaxed in the warm water and didn’t see it coming so she wasn’t as likely to freak out. I also tried a feeding tube attached to my nipple and also my finger, she couldn’t even suck the milk up the tube it was very disheartening.
I plodded on finger feeding and suck training and a few weeks in I had a bit of a breakthrough when she actually latched on and drank for about a minute!! It was amazing and it showed me a glimmer of hope that she could learn and gave me the drive to keep on going. In the end after multiple tries when she was hungry and not much luck I decided to try her on the nipple shield again. I was just desperate to feed my baby and exhausted from the workload. She refused even the shield, this was a big down point for me and I was struggling emotionally by this stage. My LC during this whole time was on hand for my many calls and texts and always gave me the hope that it could work, for that I will always be grateful.
Well about a week later and 5 and a half weeks after I started this process I breastfed my baby. Things didn’t just click it was still a lot of work to get established I started with a few syringe feeds to ease her hunger then would sit on my gym ball and rock with her on my chest and gently swayed her into the feeding position while still rocking on the ball, it was completely uncomfortable but I was feeding her and I could not have been happier. I had a few people question why I was trying so hard and putting so much stress on my family but I knew that for me giving up just was not an option I was ready to explore, we hadn’t even had the chance to begin and it’s not until you are faced with the possibility of things not working out that you know how bad you want something.
My baby is six months now and is fully breastfed, she can be a bit fussy at times if my let down is a bit slow but that is a personality thing and I have learnt to deal with it. Along the way there have been some underlying issues that could have been causing my baby to not want to feed, she had symptoms of silent reflux and was always crying and unsettled. We tried medication and I was also strongly advised by other mums I know to give up dairy from my diet. It took some convincing but I did that and I have had a much happier baby since cutting it out.
I may never know the true reason but I know that getting my baby to breastfeed has been one of the hardest things I have done, I’m so proud of what I achieved. I was running on auto pilot during this time and I never thought our life would settle down. I look back on my journey with Isla with a lot of emotion as I had to really dig deep and it has taught me so much about myself along the way. I feel that I appreciate my breastfeeding relationship with my baby so much because of the struggles we have overcome and I have learnt to be a more patient mother and enjoy every day.
Ashlee Pedrick is a mum of three from South Australia.