Before I had a child, I assumed that motherhood would be instinctual, breastfeeding would come naturally and that it would be easy. I was wrong. My daughter was born early, borderline premature with severe jaundice. We were in and out of hospital in those first days because although we’d been sent home, she wasn’t latching well and needed light therapy to help clear that jaundice.
In hospital I was asked to sign a form saying I agreed to formula if I couldn’t produce enough milk. I just wanted her to get well so I signed what was put in front of me. My milk hadn’t come in properly and I struggled. I felt like a jersey cow – when she wouldn’t latch, she was bottle fed, and later fed through a nasal tube when she refused the bottle. I was asked to a pump every two hours. Mostly, she was fed expressed breast milk, but she needed so much to help clear the jaundice that we needed formula top ups. It was heartbreaking to see my tiny baby in that blue-lighted crib with her little white sunglasses, struggling to drink enough to clear that horrible yellow colour. I was sure when we got home the breastfeeding would come easier.
After the stint in hospital, little miss preferred the bottle. I persevered, wanting to nurse her and be the one to provide her nourishment. I wanted that bond and I wanted to be the ‘perfect’ breastfeeding mother. We saw lactation consultants to help with latching; they commended my efforts to feed and recommended new techniques, nipple shields and lots of skin to skin time. I ate lactation cookies galore and stuffed myself with milk boosting herbs. I don’t know how it is for other mothers, but as a new mum there was no way I was getting mostly naked to feed in public so I’d make sure I had bottles of expressed milk ready to go. My daughter had nipple confusion switching between bottles, my breast and the shields. My supply suffered with her poor latch, so I started to express regularly at home to boost supply and build up a store of breast milk for my baby so she could have the benefits of breast milk even if it wasn’t directly from me. Nipple shields and my breast pump were a huge help. Progress was slow and steady, but the stress of trying to feed, then expressing wasn’t helping our family and so we made the decision to not exclusively breast feed and to supplement with formula.
I cried when I saw what was written on the formula tub. Yes, breast is best, but for many reasons, some women can’t breastfeed or don’t have the supply and need a little help. I was embarrassed to get a bottle out in public as I felt people were judging me, regardless of whether it contained expressed milk or formula. Yes, it’s a shame I can’t feed my daughter exclusively from my breasts but I am not ashamed (anymore). We persevered, and we continued to breastfeed in conjunction with formula – as she got bigger, her latch got better and breastfeeding was not the painful, dreaded experience it was in the beginning. In fact, I love feeding her, and I look forward to our bonding time when her little hands pat my skin and she gazes into my eyes.
Now that I’m back at work, I want to continue to allow her breast milk as long as she wants it. While that is easy when I’m home and with her, it’s not so simple when she’s in daycare. I have to pump at work, at least once a day to maintain my supply. This brings a whole new level of difficulties. All of the rooms in our office are glass walled, so our receptionist has papered one with A3 paper for me to “extract” in, as my manager put it. There is no lock on the door so I have to trust that people will respect the ‘do not disturb’ sign outside. It has been joked that I should put my own sign up – “breast out, extraction in progress” and see how that goes. The tech nerd in me would also appreciate an in progress bar on that sign! I then have to carry my pump and bottle of breast milk back through the office, wash the pump out and discreetly hide my milk in the fridge. Yet, I do this willingly for Ellie, and for me too if I’m honest.
I love being a mother. No one told me it was going to be so hard or it wouldn’t come naturally, but the look on my daughter’s face when she wakes up and sees me, or feeds and manages a successful latch is priceless. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but also the best. We mothers need to support each other and not judge – being a new mum is hard enough without all the pressure from ourselves or anyone else. I know I’m not the only new mum who’s dealt with feeding challenges, and I know it’s kind of a personal topic. Honestly, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to share my story like this, but if I can help others going through something similar to feel a bit less guilt, then it’s worth putting it out there.
This blog was written by Lisa Bright, see her blog at http://withaforkblogspot.com.au