In honour of world breastfeeding week I thought I would pen my journey of breastfeeding with Hugo. Trust me - most of it hasn't looked like the picture above. More a blur of sleep deprivation, supply issues and mastitis.
I’m just over twelve months into this breastfeeding journey now and it’s safe to say I think we’ve had almost everything thrown at us.
After a relatively quick birth, my beautiful baby boy was placed on to my chest for immediate skin to skin. I had dreamt about this moment for so long. I thought about how he might do that glorious chest crawl where he sniffs out my milk and instantly finds himself a position on my breast. Boy, was I wrong.
I had researched breastfeeding, I had always had a feeling that it mightn’t come easy for me and I wanted to be armed with all of the tips for making this journey as easy as possible. After an hour on my chest I realised that he still hadn’t fed yet, so we (my wonderful midwife and I) worked to latch him. This took 30 minutes to do, and his latch still wasn’t perfect. This was the start of our challenges with breastfeeding.
Hugo was a sleepy wee guy, he had that delicious birth sleep where they sleep for hours and hours on end, to the point where we actually had to wake him to feed! He wouldn’t really rouse properly for that first feed after our initial latch in the hospital, and after trying for a while we decided to try and hand express some colostrum off for him. I was not a great colostrum producer and this was extremely difficult! We managed to get about 1ml off to syringe into him to keep him going, and decided to try again with the latch for the next feed.
Latching was painful, right from that first day. Some midwives reassured me that this was normal and his latch was great, some told me it was terrible and that he might have a tongue and/or lip tie. This was the start of the conflicting information I received on my breastfeeding journey!
After two days in birth care my nipples were a mess. Feeds were already excruciating and my nipples completely raw. After being discharged home and starting with our postnatal midwife (we birthed in a different city to where we live), she said that Hugo did have a tongue and lip tie. So, at five days old we trekked back to the city to have these lasered. He had the worst possible degree of lip tie, and almost the worst tongue tie. No wonder I was in pain! The ties were lasered and I was assured that things would get better from here.
They didn’t. They got worse. I had placed all of my hopes on this magic procedure that was supposed to ‘fix’ everything.
At the time of this procedure, my milk still wasn’t in properly either, probably due to the fact that Hugo’s latch was terrible. It appeared that I had ‘transitional’ milk for quite a long time, and I’m not sure whether he was drawing much off me with each feed. At one week old, I began the journey of pumping after each feed to get a small amount of EBM to top Hugo up at each feed. Man, oh man, no one prepares you for the relentless nature of pumping. You can’t hold and snuggle your newborn after they fall asleep in your arms as you’re constantly torn between snuggling them and the need to pump in order to top up their feeds. I struggled, massively. Hugo was a contact napper – he loved being rocked to sleep in the wrap or front pack, and I really struggled to find the time to pump. The mum guilts were real.
Eventually my milk came in and I thought everything was going well. Although a slow grower, Hugo was steadily gaining just enough weight to keep the midwives happy, and away we went. Feed, pump, feed, pump – repeat. Then I got my first bout of mastitis when Hugo was four weeks old and it really knocked me. I was put on antibiotics, and very nearly sent to hospital as it took a really long time for my body to respond. Despite my best efforts to pump off the affected breast (as Hugo wouldn’t latch), my supply dropped considerably and I think at the time I was too sleep deprived and sick to notice. The midwife visited, and Hugo hadn’t gained enough to satisfy her.
This was the start of our mixed feeding journey. We began topping up each feed during the day with formula, and when I could I pumped off some breast milk for the night feeds. This just about broke me. As a mama who wanted nothing more than to “exclusively” breastfeed her baby, there’s something about the word ‘formula’ that just hits differently. Ridiculous in hindsight that I even felt this way, but when you’re an emotional, sleep deprived new mum and you feel like you can’t do the one thing your child needs you to do, it’s a really bloody bitter pill to swallow.
Well, this was probably one of the better things to happen. I was seeing a lactation consultant and we worked on my supply, Hugo’s latch, and all of the other factors that go in to breastfeeding. I trialled a supplementary nursing system, but both Hugo and I became far too frustrated using it and decided it wasn’t for us. Hugo was gaining weight beautifully, he’d sleep for slightly longer at times due to his lovely full tummy and everything was going really well.
Until I got mastitis, AGAIN. Hugo was about 3 months old and I found a massive lump in my breast (almost the entire size of my breast!). At first the lump was painless and I didn’t notice any issues with feeding, latching or milk supply. I went to the doctor anyway having had mastitis before, and she placed me on antibiotics. After 24 hours on antibiotics and no resolution of the lump, I re-presented to the doctor and she immediately sent me to the hospital for an ultrasound to check that it wasn’t an abscess. Turns out, she was right and I had the abscess drained two days later in Waikato Hospital (after multiple infusions of IV antibiotics which did nothing!).
I was terrified that this could be the end of our breastfeeding journey. Hugo was refusing to latch on that breast and slowly my supply that I had worked so hard to get back was dwindling. After lots of hard work, more pumping and some persistence, somehow, we got through it.
Since then, things definitely haven’t been easy. I found mixed feeding a constant battle. You’re told they need so much in order to grow, but I was constantly being told not to give him too much as he’ll prefer the bottle over the boob, or my supply would drop further. I got told to wake him multiple times through the night (even though he was almost sleeping through!), or that I needed to dream feed him in order to ensure he was getting enough. It was awful. Another damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation.
I was using nipple shields feeding Hugo for months and months and months due to the pain that I still experienced every time he latched. I got told multiple times that this was the reason I got mastitis, due to the bacteria, and that this would also be negatively affecting my supply. See, damned if you do, damned if you don’t. I envied my friends who could walk out the door with their baby, sit in a café and latch them on their breast without the thought of a nipple shield, what position they were being fed in, not having to hand express the breast while feeding, not requiring formula top ups, no bottles. It broke me that breastfeeding didn’t come easy to me.
I had used hydrogels, lanolin, natural nipple balm, milk collectors to prevent my nipples rubbing on my bra, various shields (the one thing I hadn’t tried and wish I’d had was Silverette Cups, I truly think this might have saved me so much unnecessary pain!).
I have since suffered mastitis a further three times. Yes, you read that right. I have suffered five times with mastitis in the last twelve months. Ridiculous. Probably due to the fact that Hugo’s latch has never been perfect. Add in some teething and I very nearly had a sixth bout!
Somehow, through all of that, I am still managing to breastfeed Hugo now. I haven’t written this blog to highlight that everyone should push through, regardless of how hard things are or how relentless it is. Because you shouldn’t. If I was my midwife or LC I probably would have told myself to stop many times over. Breastfeeding can really take its toll on a mama’s mental health, and I think it did on mine, but I also think it would’ve been a lot worse had I given up. This was one part of my parenting journey that was really important to me, and something that I was determined to be able to do (I’m pretty stubborn), and with much persistence we got there.
Feeding your baby, regardless of how you choose to do it is hard. Bottle feeding – hard! Breast feeding – hard! Exclusively pumping – hard! And the best way to feed your baby, is the way that benefits both you and them the most. Happy mama = happy baby. I’m always happy to chat over my journey with anyone who cares to listen and if you have any questions I’d love for you to reach out.