Breast is best. As women, we are bombarded with this mantra from so many sources long before we even plan on having offspring! And of course, there is no denying that breast milk is amazing with massive benefits for both baby and mama alike. “Liquid gold” is what the lactation nurses at my local hospital CONSTANTLY called it.
I had always hoped to breast feed, partly because of its wondrous properties, but also, if I’m being totally honest, because I thought of it as the miraculous solution to losing the pounds I had piled on whilst eating for 22! In my mind, my child would, very helpfully, suck every doughnut, chocolate bar and McDonalds I had consumed straight from my waistline!
Alas my dream of a breastfeeding-induced flat postpartum tum was not to be. My angelic little boy arrived 10 days early and was immediately sent to the SCUBU, which meant he was fed formula through a nose tube from the get go. My partner told the midwife in the unit to “stick that tube down bloody quickly” or risk my wrath, as he knew I really wanted to breastfeed. However, while the nurses were doing what they needed to do with my tiny little bundle, I was being - as my mother so eloquently put it - “trussed up like a roast chicken." This meant that we didn’t get the much anticipated skin-to-skin contact and my baby didn't get the opportunity to latch on immediately after birth. All the best laid plans and what not!
It wasn’t until later on that evening that I was allowed to try and feed him myself. Between all the tubes hanging from him, my mummy tummy being well and truly in the way and the midwife prodding and pushing my boobs about to get “the flow” going I was all of a tizzy and felt less than confident in my abilities to provide sustenance for my first born.
Following this maiden voyage, I was summoned every 2 hours to the unit and asked had “my milk come in yet?” And my answer every time was a forlorn "no." I was waiting for my boobs to blow up like balloons, get massively tender and leak like a tap, as my sister had warned me would happen, but NOPE! After every attempted feed (which was always followed by an Aptamil - he didn't starve!), I was sent to the lactation room and hooked up to a double breast pump for the guts of an hour, to try and bring things along. (I fondly recall my partner scournfully saying “FFS you are not a bloody dairy cow” when I limped from the room teary eyed following another fruitless expressing session!)
I will never forget the mortification I felt when I produced barely half an ounce from both boobs and presented it to the nurses, who looked at it pitifully before popping it in the fridge alongside the litres produced by other new mothers!
My frustration with the whole situation grew by the minute and my feelings of inadequacy brought about absolute dread at the very prospect of another feeding debacle. My darling son, on the other hand, appeared most content and seemed to be nuzzling away away good-oh every time. However, he did have a habit of dozing off at the bar, which lead to the nurse coming over and shaking my boobs in his face till he woke up again. Dignified it was not!
6 days after baby's arrival we were finally allowed to go home and not only was I totally freaking out about not having a medical team around to help me look after him, I was also suffering mental and physical anguish wondering how I was going to keep the child nourished! I was determined to keep trying as a) Momma didn’t raise no quitter and b) everyone around me kept saying it would get sooooo much easier! Well, it didn't!
Public health nurse visits were followed by consultations with the lactation consultants, which meant yet more prodding and peering at my boobs. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m far from a prude, but I simply did not enjoy my breasts being brought into such focus on such a regular basis!. This was followed by a tongue tie referral and then, when my partner broke his back when baby was just ten weeks old (so inconsidertate of him), my body decided it had had quite enough stress thank you very much and my milk dried up ENTIRELY.
Honestly, I was so relieved when my body decided that enough was enough. By then I felt that every time I tried to breastfeed, it interfered with my ability to bond with and enjoy my longed-for baby. The dread I felt when he started nuzzling for a feed made me feel so guilty and those feelings, combined with all the post-natal hormones coursing through my body, made for a very turbulent time.
I’m proud to say I tried my very best but I think it’s safe to say that there are definitely times when breastfeeding is NOT always best. It's not for everyone and it’s no one's place to judge how anyone else chooses to feed their baby.
At the end of the day, don't we all bump our child’s head off the car door at some stage!
Written for Bubble & Pop by Hope Swail, amazing mama to Sam.