We understand that not every breastfeeding journey is the same. That is why we have joined forces with our parent approved panelist Haley, to bring you a real breastfeeding journey, by a real mama. Read below Haley's personal breastfeeding experience, as well as advice she has for you breastfeeding mamas on how to achieve a positive experience for you and your little one.
I am delighted to share my breastfeeding journey as part of National Breastfeeding Week 2020. I am passionate about breastfeeding. Not because I am anti-formula, but simply because I know how tough it can be, both mentally and physically. So, I admire anyone who has chosen to breastfeed. Whether they lasted a day, a week, a month or over a year. The process can often come with many bumps along the way but I promise you it’s worth it. I hope by sharing my journey I can shed some light on some of the challenges you may face. Hopefully as well as providing some support for new mums that may be struggling.
So here goes...
Whilst in labour I felt prepared, prepared to birth my baby, prepared for the nappy changes and the late nights and prepared to start my breastfeeding journey (or so I thought). Before giving birth I hadn’t really thought much about breastfeeding. I had read a few articles that provided breastfeeding advice and about how to get the perfect latch and the best positions to try. However, I had never given it any serious consideration, after all it should come naturally, right? How shocked I was when Elodie was placed on me for her first feed? She struggled to latch, I felt awkward and uncomfortable and it resulted in tears from both of us. I couldn’t understand how the most natural thing in the world didn’t come naturally for me.
After struggling to breastfeed I was closely monitored by the midwives who tried to give me the best support they could - whilst juggling their busy workload. On the second day after Elodie had been born I remember calling the midwives in tears. I couldn’t feed her at which point they milked me like a cow. Not my finest moment but one I will be eternally grateful for. They showed me how to hand express to relieve the engorgement. I cried happy tears when I saw Elodie drink from the milk from the cup.
We ended up staying in the hospital for three days after giving birth. I just couldn’t seem to get the hang of it due to various issues, I felt sore, engorged and uncomfortable. On the day of my release my midwife mentioned to me that there was a possibility that Elodie had a tongue tie which could be causing the issues with feeding. I had never heard of this term before. Then when I looked it up I could tell she had every symptom: difficulty latching and staying on, being unsettled at the breast, making a clicking sound when feeding and leaving me with sore nipples with a white ridge in the middle.
I left the hospital positive that it would be the end of my breastfeeding journey. It was taking a toll on my mental and physical health. It was at that point I decided to introduce formula to allow my husband to take over some of the feeds and ease the pressure on myself. This did help initially, but on day three of being home I still dreaded every feed. I was ready to give up. Just when I was about to give up, I got a call from my lactation consultant. They offered to come around for a visit which ended up turning everything around.
She was a breath of fresh air just when I needed it most. We spent a few hours talking and she listened to my struggles. She then watched me position Elodie ready for a feed trying to use the cross-cradle method and failing. She explained that although a lot of mums find success with this method, many also don’t as the baby feels as if the head is being pushed against the breast. This means it's your baby's automatic reaction is to push back and away from the breast.
I was then introduced to the “laid back” method which is sometimes called “Biological Nurturing”. This position changed everything for me. If you are struggling and haven’t tried this position then I would recommend giving it a go. It encourages the mum to sit in a relaxed semi-reclined position, propped up by pillows with the baby laying either on the mum’s stomach or over their shoulder (if post c-section). Ideally it will be done with skin-to-skin contact. The baby then pushes/crawls to the food source and latches on themselves. Of course with a little bit of support from the mum. This changed the game for me. No more awkward positions and no more stressing, just relaxing, bonding and letting natural instincts kick in.
This position changed my feeding journey for the better, but the pain remained. So she referred me to a specialist to check for a tongue tie. Elodie was diagnosed with a tongue tie but they chose not to snip it. It was posterior tongue tie and so I was left to deal with it by myself. Fortunately, the pain did eventually subside, and we found positions which worked for us. However, if breastfeeding is painful and you think that your baby may have a tongue tie please don’t be afraid to push for a specialist to see your baby. They can often snip the tongue tie which will make it easier and less painful for your baby to feed.
Having battled those issues, I also struggled with low supply because I combi-fed and didn’t always pump on time. This is when I was introduced to power pumping which is essentially intermittent pumping with short breaks in-between to help boost supply. Other things that helped was using a hot flannel and hand massaging the breast before pumping.
Unfortunately, because I became obsessed with pumping that I ended up with an over-supply which left me uncomfortable and engorged. The best thing I found for this was to use a silicone breast pump which helped to relieve the pressure without making the situation worse. The pump gently removed the milk without completely draining it.
I am now 15 months into my breastfeeding journey and ready to stop soon. Everyone’s journey looks so different, but I am proud of how far I have come. I no longer deal with painful feeds – but I do sometimes get the odd jab to the eye! I can honestly say that the bond that comes with breastfeeding is amazing, but I know that not everyone gets the support that they need so I will list below some advice that has helped me continue my breastfeeding journey.
- Find a position that works for you – laid back feeding, cross cradle, side laying and rugby hold – there are so many to try.
- Don’t suffer in silence – breastfeeding can be uncomfortable but shouldn’t be painful. Pain can indicate a poor latch, tongue tie or other issues, please seek help and guidance to help you continue.
- Try and create a relaxed setting – stress can affect your let-down reflex and stop the milk from flowing freely. Oxytocin (the happy love hormone) encourages the let down reflex and so you want to create a nice relaxing environment, try limiting the number of visitors in the new-born days, have your drink and snacks around you and catch up with your favourite Netflix programme. Be selfish, it's your time to bond with your baby.
- Find your community – speak to others that have breastfed, join a breastfeeding group or connect with mums online. You can learn so many tips and tricks from others and usually they have been through similar issues and it will feel like such a relief talking about your struggles and successes.
- Teething babies – if your baby is biting down every time, they feed it could be a game or it could be due to feeding. Calmly take them off the breast and say no biting, every time they bite. If it's due to teething issues, then offer then a teething ring or cold muslin from the fridge to chomp down on before you feed them.
- Silicone breast pump – helps to catch the let-down of milk and good for easing engorged breasts. They are inexpensive and can help to build your freezer supply, especially in the early days.
- A comfortable place to sit whilst you're feeding/pumping - ensuring that you are as comfortable as your little one is so important. I would recommend the Hilston Nursing Chair from Mamas & Papas. Super comfy and looks beautiful in any nursery.
- Breast pads – a must especially if you don’t want to walk around like you’re in a wet t-shirt competition!
- Nipple cream – essential in the early days!
So I hope that this has helped some of you out there that may be struggling. Please know that you are not alone and you don’t have to suffer in silence. Just know that as long as your baby is nurtured, loved and cared for then you have done an amazing job, no matter how your journey begins or ends.
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