Wednesday 29 August 2012

My Breastfeeding Journey... So far

Yesterday was my daughter's 1st birthday. I have been breastfeeding for 1 year and 1 day.

Mother breastfeeding newborn
Our First Feed in the Hospital

I am so proud of myself for getting this far, when, at the beginning, it looked like we wouldn't even reach a week! It has not been exclusive breastfeeding, much to my dismay, but this couldn't be helped, and she has had as much as she possibly could from me.
My daughter had a posterior tongue tie at birth. It was undetected until she was 3 days old, and not separated until she was 7 days old.

We struggled to nurse.

I was in more and more pain and, though she had some really good feeds and got the milk-drunk look, she was not taking in enough milk and ended up admitted to the paediatric ward with elevated sodium levels on day 4.

 Size-wise she did not change in those 4 days; she was alert and her fontanelle was fine. But the NHS trust numbers over sense, and she was readmitted to hospital where our choice to breastfeed was not honoured, and her tongue tie was ignored.

We were forced to give her formula - much more than her tiny stomach could take - and I cried in the toilet every time.

It took an age to provide me with a breast pump, because we were on the paediatric ward instead of back on the post-labour ward.

Nurses told me I shouldn't be breastfeeding, or expressing at night.

Despite being clued up, having read everything I could on breastfeeding and having a mum who was an LLL counsellor, I struggled with the pressure being put on me. I was a new mum and I hadn't slept for 50 hours - I found it hard to fight, but eventually we got access to the wonderful Infant Feeding Coordinator who helped, supported and protected us.

We re-established breastfeeding and cut out all the formuĊ‚a. But still the tongue tie was not dealt with. The doctors were more interested in getting rid of the symptoms than in dealing with their cause. 

The hospital has UNICEF Baby Friendly status, but we had to fight for our breastfeeding relationship to be honoured.

The day of discharge we paid for the frenulotomy, rather than waiting for the NHS appointment 5 days later. Before the procedure, the lovely Lactation Consultant diagnosed me with insufficient glandular tissue. So, I was never going to make enough milk. But, she reassured me that my larger breast should be able to make enough. 

And my aunty fed several children on just one side, so I knew it could be done.

That night B fed for 7 hours solid. I was exhausted and panicking. The Infant Feeding Coordinator was on-call and I rang her three times for reassurance.

Unfortunately, the hospital stay had a very negative effect on my milk supply. I had been stressed and tired, discouraged and unable to get the supply established in the first week. 

Every day B fed almost constantly - up to two hours at a time, the smallest gap between feeds. Nighttime was just as bad, and she would only sleep lying on my chest. I hadn't worked out how to nurse lying down and so I would sit up in bed watching The Long Way Down whilst she fed. When she fell asleep I would shuffle down and we would get maybe half an hour's sleep before it all began again. And every few days we would see the Infant Feeding Coordinator who would weigh B and check my latch. 

B continued to lose weight. 

I was put on domperidone to raise my prolactin levels and hopefully boost my milk supply. I was given a regime of nursing every 2 hours and expressing an hour after each feed. 

That didn't work. 

B couldn't wait that long. 

I got thrush deep in my breasts because I had had cracked nipples, and formula and bottles were introduced so early, and because B had been given antibiotics in the hospital in case she had an infection. 

She didn't have one, by the way. 

So into the regime we added cream and more tablets for me, and nystatin drops for B. They were a nightmare; she was supposed to have them after a feed, but that meant waking her up, and once she was awake she wanted to feed again.

After 3 weeks of this constant nursing, when B was just over 4 weeks old, she was clearly not doing well. She had visibly lost weight. We made the decision, with our health visitor, to top her up with some formula feeds. 

I was absolutely devastated. 

This was not what I planned for my baby. 

My body had failed us both. 

My anger with God was intense. In my head she was now doomed to a life of weight problems, lower IQ, health problems. With my own weight and health a constant distress to me, I had hoped that breastfeeding would be the protection she needed to ensure she didn't end up like me. 

But surely a fat daughter is better than no daughter, and I determined to find a way to come to terms with this turn of events.

She started putting on weight, and sleeping slightly longer, though we had to give her a bottle in the night, which was hard work. She continued to breastfeed though, which was a consolation. And we invested in a Supplemental Nursing System which allowed B to get her top-up whilst feeding at the breast, thus continuing to work my supply. 

I struggled with the SNS though, and when hubby melted it accidentally whilst sterilising it, I didn't get another.

We eventually settled into the combination feeding, but I never felt comfortable, especially having to give bottles while out and about. It embarrassed me far more than breastfeeding in public. And I hated the thought that people might think I had chosen to formula feed, or that I was making the commonly used excuse of "I couldn't breastfeed" which, though I couldn't do exclusively, irritated me to hear from others because had they even put in much effort? 

Every time I gave a bottle to B in front of friends I made it clear what we had been through.

I expressed after every formula feed and gave that milk to B in the evening. The most I ever expressed over a whole day was 60ml and that was only if I was able to express in the morning before B woke up. 

One thing that helped me was that my mum had written on my chalkboard "You are a breastfeeding mum!" Every day I read that and reminded myself that we were both getting the benefits of breastfeeding and that I could think of the formula as medicine. 

A medicine that gave B the most disgusting windy-pops and hideous poos, but a medicine nonetheless that helped her to grow and thrive.

Fast forward to February. B was almost 6 months old and we started baby led weaning. She took to solid food like a duck to water. Eventually she started taking in more food, and then she started cutting down on the formula. I was thrilled!

I stopped expressing, which gave us more chill out time and just put her to the breast after bottles. Eventually she was down to 2 tiny amounts of formula twice a day, then one just before dinner. She was still nursing as much as ever, and through the night, but I had fought for this breastfeeding relationship and I was pleased, despite multiple wake ups in the night!

On 31st July she had her last formula. Finally we were exclusively breastfeeding in combination with other food. Success!

Over the past year we have battled ignorance, tongue-tie, thrush, a nursing strike, mammary hypoplasia, low supply and PCOS, and we have shown that even partial breastfeeding is possible for a woman with insufficient glandular tissue. 

No excuses. 

And as for B - she's happy, healthy, nowhere near overweight, and on the boob as I write this! 

Breastfeeding has been the most useful tool in my mummy tool box; I wouldn't be without it. It hasn't always been the easiest or most fun part of motherhood, but just like women who have longed-for babies after infertility are allowed to say caring for a child is hard and not always enjoyable, I can admit that breastfeeding hasn't been a constant bed of roses. 

But I do love it. I love being able to get B back to sleep easily and quietly; I love being able to calm her fears and hurts; I love the closeness. 

And we are reaping benefits now and we will continue to do so. For one, my periods haven't come back yet!

So let me raise a toast to B and me and to our breastfeeding relationship - long may it continue!

B in a sling
B on her 1st Birthday


  1. Well done. Your description about bottle feeding and needing to explain it and be embarrassed reminds me of how I was when I had my first - I couldn't bf her (we think with hindsite she had an undetected posterior tt like her 2 youngers brothers). I expressed but felt that I had to explain. Crazy really as there is nothing wrong with choosing to ff and I certainly never judged anyone else. Anyway, well done you for getting to a year. x

    1. Thank you :) It's shocking really how many babies are born with tongue tie and not detected until it's too late. It used to be routine for midwives to keep a fingernail long, which they would swipe under newborns' tongues after birth to separate any tongue ties. Unhygienic, but sensible. With the rise of formula this practice stopped, but I think routine checking and separating should be brought back.

  2. Thank you for sharing your story. My little girl is 4 months old and I too have had to combination feed. I have hated having to do it and the feelings you described were exactly how I felt. Its not nice to read what you've been through but it is reassuring to read of your survival of the experience x

  3. Well done for getting through all those struggles and getting to where you both are today :) We had similar struggles too, so can relate to most of what you've written here. I agree that despite the hard work, it's all worth it, and indeed long may it continue. I've just written an update on hypoplasia and tandem nursing on my blog if you're interested.

    1. Thanks. I read your blog whenever I get a chance - very encouraging.

  4. Bravo! Your story is similar to mine with my first child. My 2nd and 3rd babies have ended up being exclusively breast fed. Kudos to you for all the hard work you and your babe have done!!!! Hugs.

  5. Very nice read. I'm happy it worked out. :)

  6. How were you diagnosed with the hypoplasia? I am wondering if I have that? I as well have only been able to express 2 oz and have been bf and using formula. It has been very frustrating but it is nice to know we are not alone.

    1. A mixture of googling and seeing an IBCLC. I hope you get some answers too. x

  7. This was a lovely read for me. I too have had to combination feed my daughter. I had a breast reduction at 19 (I'm 34 now), they said it would likely affect breastfeeding but at 19 how could I, possibly, grasp what I would be missing? I missed out entirely with my son, with my daughter we have done it! True formula played a part but like you have managed to cut out the formula and just go with breast and solid food. Long may it last!

    1. Awesome! This also just goes to show how important it is that our daughters grow up knowing what their bodies are capable of, and that breastfeeding should be included in their education.
      Well done for your achievement!

  8. My son is 22 months and still nursing. Reading this was like reading my own post about BFing...tongue tie, low supply, supplementing, stopping formula around 10 mos, PCOS, possible thrush, etc. Thank you for sharing your journey!

    1. Thank you for reading. I'm encouraged that you're still feeding :)

  9. I too was embarrassed feeding my oldest formula in public when we stopped breastfeeding due to my ignorance and crappy advice and felt the need to explain why we were doing it. You have been completely through the mill and worked so hard to establish and maintain your breastfeeding relationship you should be really proud of yourself. I also feel that women who use the excuse they couldn't breastfeed after less than a week (I experience this regularly) are letting down women like you who go to hell and highwater to breastfeed.
    Brilliant story and truly inspirational oh and your Mum is amazing too. Love her motivational message to you (@DailyBFTweet)