The End

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The Great Feeding Debate

I feel the need to write about this issue because I found such a severe lack of information online when I needed it. I am writing this in the hope that someone out there possibly in the same situation I was might come across this and be encouraged.

"Post Birth – I would like Emily to be placed on my stomach/chest immediately after delivery and have skin-to-skin contact for as long as possible, and to allow her to find my breast...

Feeding – I would like to breastfeed Emily. I would like her to self-attach but if this does not happen then I would appreciate some help getting her latched on and getting my positioning right."

This is a direct quote from my Birth Plan. My intention was always to breastfeed. I never considered not breastfeeding Emily. To me, if you have a baby, that's the way you feed it - at least for a few months. I knew it wouldn't be easy but I was determined to get at least three months of breastfeeding in before I moved on to formula. More, if it went well.

Emily never self-attached. She never even tried to look for my breast when she was placed on my chest after birth. She laid there gazing at me, and cuddling. Then when the complications set in, she was transferred to her father for skin-to-skin contact while I was seen to.

Afterwards, the midwives were excellent. They gave me so much help getting my positioning and technique right for breastfeeding. I was a natural, they said.

And yet Emily wouldn't feed for longer than a couple of minutes. That first night was horrible: she screamed and screamed and was obviously hungry and yet wouldn't feed. I was convinced that *I* was the problem. So convinced that I chose to stay in hospital for an additional night to be able to attempt a second night with the midwives around for support.

But the second night was the same. Everything's fine, the midwives assured me - I wasn't doing anything wrong. Emily simply was impatient.

Sleep-deprived thoughts surged through my mind - "This would be so much easier if I were bottle-feeding" and yet I dared not suggest it to anyone, I was so scared that I would be being a bad mother if I so much as mentioned it out loud. So I suppressed the thoughts, reminded myself that I had known it wouldn't be easy, and tried to get on with it.

My breasts became engorged - I was producting far more milk than Emily was ingesting. Expressing only helped for a few minutes before more milk would be produced and I could barely move or even hold my daughter for the pain. I started dreading feeding Emily, knowing it would be yet another fight to get her to feed for more than a few minutes. There certainly was no bonding happening during feeding times.

The second home visit from the midwife saw Emily becoming jaundiced because of lack of feeding. Again, thoughts of formula milk flooded my mind but again, I said nothing. I felt so guilty to be thinking that way, knowing all the benefits of breastfeeding for Emily, knowing also the stigma associated with mothers who formula feed their offspring.

On Day 5 of Emily's life, I finally burst. I had a call from the midwife and all I could do was cry. She came right over. And that was when I finally opened up: I wanted to stop trying, I wanted to give Emily formula milk, I wanted nothing to do with breast milk any longer. And when I finally made the decision, it felt like the weight of the world was suddenly lifted.

And the midwife smiled and told me I obviously loved Emily very much, and that she would be fine no matter what method I chose to feed her, so long as she got fed. She said that if I was finding it so difficult, if it was making me that upset, then it was only going to cause further stress. And Emily needed a happy mummy more than she needed to be specifically breastfed. I was amazed... she hadn't judged me.

I ran basic sterilising principles past her, asked a barrage of probably stupid questions (remember, I'd never even considered not breastfeeding Emily!), and she answered everything patiently.

We never looked back. David himself says that I became a different person that day. I became noticeably happier, I began looking forward to feeding Emily - and we were able to bond marvellously as she eyes me up over her bottle, which she loves very much.

My point is this: if you are in a similar situation, take heart. Don't be afraid to ask for advice, there's a good chance you are the only person judging you! If you opt to stop breastfeeding or not do so at all from the start, make sure you have a tightly fitted bra (you may want to wear a crop top over said bra, and make sure you wear it at night also). If you've been expressing, stop altogether. Be prepared for a few days of quite some pain until your body realises that it shouldn't still be producing milk and begins to slow down.

I'll make it clear - I am in no way against breastfeeding. I am completely in awe of mothers who can keep going, selflessly, for months and even sometimes years. The one or two times Emily did feed for longer than two or three minutes, it was a beautiful thing to be able to give her. But unfortunately, it doesn't always work. And it's not always you.


Related & Recommended Reading:
Breastfeeding: Lessons Learned 0 – 5 Months
In Defence of the Boobies

8 comments:

  1. Hello - I'm so glad you made the right decision for you and Emily, I have many friends who felt exactly the same. The thing that makes me sad is that women EXPECT breastfeeding to be as you described it, baby self-attaching, easy let-down, a content baby, little engorgement, right from the BEGINNING. It's great that we are pro-breastfeeding in that (as you yourself felt) many mothers don't even consider not breastfeeding but with so many other things in motherhood there is this lovely blissful ideal image that doesn't always happen right away. Breastfeeding often is painful, stressful, difficult and emotional in the very beginning and many women aren't prepared for a few weeks at least of battles to get it established when (and I speak as a long-term breastfeeder, think years not months!!) it DOES become that oxytocin-laden, swoony, blissful partnership. I'm not saying battling on would have been right for you or for any woman - as you midwife rightly pointed out a hugely stressed mother is very bad for her baby. BUT many women give up with far less effort because they expect it to be effortless.
    Hope this helps any readers in the same position!
    best, Karen xx

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  2. like I said to you by private msg - having had 2 kids with completely opposite experiences (1st 1 just like yours, and 2nd one happy breastfeeder) I am now convinced it is solely to do with the child and certainly not with the mother.I really wish mine had been the other way around because it is more difficult imho breastfeeding a baby when you also have a toddler to take care of... but you definitely can't plan it! Theo is now nearly 5 ...it hasn't made a bit of difference... and u will soon stop thinking about it! To add to your advice about what to do when stopping breastfeeding ( I had to start taking meds so had to stop from one day to the next)- I was in a lot of pain - what with sleepless nights etc it does not help - most importantly no. 1 DO NOT be tempted to express even a tiny-weeny bit - no.2 - and i realise this may sound disgusting - i resorted to old wives tale found on the internet - cabbage leaves in your bra overnight! It may have been coincidence and it was going to pass that night anyway, but I do sure think it made a difference. Hope this helps someone when in that position!

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  3. aww clare, i really understand your frustration! as i told you, i almost gave up on the fifth day too (when my normally AA breasts were pouring out of a D cup). I only stuck to it because I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. I cried for a month every time maia fed and i considered stopping on a daily basis. you did the right thing to stop. as your midwife said, it's far more important for your daughter to have a relaxed and happy mum than to be breastfed. Emily is obviously a happy baby and very well fed too! :-)

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  4. I'm glad you wrote this. I am 200% sure you wanted Emily to have whats best for her and in no way does this mean you have failed her (I don't need to tell you this, you know it). A lot of mothers set off with so many rules and in real life things don't go as planned. You got to a point where you needed to change strategy for Emily's benefit and like a good mother you knew what to do.
    It will help a lot of people who have been through the same experience ..or will go through it.. I'm sure :)

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  5. I have favourited this post, as I too am planning to breastfeed Cub once born, but I am under no illusions that I will torture myself If I can't do it.
    I am already preparing myself for the worst, by saying to people that 'I am going to try to BF and who knows, maybe baby wont latch or I wont produce milk' because I have that fear that someone somewhere will judge me for not being able to do that.
    But when that thought does come up, I will read back to this and know that I am not alone and I am not wrong for thinking that maybe breast isn't best for me and Cub. Thank you so much for writing, it has already helped me xxx

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  6. This is so true, every child is different and they should be handled unqiuely according to their needs. Thanks for sharing:)

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  7. I have just discovered your blog, congratulations on your new arrival. I dont have children, I am still trying to decide if I want a family. Your very honest posts are a real insight. I think being a mum is the most amazing and important jobs a woman can have. I look forward to reading your adventures in the UK. I currently live in your home country of Malta!!

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  8. So very glad this brought out so many opinions and tips. All the more glad I wrote this now that I've read your comments :) x

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