My daughter is over two years old now and this is my breastfeeding story. I will also give you some background on her birth as I think that’s where all the problems began. Or maybe it all went wrong earlier – as during my pregnancy I did not read anything about breastfeeding. I attended some antenatal classes with my husband, but midwife was talking only about ‘benefits of breastfeeding’ and why it’s the best way to feed your baby. That I already knew – for me it was the ONLY way to feed my baby. I expected the whole experience to be blissful and natural – isn’t it what my breasts were for at the end of the day? Overall I didn’t give breastfeeding much thought, I concentrated my research on homebirth, reading lovely homebirth stories.
My pregnancy was uneventful, though from the beginning I felt unsupported in my desire to birth Freya at home. A few days before my due date, traces of protein (+1) were detected in my urine, so I was advised to go in for monitoring. All was fine and my baby was happy. During the monitoring my blood pressure was taken and it read 150/75. I didn’t think that was cause of concern as it’s classed as borderline, but the doctors weren’t happy. I was advised to come back the next day. The following day I came back to the hospital, baby was fine during monitoring, again there was +1 protein in my urine and blood pressure was 150/75. This time at the end of my appointment a consultant and two additional midwives arrived and started explaining that I had to be admitted later that day to be induced or I would be putting my baby at risk. I attended this appointment on my own and found it difficult to defend my position. I knew I did not have pre-ecclampsia and my baby was fine, but they made me feel like a bad mother for wanting to deliver Freya at home, naturally. I agreed to come back later that day for induction and went home in tears.
My induction started at 8pm with a prostaglandin pessary. I started having mild contractions but they weren’t really doing anything so I had another pessary at midnight and another one at 8am. I did not sleep at all that night. By 10am the next day I was still only 2cm dilated, so doctors decided to put me on oxitocin drip and break my waters to speed up the process. The exact cascade of intervention that I was reading about and dreading was happening to me. And as much as I was coping with the pessary induced contractions on my own, things became quite different after being put on oxitocin drip. I was begging for an epidural, though I originally wanted to avoid pain relief drugs at any cost. It took two hours to get the anaesthesiologist ready during which I became very dependent on gas and air. I wanted to go in a birth pool, but wasn’t ‘allowed’, was lying on my back, strapped to foetal monitoring system. Everything I wanted to avoid was happening. After epidural finally kicked in, I couldn’t feel a thing but mentally felt miles better. Every time epidural was wearing out, I was offered another top up. I had five top ups throughout the day. I was dilating slowly and finally reached 10 cm by 11pm. At this time midwife that was looking after me had to go home and new midwife arrived. She introduced herself promptly and then left me alone with my husband for an hour (at 10cm dilation). I knew I was ready to push but there was no midwife to help me, so I waited patiently. When the midwife came back, I finally was ‘allowed’ to push and Freya arrived at 12.25am, after 30 hours of labour.
As soon as she came out, we had some skin-to-skin contact, but Freya was very sleepy. Midwife asked me if I wanted to breastfeed, and I said yes. Next thing I remember was midwife grabbing my breast and pushing Freya’s little head onto it with almighty force. Both me and my husband froze, as she was really forceful, and Freya just started crying. I remember thinking that poor little mite was going to suffocate. Later we had some more cuddles, Freya wasn’t interested in suckling at all. I had a bath while midwife left for another half hour and then I was immediately moved to postnatal ward and my husband had to go home. By that time Freya was fast asleep and we were left alone till morning. Nobody came to see me till 9am (8 hours after birth), I wasn’t offered a drink or food. Freya slept pretty much all this time and I couldn’t get her to latch on at all. During my stay in the hospital I expressed my concern that baby wasn’t latching on, so I was offered a bottle of formula, which I refused. Paediatrician that came to check the baby didn’t seem concerned, just told me to ‘keep trying’. During that day at the hospital I was left alone for most of the time, no one came to help me with positioning and latch, but midwives were doing their formula rounds every couple of hours, which I refused to accept every time. At 2pm I was so fed up that I decided to discharge myself ‘against medical advice’.
At home same situation continued – Freya was asleep and no matter what we did, she just wouldn’t latch on. Every time I was putting her to the breast, she was becoming more and more stressed and upset. I started expressing bit of colostrums with some cheap electric pump I had and gave Freya her first feed 30 hours after she was born. I was only getting out 10ml at the time, so decided to give Freya some formula (in a bottle). Midwife that came to visit during that time wasn’t helpful at all and told me that I had flat nipples and that’s why Freya wasn’t latching on. That really knocked my confidence, but I still kept trying to latch my little girl on. After three days she started screaming as soon as the breast was out and was fighting me off. I still tried expressing, but unfortunately the motor on my pump died. I sent my husband to Boots, and he got me a manual MAM pump. Pumping with manual pump wasn’t easy and my milk didn’t come in till five days after Freya’s birth. By that time she was fed mainly formula, mixed with whatever I could express (which was about 150ml per day).
My confidence was very low, and I had no help from healthcare professionals. Midwives doing home visits weren’t interested; all they cared about was how much Freya weighed. And as she only lost 2oz of her birth weight – so we were promptly discharged from midwife care. On the last midwife visit I was given a telephone number for hospital lactation consultant. I called her a few times every day, for about four weeks – she was never at her desk and I left multiple messages with different people – she never rang me back. At home the same situation continued – both I and Freya were becoming more and more unhappy. She wouldn’t latch on, I felt rejected and like a failure. I was producing less and less milk every day. The midwife told me that pumping wasn’t possible long term and I believed her. I was becoming very depressed as it wasn’t the way I wanted to feed my baby.
When Freya was four weeks old – I came across term ‘Exclusive Pumping’ (EPing) on internet. I found an internet forrum and, to my own amazement – not only was it possible, but many mums in USA have done it with great success. I found a book ‘Exclusively Pumping Breast Milk: A Guide to Providing Expressed Breast Milk for Your Baby’ by Stephanie Casemore and decided to try it. I bought a new pump – Ameda Lactaline and started pumping every two hours, day and night. I started writing down the amounts that I expressed and after three weeks of following this strict regime (and taking Domperidone) – I was finally making enough for my daughter and stopped supplementing with formula. I have kept a ‘pumping diary’ everyday till thirteen months post partum. At peak I was making 42oz of milk per day and Freya was having a maximum of 30oz a day. I started donating milk to Chester Milk Bank and I have donated over 1500oz during Freya’s first year.
I suffered with bleeding and cracked nipples, ductal thrush, continuous blocked ducts problem (which sorted itself out after taking Lecithin supplement) – but all that didn’t matter because my daughter was getting my milk. I began to feel less and less guilty and started enjoying being a mum more. Exclusively Pumping was the most difficult thing I have ever done – at times I felt like I was chained to the pump. Having to pump at night while my daughter started sleeping through at five weeks was especially difficult, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I managed to continue till 14 months post partum. Stopping was my decision, as it became increasingly difficult: looking after active toddler, working and pumping. If I was a stay at home mum, I would carry on for much longer. I am very proud that I managed to feed her for so long. I still tried to latch her on till about 6 months of age – she did it twice, both times using nipple shields. Eventually I decided to give up and made my peace with the fact that I will be an EPing mum.
I still feel very sad thinking about our early days and lack of support. I did complain to NHS about it, but they blamed me for discharging myself from hospital against medical advice. I didn’t pursue it further. I wish I had known more about breastfeeding or had some support network available. I wish someone would have told me earlier that EPing is possible and maybe if hospital staff had lent me a breast pump in the early days. I do feel grateful for the internet and all the information available, without it my daughter would probably have been formula fed from about six weeks. It is such a shame that women and babies are let down by midwives, doctors and health visitors throughout the county every day, and that they believe their so-called ‘professional advice’ – which is often damaging for breastfeeding. My experience made me question everything I hear from health care professionals. I have to check everything out for myself now. And in that way – the whole experience has made me stronger and a better person.
I am currently pregnant with my second baby, and this time I will do my best to succeed, I will not let that happen to me again.
Thanks for reading,