Posted on April 7, 2011

My Breastfeeding Experience by Olivia

breastfeeding/ Guest post

This morning’s Breastfeeding post is by Olivia aka Victoria Plum Thank you Olivia for sharing your story with us x

It had never occurred to me that I would not breastfeed my daughter. For me it was the most natural thing in the world. My best friend who was pregnant with her little boy at the same time had no intention of breastfeeding due to a medical issue. Her son went straight onto formula as soon as he was born. I didn’t see a problem with that, after all, we all have a choice on how we feed our babies, don’t we?

I had no idea that I was undergoing subliminal brainwashing by the “breast is best” campaign.

Iris arrived on 20 August 2010. It took 2 days for us to get breastfeeding established. I was tired and had to get help with every feed. I just couldn’t remember how to position myself and the baby. None of the midwives on the postnatal ward would explain exactly how to breastfeed – they just grabbed my boob and grabbed the baby and stuck them together. Great. It hurt and I was sore. I began to dread every feed.

A paediatrician had suggested that after every breastfeed we should try to give Iris a bit of formula – just to see whether she was getting enough milk from me. We tried this after being transferred to the Birth Centre and asked the Midwife on duty for a sterile bottle when she replied “oh – I thought we were a breastfeeding family in here”. It took over an hour for the Midwife to bring us a bottle.

Was there something wrong with feeding a baby formula milk?

Breastfeeding seemed more difficult than I had expected. It wasn’t until 3am on the Monday (Iris had arrived on the Friday afternoon) when another midwife just happened to pop her head round the door. She sat with us for about an hour helping us to get going. She showed me how to hand express and explained what I should be doing. Even a silly rhyme helped “tummy to mummy, nipple to nose, chest to breast and in it goes!” She was brilliant and a credit to the hospital.

We had turned a corner and were discharged! Iris seemed to feed constantly but I no longer had soreness or any pain. I was still exhausted but no longer dreaded each feed.

Things were going fine. Iris was 8lb 14 when born and didn’t lose any weight but kept gaining. At this point she was on the 91st centile! I loved breastfeeding – so convenient and easy! I fed on demand and Iris pretty much slept through the night from the beginning waking up once to feed at around 2am. I was a happy breastfeeding mama!

I took her to the clinic for the second time to be weighed when she was 7 weeks old. Her weight gain had slowed down and she had dropped to the 75th centile. But she was still gaining, and I was still breastfeeding, so all was good! The Health Visitor suggested that there may be a problem with my milk supply and recommended that I visit the local Baby Cafe to talk to a Breastfeeding Counsellor.

To have a health care professional suggest that your milk supply may not be enough for your baby is awful. I felt like a failure. I had been doing everything I should – eating well, sleeping as much as you can with a newborn baby in the house, taking supplements.

I don’t know whether it was pure coincidence that at the same time Iris started to teethe and became really fussy at lunch time. Latching off and on, looking around, stopping and smiling at me (not a bad thing, of course!) and not really settling after a feed. I was also getting a little stressed, but we muddled through. I found that she fed really well in the morning, evening and late night. It was just her lunchtime feed which became problematic.

I visited the Breastfeeding Counsellor who put my mind at rest. My feeding technique was fine and it was probably just a phase Iris was going through. “Sometimes she will want a three course meal and will feed for ages, sometimes she will just want a snack”.

Just before Christmas my husband took Iris to the clinic to get weighed as I had a doctor’s appointment. Iris had gained weight, but had dropped down to the 50th centile. It would appear that alarms bells were now ringing at the clinic and the Health Visitor told my husband that she would phone me at home later that afternoon.

That was the day when I began to completely doubt my breastfeeding ability. The Health Visitor phoned me “to check that everything was going okay” – well, as far as I had been concerned, it had been. The Health Visitor explained that there were issues regarding Iris’s weight gain and asked me questions about my health, diet, technique and whether I had any concerns (er… no concerns until you made it an issue!) I asked the Health Visitor whether there was anything else I could do to increase Iris’s weight gain … I asked whether I should start giving her a formula feed …

Cue a sharp intake of breath from the Health Visitor “well, no … breastfeeding is going so well” What I should have replied was “but obviously it isn’t if you don’t think that my baby is getting enough nutrients from her feed to put on sufficient weight to match your stupid graphs”, but I didn’t. The Health Visitor said she would come round to see me on the Monday afternoon.

Looking back, I can see now that this really stressed me out. I was a new mum, pretty much isolated down here (apart from my lovely local new Mummy friends) apart from my husband, all my friends and family live miles away. I didn’t realise how stressed I had been until later.

The day the Health Visitor was due to come round, Iris had been really unsettled. Every feed had become a battle. Had she latched on properly? Had she fed for long enough? That lunchtime she refused to breast feed and in desperation I gave her a formula feed. I didn’t want to, I don’t know why, I suppose I had been brainwashed into thinking that formula was the evil alternative to breastfeeding. I sobbed as I fed her a bottle of milk but Iris guzzled it down. I had been starving my baby. I felt sad but relieved.

I explained what had happened to the Health Visitor. I asked her about combination feeding. Obviously Iris was sometimes happy to breastfeed maybe other times I could give her formula. Would introducing formula make her constipated? How would I combination feed? The Health Visitor could not help me as it is not NHS policy to advise on formula feeding.

The Health Visitor told me to take Iris to the GP for a full assessment, which I did. The GP thought that Iris was healthy, happy and meeting all her milestones. He referred us to a Paediatrician We got an appointment through for March – 3 months later. I began to combination feed, introducing a formula feed at lunchtime when she was her most fussiest.

I began to see that Iris was obviously happier after a formula feed – I don’t know whether my supply had dwindled or not. Since the new year I gradually introduced more formula feeds until I was only breastfeeding during the night. I soon realised that Iris wasn’t really hungry then and we introduced a dream feed at 11pm and I haven’t breastfed since.

March came and I took Iris to the Paediatrician Iris was now 6 months old and 16lbs 7oz…and happily going up the 50th centile. The doctor laughed as I walked in and asked “so, what is wrong with your very healthy looking baby?” I told her my story, had a moan about the health visitors and GP. The doctor rolled her eyes and checked Iris over. She explained the Iris was a completely normal and healthy baby who was a big baby when born and now become a normal baby. Her growth pattern was very normal for big babies. She wrote a shirty message in my red book for the Health Visitor (I haven’t had Iris weighed since) and also wrote a letter to my GP which was copied to me. Finally, an NHS professional who was speaking sense! She wrote that it was a shame that the anxiety caused by the Health Visitor had made me stop breastfeeding.

On the one hand I felt sad when I finally stopped breastfeeding – had I failed as a mother? On the other hand my baby was exclusively breastfed for almost 5 months but me and Iris are much happier now. I know exactly when she will want her feed and how much she is having.

We are now baby led weaning so the fun has really started!

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  • Reply Mrs E April 7, 2011 at 6:20 pm

    Hi Olivia

    This is really interesting to hear. My daughter was born a big baby (9lbs) and was on approx the 94th centile (I think) when born. Last week she was 12lbs9 but the health visitor caused worry in my mind when she said that she had slipped below the 50th centile. I have had troubles with breastfeeding since day one because she can only feed from one side and I worry a lot that I am not giving her enough.
    I did wonder whether it was because she started off so large and has to sort of stabilise her weight at some point.

    Thanks for such an interesting post. I am still going with it but it isn't always easy!

  • Reply Mumbling Mum April 7, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    Wow Olivia, you should be so proud…5 months is amazing especially as you were having trouble.
    My son is 14 weeks old and I only ever wanted to breastfeed. I too really struggled and asked 20+ people for help but they either grabbed my boob and stuck baby on (in a painful position) or told me just to 'stick with it'.
    I lasted 5 long, awful days of zero sleep and constant crying (me and baby!).
    My son was like a different baby after we moved to formula but I would have liked to breastfeed much longer 🙁
    As if I didn't already feel like a failure I regularly read comments from people about how terrible us formula feeding mums are. It annoyed me so much I shared my experience here:

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