Posted on April 15, 2011

Trying My Breast By Donna

breastfeeding/ Guest post

This morning’s Breastfeeding post is from Donna @MummyCentral Thank you so much for sharing your story with us Donna :O)

When Elizabeth and I have our meetings about Mummy Central, and what pearls of wisdom we’re going to write next, her adorable baby Zach is normally with us. He’s an incredibly calm six-month-old, happy to watch the world go by, kicking his legs and smiling. We only ever hear a cry of protest when he reminds Elizabeth it’s time for a feed. She pops him under her jumper and…… that’s just about it.

If only breastfeeding had been so easy for me. I would have loved that connection with my baby, that ease to get on with chats over coffee as my child happily got nourishment from my body. And it seems that simple for a lot of women. I’ve even had one friend carry her baby around in a papoose – no hands – with her breast out as he happily suckles away. She’s not flashing, he’s hidden from the world beneath a shawl, while she walks around the shops (now that’s multi-tasking!). I wouldn’t have insisted on that level of mobility. If only my children had latched on and taken my milk, I’d have sat perfectly still for as long as they demanded.

When Brodie came along, I had been to all of the classes, where I’d practised the technique with a doll. I’d read the books, and spoken to other mums who reassured me it was the most natural thing in the world.
And, to be honest, I didn’t see how I couldn’t breastfeed. I mean, I’m so well-equipped. From my teens, my chest developed to above average size and I’ve spent all my life putting up with leering comments about being ‘well-stacked’ etc (not pleasant, but I’ve got used to it). Imagine the snigger’s, I thought, if someone like me couldn’t breastfeed.

When the midwife brought my new son over for his first feed, I prepared for that blissful connection. Instead, she pushed his face into my enormous breast (if I thought they were big before pregnancy……) as his little red face screamed and screamed. Brodie had arrived after a 30-hour labour which ended in him being pulled out by a ventouse suction device. So I was reassured breastfeeding would come. My poor baby wasn’t exactly relaxed. Just give it a few days. But three or four days later, and countless attempts by several different midwives, my son was still refusing to latch on. In desperation, one midwife brought over a clear nipple shield – a bit like a teet from a bottle – and placed it on me. Brodie immediately began to take milk.
At last!

I took my baby home and tried to get on with being a new mum. When he was hungry, Brodie screamed loudly. And it would often take several attempts to get him in the right position. The nipple shield would fall off, or slip below the nipple so he was getting nothing. I’d be sweating profusely, heart hammering in my chest, sometimes even crying as I tried to feed my child. And despite speaking to my health visitor, I was given no help. Just told to keep at it. Every time Brodie latched on, it hurt like hell. And I’d been told in ante-natal classes that if breastfeeding hurt, I wasn’t doing it right. But now the medical experts were telling me not to worry, that I’d get used to it. I was confused and scared.

If we were out in a cafe, people stared as Brodie squealed desperately for nourishment. My husband had to hold a pashmina over me, as I discovered it was impossible to discreetly hide my boobs from the world as I fed my baby. I longed to be able to tuck him inside a cardigan or under a jumper. But I needed to see my nipple to place the shield properly and ensure Brodie was getting some milk. At home, it was just easier to draw the curtains and sit topless to feed him. I was crying all the time and in pain.

My best friend told me she’d done six weeks with both of her children – and couldn’t stand any more. She advised me to do the same. I reached the six-week mark when my sister-in-law also suggested I stop. She was visiting, and noticed the state I was in. She bandaged me like a mummy under my clothes for a couple of days, to help my milk dry up.

We got bottles and formula, which Brodie happily accepted. The relief was palpable. And although I secretly felt a failure, I put on a brave face and told everyone my son just wasn’t getting enough milk from me. He needed bottles.

Brodie was six months old when I was diagnosed with post natal depression. I don’t blame the breastfeeding fiasco – but I think it added to my feelings of inadequacy.

By the time we tried for another baby, I was happily out of the fog, and clinging onto the assertion that no two babies are the same. I told myself it didn’t matter what the outcome, as long as I gave it my best shot – but who was I kidding. I was desperate to prove I could do it.

I welcomed our second son into the world, and waited once again for the midwife to guide me towards that bonding breastfeeding experience. By the end of the first day, I was in tears with Blake refusing to do anything other than take my milk through – you guessed it – a plastic nipple shield.

Once again I had several midwives try to help. None of them knew how to get my baby to latch on.
The second night, I fed Blake through the shield, wincing in pain and my nipples bleeding.
The midwives gave me conflicting advice. The night shift told me to carry on regardless, even though I was bleeding. The next morning, the midwife in charge was horrified at the state I was in, and said I should have swapped sides – or stopped altogether.

I took Blake home when he was four days old, with the familiar feeling of fear and dread.
That first night at home, holding back the tears, I realised I was in danger of ruining the precious experience of bonding with my new baby. Brodie’s first weeks are not a pleasant memory for me. I’d been hoping for a more relaxed and happy time with his brother. So I made up a bottle the following morning. And from that moment on, a dark cloud lifted.

I’ve heard people say that no-one is a ‘failure’ at breastfeeding. That it is possible for anyone. There just has to be better help and advice. They might be right. Personally I feel like my boys, and my body, rebelled against breastfeeding completely. But would things have been different if I’d had some kind of expert help and coaching? Perhaps.
I did what I could. I tried. As with lots of aspects of motherhood, that’s all you can do.
I have no problem with people who say ‘breast is best’. But they should stop and think before they lecture new mums about this ‘natural’ experience we should all be having.
Because, to tell the truth, I still feel sad that I didn’t do it. I just don’t beat myself up about it any more.

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  • Reply QWERTY Mum April 15, 2011 at 2:40 pm

    I had nipple shields with my first baby. I found them so difficult to use it only made matters worse. I remember the bleeding, the pain, the frustration. And my baby used to projectile vomit. It was so hard getting milk into her and then it would all come flooding out. I did persevere and fed her for about 6months. It has been much easier with my 5 subsequent babies, thankfully, but I have never forgotten how hard that first experience was.
    (visiting from BlogHorn)

  • Reply Steph April 15, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    This sounds really similar to my story with my 2 girls. I don't think mums who can breastfeed realise how lucky they are! It was so stressful trying, and failing, and I spent 6 weeks expressing milk in-between feeds for number 1. That meant not having time to go anywhere or do anything, but I'm still glad I did it. Could really have done with a bit more reassurance as a first time mum that I wasnt a failure – everyone else seemed to be managing fine. Think we should spread the word that breast is best but only if it works! Over from Blog Horn btw…

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