And why perseverance and adjusting my boundaries were the best things I could do.
Before Violetta arrived I knew that I wanted to exclusively breastfeed her. This was so important to me because I felt that throughout the pregnancy I hadn’t been able to provide the healthy, happy home that she deserved for those formative months, and as well as that we had both been pumped full of a lot of drugs. Being able to exclusively breastfeed her is something I could do for her that nobody else could, plus I was entirely sold on all the pros of breastfeeding.
When she was very first born, my husband and the midwife latched her on for her first mini feed. I wasn’t really with it, but thankfully hubby took some photos so I can ‘remember’ that very special first latch.
My cheeky little lady then decided she wasn’t especially hungry for the next ten hours. When she next decided she wanted a feed I presented her with the boob just like we’d been taught at NCT. Except it didn’t work. Despite the fact I knew I had plentiful colostrum (it had been leaking on and off for a week or two), my newborn bubba just wouldn’t latch.
The good news was that I was in the hospital with which I had grown very familiar, and I was happy to ask for help. I knew that the maternity support workers, midwives and breastfeeding team were all there and would all be keen to help this new mummy establish a latch with her tiny one.
Sadly it didn’t quite go how I had hoped. When I first asked for help I was told someone would come back and help me soon, they didn’t. When I next asked for help I was told to hold my tiny daughter by the back of her head and effectively force her on to the breast. This was the most unnatural thing to try and do, and resulted in two very upset parties. I was left to it. The next person to try and help arrived with little plastic syringes and told me that the baby needs to eat so I needed to hand express into the syringe and feed it to her that way. I was so upset. I knew I could get her latched on, I just needed help. Despite that I was left to it and felt like I had to do as I was told as V must be very hungry.
During my three day stay I asked countless times for help latching her on and was told countless times to express and syringe feed her. I persisted and kept trying for a natural latch and when my Mum came to visit she sat and helped me too. It wasn’t easy, but with a bit of determination from both me and my gorgeous girl, we stuck at it. I found that my tiny little daughter liked the rugby ball pose, or laying down facing me.
When we got home I was finding it really stressful. Because I hadn’t been able to establish a proper latch, my nipples were cracked and sore, and it also tied in with when my milk came it. Engorged breasts and nipples that are so sore they won’t stand to attention meant things were about to get even harder.
We tried everything; hot flannels, expressing by hand (and a funky little pump that just gets popped on the boob, squeezed to create suction and then left to it’s own devices. The suction seems to ‘milk’ the boob, as when I next looked down, I’d expressed a couple of feeds worth of milk- which got thrown away as I still adamently want to exclusively breastfeed!), using different techniques to get the nipples ready and also a hot bath! When I couldn’t think of anything else to try I messaged a couple of friends who had recently had babies and fed successfully and asked for their advice. If you are a new mum in need of help, please do this… girl friends are the best and because of the relationships you already have they are able to say it as it is and give really great advice. Their support meant the world to me and reassured me I wasn’t alone.
Eventually my boobs reverted to their original state and we were able to try latching on again!
The pain was incredible. It felt like I had burning hot milk trying to get out, and my nipples were on fire. I couldn’t take it anymore and called the community midwife to ask for help.
That same morning I had a surprise visit from the health visitor who thought I may have thrush, so i booked an appointment with the GP that afternoon. In the meantime the community midwife appeared. He (yes, he! A gentle giant called John) ended up being the answer to my prayers to the goddess of breastfeeding!
He gently and carefully explained to me the perfect latch (nipple to upper lip or nose, the nipple and bottom part of the areola in her mouth, baby’s body flat across mummy’s body, bottom lip ‘pouting’ and a strong suck), what V should be doing (opening wide!), what I should be doing (facilitating the perfect latch, being in a comfortable position and ensuring she was comfortable too), how I could hold her (different positions, but my favourite was cradling her across my body). He then watched me try and said she was in an absolutely perfect position. So why did it still hurt so much I wanted to cry? Sore nipples from getting it wrong (I think she had only been latching onto my nipple for the first 12 days) and a strong let down reflex that hurt my milk ducts. He was certain I didn’t have thrush and encouraged me to keep trying (not that anything was going to stop me) and to attend a breastfeeding group locally for more help and support.
That evening one of my best friends came round. This friend is a doctor, a mum and in my opinion an absolute superwoman. I told her about what had been going on and she told me about nipple shields. That was it, game changer! She said there was no shame in using them if it helps me and my baby, that I could use them until I’d healed and then go back to just the breast, and that there was nothing to lose in trying. So I did. And everything suddenly came together. I could breastfeed without the excruciating pain, Lettie could get enough milk from a relaxed Mummy. Win win.
I should say that despite these dramas I did know she was getting enough food as she had put on all the required weight in the required time frame.
Now, at 18 days old, we have a great time together breastfeeding. It took time and effort from us both, and I had to adjust my boundaries a bit, but happy mum means happy baby and that’s all that matters to me!