When Breastfeeding doesn’t go to plan – Amy’s Story

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Before I had a baby, to my surprise along with what turned out to be the two standard questions (when are you due? Do you know if it’s a boy it’s girl?). A lot of women also asked me, “Will you breastfeed?” Ever not wanting to tempt fate I’d reply, “If I can”.

But the ‘if’ I was referring to were the things I’d been led to believe would be the main stumbling blocks – namely baby latching on correctly, sore nipples, the demanding relentless nature of it all. But in truth there was never an ‘if’ for me.

When I imagined feeding my baby, I could only picture myself breastfeeding – in my competitive nature thinking, ‘I know it’ll be hard, but I’m sure I’ll be able to knock over those stumbling blocks’. But in all the reading I’d done while pregnant, both from books and online, nowhere did it describe what for me turned out to not only be a stumbling block, but pretty much a full stop to my ability to be able to breastfeed – low milk supply.

I know what you’re thinking: low milk supply, no problem. You just need to put the baby to the breast more (supply and demand and all that), express more (note to self, invent a silent electric expresser, the sound is a real downer on an already crappy task), take fenugreek (ignoring the fact you’ll initially smell like a curry house) and Bob’s your uncle, the milk with be flowing. Well I did all that, I’m still doing all that (actually I’ve just given up expressing) and almost 10 weeks in my milk is still pretty much desert like in its supply.

Let’s rewind a bit, because looking back you could perhaps attribute the problem to the fact Harrison (that’s my son) was born with a severe tongue-tie. So much so that he had to be tube fed in hospital as the doctors were worried his already low birth weight would plummet further if the tongue-tie held him back from breastfeeding effectively.

The routine two week wait for the procedure to get it snipped on the NHS felt for us like too long a wait, so at two days old, after I was dosed up to the eyeballs (high blood pressure from pre-eclampsia) we were allowed to escape from hospital for a bit to get the procedure done privately.

Long story short, it was a great success. After a few days Harrison finally established breastfeeding and after what turned out to be a weeks long stay in total at Hotel Whittington, we were finally allowed home.

Harrison is our first baby, I didn’t know a lot about babies before having one, but I was pretty sure they’re meant to be sick and poop quite a lot. Harrison did neither of these things for the first week after being home from hospital. Couple that with his relentless feeding – one night I had him on the breast almost solidly for 8 hours – (oh that’s just cluster feeding I hear you cry), and my instincts should have told be something was wrong.

But I was so hell bent on breastfeeding I carried on regardless. That was until a weigh in from the midwife showed Harrison had lost more than 10% of his birth weight (a big baby no-no and verification I had effectively been starving Harrison by solely breastfeeding) we were told to go straight to A&E – the last place we wanted to go back to having only just escaped.

After Harrison got the green light to go home we were told we needed to buy a pump, get some formula and bottles and do a strict three hourly schedule of breastfeeding, bottle feeding and expressing.

It was exhausting, but I was led to believe with a bit of persistence it would pay off. A few days later a lactation consultant came to visit, she was great and very encouraging, she said I should try and wean Harrison off the formula so he could exclusively breastfeed. I agreed. But in my heart of hearts I knew I still wasn’t giving him enough milk. My boobs weren’t filling up between feeds, I wasn’t leaking (all those breast pads were a waste of money) and when I expressed I was only getting enough milk as a side for a white Americano coffee.

So we didn’t wean him off, we’ve kept formula feeding, so that our son can develop and put on weight. I still routinely put him to the breast, but I believe it’s more of a comforter for him now in lieu of a dummy, rather than him actually getting much sustenance from it. I was still routinely expressing so I could ‘see’ how much he was getting, but I could see he wasn’t getting much and it sometimes still got me down. So one day I just stopped. It felt liberating.

I was happy as Larry with our approach to feeding, accepting that it wasn’t what we’d wanted, but at the end of the day it really didn’t matter, until a trip to the Whittington to see a paediatrician about some reflux issues, threw a dark cloud over my feeding approach.

Instead of focusing on the issue in hand (which had somewhat improved since the appointment came through) the doctor decided to hijack the appointment to tell me that Harrison was overweight and if he continued on his trajectory he would be off the scale – sumo baby.

My argument he was born so small so all things considered in a scenario where he was born heavier and I still had low milk supply and was therefore formula feeding that by now he would be much heavier, did not go down well.

Her accusation was that I was lazy by formula feeding him. She questioned whether I understood feeding cues and suggested I used the bottle as a means to pacify Harrison.

When I explained about my milk supply issue, her response was that Harrison could afford to drop a bit of weight while we established breastfeeding again. Huh, what? Since when is putting a perfectly healthy sized baby on a diet a reasonable thing to do?

I held back the tears in the appointment, but floated out confused and feeling like the worlds worst mother. But my upset soon turned to anger as I realised the doctor was so ardent on ‘breast is best’ that she hadn’t listened to me at all. An appointment with the health visitor two days later confirmed what I instinctively knew – Harrison was doing fab. He is not remotely over weight and is in fact doing really well considering his slow start.

So what is the point of this inane ramble? Well the more people I spoke to about my low milk supply (you have to fess up when women continue to ask about breastfeeding now the baby has arrived) the more I realised just how common it is and my experience with Harrison.

So why is no one talking about it and letting mums to be know this could be an issue for them regardless of how hard they try to increase it? I’m guessing there won’t be a chapter added about this in ‘What to expect when you’re expecting’. But in my opinion there should be.

Women shouldn’t be made to feel guilty about not being able to breastfeed (or not choosing to breastfeed for whatever reason for that matter) if they have a low milk supply and they should know before they give birth this is something that could effect them and that there might not be a way around it however hard they try.

In my humble opinion breast is still definitely best and I wouldn’t be put off trying again if we were lucky enough to have more children. But I’d try again with the experience that what’s more important is a healthy developing baby, making formula in some instances necessary and a great runner up.

 

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