My breastfeeding journey began early in 2008 with the birth of my first baby. Before she arrived I didn’t really think about it too much. My mum had absolutely no troubles feeding myself and my brothers, it came totally naturally to her, so I sort of assumed it would be the same for me. I didn’t know it could be hard.
I had a bit of a difficult birth with Miss P which ended in a forceps delivery just after midnight. When she arrived she had a little bit of a suck but she was a bit groggy from the medication I had been given so she fell asleep very soon after birth and didn’t wake for several hours. In those early days I could never get her latch right. It felt like he mouth was too small and was never open wide enough. It didn’t help that every new midwife that came on shift told me something different so I was very confused.
I was sent home after 2 nights in the maternity ward. I spent the next night at home but ended up back in hospital the following night on IV antibiotics for a bad case of mastitis. By this stage my nipples were heavily damaged with bleeding cracks and grazes. My nipples looked like they had been burnt with cigars. When I pumped the milk was bright pink from the blood. The pain was excruciating so every time Miss P attached I would tense up, I believe this stress and tension led to a severe drop in supply. However I battled on.
When Miss P was 3 weeks I decided to go stay at my mums for a couple of nights while my hubby was on night shift. My mum saw how I was crying and cringing every single time she attached which was very frequently because she was always hungry. So that night, with mums help, I made the decision to try her on formula. I will forever remember giving her that first bottle. She gulped it down and I heard the first few mouthfuls hit her stomach. It sounded like a cup of water being tipped into an empty bucket. I was heartbroken.
When I arrived home I had an appointment with a lactation consultant who suggested I try a supplemental nursing system (SNS) which is a bottle of formula or donor milk (I didn’t know about donor milk at the time) hung around mums neck with two small tubes running out of the bottom to the nipple. So when bub attaches to the nipple they will stimulate the nipple while still getting the nutrition they require. My supply never returned so I continued using the SNS. But it made it difficult to feed out of home so I felt very restricted. When Miss P was 10 weeks I had to have surgery. At this point I made the final decision to switch to formula full time. It was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made but I made it for my own and my child’s wellbeing and I own that decision.
My journey with Miss M was a very short one. Her birth was short, only 4 hours, and relatively easy. She was born naturally with no pain medication and we went home shortly after. I fed her for the first two days but as soon as my nipples cracked and started to bleed the mental trauma from Miss P resurfaced and I switched straight to formula. I just couldn’t go through that again. I pumped around the clock every 2 hours for another week but never got more than 10ml, often less, so it seemed pointless so I stopped. That was the end for us.
Miss N was born at home with an independent midwife. We had immediate skin to skin while we waited for the placenta to be born. Her latch was good but I still cracked and bled in the first week and it hurt like a bitch. My milk came in quickly but my supply was low again. After a two weeks I started topping her up with donor milk from one of my midwives other clients who had had her baby around the same time as me. We continued like this for a month. I always offered my breast first and refused to give her a bottle until she had a good go at boobie. I didn’t top her up after every feed, sometimes she didn’t need it.
When she was a month old we moved to a different town so accessing donated milk became a problem. So I started doing a combination of my milk straight from the breast, donor milk and formula until I ran out of donor milk and went to formula. I continued mix feeding Miss N quite successfully until she was 7 ½ months. By this time she was crawling around all over the place and wasn’t interested in sitting down and boobie cuddling with mum anymore.
I sometimes feel bad for my breastfeeding journey because a lot of my problems came from lack of knowledge and might have been avoided. But at the end of the day I know that I tried my absolute hardest I could at the time with what I had. When you know better you do better.
Formula is not the best option and comes with its own inherent risks but I feel comfortable with the decisions I made at the time because they were the best for me and my family.
A few years ago when Lauren asked me to help her admin a new Breastfeeders group she was creating I saw it as a great opportunity to impart knowledge and help other mothers avoid some of the mistakes I made. So if you ever see me comment on a post advocating for continuing breastfeeding, know that it doesn’t come from someone sitting on a pedestal who has never struggled, judging other mothers for their choices. It comes from someone who had been there and wants to empower you to do better!