‘Breast is Best’ (except when it’s not)

So as I’ve mentioned, I struggled bigtime with boobfeeding for the first weeks of Little Bun’s life.

It started at the beginning (duh) with a combination of Little Bun having a small mouth, a high palette, a very tiny tongue tie and a ‘suck like a piranha’ (to quote one midwife). In the first days in hospital I made sure I buzzed a midwife every time I fed Little Bun. This was to check that my technique was OK, and her latch was good. I felt pretty good about this, as if their very presence would ward off any nasty breastfeeding spirits that might creep in.

I was consistently praised and told that everything was looking great (I was feeling pretty smug at this point). However on Day 4 Little Bun tried to kickstart my milk coming in by feeding every hour. With one midwife’s ominous declaration that ‘it only takes one bad latch to ruin your nipples’ I worriedly persevered through her increasingly voracious feeds. I don’t know whether it was that ‘one bad feed’, or just the frequency of the little sucker going hell for leather on my poor nipples – but by mid afternoon they were grazed, blistered and bleeding and I was crying every time she squeaked for another feed.

That evening, a very young and well-meaning midwife was trying to manage this escalating issue as Little Bun got hungrier and I became more desperate. Finally we asked to speak to her superior (in the nicest way possible – I think she was more relieved than us to bring her boss in). A much older, more experienced nurse bustled in and took one look at the situation. She firmly explained that I needed to put my boobs on 24 hour’s rest, start pumping colostrum, and give Little Bun some formula in the meantime.

I’d be lying if I said I took that well. Mr Bun had to do a fair bit of talking to make me see sense – that my wellbeing and her full tummy were the most important things. She took the formula like a champ and I started expressing straight away. On seeing the in-hospital lactation consultant the next morning, she put me on a WEEK’S NIPPLE REST … they were pretty bad. So, we came home with a rented hospital-grade pump in tow and Little Bun took expressed milk and formula for a few days until my milk came in and I swapped to giving her 100% expressed breast milk.

At that point, I had attended a full day lactation clinic in the hospital. While helpful, I found their somewhat obsessive ‘breast is best’ attitude restrictive and not very supportive. I was looking for a plan of attack, rather than ‘just latch her on and go’. Whenever Little Bun attached it was complete agony for me. I developed a full-blown anxiety issue about her coming near my boobs, which in turn created a very tense situation: not conducive to good feeding. In the meantime, I was expressing every time she fed – so, 8 x feeds a day + 8 x expressing sessions a day – that’s eight hours a day of not eating, sleeping, resting or talking. Of course Mr Bun was around, and he ended up doing many feeds while I expressed, but this in itself was really distressing as I was missing out on valuable bonding time with my child.

It was really rough, and I think if someone had told me at the outset that it would take five weeks to fix, I wouldn’t have stuck it out.

So – what worked? I found a private Lactation Consultant whose approach I felt comfortable with. She came to our home, and for three hours she sat with me. While we did work on a bit of technique, it was the holistic support she provided me that really helped. She gently explained it would take three weeks to transition back to boob without affecting my supply. She made it clear that formula was fine, and in doing so took the pressure off. She provided me with a written plan (including the ratio of one boob feed to three EBM/expressing sessions – then 2:3, 2:2, 3:1 etc) all the while focusing on my confidence and comfort levels. We had Little Bun’s tongue tie snipped. She grew bigger, and so did her mouth, so her latch improved. I became more confident. Many small things changed so then, slowly but surely, I was 100% breastfeeding.

But beyond all of this, the one thing that got me through was having the Lactation Consultant on the end of the phone whenever I needed her. Some days I spoke to her twice. There were calls on Sundays. Public holidays. Nighttimes. I felt so, so lucky to have her support and without it I would not be breastfeeding now – simple as that.

I’ve been surprised at just how many people were impressed I stuck it out. I think everyone (at least, those in the birth/baby/new mum world) understands how hard b’feeding can be.

But if I’m honest I’ll say I did it for me, and not just for Little Bun.

I have no qualms with formula AT ALL. And I so envy those mothers’ freedom – how they can share the responsibility of feeding their child more equally, and of course their ability to go out and enjoy a wine – or three (!) But, we bottle fed Little Bun EBM for long enough to know the hassle of sterilising, carting bottles around, heating things up and cooling them down. The luxury of having a meal on tap where and whenever was needed was very attractive to me. Like all baby things, it’s such a personal choice. I’m just glad I happened to get my choice, eventually.

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8 thoughts on “‘Breast is Best’ (except when it’s not)

  1. I’m glad that breastfeeding worked out for you! I agree that some of the breast feeding classes focused more on how awful formula is and less on how to actually breastfeed. When my daughter was born with a small mouth, high palate and a little early so a poor suck reflex I thought giving her formula was failing and the lactation consultant at the hospital agreed. I finally had to relent when she developed jaundice and dehydration because she just couldn’t eat enough at the breast. Luckily the pediatrician was supportive and I was stubborn and when she gained a little weight things got better, but her pediatrician is still surprised when we go in for check-ups and I tell her I’m still breastfeeding.

  2. Love this post! I need to write a blog update soon about my new feelings on breastfeeding, which have changed so much since Alex was born 10 weeks ago!

  3. Thankfully I did not have anyone tell me to formula feed but the nipple destruction when they are in hospital can happen so quickly it’s insane. One bad latch and I had bleeding nipples. Best advice I had was breast milk on nipples, aerate and then lasinoh cream!! My left is bigger than my right and we are currently rocking an e/f cup. I have to do a football hold and I was wincing every time I had to feed on my left. Best thing I did was call the ABA hotline where I was given two simple tips and since then much better results. I do need a hand tho and some advice on how to switch back to a normal hold as leftie takes a performance to get ready.

    Like you the hassle of formula feeding and the cost is what put me off. Choppier wants me to express but I seriously have do much
    I’ll at the moment I don’t need any more!!

    Oh and wait till I tell you the style story of me + Molly + a trip to Cha.dstone + breast feeding. Oh yeah FULL EMOTIONAL BREAKDOWN 😉

    So glad it’s all working now for you! Milk on tap much more efficient use of your time!

  4. Pingback: The First Six Weeks (part one) | the (once) bunless oven

  5. My son was sleepy, jaundiced, had a tongue tie. . .sigh. I never did get him to breast feed, but haven’t had to use formula. I express all his breastmilk! He’s 11 1/2 months old, and I should transition him to cow milk and stop pumping. As much as I hate pumping I hate the idea of losing this last physical, nurturing link. Sigh.

  6. Thanks for the story; I’m having a (insert unprintable word of your choice here) of a time pumping, and this gives me hope. Totally different issues, but whatever. Now if I could just get *one* lactation consultant to call me back…!

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