Breastfeeding is seen as something that is beautiful, caring, and completely natural. But for many women it doesn’t come naturally, and sometimes it just doesn’t happen at all. When community living was more common, women would see others breastfeeding babies. Wet nurses were used, and women’s knowledge about breastfeeding and its difficulties was more easily able to be shared. These days, when we take our babies home we can be quite alone, and sometimes need to enlist the help of midwives, lactation consultants, and doctors to succeed.
For me, I wish I had known how hard breastfeeding can be to begin with, and also that just because it’s hard to begin with, it doesn’t mean it won’t work out. I also wish I had been told firmly that if it’s not working out, that’s okay, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. That would have taken a lot of the pressure off, and would have helped me to enjoy my baby more.
Here are four women’s stories about their breastfeeding experiences, to shed some light on what those early days and weeks can be like.
I really really wanted to breastfeed her. Everything I had read seemed to suggest that breast was best and that made logical sense to me as well. Holly was actually born in “Breastfeeding Week” at the hospital, and the hospital was a strong advocate of breastfeeding as well. For a whole lot of reasons I wanted to. I was born six weeks premature myself, and I was taken away from my Mum to a different hospital. She wanted to breastfeed me but couldn’t. I was always quite sick growing up, and I always wondered if that was because I wasn’t breastfed.
So I was very strongly committed to breastfeeding, but it still just didn’t happen for me. I had a caesarean section, and my milk didn’t come in until day 7. I just had a little bit of colostrum. I thought my technique was fine, but by day 2 they realised the technique wasn’t fine. She was making a mess of my nipples. I was just bleeding and crying. So they said stop breastfeeding, and asked if anyone had suggested formula to me. Nobody suggested formula until day 3, when I was already amazingly sore and had mastitis. I had already spent two days crying. The nurses were telling me “You’ve really tried really hard, and I don’t think anyone would blame you if you wanted to go to formula now”. I wish that they had suggested formula earlier.
I never had a great breastmilk supply. We spent ages trying and trying to make breastfeeding work but it just didn’t. I really regret that it didn’t work, but I did try as hard as I possibly could. I remember crying and crying and recoiling from Holly, she was crying, I was crying, she was hungry. So now I know that it was obvious that she could sense every little mood of mine, and there was no way she would have wanted to breastfeed as she could sense I was in pain and distressed, and she was distressed too.
Now, I feel completely confident. I am really sad that I didn’t get to breastfeed her but I’ve read studies that say that once you’ve controlled for all the other factors, children who are breastfeed actually have the same outcomes as children who aren’t. In terms of their intelligence, in terms of their health and in terms of their wellbeing. So that makes me feel okay about it, and I know that if I had tried any harder it wouldn’t have been good for my mental health, and that wouldn’t have been good for Holly either.
The first time Evelyn latched was right after I gave birth. I held her for about an hour, and then I latched her on as best I could. It didn’t hurt, and it didn’t feel weird, I just kind of couldn’t feel much. I thought she was feeding fine, but by day 3 I had blisters on my nipples. My milk hadn’t come in properly yet, and she was losing a lot of weight. We had gone home, and I was completely exhausted when my midwife came to weigh Evelyn and check up on her.
When she put Evelyn on the scales and I saw that her weight had dropped even more, my heart just felt like it had exploded into a million pieces. Evelyn looked so tiny. My midwife said that if Evelyn didn’t start to gain weight soon, she would need to go back into the hospital. I remember holding back tears. I was so scared of Evelyn going back into the hospital. I cried and cried when my midwife left that day.
We started using a supplementary nursing system (SNS) with a syringe and little tube. The tube got taped to my husband’s finger, and Evelyn would suck on that and get milk through the tube and syringe. I had to express after every feed and then we’d give her that as a top up. I felt strangely jealous when Evelyn would feed for a short while with me, and then she would eagerly gulp down the milk from the syringe. I felt like I wasn’t providing for her. But I knew we had to do it. The next day when my midwife came back, Evelyn had gained a little bit of weight. Just enough to keep her out of the hospital. I felt so relieved.
By about 2 weeks old she was gaining well. The blisters had healed, and I had no more pain while I was breastfeeding. I leaked a lot of milk, and had to wear breast pads all day and night. I gradually increased my supply and we were able to stop giving her the top-ups of expressed milk. Once she was about 3 months old, she seemed to be gaining weight well and everything looked fine.
Now, 9 months on I have experienced clogged ducts, mastitis, biting, pinching, and the ever-present distracted baby, but I am pleased to say that Evelyn is still breastfeeding and growing very well. So it all worked out in the end. I hope we can continue to breastfeed for a while longer, too!
Finn just wouldn’t latch at first. We tried everything and saw so many lactation consultants and nobody could help us. We went home after 5 days still unable to feed trying everything (finger feeds, bottles, etc.) until he finally got it. And then at 3 months we again saw lactation consultants to get rid of the nipple shield we ended up needing to use.
They didn’t know why he wouldn’t latch. He had no tongue or lip ties, and they looked in his mouth over and over. He just wanted to put his tongue up and not down. That is the natural place to rest your tongue and so he just didn’t know to put it underneath. I think because he was 3 weeks early that may have been a factor.
It was the worst thing not being able to get him breastfeeding. He was losing weight and I was so stressed out. We had a different person coming into the room every 2-3 hours 24 hours a day trying to help but I was completely sleep deprived because of it. I was having to pump after feeding and before washing so we would have something to feed him the next time. As soon as we would finish trying to feed him I would put him down and wash everything up and have 30 minutes and have to start it all again. And since my husband couldn’t stay overnight at the hospital it was just me.
Thank goodness one of the hospital midwives ‘adopted’ us and kept checking back in on Finn. She kept me sane and I wrote her a million positive reviews to the midwives board, the hospital, and her boss. I really think it was because of her that he finally got it the day we got home and latched with a nipple shield.
The nipple shield was a pain and I used to have to tape it on with paper tape so he wouldn’t pull it off. A huge pain when you are out and about and feeding in public. We were so glad when he could get rid of it. We just kept trying without it every so often until he could do it. As his mouth got bigger it just got easier and the nipple shields and his pacifiers had trained him by then. I think pacifiers get a bad reputation but in our case I think they helped him learn how to suck properly.
I think it was all totally worth it. I feel like he’s sick a lot less than other babies that don’t breastfeed and I’m so glad I have it to comfort him with when needed.
After laboring for over 24 hours, my doctor announced I would be having a Caesarean. I was nervous and ready to meet my son so I wasn’t thinking about how that would impact breastfeeding. When Grant was finally brought into the world, my husband got to see him first as I was really sleepy and disoriented. I could hear him cry but I couldn’t see him very well. My husband tells me right away the baby is moving his mouth, ready to eat. I must have faded out for a bit because I wake up to my husband shaking me and saying “the nurses are telling me the baby must eat, I know you really want to breastfeed so you need to try right now.” Even totally out of it I could hear how urgent he sounded.
I tried to raise my arms to take the baby but I could not. I pathetically asked my husband to hold the baby to my breast. And he did. And it was the sweetest moment of my life. My husband holding the baby up to my breast, helping him to latch, while I laid there and watched and tried to offer help where I could. It was a family effort and I will never forget it.
And boy that baby latched perfectly from the first moment! I felt like a pro in the hospital. I was in bed for several days in recovery so I had multiple visits from the lactation consultant. She was so impressed with me. While I was pregnant I watched “Simply Breastfeeding: The Criso Breastfeeding Method” and I feel like it really prepared me for the challenges ahead. I also learned valuable information about colostrum and latch and comfortable positions.
The first night I could be alone, my husband left the hospital to go and get us some better food. That was the first time Grant cluster-fed and I was unsure what to do. He stayed latched on for an hour and a half and I was exhausted. I wanted to lay down and sleep but I couldn’t. I ended up sneaking a pacifier in the hospital, and I really did have to sneak it because it was frowned upon pacifiers being used at all.
It wasn’t until we got home that I was truly comfortable with the sheer amount of time breastfeeding took. I made myself a little station on the sofa. I had ice water, snacks, a breastfeeding pillow, and access to the remote so I could search Netflix for shows to watch. My biggest problem at home was how gross I always felt. I leaked a lot. Any time baby fed from one breast, the other would let down and I would soak my shirt. I always seemed to be covered in milk. Breastfeeding in public was also hard for me. I’m pretty shy with my breasts and usually wear more conservative clothing because I already have a big chest size. I nursed in my car a lot and sometimes in bathrooms. I’ve still never nursed without a cover of some sort, even just a very small, sheer one makes me feel better.
I wouldn’t have any major problems until about 5 months when Grant got his first two teeth and was incredibly distracted. So distracted that he wouldn’t nurse. I just pumped to keep supply up and waited him out. My next big problem came recently at 9 months when baby started violently biting. After a week, many desperate conversations with friends and some LLL women, and lots of tears, he finally stopped biting and we are back to normal.
About This Blogger: Leah Hamilton
Leah Hamilton is a freelance writer and editor who enjoys writing about technology, family and health, travel, gaming, and books.