30 January 2012

Guest Post: Choosing To Comfort Feed Only

I have a lovely guest post for you today from the very honest Amanda from over at The Family Patch. I'll let Amanda tell you a little bit about herself: "The Family Patch evolved from a personal blog I previously wrote to document our wedding preparations, trying to conceive and then my pregnancy. It is now a home for all manner of family related posts from a 365 day photo challenge throughout 2012 to musings about being a first-time mother. Having suffered from Hyperemesis Gravidarum and Obstetric Cholestasis during my pregnancy I am now actively involved in raising awareness of these, as well as writing completely honest posts about our choice to remain a one-child family and dealing with the heartache that can bring."

Breastfeeding is something that I first came across properly when working in a daycare setting after graduating from university. The nursery I worked at was situated in the hospital grounds where the babies’ parents worked and so several of the mothers would pop in at feed times rather than leaving bottles of expressed breast milk for us to give them. I thought it was great and loved how comfortably they fed their babies and decided that this was something I wanted to try when I had my own children.

Unfortunately breastfeeding wasn’t so easy for me and although I wanted to give it my best shot I also knew that I wasn’t going to beat myself up if it didn’t work. I had been bottle-fed as a baby and turned out fine, and I made the decision that a happy and healthy mum who bottle-fed would be much better for my baby than one who breastfed at the expense of her health and sanity.

But it wasn’t all bad and although I stopped exclusively breastfeeding at around 6 weeks and had pretty much stopped completely by 12 weeks, I still continue to try and give one feed a day which is more of a comfort to my baby and me than anything else. For all the problems we had, I did enjoy the unique bond that breastfeeding gave us and was not ready to give that up entirely even when we did switch to formula.

Because of this I wanted to share how our breastfeeding journey started and the events that occurred to make me realise that it just wasn’t working for us anymore. I know that I took huge comfort from knowing that others had found ways to deal with issues they were faced with and hope that, in turn, my story might also offer comfort to someone else facing difficulties. So let me start from the beginning…

My husband and I started trying to conceive in November 2010. We knew that my Endometriosis and the problems I had experienced because of it could have affected my fertility and thought we were in for a long wait. So we were totally shocked to discover I was pregnant just two months later in January 2011. Our joy was, however, quickly dampened as I became very sick very quickly to the point where I faced hospitalisation due to dehydration. I had Hyperemesis Gravidarum, an extreme form of nausea and vomiting in pregnancy which, although gradually improving, continued to affect me until the day I gave birth.

Later on in my pregnancy I also developed anaemia and Obstetric Cholestasis, so it really did feel like my body was, once again, letting me down. I’m hoping that this will help you understand just how happy and relieved it made me to start leaking colostrum quite profusely during the latter stages of my pregnancy as it gave me hope that breastfeeding might actually go smoothly for us. It felt like I was finally getting a break and my body was doing what it was supposed to. And for the first six weeks things went well enough for me to think we were getting there.

We started off rather slowly as my son had no interest at all in latching on for a good 24 hours after birth. This was partly due to the fact that I had been given a half dose of diamorphine when my waters were broken 23 hours after my labour was first induced. It had taken that long to dilate from 2cm – 5cm and so everyone thought I had hours ahead of me. However I ended up giving birth 3 hours after this and so both me and my baby were both rather dopey from the medication for several hours.

I was also incredibly sick thanks to the injection I was given to help with the third stage of labour. I spent the first hour after giving birth throwing up and was then whisked away to theatre to have a third degree tear stitched up. So I had hardly any chance to bond with my baby in those early hours.

We did however finally manage to get to grips with latching on and by the time we were discharged from the hospital it felt like we were going to be alright. But that night my son suddenly seemed to get an appetite and he wanted to feed almost every single hour and suddenly it went from a strange but enjoyable experience to an exhausting and painful one. He would latch on, suck really hard, chomp down on the nipple and then come off the breast, only to want to latch back on two seconds later. And he seemed to be struggling to keep up with the speed of my letdown.

We continued trying, seeking advice from the midwives and then my health visitor. It seemed he was latching on fine, I just had a very strong letdown and seemed to be producing rather a lot of milk. I could feed him and still express several ounces afterwards, and you don’t want to know how many changes of clothes we both went through because as he was feeding from one side, the other would be leaking all over us.

And yet I was ok with this. I felt sure that things would settle down because that is what everyone told me. So I kept going until the awful day when I developed my first blocked duct. It was so painful and rather scary to see a massive lump on my breast with milk that just would not clear. And even more distressing was hearing my baby cry because he was hungry and yet could not get any milk out of my breast. It took several hours to clear and once it did the pressure from the build-up sent the milk shooting across the room.

This was when my baby was 6 weeks old and what followed was another 6 weeks of trying everything I could to prevent further blockages. I called my health visitor. I joined a local breastfeeding group. I spoke to friends and family. One friend suggested I might be having problems with oversupply and once I looked up the symptoms I knew that she had hit the mark. My baby had almost every single sign including the ever painful chomping down on the nipple in an attempt to slow the flow. And I seemed to have a new blocked duct every other day.

It wasn’t until later, when talking to another friend who had suffered from blocked ducts, that I realised how bad mine really were. She mentioned that she had once had a swelling as big as a golf ball. I couldn’t believe she had only experienced it once, because nearly every single blockage I got led to such a large lump that my breast became totally distorted in shape and I couldn’t bear to touch it let alone do the massaging , expressing and feeding needed to clear it.

I was lucky enough to avoid mastitis and tried everything I could to overcome the problem I was having with oversupply, including dropping to combined feeding where I only breastfed at every other feed and expressing only to the point of comfort, rather than emptying the breast. But nothing worked and when my baby was 10 weeks old I stood in the kitchen in the middle of the night, crying in pain, and realised that I couldn’t do it anymore. I was miserable and my boy was too. It wasn’t worth it anymore, I knew we had to switch over to formula for all his feeds.

It was one of the hardest decisions I ever had to make as I was so desperate for it to work for us. And yet it was the best decision I’ve ever made too. Within days of switching my baby was much happier and calmer. He started sleeping better. He rarely screamed with colic pains anymore because he wasn’t getting colic. He could actually feed at a rate which suited him from a bottle much more easily than he had when fighting the speed with which my milk was supplied. And he also seemed more satisfied after a feed, finally getting that “milk drunk” look I had heard about but never seen in him.

I’ve never looked back at my decision and regretted it and I do think that you know what is right for you and your baby. If it had just been uncomfortable for me then I would have persevered longer, but once I could see it was negatively affecting my baby I knew I had to make a change. I know I did everything I possibly could to try and overcome the issue I had with oversupply and I am proud of that. And the few comfort feeds I am still able to give are so much more special now because we no longer have to struggle but can rather snuggle together and just enjoy it. My boy gets so excited when he realises I am about to give him a breastfeed and has even started latching on, having a few sucks, and then lying back and just grinning at me before having a little bit more, which truly does make my heart sing.

So whilst I thoroughly agree that breast really is best for baby if you can manage it, I also strongly believe that a happy and healthier relationship between you and your baby is more important than whether you offer breast milk, formula or both. Your relationship really can suffer if you face difficulties that don’t seem to clear no matter how much effort and research you put into it. So although every breastfeeding mum will likely agree that breastfeeding is hard work at times, if it is a constant battle that leaves you anxious and in pain then please do not hesitate to ask for help and advice and know that it is okay if you do not feel able to continue. Breastfeeding should be a joy, not a dreaded thing you look back on with resentment or guilt. Remember, even the shortest time spent breastfeeding will benefit your baby: every feed counts, no matter how few they may be.

1 comments on "Guest Post: Choosing To Comfort Feed Only"

Ruth on 1 February 2012 at 13:29 said...

Just came onto this blog again after I read your post the other day, Amanda, and as I skimmed over your lovely post again, it made me think about how our boys are both mixed fed, both very happy with happy mummies, both developing well, and yet (as you know) our breastfeeding stories are so different (perhaps even ppolar opposite - oversupply versus low supply). Intersting how things can be so different but at the same time have similarities.

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