My name is Hayley, and I’m a mummy to 3 scrummy boys!!
My first pregnancy was great. I went full term + 4 days. Unfortunately, my labour was very slow to progress and because baby was getting distressed, I ended up with an emergency c-section. I didn’t really know much about breastfeeding. I remember telling my Midwife I wanted ‘to try’. I found in hospital there was little support to help me breastfeed. I’d had an epidural, which they topped up for my c-section, so literally couldn’t move. The hospital staff ended up wheeling baby away and feeding him with formula. Back then (10 years ago now), partners weren’t allowed to stay with you, so my hubby was sent home about half an hour after I’d got back into the ward as visiting hours were over!! It was formula all the way from then!!
Due to my health, we waited another 8yrs before having another baby. During this pregnancy, my waters broke when I was just 24wks pregnant. I remember sitting in my hospital room being monitored and in absolute fear of going into labour. Every time colostrum started leaking I was sure that I was going to go into labour, that this was the start. I didn’t even know that your body could start to produce colostrum that early, let alone have it leak!! I managed to hold onto baby for another 3 weeks and 5 days. I’d had a rather large bleed, so we were advised to call an ambulance. On the way to hospital I started to get some pains, but nothing like I hadn’t had before. In hospital, I was checked out & monitored. I wasn’t ‘in labour’, but was going to be kept in and transferred to the maternity ward. Within 3hrs of arriving at the hospital, baby arrived. It was the most frightening & horrific experience of my life! I only had a couple of really strong contractions that prompted us to call the midwife. When she came into the room and had a look, she could already see baby’s bottom!! The doctor was called and within about 10 minutes, baby was born and whisked straight away. We didn’t get to see him for another 6hrs. We had to wait for the NICU doctors to finish working on him before we could go and see him. One of the first things I was asked was how I had planned to feed baby. I hadn’t a clue. I was told of the benefits of breastmilk for premature babies tummies. So, I needed to start expressing!! The first time I expressed, I got the tiniest amount. I was so disappointed. I had these huge breasts - why weren’t they gushing out milk!! Every time I expressed, I tried to beat what I had done previously. If it was more, I was so happy, if it was less I was devastated! Although I was encouraged to express every 2-3hrs, this didn’t always happen. Life got in the way. I didn’t want to leave my baby’s side, or I needed to eat, or I had to collect my other son from school, or be home to do some housework, or wait for the doctors round, or we were having cuddles (which I had to wait 2 weeks for!). It was very hard to get into a routine of expressing to start. It wasn’t like I had a baby there screaming for food. My baby was on a ventilator in an incubator, in his own little cocoon away from me. Getting into the NICU routine was tough. Setting my alarm overnight every 3hrs to express. Spending a minimum of half an hour each time hand expressing, it was tough. I felt useless. All of my expressed milk was kept at the hospital, in a little plastic basket with baby’s name on, in the fridge on the NICU ward, ready and waiting for when the doctors wanted to start feeding him via his NG tube. I think baby was 3 days old when he starting being fed. It was an amazing feeling!! But, a really scary one too as my milk hadn’t come in yet. You feel all of this extra pressure to supply more and more, the pressure of the little basket in the fridge becoming empty as you couldn’t keep up with the demand even though it was only 1-2mls every hour that he was being fed! Once my milk arrived, I was shown how to use the hospital breast pumps. We hired one from the hospital to take home. We had a Milton tub for my breast cups in the Milk Kitchen at the hospital so I could express there when I needed. I’ll never forget the noise the breast pumps made. That constant humming. The way my nipples used to sting when I switched it on as they were so fragile. The sensation of my let down used to make me cry. They were tears full of relief that I had milk, sadness that it was all so mechanical, and pain where my breasts needed to get used to it. The competition I had with myself started again on a completely different level with the breast pump. Now I could fill bottles! It started with 20-30mls, then over a couple of weeks I was filling (sometimes over filling) 2 x 100ml bottles every time I expressed!!
I was keen to breastfeed my baby. I knew just how important my milk was for his growth and development and I wanted to continue with that once we got home. When baby was still in intensive care, the doctors noticed that he had a sucking reflex. He must have been about 4wks old, but only around 31wks gestation. The nurses said we could put him to the breast. I remember that first time. I was the only mummy on the unit that morning. I’d stripped off my top half so we could get some skin to skin at the same time. Baby was propped up on pillows - light as a feather, but so delicate to hold. The nurses put a screen round us and it was the most perfect moment. It was as though time had stopped. Of course, baby didn’t really feed, but he tasted a little of my milk for the first time. From then on, we started to wash his mouth with breast milk, sometimes we’d do a dummy dip while he was being fed by NG. As much as possible, I would hold his little NG tube up while my milk was being syringed down - not conventional breastfeeding, but my milk, by my hand all the same. There was one stage where baby wasn’t putting on as much weight as the doctors would have liked, so we discussed our options - formula or a fortifier in my milk. I was devastated. Those first early weeks it is drummed into you that your milk is the absolute best, then all of a sudden, it was like I wasn’t enough. Was it my fault? Was my diet not good enough? Was I drinking enough water? What else could I do?? With the fortifier, his weight picked up. I was so pleased. But still heartbroken that I wasn’t enough. Fast forward a few more weeks and we were regularly putting baby to breast at every feed possible while he was being fed via NG. He needed to learn that his tummy was getting full while sucking at the breast. Then the decision needed to be made at how much milk do we put down his NG tube? How much milk did we think he was actually getting from me? This wasn’t a conventional breastfed baby. There was no on demand feeding here!! NICU life meant a routine of every 3-4hrs. It was a fine balance to get it right to make sure he had his full quota of milk for the day. When the time came for the ‘going home’ talks, I was allowed to demand feed during the hours that I was at the hospital. Juggling that with expressing was hard. Baby still needed milk when I wasn’t able to be with him. Overnight, the nurses had started to bottle feed him my milk as he needed to take full feeds before he could come home. Baby came home after spending 76 days in hospital, exclusively breastfeeding. I had to ‘room in’ overnight and feed baby exclusively for a while 24hrs, and he needed to have gained weight after it - and he did!! A whole 20g!!
Once home, I continued to breastfeed. We’d been home about a month when I had another (my 3rd) lot of mastitis. I was broken. I was in pain. Without the extra support from the staff at the hospital, I made the heartbreaking decision to give him a bottle. It was expressed milk, as I had a huge stash in the freezer, but I felt like a failure. My husband and I decided that we would bottle feed him every other feed, so I was still breastfeeding as I did t want to give it up, but then hubby could also get involved and feed him using my milk from the freezer. I’d managed to express enough during baby’s time in NICU to give him only breast milk for the first 6 months. It took me a while to realise, but that was pretty amazing! When my stocks in the freezer were getting low, we started to add an ounce at a time of formula so that his tummy could get used to it. We gradually increased it until his bottle feeds were fully formula. Of course by this time we’d started weaning too, so I always made sure that his first and last feed of the day was from me. Our little bit of ‘us’ time. We carried this on until he was 13 months old. I think baby would have stopped sooner as it was getting increasingly difficult to feed him. I wanted to get past 12 months. The final time came when he bit me and made my nipple bleed!!
I found out I was pregnant again when my 2nd child was nearly 16mths old. So many emotions were running through my head!! I was so happy, I was excited, scared... but we’d hoped, and had been reassured by the consultant, that my waters breaking early was a one off; it wouldn’t happen again! We had a few minor problems in my early pregnancy, but once we’d got to 28wks, we were past when last baby was born, we were happy. We could handle anything!! We had started to believe that we were going to go full term. I’d decided that I was going to breastfeed. With baby no3 I was going to do it all by myself!! But, at 33wks exactly, my waters went again. I wasn’t in any pain, so we took our time getting to the hospital. Once there, I was hooked up as I was contracting, but it was nothing major and they didn’t think I was going to go into full labour so they took the monitor off. Less than an hour later, the pains were getting worse so we called in a Midwife who put me back on the monitor. I remember watching the numbers - one for babies heart rate, the other to measure the strength of the contraction. Baby’s heart rate kept dipping, but I was told that baby had moved and it was picking up my heart, then when I was contracting, the number on the monitor wasn’t picking it up! I was fobbed off a bit saying that they weren’t monitoring my contractions, just baby. Then baby dipped again. My pains were getting worse. The room filled with people. A doctor scanning me looking for a heartbeat (it was very weak), midwives putting a cannula in my hand, shaving me, putting surgical stockings on me, explaining that they have to get baby out and I’m having a general anaesthetic. Once I had come round from the anaesthetic, hubby was by my side and I was handed 2 pictures of my little boy. He came out screaming and hadn’t needed any breathing support. He was in an incubator, but was doing everything on his own. I was keen to get round and see him. He was about 6hrs old when we went round, but I could hold him straight away. Again, all conversation turned to milk!! I needed to express. Full of confidence this time round, I knew the routine, I knew what I needed to do. I’d ring my buzzer from my hospital bed through the night to ask a nurse to take my milk round to NICU so they could feed him via his NG tube. This time round, having another baby in NICU, was a lot harder. There is something unsettling about knowing what can and what does happen. And now o had 2 children at home, one who wasn’t even 2, and they needed me. I was determined to get home with my baby quickly (plus I wanted to be home for Christmas!!). Once baby was strong enough, he was being put to the breast as often as possible, while having expressed milk through his NG tube. One day, I’d had childcare sorted so was able to spend the entire day at the hospital. The nurse suggested that we try not to give him any milk through his tube and see how he goes just breastfeeding. The boy did great!! The next morning when he was weighed, he had even gained weight!! As far as the nurses were concerned, baby had proved he could do it, so they were keen to get me rooming in so baby could come home. The doctors weren’t so convinced, but we all agreed that I could stay over for 2 nights that weekend to see how baby did. After the first full 24hrs of breastfeeding, baby gained weight - 40grams!!! I was then told that if baby gains weight the next day, we could go home... and he did!! After 27 days in hospital, baby came home fully breastfed. And here we are now, 7 1/2 months old and still breastfeeding. We even had a hospital admission for a week where we were back to square one and I had to start expressing again!!
I’m not gonna lie, it is by far, one of the hardest things I have ever done!! I still struggle everyday. Although this is baby no3, it feels like baby no1. I’m still learning how to breastfeed, learning that demand feeding doesn't work with the routine that I like in my life, learning that nothing is textbook when it comes to breastfeeding, still learning to be confident with feeding when we aren’t at home. As hard as it is, I am incredibly proud of what I have achieved. I didn’t get baby put straight to the breast, I didn’t get that first rush of love, that immediate bond, but one thing I am sure of is that breastfeeding has helped me feel close to my babies when we were kept apart in those early weeks.
I am so sorry if I have rambled on!!! Please feel free to extract the parts of the story that are relevant - I find it incredibly hard to give anyone the ‘short’ version!!!
Thank you for your Instagram posts. They are amazing and give me lots of inspiration to carry on with my breastfeeding journey, especially when so many people have told me to ‘give him the bottle’. I found you on Instagram through a recommendation from a breastfeeding support group that I am a member of on Facebook.
Big hugs xx
My name is Hayley, and I’m a mummy to 3 scrummy boys!!