When I became a Mum first time round I just ‘knew’ I would breastfeed. Societal pressure, a belief that it was best for my baby and unrealistic expectations as to how easy it was likely to be, it just didn’t occur to me that I might find it difficult. I wasn’t prepared for our short breastfeeding journey.
The birth was painful and somewhat traumatic, my son inhaled meconium so was born not breathing. After a few minutes the wonderful team at the hospital got him breathing and he was whisked away to the NICU to be on the safe side where my husband went with him and gave him his first bottle whilst I was stitched up.
So it was several hours before I got to hold my son and at that point his was bundled up and fast asleep. We tried breastfeeding over the next 2 days (we stayed in hospital as they wanted to ensure feeding was established first) but my son was very sleepy and wouldn’t wake to feed despite everyone’s best efforts. By the second night of being on a Postnatal ward (getting no sleep) I was climbing the walls and desperate to get out. At one point we had about 5 people in our tiny cubicle trying to get our baby to feed. Eventually they were happy to let us home after he had latched a few times.
At home it would take a long time to get him to latch and he would bob off again within a couple of minutes. It was incredibly frustrating and stressful. I went to breastfeeding support groups which helped a bit. However about 6 weeks into our breastfeeding journey and things began to get harder. My son would get really fussy on the boob and eventually would be crying too much to take a good feed. He dropped down a percentile. During this time I found breastfeeding to be a battle rather than the bonding experience I had hoped. I was still fighting to get my son onto the breast and to stay on. I felt rejected and actually felt that this difficulty breastfeeding made it even harder for us to bond.
When my son was 9 weeks he got very bad silent reflux (at the time our gp diagnosed gas/ colic and told me “if he’s breastfed he’ll be fine”). He began crying for up to 2 hours at a time, he would go bright red and scream in pain, eventually passing out with exhaustion. I would try to feed him when he woke, sometimes he would feed, sometimes it would start the crying cycle all over again. It was a miserable time for us both. As a result my son was going up to 6 hours between feeds and dropped another percentile.
When he was 11 weeks he went a day having just 2 feeds in 18 hours, the rest of the time he was screaming or sleeping. In desperation we took him to a&e who diagnosed silent reflux. We changed gp’s and got medication for reflux. His symptoms only improved slightly and eventually after another day where my son barely fed, we reluctantly gave him a bottle of formula (we had run out of expressed breastmilk). Frighteningly he projectile vomited all over the living room halfway through the bottle and came out in hives over his body. He was then diagnosed with CMPA (Cows Milk Protein Allergy), which had caused his silent reflux. He was reacting to the dairy in my diet through my breastmilk. I cut out dairy from my diet and my son’s symptoms went away almost overnight, he was a different baby, a happy baby. Unfortunately we now had a new feeding issue. During the 3 weeks of silent reflux, my son had been feeding very infrequently and as a result my milk supply had dropped dramatically. He would now cry at the end of every feed because he was still hungry. I had been unable to pump in between feeds as whilst he was crying or sleeping he had to be held upright to help with the pain. Despite ‘resolving’ the problem be would cry at the end of every feed because he was still hungry.
At this point I was exhausted & I desperately wanted my son to gain some much needed weight. Although I didn’t know it at the time I was also suffering from a Postnatal thyroid imbalance which affected my mood (& may also have affected my milk supply). It also caused insomnia and weight loss and I was exhausted emotionally and physically. With a very heavy heart and a huge amount of guilt we decided to change to formula feeding with a dairy free formula prescribed by the gp.
Stopping breastfeeding was my decision but I felt like a failure. I had wanted to breastfeed for at least 6 months, I had expected to enjoy it, I had expected it to help us bond - I was so disappointed by our breastfeeding experience and all the challenges it had thrown up. Over the next few months I came to terms with our decision and experience, I knew we had done the right thing for us as a family at the time. Breastfeeding hadn’t worked for us, it had caused so much stress and anxiety and as a new Mum I needed to take the pressure off myself.
2 years later I fell pregnant again. I wanted to try breastfeeding again. Thankfully our experience second time round has been much more positive. I had a homebirth, it was fantastic. I got to hold my son straight away, have skin to skin and he didn’t leave my sight at all. He latched on vey quickly and despite some initial and expected soreness, it improved quickly. I loved the cuddles! Unfortunately at around 5 weeks our second baby began fussing at the breast as our first did and arching away. With the benefit of hindsight and a very supportive GP I have cut dairy, soya and egg from my diet which we believe he was reacting to.
Although having such a restricted diet is challenging (I don’t eat meat either) I have no regrets breastfeeding. I’d love if my baby would take a bottle so my husband could enjoy feeding him too and also so I could have more one on one time with my eldest - but he just wants boob and I’m happy to meet that need. I’m incredibly proud to have reached the 6 month breastfeeding milestone that I had wanted to reach last time. Current advice is that allergy babies either breastfeed or formula feed until 2 years old. The formula tastes vile so the longer our son goes without taking a bottle and trying the formula, the more I think he may not ever drink formula, even from a cup - so I am open to the idea of extended breastfeeding if that’s the case and if that’s what my son wants and needs from me.
Despite our challenges I want our experience to give hope to anyone who wasn’t able to breastfeed first time round or who cut their breastfeeding journey short before they had wanted to. Every baby is different and if you get a second chance, the experience may be very different, there’s always hope! x