Wednesday 11 March 2020

Motherhood | My Breastfeeding Experience

I always knew I wanted to breastfeed, even pre-pregnancy. I've always felt breastmilk is the best possible thing you can feed a baby and I've always found it amazing that our own bodies can feed our babies. I don't judge those who don't breastfeed - whether they can't or simply don't want to - as the choice to breastfeed, combination feed, or formula feed is down to what works best for you and your baby. However, as much as I've always wanted to breastfeed, I never knew how challenging it can be until I tried...

Within five minutes of Ezra being born, I put him on the boob and, amazingly, he latched perfectly and began sucking. I couldn't have been happier. At that moment it felt obvious that breastfeeding was going to be an absolute breeze. Boy was I wrong. The next time I went to feed, Ezra was having none of it. He would either have my nipple in his mouth but wouldn't latch or would latch perfectly but stop sucking after a few seconds for no obvious reason. Sadly this continued and, as there was no sign of the situation improving, our next option was to feed him hand-expressed colostrum. I was foolish enough not to harvest colostrum before his birth, so I only started doing it at a time it was so desperately needed. Because colostrum takes a while to express, I wasn't able to produce the required amount quickly enough to feed our son. So, in the end, we had to resort to formula feeding him. It was either that or starve our son, so the decision was an easy one, though slightly heartbreaking. I felt like my dream of breastfeeding was over before I was even out of hospital.

The breastfeeding issues I experienced didn't improve during the two days we were in hospital. However, during my time there, I knew that if I could just continue expressing, then I could keep my milk supply up, giving me time to keep trying with the breastfeeding. I had a brand new Elvie Pump waiting for me at home, so I planned on pumping the second I got through the door, and I did. I expressed as often as I could and, as a result, I was able to bottle feed Ezra expressed breast milk, relying on formula for just one feed a day. Success... kind of.

Whilst bottle-feeding breast milk, I still continued to work on breastfeeding. Sadly Ezra would either latch perfectly but last only a few minutes or just not latch at all, even if my nipple was in his mouth and ready for the taking. This lack of success caused endless tears. No matter how much my rational mind understood this wasn't my fault, I felt like a complete failure. I felt my body had let me down and, worse, I felt robbed of an experience only a mother can have. Our lovely midwife, Emma, was incredibly encouraging and supportive during this shit time, even giving me a cuddle when I was crying over the 400th failed attempt. The only thing that kept me going was knowing that Ezra could, if only for a few minutes, latch perfectly. The fact he could do this gave me the slightest hope that the situation could improve. And, at week three, it did.

After trying all the breastfeeding hacks with little success (such as different feeding positions and expressing for a few seconds before attempting to feed) our midwife assessed Ezra for a possible tongue tie (this had previously been dismissed as he could sometimes achieve a perfect latch). Her observations found that Ezra had a borderline tongue tie and, with our permission, she treated it via a surgical cut to the frenulum. I was in the room when this procedure was done and it wasn't pleasant as I was very aware of what was being done. However the area of his mouth that was being treated has very few nerve endings, so we felt assured he wouldn't feel much pain. In actual fact, what caused Ezra the most distress was being swaddled before the cut. This was done to ensure he stayed as still as possible.

Three days after the tongue tie treatment, Ezra finally latched long enough to get a little feed and the amount of time he stayed on the boob grew as the days past. I couldn't believe it!! From then up until now, I have successfully been able to breastfeed which, at the beginning, was something I never thought possible. I sadly didn't avoid the other issues that come with breastfeeding. I too experienced sore nipples in the beginning, as well as mastitis which was pretty brutal, however all of it has been worth it. Breastfeeding has enabled me to experience the joy of feeding my son with my own body. It has also allowed me to feed him whenever and wherever he needs it and, most importantly, has ensured he gets the best nutritional start in life.

Although those first three weeks - which now seem like a decade ago - were an emotional rollercoaster, they did give me something pretty special and unexpected. The ability to both bottle-feed and breastfeed my son. This was a gift I didn't know I needed. A few of the girls in my NCT group, as well as other mothers I have met since having Ezra, have struggled introducing a bottle after months of exclusively breastfeeding. Some of their babies point blank refuse it, which has become challenging for those that either want to stop breastfeeding or need their partner or family members to help with feeds.

My breastfeeding experience taught me that breastfeeding isn't always as easy as it seems and sometimes the challenges you encounter aren't as simple as a bad latch. Sometimes you may not have any problems at all, your baby just might need time to get used to it. I have since learned that there are many different reasons why breastfeeding doesn't always work out for mother and baby. My only recommendation is that if you want to breastfeed but come up against problems, persevere as much as you can. Although it might seem like the problems will never end, sometimes they just might.

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