Friday, 15 July 2016

Breast is best, except when it isn't.

Get comfortable, this is a long one! (scroll straight to the bottom if you just want reassurance if breastfeeding isn't working, or if you'd like to learn more about tongue tie)

My experience

I had always intended to exclusively breast feed my little boy for the first 3 months, but unfortunately the ideals you have in your head don't always come to fruition.

What surprised me most was when Alfred was born, I knew I needed to breastfeed him.  It's instinct and its natural, but I had no idea what to do!

Unfortunately due to my sciatica and numb leg, I had to stay in the hospital for the night. I had wanted to be transferred straight the midwife led unit that was much closer to home but frustratingly that had to wait until the next day. I was on a ward with babies who needed extra monitoring. They weren't particularly poorly, but we're just there to be kept an eye on for 24 hours. Alfred was fine, I was there because of me, so understandably I was a lower priority. While I understood this, I still felt it was incredibly unfair. I couldn't walk, yet was put in a bed furthest away from the bathroom, was told to help myself to the kitchen for tea and when dinner arrived, I was told to go and get it. So until I was discharged, I barely ate (other than a bag of nuts I had in my bag), and neither did Alfred.

I put Alfred to my breast, he latched on but it was very uncomfortable. So I rang the buzzer, we waited and waited. In this time he had come off 3 times. He started to scream and cry. By the time an assistant came he was almost inconsolable. She said 'he's just fractious' and she took him off me, popped him on and left. About 30 second later, he came off again. We struggled together for another 20 minutes. I rang again. Then another assistant came and said maybe I should just hand express. She put three syringes on my table and went. I had no idea what to do with these! Anyway after ringing the buzzer a third time and waiting about 2 hours for the midwife who would be 'right back', Alfred finally managed to stay on for a good 30 minutes, coming off a few times. All I could think was, once I get to the midwife led unit, this breast feeding thing will be sorted!

Trying not to get to moany and turn this into a long letter of the complaint to the health service (which until having a baby I always thought was fantastic, sadly I feel very let down by them now), I'll move on. Every day was an absolute battle.

I found I was constantly ringing the buzzer for advice and support. I went through all the usual concerns that I wasn't producing enough milk, that Alfred wasn't getting enough etc. Alfred was constantly hungry! Or so I was told. He would only latch on the right side correctly ( the midwives always saw this latch and said it was perfect, well done, then walk off). They never stuck around long enough to see when the real problems started. He would pull away, fall asleep constantly, pull off then start screaming and crying. Feeding would take up to 2 hours. Sometimes he would get so bad that just putting him into position would cause an absolute melt down. We had to resort to cup feeding (at my request) to top him up. He always drank the lot.

This continued and I got very concerned about Alfred. A midwife assistant noticed that he was very dehydrated and suggested that we give him the bottle a few times to get his hydration up. He was much more content and slept for longer. But then one night and the following day he was up all night screaming and crying, nothing calmed him. This was ongoing until he was 6 weeks old at varying degrees of seriousness (and still continues now). We were told it was wind and there was 'nothing he could take for it' by one midwife, and to try infacol by another. This happened to coincide with my baby bluesiest day. I cried all day and must have rang the buzzer about a hundred times. I was worried about his crying and his feeding and the fact that he hadn't pooed in 2 days. I couldn't wait to get home but my numb leg meant I couldn't really be left to look after him alone. I was especially nervous of the stairs at home.

To cut a very long story a little shorter, it turns out Alfred had a tongue tie, one midwife mentioned it as a very fleeting comment, but I never thought any more of it, his tongue looked fine to me because, as it turns out, I have one too! After seeing the feeding clinic who agreed it was tongue tie (but danced around it so much as they didn't want to do anything about it because the surgeon who does the procedure at Leicester 'does them as a favour to the feeding clinic and will only do it if it's very obvious, plus the waiting list is weeks long'). We decided to get it done privately by a lactation consultant. She was brilliant and told me so much about Alfred, mentioned cranial osteopathy as a possibility to improving his feeding as he was stiff on one side due to his position in the pelvis.

Sadly feeding him was still agony, despite trying various positions I could not get Alfred to latch properly. Cross cradle was the only hold where I could at least get him to take more of the areola.

Instead I decided to express. Alfred was combination fed from birth to 4 1/2 weeks. For weeks I had been breast feeding, then offering expressed milk, then formula, then once settled, I'd express for the next feed. The entire process took 2 hours, and in an hours time it would be time to wake him again. Being bottle fed and expressing made life a little easier, but I spent hours and hours expressing. This became more difficult as Alfred became more and more unsettled in the day, but that's for another post.

I took Alfred to an osteopath for slightly different reasons, and she asked me if I'd always found breast feeding difficult, especially getting a him to open his mouth wide enough to latch. This was because his jaw was so tight, which explained why only the cross cradle hold worked for us as I'd have to plant his chin then pull his head up and over to get a wide enough latch. Thankfully she was able to loosen a little, and offered a great deal of support for other problems Alfred was having (again for another post).

Breast wasn't best in this case:
I beat myself up about giving up on breastfeeding. I spent my days in tears as I couldn't comfort my child a way a mother should. I felt so guilty and like I was a bad mother and on the brink of a meltdown (who am I kidding? there were many meltdowns). I was also devastated to loose the special bonding moment.  But to be completely honest, I got over it quickly when I realised how much happier Alfred was drinking from a bottle, he was never upset while feeding anymore. Also, once expressing had stopped, it gave me a tiny bit of life back, only a tiny bit as Alfred wouldn't be put down at all in the day, for what we later learnt was a very good reason (again, another post). 

So if you're in turmoil about giving up breastfeeding for whatever reason, just know that the guilt does go away. Formula was invented for a reason, not because we're lazy mothers (have you seen the instructions to make a bottle and then the instructions to sterilise a bottle?!) but because you have to do what's best, for you as well as baby.

Annoyingly I had this advice from a friend who had given up breastfeeding as it wasn't working for her.  She kept telling me 'if its not working, don't put yourself through hell like I did'. But I did the exact opposite.  I never ever have judged anyone for choosing not to breastfeed, but for some reason I couldn't help but judge myself.  That special bonding moment that I was so worried we'd lose was never really there anyway, it was over shadowed by lot of fighting, screaming and crying, from the both of us.

Problems breastfeeding? my advice:
•if your having problems breastfeeding, cut the crap and go straight to a lactation consultant. I found that midwives and health visitors are knowledgable about breast feeding, as long as it's all going well.
•don't put so much pressure on yourself to breastfeeding, trust me you'll put enough pressure on yourself about every other aspect of your life.
•look out for signs of tongue tie and write them down, along with any other concerns. Make lists because when you finally see a professional, your brain is much too mushy from a lack of sleep and worry to pluck things from memory.

Some tongue tie symptoms:
•fussing at the breast (getting upset, popping on and off)
•discomfort or pain when feeding.
•baby doesn't poke his tongue out past his lips
•feeding sessions that last for a very long period (sometimes hours)
•falling to sleep at the breast frequently

Even if I had not been breastfeeding, I still would have got Alfred's tongue tie done as it can have a lasting effect on speech and oral hygiene. The procedure is incredibly quick and seemingly painless. I was told that for some reason, correcting a tongue tie in the UK is a bit of a controversial issue so you have a little battle on your hands, however it seems this is not always the case and is dependent on the service in your area.

Little Alfred. Only a week old. (about 10 minutes into breastfeeding, before the fussing would begin!)