My Breastfeeding Journey So Far
I fell pregnant unexpectedly at the end of 2015 and expected my surprise baby in August 2016. After a fairly good pregnancy, other than the sickness and slow labour we were so elated to be blessed with what turned out to be a beautiful girl, we chose not to find out the sex to enjoy the surprise. Labour was long, 35 hours! I manged 26 hours at home and then enjoyed 4 hours at a birth unit with birthing pool, however my water birth plan wasn't to be when I had blood loss and baby had passed meconium when my waters finally broke at 7cm, so it was blue lights up to the main hospital and a normal delivery 5 hours later. I think because my birth didn't quite go how I had wanted I was even more determined to breastfeed. It's something I had always wanted to do.
Our first feed was brilliant, Arya latched on immediately and it was a pleasant tugging feeling and so incredible despite the exhaustion at this point. To watch this beautiful tiny perfect person I had made, birthed and was now feeding. Because Arya passed meconium she was placed under neonatal care to treat a suspected infection, the plan was a course of antibiotics for 5 days, so we had to stay in hospital for that time. I was glad to some extent for the support from professionals at the press of a button. After 12 hours in neonatal care and me going over to her every 2 hours to feed, she was back with me on the ward and I was so thrilled and in love.
The wonderment soon changed, 24 hours into breastfeeding it began to get sore, despite me getting help from the midwives and lathering on the nipple cream, it was sore, but I expected that. My breasts began to become engorged as my supply was building and gradually changing from the liquid gold colostrum to proper milk. I had previously expressed some colostrum from 36 weeks pregnant in case we needed it, and when my nipples were so tender I remember mentioning it and if I could use it. Much to my disappointment at the time, the midwives discouraged it, which in hind sight I am glad as I needed to keep feeding to help the milk come through. So I took their advice and persevered.
Day 3 was the worst, my milk was definitely starting to come through so Arya was very demanding and tearful, and so was I. Pain, lack of sleep, a surge of hormones and emotions were to blame for the tears and it's oh so normal and common, which I knew. Not that it made it any easier. I persevered through the stingy pain during feeds, it wasn't just the latch for me, it was the whole feed. Many breastfeeding consultants say that it shouldn't be painful..and in my own experience and knowing others experience..that's not always true.
Day 5 we went home and I could finally feed her in our bed and settle her in her next-to-me crib. Arya was weighed before we left hospital and she had actually gained weight, which isn't all that common.
Day 7 we did our first public feed, it was scary and brilliant! Very difficult when it's so sore. My breasts were still engorged at this point, my nipples were red and swollen and almost looked like they had huge holes in. Nobody ever told me during pregnancy the pain of standing under a shower when they are like this..the mere thought of someone touching my nipples at this stage would make me shudder. Little Arya would often brush her mittened hand across my nipple when getting ready to feed and it would make me shriek.
By day 10 it was really getting hard. I would hear my darling girls grunts and cries at all times of day and night for a feed and I'd well up with tears. The fear and dread of what was coming would almost make me resent the fact she was hungry and I had to feed her. It also made me question if this was normal?! I felt awful physically and emotionally and so tired. I would screech and cry most times when she would latch. The under arm or 'rugby ball' position was a god send and was the only way we could actually feed. I had a lovely lady who was a lactation consultant who rang me most days to see how I was getting on. I think the worst part at this point was me feeling like a bad mother for not enjoying feeding time and my snappy behaviour when feeding due to the pain. I recall my partner suggesting formula more than once and me hating him for saying it, like I wasn't doing good enough, but really he was fed up and sad to see me going through this pain. He knew how much it meant to me and he just wanted to help. It makes it harder when people suggest formula or say "wouldn't bottle be easier" - it's just not what you want hear. The only relief I had at this point was that Arya was gaining weight really well. My right breast began to be the more comfortable out of the two to feed from, but that was all about to change.
On day 14 I tried to have a late afternoon nap while my mum watched Arya. I remember shivering while trying to sleep and in the end just got up as I couldn't get to sleep because of it. I felt really cold and had a headache. Our house was busy and while making dinner for everyone I kept complaining that I didn't feel well, thinking it was just tiredness. I checked my temperature when I sat down to eat as I suddenly felt very hot, my temperature was 38.2. I had a bath that evening and noticed a small red patch on my breast and instantly knew why I had felt so unwell - MASTITIS. The next day I hastily went to see my GP who after examination sent me to hospital to check for an abscess. I had an ultrasound scan on my breast and luckily no abscess, which I was relieved to hear as the thought of having it "drained" terrified me. Unfortunately they decided to admit me due to my temperature spiking. I was placed on a surgical unit as it is classed as a wound and as there was no security, my mother was asked to stay to help with Arya. I was so thankful as I rapidly felt worse, caring for, as well as feeding my baby seemed impossible.
I fed primarily with the breast with mastitis as there was no pus and expressed the good breast. After 4 nights in hospital where at points I became septic with temperature at 39.5, endless amounts of blood tests, intravenous paracetamol, antibiotics and fluids I felt a lot better, and I went home where I continued on oral antibiotics and regular paracetamol for a week.
By day 22 postpartum I felt like a new woman. Breastfeeding was comfortable, it was still a little uncomfortable for a few seconds when Arya latched but that was it. It was discovered Arya had a short tongue and slight lip tie at my local breast feeding group, although neither were significant enough to treat, it was one of the reasons we may have struggled in the beginning. My supply was established and Arya was growing amazingly well. My nipples began to heal and my breasts were soft and no longer engorged.
Now at day 63 it is a breeze, a little tricky when Arya is having a growth spurt as she wants feeds every hour. The ease during the night where I don't have to get out of bed is a bonus. I'm now contending with early teething and a baby that loves to look around with my nipple in her mouth. But not a patch on that first 3 weeks.
There is a lot of pressure to breastfeed. Pressure is the last thing you need after pregnancy and birth, the journey can be tough and although breast may be best for baby, it's not always best for mother which I can completely relate to with my own experience. We need support as new mothers not only from professionals but our friends and family to feed our baby as we wish. Someone to hold your free hand during the pain and tears, to get you a drink, tell you "it'll get better" because it most likely will. To do the chores, let you rest and offer you kind words of love and encouragement, not just with people at home but the public when out. It can be so hard and we all need to help new mothers whatever their decision making when it comes to feeding.
Written by Rhyanna Adkins