I had always planned to breastfeed as soon as I found out I was pregnant. Due to being diagnosed with low level of PAPP–A, pregnancy associated plasma protein, I was moved from midwife-led care to consultant-led. My consultant and midwife both felt it would be best for baby and I to be induced at 39 weeks. I think because of this my milk supply was affected and I was already on the back-foot with breastfeeding.
Elsie was born happy and healthy on Thursday 11 July the following day after being induced and I was so relieved. We stayed in hospital for five days not being discharged until the Monday because we were having difficulty feeding.
It took a couple of days for my milky supply to come in so I was hand expressing colostrum into special syringes which I was then giving to Elsie. I really found it quite difficult and fiddly to do this so my husband had to help.
Eventually my milk came in and then we had problems getting Elsie to latch properly. She preferred the left breast to the right and was cluster feeding.
I was completely exhausted she was feeding through the night every hour and my whole body was aching. Everything from the neck down hurt and sitting in one position feeding was putting pressure on my stitches.
I’d lost quite a lot of blood post-birth and I was anaemic which certainly didn’t help my energy levels.
I thought things would be better when we got home in our own environment and my own bed but it was even harder.
I missed the routine of hospital, set eating and visiting times and the support at the push of a button.
Elsie was still struggling to latch on especially on the right breast and when the midwife came for our post-hospital discharge check-up, she’d lost a lot of her birth weight. They were concerned. We had to have additional support. I felt like a complete failure. This little baby was relying on me to feed her and I wasn’t doing a good enough job.
I was advised to start using a breast pump to encourage my supply and offer bottle top ups with expressed milk.
The maternity care assistant who had led our breastfeeding antenatal class made a quick appointment the same day to see us. I was given an electric breast pump to borrow for two weeks. After every feed I had to pump each breast for twenty minutes. So, after she’d been on each breast she went to my husband for cuddles and winding and I started to pump.
Quite honestly, I felt like a dairy cow.
I was a next level of exhausted. The bottle top ups were meant to be 30ml and despite pumping for 20 minutes each breast sometimes eight times a day I was barely making enough for one bottle top up. I was so frustrated and disappointed in myself. Why couldn’t I do this?
Despite all of my efforts Elsie still wasn’t gaining weight and a new feeding plan was made by the midwifery team, introducing formula bottle top ups of 30ml.
I asked my husband to give her that first bottle of formula as I was so disappointed and upset that I couldn’t feed my own baby. She inhaled that 30ml in less than 30 seconds – she was starving. I was inconsolable. My body was failing me and I was failing my baby.
Breastfeeding is natural. Breast is best. That was what was drilled into me from the baby books, the apps, the forums, the antenatal classes and yet I just couldn’t produce enough milk. What kind of a mother was I? I felt like a complete failure and a terrible mother. I haven’t ever felt so low mentally and I couldn’t stop berating myself for being a failure.
Breast is best kept ringing in my head and I kept trying but failing.
We continued to have daily phone calls with the midwifery team and had to have Elsie weighed again. We were advised to continue – breast, expressing, formula and expressed milk top ups. My husband and I were sniping at each other, the tiredness hitting us like a tonne of bricks. I felt like our marriage might not survive. I felt so anxious and low. It was all my fault because I couldn’t do the most natural thing I thought.
Elsie was desperately trying to cluster feed and the pain in my breasts was unbearable. My whole body was aching and the tears kept coming.
The previous year I ran the Great North Run and as an overweight asthmatic that was the toughest challenge of my life, the training and the half marathon itself but it was a walk in the park compared to breastfeeding.
I was sat in my pyjama bottoms and nursing bra with Elsie struggling to feed pleading with her to latch on, tears streaming down my face. How much longer could I do this? Would it ever get any better? My husband told me he supported whatever decision I made whether we persisted with breastfeeding or moved onto exclusive formula feeding.
I felt hopeless. I wanted to breastfeed I really did. Let’s see how tonight goes I said with a wobbly lip.
When Elsie was getting worked up I tried to cuddle and soothe her but she just got more upset. When daddy took over, she calmed down. I felt like she hated me. I couldn’t feed or sooth her, I was a terrible mother I thought.
My husband was amazing, so supportive. He cooked and made all of our meals. Even hand feeding me when I was busy trying to get Elsie settled on the breast. He did all of the bottles – cleaning, sterilising and so on. He’d bought me special breastfeeding covers for when we had visitors or left the house so I would feel comfortable and confident.
We had won a newborn photography session and I breastfed Elsie during the shoot, it was the best latch she ever did and I felt amazing! When we got home, it was like we’d taken three steps back she just wouldn’t feed.
Th next day we went back to see the midwifery team and they asked me how I was. I told them the truth I was struggling, I was in pain, I felt like a failure. I was reassured and told I was doing a great job and to keep trying but if I was really struggling, I didn’t have to do this. I could put her on formula if I felt it was the best thing for baby and me, no judgement. A happy fed baby is the most important thing of course but my mental and physical health is important too. Elsie needed me to be healthy and happy too and I was miserable.
I decided to give it another go that weekend and we would reassess at our appointment on the Monday morning. I was determined.
But in the early hours of that Sunday morning Elsie had screamed until she was purple in the face. She wouldn’t latch. I tried every position but she just wouldn’t take the breast – either one. She was screaming and getting more and more upset and I was crying and pleading and my husband was desperate to help. I gave in. I asked him to make her a bottle of formula and once the supermarket opened to get some powder, we were moving to bottle feeding exclusively.
My husband took her, she instantly calmed and she took that bottle like a dream and the next one. I cried myself to sleep.
She seemed to thrive. She actually slept, and we could sleep. I could give her a cuddle and she would settle. She was like a different baby. All because she wasn’t starving. I still felt awful.
During our appointment the next day the midwife asked me how I was feeling I told her relieved that Elsie was feeding and seemed happy but so disappointed and upset at my failure. She told me that breastfeeding is difficult, not every mother can and that I should be proud of myself I breastfed for 10 days, I pushed through the mental and physical barriers until I couldn’t do it anymore and I had nothing to be ashamed of, I was not a failure. She herself had struggled and only managed a couple of weeks. The most important thing is Elsie is feeding, she’s putting on weight and is happy.
Elsie is now over three months old and is a happy, healthy and content baby. I see breastfeeding mother’s when we are out and about and some of my friends on Facebook celebrating their feeding milestones and I still get little pangs of jealousy. I wish I could’ve breastfed for longer but I absolutely 100% gave it my all. I’m no longer ashamed, I lined her tummy and gave her antibodies from my body to hers for as long as I could manage. I’m not a terrible mother. I am not a failure and I am ok.
I feel like we’ve got a strong bond and I don’t regret giving up breastfeeding. Breast is best but not for us. It almost broke me mentally and it was the toughest challenge of my life. I’m glad I tried and sad I failed (in my eyes) but I’m so happy to see Elsie thriving now.
A group of mums sharing their experiences on pregnancy, post-birth, breastfeeding, work-life balance, and more.