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After LP was born at home, midwives insisted on visiting daily to make sure everything was going ok. This began on the day she was born when a midwife came over at 3pm to complete LP’s newborn checks on her legs, heart, neck etc. The midwife asked whether I’d fed LP and I said I had, at about 10:30am. The midwife insisted on seeing me feed LP there and then, so I had to wake LP up and try to get her to latch. I was nervous, as a first time Mum, of doing it wrong, and of being partially naked in front of a stranger. Along with that, LP didn’t like being woken up so was fairly upset. Luckily she had to be woken anyway to have the checks done.
LP wouldn’t latch and the midwife insisted on helping which LP didn’t like too much – basically the midwife kept pushing LP’s head against my breast every time she opened her mouth. It was with such force that LP started to get upset, and the midwife just seemed to like the fact that she had her mouth open when she cried so she could attempt to force her onto my breast. In hindsight, I know that LP wasn’t hungry, all she wanted was to sleep – not surprising considering she’d only been born 6 hours previously! In the end I managed to get LP to latch whilst the midwife was writing her notes up.
The midwife said that another midwife would visit me the following morning to see how I was getting along with breastfeeding and that I had to make sure that I fed her every 3-4 hours between now and then.
So again Dave and I were alone with LP and whenever she woke I tried to feed her. This sometimes was longer than the 3-4 hours as I’d always been told to never wake a sleeping baby and I felt that she would wake when she was hungry anyway. Each time I tried to feed her it took a while to get her to latch on, but from memory I think I managed to feed her at 4pm, 11pm and 5am which, as a first time mum, I felt good about. I was feeding my baby! Such an amazing thing. However, each time she latched it did hurt slightly, just a soreness, but I thought this was to be expected as my nipples had to get used to it.
The midwives never told us what time they’d arrive, just that it would be in the morning. So Dave and I made sure that we got up and dressed by 9am. The midwife, a different one, turned up shortly after. She was concerned that I had only fed baby 4 times in 24 hours and said that I needed to feed her every 2-3 hours for the next few days. She then insisted on seeing me feed LP and again she wouldn’t latch and both her and I were getting stressed and anxious at the situation and again the midwife was trying to force her head onto me. LP just didn’t want to open her mouth on demand and again, she just wasn’t hungry. But I thought that the midwives knew best – what did I know, I’d never had a baby before! The midwife then said I had to hand express some colostrum and spoon feed it to LP to make sure she was getting something. I obviously looked confused so she then started to help me express by hand – by this I mean she manhandled by breast to try to get the colostrum out. She managed to get a couple of drops but not enough to do anything with. So again, she left, saying that she would be back the following morning to see how I was doing.
After she left I told Dave that I felt harassed and uncomfortable and that breastfeeding was proving hard enough without them coming back daily to see how I was doing with it, manhandling LP and I and making us both stressed. So I said to Dave that I’d try to feed LP every 2 hours, which gave me an hour window to get her to latch and feed. This ‘routine’ stressed me out completely. I felt that something awful would happen if I didn’t stick to it. I hadn’t dared tell the midwife that I was experiencing soreness when I fed LP as I felt they’d constantly watch over me, manhandle LP even more, make me more uncomfortable and it would make the situation worse. So I told myself that the first thing to do was to get LP feeding regularly and latching easily. After that I could sort out the pain. LP eating was the main thing.
So for the next 24 hours, LP fed roughly every 2.5-3.5 hours. I felt like it was such an achievement! The midwife came and asked how it was going and I said all the time’s I’d fed her and she was happy with that. She asked if I wanted her to come back the following day and I said I’d be fine.
By this point, 48 hours after LP was born, my nipples were a mess. LP had taken the top layer of skin off them on day 1 and feeding every 2-3 hours had taken their toll. Feeding didn’t hurt very much, but my nipples looked a mess! It wasn’t until the next day that the pain really started.
The next day every time LP fed it felt like someone was poking red-hot needles into my chest. The worst part was when she latched on. The pain was horrendous. Once she’d started feeding the pain eased but there was still a constant soreness. I knew that my nipples were healing and each time she fed it was disrupting the healing process and the pain started.
I spent the next 24 hours slathering my nipples in Lansinoh lanolin cream and airing them whenever possible! I really felt so undignified in those few days after LP was born. Sitting on the sofa in joggers and a nursing bra, with the flaps of the bra open and cream on my nipples! Luckily I have a very supportive, understanding Dave. There wasn’t much that anyone could have found attractive by that situation.
The next day, 4, was hell. My milk came in and my nipples would now leak whilst I was airing them and trying to get them to heal. Each time LP latched it made me want to cry with the pain and I found myself pulling away instead of welcoming LP to feed. It was awful. I decided to try expressing to give my nipples a break from the pain of LP latching on, and so that night we expressed. I’d heard that young babies can get confused if you introduce a bottle too soon, so instead me used a syringe to feed LP, but she didn’t like it at all! I managed to express about 15ml. Hardly anything, and LP just spat it back up and cried. I was so upset. nothing seemed to be working. So I carried on feeding normally and the next day I tried nipple shields instead.
Nipple shields were the weirdest things – big rubber teats that sit over your own nipples. By day 5, one of my nipples seemed fine, it still hurt but not as much as the other side, so I just used the shields on the worse side. They were a pain, had to be sterilised each use and you couldn’t feed discreetly with them. But they did ease the pain slightly. I carried on like this for a few days but then I read online that babies can get use to nipple shields and can get dependent on them, so I only used the shields for every other feed. It meant that the feed without them hurt like hell still but it made sure that LP still knew how to latch on that side without the shields.
After a few days I got rid of the nipple shields completely and went back to feeding normally. It still hurt, and I could see on my nipples where they were red, sore and scabbed over. I carried on putting the Lansinoh cream on before and after every feed and gradually I healed. It was when LP was about 3 weeks old that I realised that I was enjoying her feeding. I liked it. I started to embrace feeding and to welcome it every time she was hungry.
When breastfeeding was most difficult – the first 2 weeks – I was told so many times that if it hurts I’m doing it wrong. I knew though, that the damage had been done and LP was latching on and feeding fine, but I needed time to heal. Women don’t need to be told they’re doing it wrong, and there needs to be more exposure to the fact that breastfeeding can hurt like hell at first, but it does get easier and it does, eventually, get enjoyable.
When I was pregnant I knew I wanted to breastfeed, and when I’m determined to do something I tend to do it! I’m like a dog with a bone. However, there was a time, after about 4 days that if we had formula in the house I would have used it! I am so glad we didn’t buy a tin ‘just in case’ or I honestly don’t think I would be breastfeeding now.
After those first 3 weeks of pain I realised that I had come so far with breastfeeding, that this was now a journey I was going to love being on and a road I was happy to travel! From then on I breastfed wherever I was when LP needed feeding. I was always discreet and wore vest tops and cardigans so that I could pull the vest down and tuck LP inside my cardigan. I’ve fed her in cafes, restaurants, in the car, in the park, and in a bridal shop. Nowhere too outrageous! But if she needed feeding, I would happily feed her. So far I haven’t had any negative comments about breastfeeding – only really from family members – ‘You’re not going to feed her here are you?’ when sitting in Costa. Erm, yes I am!
I feed LP every 4 hours, roughly, day and night. Now that she is over 6 months we have started weaning onto solids but still feed very regularly. The only thing that changed at 6 months was that family and friends thought I would automatically stop breastfeeding. Something about ‘Breastfeeding exclusively for 6 months’ always seems to get translated into – stop feeding at 6 months. So I have had to explain on numerous occasions that LP will be breastfed until at least a year as if I stop feeding her before then I would need to move over to formula. I have nothing against formula feeding, but after everything I went through in those first weeks it would feel like it was all for nothing if LP ended up on formula anyway.
LP has never had a bottle. I’ve been away from her for less than 12 hours in total in 7 months and now if I need to be away from her she drinks milk from a sippy cup. I feel like her and I have achieved so much so far on this journey and it makes me so proud that every ounce of weight she put on in those first 6 months was from me.
I feel often, that people who don’t agree with breastfeeding, especially in public, don’t understand the lengths a woman goes to just to feed her baby. I have never felt so miserable, and such a failure as I did in those first 3 weeks. There were times when I didn’t want LP near me, and I felt terrible for that. The easy option would have been to give up, and to formula feed LP. But wanted to do what I felt was right for me and LP. I wanted to give LP the best start I could, and to do that I felt like I hit rock bottom. With everything you go through after giving birth, the bleeding, going to the toilet, sweating, losing hair and having such low self-esteem due to your post-birth body being different to how you had ever imagined, it isn’t surprising that breastfeeding not being the idealistic, beautiful experience you’d hoped for could be the final nail in feeling pretty damn miserable!
I dread going through the same thing next time. I think about how I felt this time, and I would rather go through labour again than feel the way I did with the pain and emotion of breastfeeding. But I do know that it gets better. It doesn’t hurt forever, and there are support systems out there. I just felt too pressured and suffocated by the midwives to use the available support networks.
One thing is for sure. I will continue feeding LP until at least a year, and I will do all I can to feed our next baby. I will also continue to feed LP whenever and wherever she needs to be fed. Baby’s gotta eat, right?