This time, things were going to be different. This time, if we were going to do it, my baby was magically going to bob his head across my chest and latch onto my nipple. We’d have no problems, and breastfeeding would just happen. Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t bother. I’ve written before about coming to terms about not breastfeeding E, and I really believed that when I met her brother, I wasn’t going to care if I had to bottlefeed him. I’d made my peace with all that, I was sure. Oh, fine, give feeding a good try in hospital, and get as much help as I could, but, you know, there’s nothing wrong with formula. I was realistic.
Only…when HalfPint bounced down my chest and tried frantically to latch, but couldn’t, something took over. I remembered one of my friends saying how she kept going because her son was so good at feeding, and I thought to myself that I had to do this. I had to keep this going. I sat in a chair, with the same midwife who had supported us with E’s earliest and only successful feed, and together we encouraged him to latch and feed. He sucked a few times but soon fell asleep, just like his sister.
This was a pattern that continued during our stay in hospital. HalfPint struggled to open wide, and when he latched, it was with varying degrees of success. Finally a midwife brought me a nipple shield, and we managed a reasonable feed, but I had a feeling something was wrong.
HalfPint’s sister was born with a tongue tie, and this behaviour was all very familiar. I didn’t know anything much about the condition first time around, but by the time he was due, I was fairly familiar with the concept of a tongue tie, and this time I pushed for a referral. We’d never had E’s treated. Her speech is clear, and advanced for her age, and the tie has never caused her much concern. HalfPint, on the other hand, struggled in a way that she never did, even with a bottle. Psychologically, this time, I was ready for the fight. HalfPint weighed 8lb 15 at birth, but he was struggling to latch onto the breast, and in addition, he was finding the bottle difficult. My community midwife finally agreed to a referral, down in the main to her positive relationship with me, and he was treated at 11 days old.
By then, the world and his wife, if you like, had seen my boobs. Everyone I had met had tried to encourage our reluctant son to magically bounce onto the breast, and not one had managed to succeed. We had come home breastfeeding with formula top ups, and by the time he had the tie treated, although I was expressing, the bulk of his feeds were formula. We’d decided that, over the Christmas period, and with a toddler on the loose, I could keep up expressing short term and no more. The referral came through, and we were told there were no more clinics until after Christmas. I remember crying in the local soft play, and telling my friend that I wasn’t ready yet to give up. She contacted a local LLL leader, and the following day, my midwife, God bless her, had a referral for HalfPint at a clinic south of the water.
In the beginning, my supply took a hit. I boosted it with Domperidone, even though I’d originally said to myself I wasn’t going to do that. Nipple shields were both a godsend and a curse, and I preferred to feed without them, even if it hurt. The Infant Feeding Co-ordinator whisked them away at week five, and he latched. Badly, but he latched. And he latched with some varying degree of success until week 12, (and boy did he complain if I interfered with that latch!) and that’s when I decided to stop.
As a breastfeeding mother, I learned to do any number of random activities with a feeding baby attached to me, although eating and drinking, and perusing the Cbeebies Playtime app on the tablet were the most common. For Valentine’s Day my husband ordered Chinese, handing me filled crispy duck pancakes but managing to put the prawn crackers down just out of reach. This absolute dependency, both on me and by me, took me completely off guard. Having to be brought sustenance, and having to have it placed in exactly the right spot so that I could access it while feeding, is difficult when you have a tendency towards self reliance. And yet, I was in awe of my body. I found it hard to believe I produced milk enough to sustain one small human, but produce it I seemed to do. Daily. Hourly, sometimes two hourly. Or more. Every time I fed him, it amazed me. He cuddled in to my breast, and fell asleep after a feed. And I loved that. I loved how he needed me to fall asleep and stay asleep. I didn’t love how it hurt, though. I didn’t love how he pinched my nipple, and I didn’t love wondering how I’d make it through the next feed. I’d started to dread him waking. But strangely, now, I don’t miss it, and neither does he.
On a practical level, the support I had was amazing. I spoke to local La Leche League leaders, went along to breastfeeding peer support groups, and I saw the local Infant Feeding Co-ordinator twice. All these women work hard to try and make breastfeeding happen. I wanted to carry on. I wanted to so badly, but the commonsensical side of me knew that I couldn’t keep feeding with a painful, shallow latch indefinitely. So my plan became to re-evaluate at twelve weeks. Twelve weeks felt like a natural end point if it has to be done. The end of the fourth trimester. I wasn’t sure how to do it, but I knew one thing: these women would. And when I finally, and sadly reached that point, I found that they did.
I pushed it to the end. I went to the very edge and when things didn’t improve, I made the difficult decision to stop. The crunch came when I found myself looking at him and almost crying at the thought of the pain. For me, that was the time. I was beginning to resent my own baby and his need for food. I realised I had to stop. And stop I did. Fairly simply and painlessly for both of us in our case, although I was a little engorged for a few days and suffered with a little bit of an infection.
So it was back to formula. HalfPint had still been having two bottles. One in the morning and one at night. Those feeds were my saviour. They allowed us to eat, and they meant that E wasn’t completely wedded to Mr Tumble and Show Me Show Me while her brother took what he needed from me. They gave us story time and play time together, and they allowed me to heal. Those bottles were the reason I kept going as long as I did, and they gave my son and I time to get to know each other. I found myself counting down the hours between formula feeds, and then realising that I had made it through another day; another week – the only problem was I was still in pain. And the pain didn’t seem to go away, no matter how hard or what I tried. Or everyone else tried. His latch was fine. Everyone who looked at it said it looked perfect, and that it would get better. His mouth would grow. At eight weeks, at ten weeks, at twelve weeks. Maybe at fourteen weeks. Maybe, maybe, maybe…
In the end, I realised I couldn’t live with the maybes any longer. Formula nurtured my daughter, and it is now nurturing my son. He is now much happier and healthier, and successfully gaining weight (something of an issue at the breast), and I am much less anxious and stressed. Our family balance has shifted, and my husband and I take much more joint responsibility for his care, and I am able to spend more than a tiny window with my girl. In our case, it’s a godsend. I know for others breastfeeding works out. It seems to be right for them. For us as a family, and for me, it just wasn’t. For me the pain never stopped. Much as I wanted to continue our breastfeeding journey, I realise now that the pain was clouding my relationship with my son and my daughter, and beginning to turn everything dark. Sometimes, even if you really something to work, you can’t make it, no matter how hard you try. Breastfeeding for me was like the break up I almost knew was inevitable but didn’t want to happen. I’m glad we let it go when we did. It was the right time for us. I took it as far as I possibly could, and I’ll always have these past three months.
There’s always someone who will disagree with you and question your choices. There’s always someone who will think I didn’t do enough, or that I should have tried harder. Yet I don’t feel the need to make excuses, or justify myself any more. I did everything I possibly could, and I drove myself further than I really needed or wanted. In the end, I did what was right for my family.
The golden rule, after all, is to feed the baby.