My Feeding Journey…the ups, downs and in betweens!

All the way through pregnancy I was 100% sure I wanted to breastfeed but I had known a few people who had wanted to and it hadn’t worked out so I tried to research as much as possible.

Before I go further I should probably say that anything I write is just my experience and I am in no way telling anyone what is ‘right or wrong’! Also, this is a long post – sorry – but I felt if I was going to tell my story I didn’t want to miss anything out – although I’m sure I will do!

Anyway, I had seen a great book recommended ‘The Blissful Baby Expert’ by Lisa Clegg, which followed an approach I believed in. In regards to feeding it taught me all kinds of things I didn’t know about; latching positions, appropriate pain, colostrum, fore milk, hind milk, babies’ stomach sizes to name a few! So I felt I was going into the process relatively well informed.

Everly was delivered by emergency C-Section so it was a little while after she was born before we tried the first feed. As I brushed my nipple towards her nose I waited for her mouth to open wide as I’d read, but it didn’t really and I wondered then how on earth I was supposed to get ‘as much nipple and areola’ into her mouth…my boob seemed so big and her mouth so small!

The midwife helped and showed me the best technique but she wasn’t sure Everly was latched on properly. It felt OK to me and I’d read some pain was to be expected particularly in the early weeks. I had asked beforehand that she be checked for tongue tie and just assumed this had been done so thought no more of it.

Up on the ward a rather matronly midwife told me when Everly was crying that ‘that baby is starving, you need to feed her’ – she had literally only been off the boob for 15 minutes having spent 30 minutes feeding, so I knew she wasn’t starving and resented the implication. I said I’d only just fed her and she gave me a look as if I didn’t know what I was talking about. Still unsure of the latch when she came back a couple of hours later she literally manhandled my boob into Everly’s mouth but I felt like I was suffocating her. Then she brought in some small syringes in an attempt to get me to hand-express a few drops of colostrum to feed Everly through the syringe. I was in tears by this point and felt like she just hadn’t given me a chance. So, I stuck with the latch we had – I could see and hear Everly swallowing so I knew she was getting something.

Back home over the first few weeks my nipples were constantly on fire, cracked and bleeding and it would take me a good few goes to get Everly to latch on and she would fall off fairly regularly. I was using Lanolin ointment and cold therapy breast pads all the time. I was dreading feeding – I cried my way through those first few weeks.

Luckily my partner Luke was very supportive making sure the breast therapy pads were in and out of the freezer but I knew he hated seeing me in pain and in despair one night he said ‘When are you going to give in and get some formula?’ I knew he was just concerned for my wellbeing but this made me feel even worse – like a failure. I developed mastitis in my right boob – it was bright red, hard and on fire – and don’t forget the flu-like symptoms that come with it! I specifically remember one occasion getting out of the shower – tough anyway after a C-Section – and even the towel just brushing my nipples had me in tears – they were so painful.

I started expressing after a week or so – in an attempt to ease the mastitis but also to introduce one bottle a day – I’d read this was good to avoid later rejection of a bottle when I went back to work. This helped a bit but was definitely a chore! The Tommee Tippee bottles we had made her very windy and we switched to Dr Brown’s which made a huge difference.

Everly was slow to put weight back on, made smacking noises when feeding and was very windy – she suffered with colic until she was about 12 weeks old. She favoured the left breast but the right was always the fullest – I had to rugby ball her on the right boob as she just wouldn’t latch any other way.

My life seemed constantly centred around feeding but we found a routine after about 4-5 weeks and the pain did ease…luckily she has always been a great sleeper – so this was some relief. Our routine

was 6.30/7am feed, back to sleep until 10/11am, second feed, then feed every 3 hours through the day until 10.30pm when she would have a bottled of expressed milk and sleep through. I was coping!

And then…at 15 weeks she regressed – she started messing around at feeds, constantly pulling off and getting frustrated. I was convinced my supply was dwindling until I got another batch of mastitis! I was so stressed and concerned for her weight gain that I would give her the occasional bottle of formula – I couldn’t express enough to give her EBM all day. I felt like a complete failure and to make it worse, family and friends weren’t giving me the support I needed – they were all pretty much telling me to give up – I’d done well so far etc. etc. – but this wasn’t what I wanted to hear and I didn’t want to stop – despite everything I loved feeding Everly!

Putting my pride aside, I went to see the Health Visitor at the drop-in clinic. I remember sitting waiting nervously to speak to someone after weighing Everly – I couldn’t bring myself to go up to anyone – not like me at all – so I just waited on a chair until someone came over.

A totally lovely health visitor came over and we talked. I mentioned the possibility I thought Everly had tongue tie – I had been googling (I’ve spent an awful lot of time on Google since E was born!) and she had EVERY symptom on the NHS website. The Health Visitor told me she didn’t feel qualified to check – but to see the GP. Also, our niece had recently arrived and she could poke her tongue right out which Everly couldn’t and I also noticed Everly’s tongue curl into a strange shape when she smiled – see picture below. Towards the end she said ‘you know you’ve answered a lot of your own questions and honestly, your baby is very happy, she’s been smiling at me this whole time we’ve been talking’. I felt so much better after talking to her – and booked an appointment – I wished I’d only considered this sooner but she’d been feeding pretty well until then all things considered.

An image of baby Everly showing her tongue tie, from Cate's breastfeeding journey

Fast forward to after the GP appointment – he barely touched her mouth and told me there was no tongue tie. When I told family and friends how convinced I was they looked at me like I was mad – she’s just a hungry baby they said, that’s why she fusses – she wants it quicker – just give her a bottle. So, I did. I tried to restrict it to 2 bottles a day; I’d given up expressing by this point – I just couldn’t get enough.

Not long after this, Debs posted about her experience with tongue tie and feeding trouble and I asked her for the details of a private specialist midwife she’d used. We got an appointment with her quickly and after a few key questions, she looked in Everly’s mouth and confirmed a posterior tongue tie. She explained this meant the skin at the back of tongue on the underside was short and tight which allowed minimal movement to feed. Therefore Everly had a high palette and hence the smacking noise and dribbling whilst feeding. I was relieved that finally there was an explanation but also felt guilty I hadn’t pursued my gut instincts sooner! She snipped the tongue there and then – not a pleasant experience but I knew it was short term pain for long term gain and by the next morning Everly latched herself on like a dream, stayed on and there was no smacking!

I combined breast and bottle until she started weaning at 6 months although in hindsight my gut told me she was ready at 5 months – disrupted sleep mainly told me this! Now at 7 months she has breast in the morning, 3 meals a day, a little breast snack during the day and bottles at 6.30 & 10.30pm – it works for us.

A picture of Everly looking happy and content, from Cate's breastfeeding journey

The last 7 months have taught me so much but I need to bullet point a few things and I really hope even one little thing helps maybe one other mum!

· Trust your gut – no one knows your baby better than you!

· Babies change all the time – just when you think you’ve nailed it they throw a curveball but it’s not you – it’s them! I have learnt to embrace the permanent adaptations!

· Tongue tie is becoming much more common and presents itself in all different shapes and sizes – if you’re concerned see a specialist as it is often missed by midwives and GPs due to lack of training

· Ask for help – if you want advice from other mums just ask – you don’t have to use it but it’s so helpful to have real insight and share experiences

· Do what is right for you and your baby – what works for one baby doesn’t work for another and 100% do not benchmark yourself or your baby against others

· When it’s too much – it’s OK to take five!

If you’d like me to share a story with other Boldly Glow Mamas email me with your story and a photo.

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