Breastfeeding. Where do I even begin?
This has been a real journey for me and Cub, as I'm sure it is for most women. We've been through a lot and I have to say I'm really proud of him, proud of me, proud of us and what we achieved together.
When Caleb was born he was taken from me immediately to be checked and taken up to neonatal to be given antibiotics so we were never allowed that initial chance to see if he would latch. My memories of this are a little hazy as to why but straight away he was fed with formula from a cup. We were asked which formula we wanted for him but we hadn't even thought of this scenario and had no idea so we went with what they recommended. He was sat on the knee of my midwife and his first feed came from her. It's only now I look back on that with great sadness. At the time, well, I was just grateful I suppose and glad that my baby was being fed and most importantly that he was ok.
Once we were on the transitional care ward Caleb was given cup feeds as a matter of course. Soon he stopped feeding from the cup, he was almost always too sleepy. They then tried to bottle feed him but he couldn't muster the energy to suck from the bottle, he sure as hell wasn't able to feed from me he didn't know how. He became too lethargic and the decision was made to tube feed him. For anyone who has had or has watched a tube being inserted will know how horrendous it is. I felt it my Mum duty to watch this happen but I really wish I didn't have that memory of my 2 day old baby. My perfect, peaceful, non crying baby cried his very first tears and screamed as loud as his little lungs would allow. As I write this I have tears in my eyes because it was utterly horrendous, and I feel desperately sad for the babies that have a tube permanently and for the parents that go through that rigmoral regularly. I still remember holding him to settle him and how scared I felt of that awful tube as if it were yesterday.
Mr JenandCub was amazing - he watched and learned how to feed him through his NG and was signed off. I was too terrified. Again, I wasn't able to feed my own baby. In the first couple of days I even wondered if he needed me at all and really struggled with that feeling despite knowing at the same time it was ridiculous. New Mum emotions errrrywhere!
Throughout those first couple of days the midwives were suggesting that I start expressing. I say suggest because that's all it was, they didn't stress to me the importance of it as my milk may not come in at all. Despite all the reading and research and breastfeeding classes it just didn't occur to me. I got a rather curt telling off from one of the nurses when she discovered I hadn't started expressing yet, I felt failing at motherhood before I'd even begun. So I expressed every 2 hours from that point even through the night. Another low point for me was the 6 doctors that came in to talk to me whilst I was expressing - looking like an actual cow. What dignity?
Caleb was still being tube fed but we kept trying the bottle and trying me but he wouldn't feed from me no matter what. He was too little and too weak to form the suck necessary.
In order for us to leave hospital one of the expectations/conditions was that he was going to have to be feeding without the tube so I was desperate to feed him myself.
Everyday I tried and tried with tears and frustration from us both. We gradually got him feeding from a bottle with less top ups from the tube until we could wean the tube completely. It felt like it took forever.
One of the transitional care nurses suggested using a nipple shield - I warn you now ladies it's up there with some of the least flattering sights but it did the job. I could have kissed her! I was finally able to feed my baby. It wasn't perfect but he was feeding. I still however, desperately craved and needed to feed my baby skin on skin.
The shield made feeding a faff, trying to use it with a baby that was still learning as well as trying to be discreet was near impossible. It made me very anxious about feeding in public but I adopted the mindset of my baby needs feeding and that will happen no matter what. I also learnt early on that Cub would pick up on any of my stress so stressing and flapping wasn't an option. Try being calm and serene when you have a screaming baby that won't feed and is exposing you to a room full of people! I also quickly learnt that people's reaction to breastfeeding is an interesting one but that could be another blog post entirely!
As Caleb neared what would have been his due date I was determined he would feed skin on skin. We practised like mad and some feeds would be ok and others weren't at all. His due date came and we did it, I couldn't believe it! No more faffing just him feeding from his mama the way I'd imagined. It took 4 intense weeks but we got there.
Using the shield lulled me into a false sense of security that it was fairly pain free. I knew it wouldn't be, the messages that had been flying around my mummies group were a stark warning! But oh boy, let me tell you, if anyone (breastfeeding experts) tell you it won't hurt - don't believe them!! It does hurt, of course it does, someone's gnawing on your nipples all day everyday. It's excruciating! Stock up on Lansinoh cream - it's the don.
When the cracks heal and your skin toughens the pain goes completely and this is where I found breastfeeding to be its easiest and most wonderful. This is when we got into our groove a bit more but plain sailing it has never - ever - been. Caleb was extremely fussy at the breast in the day and it sometimes felt hard work for us both. Nights were the dream. Just as well really as we spent a lot of time in the night feeding!
I breastfed for 7 months in all. 7 months of some great and some not great breastfeeding. But it was an amazing experience and I am so proud of what I achieved.
I would never judge any mother on the way she feeds her child. It's simple FED is best. For me, I was just determined it was something I would do and like most things in life if there's something I want, I get it - only child probs (insert sassy hand emoji). I also don't mean this to sound like a pity party it's just my honest story on MY breastfeeding journey. I naively thought I'd breastfeed without any problems.
When I stopped breastfeeding it wasn't through choice but because Caleb decided enough was enough. It happened kind of gradually, I'd been at a hen do and a wedding back to back and he was bottle fed whilst i wasn't there and he must have decided bottle was easier. At first he was just refusing me in the day but I still had the nights. Then the nights became fraught because he just wasn't interested in me. Man, that hurt. I tried so hard to keep it going. The saddest thing wasn't knowing my last feed was my last feed. The guilt I feel is also quite overbearing. That's personal to me, it doesn't matter what anyone else does or says, I put my own pressures on myself and I had my own ideals. I do realise how lucky I have been to have been able to feed my baby because I know women personally that can't, so for that I'm grateful.
Now Caleb is bottle fed and that's our norm. We're ok with that. In all honesty he feeds much better now, I just didn't want to admit it. It's worked wonders for his routines and sleep and if I'm honest I feel like a weight has been lifted. He's a content and happy baby and is chunking up like a good'un. I couldn't want for anything more.
I suppose the big question is would I breastfeed again?
♡ Jen and Cub