I came across your UKfedisbest website and it opened up a raft of emotions that I was not aware still lay within. I’m sharing my story below because I hope it will prevent someone else from the having the same experience that I had, and also as a sort of therapy for myself. For this, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
When I was pregnant with my first child (in Canada, far from my UK home and family), the wife of a colleague died during childbirth. I became convinced that the hospitals were over-stretched and chose to go to a private midwife to support me throughout the pregnancy.
All through the pregnancy, things went well and I decided that I’d like to try for a home birth but despite my waters breaking naturally, the home birth was not to be and after 11 hours of home-labour, I spent a further 12 hours in labour with an epidural before finally ending up with a c section. I was exhausted.
Illness and Exhaustion
The midwife put my son to my breast and he latched reasonably well. However for the next week, if he wasn’t at the breast, he was crying.
After 3 days, it became apparent that my incision site was badly infected and aside from being absolutely exhausted after the labour and surgery, as well as not sleeping for more than a snatched 30 minutes at a time, I was ill.
The staff thought it was lovely that my son wanted to breast feed all the time.
I was in hospital for 6 days. Once home, this “cluster feeding” continued.
At 10 days, my son was finally weighed and all were shocked to discover that he had lost a lot of weight.
Triple Feeding Nightmare
We were advised to give formula to top up but to persevere with the breast feeding.
I was to feed on each side for 20 minutes THEN top up with a bottle THEN pump for 20 minutes each side, every three hours, starting from when the last feed began. So, essentially, I never got more than an hour of sleep at a time and I was still on antibiotics.
We did this for a week, by which time my son had regained weight but was still very unsettled. It was clear that I was not producing enough milk so I was prescribed domperidone… I was advised to drink various teas to stimulate milk production… I was advised to spend a day naked with my child to stimulate more milk production…
..But at no point did anyone say “hey, you’re exhausted – are you surprised that your body can’t produce milk?”.
After 3 weeks, my incision was still infected and broke open. More antibiotics. Both mother and son diagnosed with thrush several times.
A month later, I was still pumping 6-8 times a day as well as feeding 6-8 times a day.
Eventually, we mix-fed for 5.5 months and my son is now very healthy, but can I say that I enjoyed those nurturing first months?
No. I was so exhausted, I barely remember some parts of it.
I was basically just ill and my son starved for the first 10 days of his life but the breastfeeding was seen to be so vital – more so than fundamental nourishment and more so than the health of the mother or the bond with the child.
Permission to Put Myself and My Baby Above Breastfeeding
When I had my second child (in Scotland), I hoped and prayed that I would miraculously have enough milk. But after 3 days, she was weighed in the hospital and was losing weight, so we started mixed feeding to make sure he was fed.
After 6 weeks, it became clear that I just didn’t have enough milk for her and it wasn’t going to magically come in.
In tears yet again at having to supplement, a kind, caring health visitor suggested that only I knew what was best but that I had to think of myself too. I am immensely grateful to her as I felt I had “permission” to put my mental health and the bond between my child and I above the breastfeeding.
I am still emotionally hurt by the whole experience. When I look back, I see a highly vulnerable new mum who had been through a lot, who was pushed and pushed but to what end?
Are the relative benefits of breast feeding really so much greater than the emotional health of the mother?
So, please go on with the message of “fed is best”. It is so true. I was bottle fed as a child and I am very healthy, with absolutely no weight problems and am rarely ill.
We strive and strive to be the best parents we can but fundamentally, making sure that children are well fed and loved is surely the most important ?
Incidentally, I learn now, that mothers with hypothyroidism (which I have) have a higher tendency towards producing too little milk.
No-one ever told me this.
No-one thought to increase my thyroid medication to increase milk production.
I just got the message that I should try harder.
I hope that women can be supported to provide for their child, ensuring that their baby is well nourished. Absolutely, support those who want to breast feed, but also support those who don’t want to, and also recognise that it genuinely doesn’t work for some people, no matter how hard they try.
Give these new mums a break. They’re going through enough as it is !