24 hours after a 30 hour labour which culminated in an emergency C-section, all was not well with breastfeeding my daughter.
Although initially successful, a day later she struggled to latch as I couldn’t position her properly due to the swelling and pain around my C-section incision. Breast feeding was agony and my baby was feeding every 15 minutes. I was told repeatedly by staff on the ward that it was ok because she was cluster feeding and it was to bring my milk in. I was told that pain was normal (described as discomfort by the nurse but as agony by me!). I had staff check the latch repeatedly and was told all was fine. After only 48 hours in hospital, I was discharged, even though I had had a C-section and was clearly struggling. Both nipples were bleeding and my baby was constantly feeding.
The day after my discharge from hospital I had infections in both nipples, mastitis in one and complications around my C-section.
I was on a variety of pain killers and drugs and was barely functioning. I showed my battered and bleeding breasts to midwives and health visitors expecting support but was told ‘baby doesn’t mind a bit of puss and blood’ and was repeatedly given appointments with lactation consultants. I wasn’t given much practical advice, just told that breastfeeding can be difficult to start with, but worth persevering. I felt like I couldn’t say no to breastfeeding, there was no alternative and so went along with it. My breasts continued to get worse and worse.
By 2 weeks, my daughter screamed a lot. I was still on a very high dose on anti-biotics, still very ill and I had lost 2 stone (on top on the stone I lost pretty much as soon as I had had my baby).
I went to see the doctor who, after seeing the state of my nipples (open sores, blood and puss) told me to not let my baby feed from my breasts as this was clearly making them worse.
To continue would mean that I would not get rid of the infection, they wouldn’t heal and I would be jeopardising any future I had in breastfeeding my daughter.
So I stopped letting her feed from my breasts but started to express by means of an electric pump. Due to the cocktail of drugs I was now taking, I was advised not to give the expressed milk to my daughter but to replace with formula for the interim. I wasn’t given any clear advice on how often I should pump.
My health visitor turned up the next day and basically dismissed what my doctor had told me.
She said in order to keep my supply in, I needed to pump every hour or so, including throughout the night and that I could give this milk to the baby as any side effects ‘were in my head’. I was made another appointment with the lactation consultant.
For another week I expressed milk around the clock. At this point my daughter was diagnosed with severe reflux. When I discussed the diagnosis with my health visitor, I was told that breast fed babies don’t get severe reflux and that my daughters’ condition was due to not being breast fed. She said that as soon as I was breast feeding again she would get better, and pushed for me to go to the lactation consultant. I explained that I was struggling and didn’t know if I could face the battle with my daughter to go back onto breast .
I was struggling to pump every hour as I was exhausted and felt pretty much like the worst mother on earth.
I was concerned about how switching between formula and breast would affect my daughter but none of these concerns were addressed.
I worried about going back to exclusive breastfeeding as I had been told that combi feeding wasn’t recommended because it wouldn’t allow me to increase my supply.
I was also told of the problems/risks of formula feeding, and that breastfeeding would be fine if I just persevered.
The only information I had been given about formula was, at best, vague, and consisted mainly of highlighted the negatives.
I have never felt so alone and desperately unhappy in my life.
I had come to the end of my tether and didn’t know what to do.
I thought that I was making my daughter ill, that I wasn’t trying hard enough. I couldn’t keep my supply up because I couldn’t always pump every hour as I fell asleep from exhaustion. I felt like I was a very bad mum.
Then, a health visitor that I had never seen before, took one look at me and saw that I had had enough. I broke down and admitted that I couldn’t carry on.
My daughter was 4 weeks old and although I still had milk, I also still had severe infections in both nipples and was on a variety of drugs. The health visitor basically agreed that I’d done everything I could and fully supported me by discussing how to stop expressing without causing discomfort and reassured me that I was not harming my daughter by feeding her formula.
My daughter is now 20 weeks old and I feel guilty every day about not breast feeding.
I cry in the bath when there’s no one around to see.
I feel like I’ve not only caused my baby to develop reflux which made her very ill, but also that I’m not a proper mum. Proper mums breast feed you see.
I’ve been criticised, and made to feel like a selfish mother.
I’ve been told that I am putting my health and the health of my daughter at risk because I didn’t breast feed.
I’ve been told that she is at risk of being obese and having a less developed immune system because she is formula fed.
I even looked at how I can attempt to get my milk supply back the other day as I feel so deeply ashamed that I couldn’t continue to breastfeed.
It’s sad that I missed out on so much in those first few weeks as I had such a miserable time, and I will never get that time back.
I didn’t really enjoy my baby until she was 6 weeks old as the strain of trying to breastfeed broke me.
I needed compassionate help and support … not judgement, and I didn’t get it until a lot of damage had been done.