Breastfeeding problems: The tricky combination of boobs and babies
Hollie is a day off four weeks old now, and she is only just almost back up to her birth weight. Much like I did with Rex, I wanted to breastfeed her, and was really positive it would be a much easier experience this time around when she seemed to take to it almost immediately. This is what I'd read/heard about in all the information from midwives, leaflets, online – babies being born and them taking to feeding instinctively. Naturally. It's easy, right?
I feel like I spend a lot of my time saying 'I wish I was told this' about a lot of things to do with having children. And I'm not about to stop. When it comes to newborn babies, my biggest frustration is the lack of information and support when it comes to feeding. The truth is, breastfeeding is a new skill that both mum and baby have to learn, and if you're not on the same page, it can take weeks for it to work properly, if at all. Like learning any new skill, people learn at different rates. Some babies take to breastfeeding immediately, others don't, and actually I know very few mums whose breastfeeding experience has been without issue.
I had no idea that was the case when Rex was born, so when it didn't work, I was not only devastated, but convinced it was a total failure on my part. With Hollie I decided I would try again, but do my best not to spiral down the same failed thoughts if it didn't work out.
Hollie had jaundice in the first week of her life, which made her extremely sleepy. So while she would latch on to me with no issue, the effort it took her to actually feed would wear her out and she would fall asleep, sometimes within seconds. This meant she was barely feeding and lost almost 10 per cent of her body weight after just days of being born. Because of this she has been weighed every 48 hours since, with the first three weigh-ins her having lost more weight each time.
Since then, it has been an uphill struggle to try and establish feeding. I have had her attached to me for what has felt like all day some days in order to try and up and maintain my milk supply, and afterwards I'm having to top her up with formula in order to make sure she is getting what she needs.
Breastfeeding Rex was also a struggle, and by this point with him, I was in the depths of depression. Every healthcare professional I spoke to insisted I keep persevering with breastfeeding, despite it clearly making me ill. Thankfully, this time round I'm not in the place I was back then, so have been able to take a very balanced, logical approach of taking it a day at a time, with the view that if I continue to mix breastfeeding and formula, Hollie will eventually be big and strong enough for me to wean her off the formula top ups. But I'm also very mindful that this might not be the case, and that bottle feeding might just be the better option.
'Fed is best' – yes, I KNOW!
I've heard and read 'fed is best' a lot recently, and I totally get the sentiment behind it. It comes from a good place and I know almost every time people say as a way to help make my life easier. However, I find it quite dismissive when people just say 'just give her a bottle' or 'fed is best'. I don't know if this is the same for anyone else, but not only does it give me a small sense that I'm failing, it also completely discounts the fact that I want to to breastfeed.
I love the physical closeness and emotional connection I have when I breastfeed Hollie, and want that to continue, certainly while she's still so little. I know it's not for some people, and that's fine, but for me, right now, that's how I would like to feed my baby. And when you spend weeks busting your ass trying to learn how to do it, the last thing you want to hear from people is to just give up and stick a bottle in her mouth.
I could just make life easier and switch her to being solely formula fed, and if it turns out that that is what is best for her in terms of her growth then I will, of course, do that. But all the while she is still happily feeding on me and taking a bottle, we will carry on. If anything I feel like I've got the best of both worlds right now as I get to feed her but can also let other people feed her (and have an hour to myself).
Mine and Hollie's breastfeeding journey is very much a take it an hour at a time right now, and I'm very aware that I need to be adaptable to what she needs. I just wish there was more information/talk at antenatal appointments that breastfeeding can actually be super hard and it doesn't work for everyone. And, most importantly, if it doesn't, you're not a failure, you're not the world's worst mum and you're certainly not alone.