My breastfeeding story – part one 


Tiny Daphne just a few hours old, after her first formula feed

I’ve put off writing this for so long, because I know how upsetting it will be. But today I had lunch with a friend who has a month-old baby and she was talking about how painful breastfeeding was and it all came flooding back to me. And I thought, I want to write this down because it was such a HUGE thing for me to deal with, and I want any other mum out there having the problems I had to feel they are not alone.

As you may already know if you’ve read my birth story, Daphne was born in the evening after a three-day labour and five hours of pushing. I had to be put on a syntocinon drip in the end, and I had a catheter and a second degree tear. I lost my voice through screaming (no pain relief!), bruised my forehead against the side of the birthing pool and lost the sensation in the tips of my fingers thanks to squeezing Oli’s hands so hard. I hadn’t eaten anything other than sweets for 24 hours and hadn’t slept for more than an hour for 72 hours*. By the end of my labour, I felt as though I had been in a car crash. I could hardly walk. Physically, I had never felt so terrible. Emotionally however, I was on a massive high. The weirdest thing is, it really was the best experience of my life.

After she was born, and I’d been stitched up (by a trainee, meaning the whole process took AGES – nothing like watching two midwifes poring over your bits, with one of them telling the other to ‘do that bit a bit tighter’), I shuffled along for a shower. A shower I actually didn’t really want – I would far rather have been sponged down but I was told to go and shower, so I did. I stood hunched over in the shower and bled. A lot. As you do when you’ve just given birth. The blood pooled all over the floor when I got out and I tried to clean it up with loo roll, but every time I bent over I felt dizzy and sick. It was so hot in that shower and I was still convinced I might die. Or faint at the very least. Anyway, after the shower from hell, I got myself dressed somehow, stuffed a huge maternity pad in my knickers and shuffled back to the room I’d had Daph in. Walking along the corridor, I remember hearing all the women in the other rooms screaming. It was a horrible sound and so strange to think I’d been making those exact noises not long before. I was wheeled in a wheelchair up to the postnatal ward, and all I could think was ‘thank god, now I can sleep’.

When Daphne was first born, I had skin to skin with her as requested, and she tried her best to latch on. But we were both knackered, so she didn’t quite manage it, and the midwives were preoccupied and no one really thought about me trying to feed her straight away. But she definitely tried, bless her heart.

By the time I was settled into my delightful bed on the postnatal ward, Daphne all swaddled and tucked up in her plastic cot, it was about 11pm. I said goodbye to Oli, who had to get back home to feed the cat, and collapsed into the bed.

Somehow I slept. God knows how given the adrenaline and the racket all the other new babies and mums were making. But I did. For about an hour at least. Around midnight, Oli texted me that he hoped I was sleeping but Daphne had woken up and done her first huge black sticky poo so I was busy trying to change her. My first ever nappy change and I was so tired I was almost delirious. I managed it and was quite chuffed with myself. Again, I assumed now we could sleep.

But at around 3am Daphne woke up again, and this time she was hysterical. I picked her up and tried to comfort her, but it didn’t work. All I could think was how tired I was, and why wouldn’t she sleep. Stupid, but it never occurred to me that she would be hungry. I don’t know why. I feel so ashamed of that now. After 20 mins of hysterical tears, I got up and shuffled through the dark ward to the reception area. I found a midwife. I handed her Daphne and said ‘she won’t stop crying. I don’t know what to do.’

The midwife looked at me and said ‘have you fed her?’ I shook my head. She gave her back to me and disappeared for a minute. She came back with a tiny bottle of formula, took Daphne back and fed her. I watched as my little girl gulped the milk down and then fell into a satisfied sleep.

I took her back to the ward and watched her sleeping. Then fell asleep myself.

At 6am, I was woken by someone offering me paracetamol. I took it, without wanting it particularly. I wanted sleep more. Then another nurse came round and asked me how my breastfeeding was going. I told her I hadn’t done any yet. She looked genuinely concerned, then in a businesslike manner set about trying to get Daphne to latch on. But Daph was having none of it. She actually turned away from my boob. I became fixated on the fact that I smelt of shower gel, and paranoid it meant Daphne didn’t recognise me from before when she’d tried to feed. The nurse helped me to hand express some colostrum which we gave to Daphne in a syringe. She threw it all up. The midwife told me to keep trying to latch her on and to express as much as possible.

The rest of that day was a blur of visitors and inspections and checks. Everyone was concerned with how small Daph was – she was only just above the weight at which they keep babies in for glucose testing. The only thing I could focus on was getting her to eat something – anything. Oh and getting out of the hospital so that I could go home and sleep. I had some formula left from the night before which I gave to her, reasoning she’d already had some so a little more was unlikely to hurt. She drank it all and didn’t throw up.

At some point I was told that I wouldn’t be able to go home because I had yet to successfully breastfeed. I cried. I just wanted to get out of that place so desperately, and back to my own bed. It was so noisy. Then, miraculously, Daphne seemed to latch on a bit. She took a few sucks. God knows if anything came out, but the midwife agreed to let me leave.

I took her home with a bottle of formula ‘just in case’. Daphne was so tiny, all I wanted was for her to eat. And that was probably the beginning of the end for us, but I’ll stop here until the next post because this is already so long and already I feel so sad remembering it all.

Read part two of my breastfeeding story >

Read part three of my breastfeeding story >

*Just a little caveat: I know most people’s labours are pretty horrific, and I’m not trying to say mine was worse than anyone else’s. But I didn’t quite realise just how physically tired I would be – I was ready for the pain, but not the exhaustion.

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  • Reply
    Stacey Sheppard
    January 8, 2016 at 10:47 am

    Oh Charlotte, I could be reading my own birth story here. It was almost exactly the same for me. I don’t know how you survived 72 hrs though as mine only lasted 30 hrs before I gave up and begged for intervention. But I was also on a drip and pushed for 5 hrs being being taken to the operating theatre for a forceps delivery.
    Do not be ashamed that it didn’t register that Daphne was hungry when she woke crying. I did the same with Matylda but I was so tired I just couldn’t think straight. It’s such a shame that you weren’t supported more by the midwives. In that situation when you’re so incredibly exhausted you really need more guidance from the staff. At the very least they could tell you when to try feeding and check you’re getting on OK.
    I also felt let down by the midwives when I first tried feeding Matylda. I couldn’t do it but nobody really seemed that interested and they kept saying “you’ll get it eventually, keep trying”. God knows how they let me go home because we obviously weren’t getting it. Two days later we were back in the special baby unit because Matylda had lost too much weight and was jaundiced. It seemed that now the midwives were taking things more seriously and I got lots of support for the next week while in hospital.
    It would have been a very different story for me had we not been sent back. I really sympathise with you and I know how upsetting it is. I cried practically the whole week long as I felt a total failure as a mother. I had one job to do and I couldn’t do it. But luckily for me one lovely midwife stuck with me until we did get the hang of it.
    It was my awful experience that first week and the total lack of support I felt at first that made me want to train as a breastfeeding peer supporter. Women definitely need more help in those first few hours and days. Yes it’s totally natural to breast feed but it’s also something both the mother and the baby need to learn. And nobody really tells you how hard it can be. Especially when you’re so exhausted and broken.
    I’m awaiting the next installment of your story rather tentatively as I have a feeling things got worse for you. I’m so sorry you had to go through this. Please don’t blame yourself. It’s obvious Daphne is thriving now. Xxx

    • Charlotte Duckworth
      Charlotte Duckworth
      January 8, 2016 at 4:39 pm

      Ah glad to know it wasn’t just me! I think I was so shell-shocked, I had no idea what was going on really, and feeding her just hadn’t occurred to me! Daft. I’m glad you got it sorted with Matylda in the end – not glad you had to go through the jaundice though. It’s ridiculous really. All wards need a breastfeeding specialist who just does that, and spends at least an hour or two with each new mum… x

      • Reply
        Stacey Sheppard
        January 8, 2016 at 8:06 pm

        It is ridiculous! Considering the aim is to increase breastfeeding rates, it seems like a pretty sensible idea to have someone on hand to support women straight after birth.

  • Reply
    January 8, 2016 at 1:57 pm

    Charlotte your story brought tears to my eyes. I am so so fortunate that I had such supportive and amazing midwives and a lactation consultant whose main priority after birth was getting George to latch and get him feeding. I experienced a lot of pain in the first few weeks of breastfeeding…I remember vividly sitting in the bath crying at how sore my nipples were but after 2 weeks it finally went away and 3 months later we are still going strong. I now stress the importance of getting help right in the beginning for any mother wanting to breastfeed…it really does make the world of difference.

    • Charlotte Duckworth
      Charlotte Duckworth
      January 8, 2016 at 4:41 pm

      Ahh so glad it worked out for you guys! And yes, you really do need an awful lot of support to begin with, and you don’t even know you need it to ask for it, which makes it even harder!

  • Reply
    Lekki Wood
    January 8, 2016 at 4:15 pm

    Oh, girlie. I know one has to say “I’m very grateful… I know other people have it worse… Blah blah blah” but I can honesty say: you had it about as bad as it gets (for those who end up with healthy mum and baby as the outcome). That doesn’t mean it wasn’t special, or magical, or something others wouldn’t gladly go through to have a baby – but it was pretty hellacious, and not normal in the sense that it was not a typical experience. For whatever reason, you drew the short straw on first birth experiences. I had two days on syntocin with Sam, without an epidural, and it was nothing like that! You had it bad. But you came, you endured, you conquered and you got the best prize of all

    As for breastfeeding – well done on writing your story. I promised to write mine with Sam for a friends’ blog over a year ago – it is too painful for me to revisit yet. Maybe you will give me be courage

    • Charlotte Duckworth
      Charlotte Duckworth
      January 8, 2016 at 4:42 pm

      Thanks so much Lekki! It was funny because it was horrendous but I’ve never felt so empowered. Cheesy but true! So I never want to sound like I’m complaining, although I do think the knock-on effect of the long labour was the failure to breastfeed and that does make me sad. And feel a wee bit sorry for myself. Not too much though 😉 xx

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