Now where was I? I think I left you with me finally being discharged from hospital, with a tiny bottle of formula and no idea how I was going to feed my baby. It sounds selfish, but really all I was focusing on was getting some sleep. HA. The first night, Daph refused to sleep unless she was being held. So Oli got up and held her all night in the living room while I slept. Of course, that meant she didn’t feed then either…
The next day is a bit of a blur – we were told that the midwife would be coming to visit us at home at some point, but I had no idea when. I can’t even remember now if I tried to breastfeed Daph or not – I probably had a go but I was weirdly focused on trying to get out of the house to go and buy all the things we didn’t already have that we suddenly realised we needed. Like enough sleepsuits! I think it was some way of wrestling back control after feeling like I’d lost it completely.
When the midwife arrived, she had a long chat with us and asked how breastfeeding was going. I told her not very well, and she asked me to show her what we were doing. I did so, and Daph screamed and cried as I tried to feed her, beating my boob with her little fists. The midwife (who was lovely but SO young) tried to help me get Daph to latch on for about twenty minutes, before she proclaimed that Daph was a ‘reluctant sucker’ and gave up. She said she’d book us in for a session with the breastfeeding specialist at the hospital when we went in to have her weighed in a few days’ time, and told me to buy a breast pump and express as much as possible to ensure my supply didn’t disappear. Oh and to ‘keep trying’…
So that’s what we did. We bought a Medela Swing and I set about trying to milk myself like a cow. I got the hang of it quite quickly and was quite impressed when Daph drank what I had produced easily from a bottle. At least she was getting some colostrum, I kept telling myself, cheerleader-fashion. I decided maybe the problem was that she was too small and couldn’t yet figure out how to latch on properly. I decided I could just carry on expressing and feeding her from a bottle, and that I wouldn’t worry about trying to get her to latch on until she was a bit bigger and stronger. I suppose a bit of my heart had already gone out of the whole thing – watching Daph screaming while I tried to force her to feed was such an unpleasant experience, whereas watching her gulping happily from a bottle made me feel like I was doing something right.
But in the back of my mind, I felt this terrible pressure. IT WAS BEST FOR DAPHNE! If I didn’t breastfeed SHE’D BE STUPID AND HAVE ALLERGIES! SHE’D GET TERRIBLE TUMMY UPSETS! SHE’D DEVELOP ASTHMA! EVERYONE I knew seemed to have managed to breastfeed, so why couldn’t I? My hormones were all over the place, and when I woke up the next day, I had soaked the bed with milk. This weirdly cheered me up – I figured that now it all seemed to be, er, flowing, so abundantly, I’d be able to feed her easily. But it didn’t matter that now she didn’t have to work for it, she still HATED anything to do with my boob. Every attempt to feed her resulted in both of us crying – she would put her mouth around my nipple and then just scream in rage and frustration that it wasn’t the same as the lovely silicone teat she was now used to.
Friends told me to get in touch with a lactation consultant to get the problem sorted, but if I’m honest, by then I’d had enough of all the advice. I was going insane with everyone telling me something different – spend all day in bed doing skin-to-skin (mentally I really couldn’t bear this, I felt desperate to get up and wash), try different positions, different times of day, feed her a bit first so that she wasn’t starving, don’t feed her first so she doesn’t fall asleep… I couldn’t take it all in. And lactation consultants weren’t cheap. I’d already spent a small fortune on bottles and sterilisers and the breast pump – all things I hadn’t bought before as I’d been convinced I wouldn’t need them. I’d been awake most of every night googling breastfeeding, and I was driving myself a bit nuts. I decided to wait until we saw the specialist at the hospital before doing anything more.
When we turned up however, it turned out she’d been called away to a home birth, and there was no one else I could see. I asked if we could book another appointment with her, but she was due to go on annual leave the next day (downside of August babies!). I felt very depressed by this – it was like everything was working against us, and all the while I felt this time pressure ticking away in the back of my mind, knowing that the longer we left it, the less likely it was she would ever feed successfully.
In the end, I booked a private (incredibly expensive) lactation consultant. She came over about a week and a half after Daphne was born. She was lovely and supportive but (obviously) VERY pro breastfeeding and to begin with made me feel quite shit about everything I’d been doing. She kept saying ‘the main thing is you didn’t leave it any longer’ and all I felt was more and more pressure. She was impressed I’d kept my supply up through pumping but told me to offer my boobs to Daph EVERY HOUR day and night. She also introduced me to the nipple shield, explaining that Daphne was now completely used to drinking from a bottle and wouldn’t like the different feel that a nipple had. She sat with me while we tried to get Daph to latch on using the nipple shield – and I was stunned when it worked like a charm. It was the first positive thing that had happened to me since she’d been born and I was so, so happy. Perhaps the nipple shield was going to solve all our problems.
But what I hadn’t been prepared for with breastfeeding was just how long it all took. As I was expressing at the same time, it felt like I spent my entire day on my backside or in bed, either pumping, or sitting there with a miserable, frustrated baby and a slimy, milk-soaked nipple shield trying to force it into her mouth. My bed and clothing were always damp with milk. Pretty much every day I would burst into tears at some point. All I wanted was for someone to tell me it was OK to stop. But the someone that I wanted to tell me it was OK to stop was me. And I was my own worst enemy.
I’m not a quitter in general – I’m incredibly stubborn and strong-willed when I want to do something. I had always envisaged breastfeeding as all my friends had done – I’d put on my maternal fat stores godammit, and bought a butt-ugly breastfeeding chair! It was going to happen. It HAD to happen.
In the middle of all my investigations and googling, I’d read somewhere that it could take up to 40 days to establish breastfeeding and I clung onto that. Every day I hoped for a breakthrough, but every day it got a little bit harder…
Gosh this is long. I’m sorry. There’s so much to say and I can’t tell if all this detail is incredibly boring or not. Really, what I wanted to talk about was the emotional side of trying to breastfeed, and giving myself permission to stop, because that’s what nearly killed me. So I’ll stop now and I’ll cover that in part three! Something cheery to look forward to! 😉