This week, my mum read my five-month baby update post, and told me it was ‘much better than the one with all those pictures of breast pumps’. So sorry, to anyone who feels similarly – I know the last two posts on my experiences with breastfeeding have been heavy on the TMI factor, feel free to skip if detail of this kind of thing is not for you!
I had quite a lot of responses from my last post, but mostly on Facebook (if you’re on Facebook and fancy giving me a like, you can do so here!). Some of them made me feel defensive again, and then I had to take some deep breaths and remember that it’s me who’s being oversensitive and that people (on the whole) mean well. On a similar note, when Daphne was first born and I was still trying my best to breastfeed with little luck, I changed my Facebook profile picture to one of me, Daph and Oli, and in the picture Oli was feeding Daph from a bottle. I got lots of likes (as you do when you put up pictures of your newborn baby, I’ve been happy to discover!) and comments, but then some random Facebook acquaintance wrote ‘Bless. Is that formula she’s drinking?’ and I burst into ridiculous tears.
I also felt furious with her for thinking she had any right to comment or ask, and considered writing back that it was none of her bloody business, but instead, I did the rather more kneejerk thing and deleted the comment and removed her as a friend. Such were my levels of sensitivity. The irony was that Daphne was actually drinking expressed milk. Ha.
On a similar note, I remember an innocuous comment on the Whatsapp thread of my NCT group – it seemed my group had universally got the hang of breastfeeding, and there was just one other lady who had had issues with it at the start – it was such a relief not to be the only black sheep. But then she managed to get the hang of it after a week or so, and said something like ‘So glad I’ve managed it, it’s SO worth it’. Again, not intended as a dig (it’s not all about you Charlotte!) but I couldn’t help but take it as yet more criticism and evidence of my failure.
I started to seek out friends who’d had similar issues, and I can’t tell you how comforting it was to hear of mates who’d stopped after a month with mastitis, or those who’d hated the whole thing – not that I was pleased that other people were going through what I was going through, but it really stopped me feeling like the Only Person In the World Who Couldn’t Breastfeed.
Anyway, I continued to try. I continued to pump as much as humanly possible, but as Daphne got bigger she inevitably got hungrier, and the amount of milk I could express began to fall behind what she needed more and more, meaning she had to have more formula to make up the shortfall. Every day I would pump some milk then sit with Daph and try to get her to latch on with the nipple shield, and I would say only one day in ten did she manage it – most of the time she just screamed and hit me and went purple with rage. I’d try until I felt like my head would explode, before inevitably collapsing into sobs too. It was horrible and worst of all – ruining those precious early days with my baby.
I decided I needed to up my milk supply, and so I started taking Fenugreek. It’s a galactagogue?! For those not in the know – a weird herb that smells of curry and makes you smell of maple syrup (it really does!) but somehow increases the amount of milk you produce. I was taking huge amounts of the stuff in the hope that it would boost my supply, and it did, but only for a day or two. I ate ridiculously expensive ‘breastfeeding bars’ (which tasted nice but not sure had much impact). I also hired an industrial breast pump – the Medela Symphony – which was a beast of a machine, and bought a hands-free breast pump bra so that I could work both boobs at the same time.
One day, I went to my parents’ for Sunday lunch, and left the funnel part of my portable pump at home. This was probably my lowest point – I was beside myself with anxiety knowing that I wouldn’t be able to pump for at least four hours, which meant a) my boobs would be in agony and b) it would reduce my supply the next day. But a teeny tiny part of me was relieved. It meant, for the first time since Chip was born, I could have a nice Sunday lunch with my whole family, and not have to scuttle off and shut myself in a room alone (and away from my lovely baby) for half an hour to pump.
I continued though, using the monster machine. One day, I noticed that my nipples had started to go white. My boobs also ached unbearably as if they were bruised. I wondered if I was doing them some damage with all this pumping and suction. I googled the white nipple thing and found hundreds of other posts from other pumping mums complaining of the same thing. Apparently it’s when the blood supply to your nipple begins to be cut off. It’s called NIPPLE BLANCHING. Doesn’t sound good does it?
About a week after this, I realised that I was pumping less milk each day, despite pumping just as often. My boobs were giving up on me. It was almost like they were giving me permission to stop – all the advice said ‘pump more to increase your supply’ but nothing I did made any difference. It started to hurt so much I couldn’t bear it. I’d never been more miserable while never being more in love. Just short of six weeks after Daphne was born, I pumped my last bottle of milk – a measly 25ml. I left it on the side in the kitchen and never even bothered to feed it to her. It seemed such a derisory amount now that she was so much bigger and hungrier. In tears, I asked Oli to tip it down the sink.
In a way, my body dictated when I stopped. But my mind started catching up, and the feeling of relief when I finally said to myself ‘right, I’m not going to do this anymore’ was overwhelming. Now I could sit and cuddle my baby without trying to force her to do something she didn’t want to do! Now I no longer had to sit there for hours on end with a machine vibrating away and sucking at my nipples! Now I could wear NORMAL BRAS and normal clothes – daft things that started to help me rebuild my self-esteem.
I couldn’t wait to get rid of the huge, ugly industrial pump. I packed away all the things related to breastfeeding – my poor worn out Medela Swing, the bottles, my nipple shields, nipple cups (used to catch leaks – EVERY LITTLE BIT COUNTS), breast pads, nipple creams, horrible breastfeeding bras. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t sob as I did this, but I’d look over at my lovely, happy, healthy baby and keep reminding myself that that was all that mattered. I put the whole experience into a mental box and stuck it in my mental cupboard under the stairs. Something to deal with another day. Now I was going to get on with being a mum.
And every day, it’s been a bit easier. Every day, I’ve felt a bit happier about it. I spent hours doing research into the benefits of breastfeeding and it’s all very inconclusive. There’s slight evidence that it stops your baby getting tummy bugs in the first year (most likely because there’s more risk of contamination with bottle-fed babies) but all the stuff about them not getting obese, or diabetes or having higher IQs is totally unproven.
Now that Daph is five months old and happy and we’re totally into the swing of things with formula – I do wonder if I had another baby whether I would put myself through all the heartache again. I almost feel I’d be afraid to try – for me, breastfeeding = insanity. And now, I have a different perspective on it when I talk to my friends who are breastfeeding and are stuck to their babies 24/7, unable to go out for more than an hour or two without pumping. I feel almost smug and liberated. I love that Oli can feed Daph just as easily as me too.
I read a lot about breastfeeding during my six-week struggle, and there were a few articles that really really helped me. I’ve linked to them below in case they help you too. I’d also advise you to stay away from bloody KellyMom – for me, it feels like every article is written as if to say there’s no other way than the breast. And for anyone who’s dealing with a similar situation, there’s one piece of advice that I’d like to pass on. I can’t remember where I read it now, and it sounds a bit wanky, but it was basically about letting your child choose their own path, and respecting their decisions. In my case, Daphne very definitely ‘chose’ to be bottle-fed – probably because of her early experiences but still. I had to take myself in hand and ask why exactly I was persisting in trying to force her to do something she didn’t want to do – was it mostly for my own self-esteem? In which case, I was failing as a parent anyway.
It was this little kernel of thought that really allowed me to give up. And it’s something I’m going to bear in mind as general parenting advice in future too.
The Case Against Breastfeeding – The Atlantic
The Backlash Against Breastfeeding – The Guardian
Why Formula Feeding Was Right for Me – Parenting.com