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Monday, 17 March 2014

My (un)successful breastfeeding journey

I have previously shared how I was unable to breastfeed my first child, and wrote an informative post about bottle feeding. Despite being content with bottle feeding my first, I was keen to try breastfeeding my second. I wanted to experience what it was like. After all, it's what a woman's breasts are designed to do.

Through my pregnancy I tried to encourage my milk production by expressing colostrum. I produced a very small amount early on. This made me feel excited, as I felt this was a sign that my milk supply would be better this time. I had almost no other breast changes through my pregnancy though.

When my Son was born he successfully latched on for a first feed, which further made me feel that I would be successful. The first day after his birth I then proceeded with trying to learn how to feed him. I was having difficulty getting him to latch. He didn't seem to like most of the positions I was holding him in. He showed very little interest in actually sucking. With the help of the midwives I would struggle to get him on, then he would take 3 draws... then nothing. No amount of stripping him down, tickling his cheek or rubbing his lip could encourage him to try any more.

The midwives at my hospital were fantastic. I expressed my wish to feed in the room when possible and have help in private. One would come in and assist me for as long as it took. They were encouraging, but not forceful. They patiently showed me how to hold him, latch him and how to express what milk that I could then syringe into his mouth.

My second day I spent on the electric pump between attempts to feed. These did not work on me at all. Not even a drop of milk would come out when I pumped. When I hand expressed I would get less than 2 ml in total, and that was after several breaks in between.

I finally cracked in the morning of the third day. Early in the morning I tried for over an hour to encourage my Son to latch and feed. A midwife walked past my room and noticed me struggling and sat with me to help. Eventually she suggested I give it a rest and try again later. She came back past an hour later and saw me struggling again. This time she advised I head into the Nursery, where other midwives were there helping feeding mothers.

I found this room so hard to be in. I know that the purpose is so that a few midwives can be there to give support to all the nursing Mums. However, all I could see was lactating women. Sure, some were struggling with various elements, but all had milk. When I was in that room I realised just how little I was lactating, and how much I was struggling.

A midwife came and sat with me and helped me try to feed Marcus. He simply wasn't interested. He just wanted to sleep. She looked over his chart and we saw that over the 2 days since he had been born there were only 3 successful feeds, but none of them lasted long. The amount I had expressed was only a few mls. I had given birth to a whopping 4.3kg baby boy. He needed more than what I was producing at that point. We then opened up his nappy and saw pink stains. The midwife explained that it was not blood, but it was crystalised urine, and it was a sign that he was possibly dehydrated. He had dropped a bit of weight, and was sleeping a lot. Further signs that he was failing to thrive as well as he should. A glucose test showed his sugar levels were starting to drop.

It was then that she discussed my options with me. It was clear that at the very least he needed a formula feed right away. The midwife spoke to me about her concerns. I was starting to become stressed and tearful. Marcus was starting to decline. My milk supply was woeful and pumping had not made any improvement. She pointed out that I had almost no breast changes that usually occur through pregnancy. She pointed out that a big boy like my Son would need even more milk than most babies.

She assured me that if I wanted to I could eventually breastfeed. I could go on medication, I could pump after every (attempted) feed and keep doing so until supply picked up. In the meantime I would formula feed. At minimum this would tae a few weeks to build up my supply to be what he needed.

I thought on that for a moment. I thought back to when my first child was a newborn and I tried going down that path. I remembered the day of sitting connected to a pump and still not getting more than 20 ml. I thought too about the vivacious 2 year old I had waiting for me at home, and I considered how I was going to possibly give both my baby and my child attention they craved when I was attached to a pump between every feed.

I knew what my answer was to be, I knew I had a very healthy child who thrived on formula. I know it does not have all the benefits of breastmilk, but nutritionally it will still nourish my child. I knew that continuing to breastfeed was simply about my own pride and desires. Quite simply, I refused to let my own pride cause my children to suffer.

I told the midwife I felt it was best to just formula feed. She gave me a cuddle and whispered that she really felt I was making the best decision.

When I fed my Son his bottle he drank it hungrily. Bottle feeding allows you to gaze into your baby's eyes, and at that moment, as he looked into mine I felt the weight lift from my shoulders. I knew that I had made the right decision in that moment. He looked happy and content, and for the first time since he was born he had that glorious milk drunk look of a content baby.

I continued to hand express while in the hospital, to see if I could encourage supply. The most I ever got in one go was less than 2 ml. I also tried a few more times to see if Marcus would latch. He would not. So by the time I left to go home I admitted defeat. My breastfeeding journey ended before it ever really started.


I still have feelings of regret at not being able to breastfeed. I know that to die hard breastfeeding advocates I should have tried the regime of attempt to breastfeed, bottle feed then express. I cried when I told inquiring friends that I was not successful in feeding. At my lowest times I bitterly think to myself that I seem to have failed in the one thing that a woman is designed to do. 

I am content with the choice I made. I am sharing this because I know how difficult it is for a Mother when she has to make the choice to formula feed. I am not against breastfeeding. I know that there are so many benefits to doing it. Yet, the reality is that, for a number of different reasons, not all women are successful. There are hundreds of stories on the internet about successful breastfeeding. There are so few about not being successful. I am not ashamed. I refuse to be shamed or made to feel guilty. I want to share my story in case another Mother finds it one day, and finds solace in knowing they are not alone in their struggles.

My Son is now 4 months old. He is a beautiful, happy, content baby. He has slept through the night since he was 2 months old. He has steadily put on just the right amount of weight.  I am in love with my handsome Little Man. I know that being a Mother is about far more than how you feed a child.  I am a Mother to two beautiful, healthy, thriving children.

In the end, what more could I want?

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