When we are pregnant with our babies we are told that breastfeeding is best and surrounded by information on this. It is great that breastfeeding is encouraged and promoted as normal, and I think it is a lovely way to bond with your baby. What isn't so great is the inevitable guilt when breastfeeding fails - I want to share my story so that others who have not managed to breastfeed know that they are not alone. Of course there are many mothers who choose not to breastfeed at all, and this is fine. It is a very personal choice and we will choose what is right for us. This article is for those who have tried and wanted to breastfeed, but have been unable to do it.
Not long after Bobby was born, after we had both gotten out of the pool and been checked over, I was encouraged to lie down on my side and try to give him his first feed. I am not sure whether things would have gone more smoothly if I had been lying on my back as I have seen in chest-crawl videos, but we got there eventually. I held him next to me and after a fair bit of bobbing about and frustration he was able to latch on. It is unfortunate that this first feed was not a sign of things to come.
When it came to the next feed he really struggled to latch on, he just couldn't seem to get it and I was getting worried. To make matters worse, it seemed that he had some fluid from the birth on his chest as he was being frequently sick. It was eventually decided that we should stay at the birth centre overnight as feeding had not been successfully established. By about 8pm he was still not able to latch on and was getting very frustrated with it (which is an awful thing to see in a child who is only a matter on hours old.) He was still also being frequently sick and we were becoming increasingly anxious about his wellbeing. The midwife suggested that we try something else at this point and we discussed the options, one of which was giving him a bottle of formula. The choice was left entirely up to me, even Mike did not want to make a suggestion, as he felt this involved my body, so I should choose. I was desperately worried at this point and all of the other options sounded like they would take a lot of time and effort for Bobby. I just wanted my child to get some milk, so I opted for formula. The midwife brought in a small bottle, newborn flow teat and the formula. She gave Bobby his first bottle feed and he instantly latched onto the bottle and drank away. He knew what to do instantly.
We discussed further options and the midwife suggested we could keep trying over the next few days and I could express if he still couldn't latch on. Luckily we had bought a breastpump just in case, so this seemed like a good option. He continued to be a sicky baby for a few months, but it gradually grew less and less and he was able to keep more food down. However, he was never able to latch on. And I didn't seem to be making milk.
I woke up on day three with boobs of the the consistency of melons. At this point I started expressing, partly to ensure that Bobby got some breastmilk alongside his formula and partly to relieve the pain that comes with boobs full of milk. I was persistent, pumping every couple of hours and giving it to Bobby by bottle followed by formula (as I wasn't making much at this stage.) The amount did start to increase, but expressing became one thing too much. By the time I had expressed, fed Bobby, sterilised the pump and bottles, it was time to start the process again. It was hard to go out knowing that I would have to express soon and it became too difficult. If I was just feeding Bobby this would be fine, but taking the pump with me wasn't easy. I also wasn't making enough to feed him and although it was good that he was getting some along with his formula, it was a this point that I through in the towel and let my milk dry up.
The guilt set in and has hung around ever since. I felt that I had let my child down. It has been hard to see the Breast Is Best leaflets or see women feeding when I am out and about. But I can't blame myself as it was down to a number of factors that both me and Bobby struggled with. It is one of those things that was hard and we had to get through, at this point I am just glad to have a healthy and happy toddler who has endless energy. I think that I made the best decision at the time with the information that I had and this is what it comes down to. Whatever our circumstances and whatever our decision, we will do what is best for our child and if breastfeeding isn't working we need to accept it. This does not mean that I won't try again with my next baby - I definitely will. But I'm sure that I will be able to deal with the feelings of guilt a bit better if things don't work again. In the end, if our baby is struggling with breastfeeding then we will do what we need to do - every baby and mother is different and our choices are our own.