Saturday, 5 October 2013

Mini tales of breastfeeding woe and wonder

This week, October 1-7th is National Breastfeeding Week and to celebrate, the Irish Parenting Bloggers Group has asked its members to share their tales of breastfeeding through the theme of   blog march. A blog march is where lots of different bloggers link up posts on a common theme in this case 'Every breastfeed makes a difference'. The group is also giving away 4 NUK breast pumps, two manual and two electric for you to win. Enter the competition here a Rafflecopter giveaway
and check out the other fantastic entries to the march here.


So breastfeeding-that oughta be easy right?I mean that's what baps/diddies/titties/boobies/lady lumps, whatever you deign to call them, were invented for yeah?Not to look good, not to dress up in spandex or lace, not to give us women mysterious curves to drive men wild. No, to feed our offspring, to make sure they have enough nutrition to survive until their bodies have grown other tools-such as teeth and strengthened throat and stomach muscles in order to consume solid food. That's what breasts are here to do. It just happens to be a help or in many cases a hindrance that they have assumed a form that is pleasing to the eye while fulfilling this vital task.

I had intended on breastfeeding Mini since I found out I was pregnant. It was cheaper, there was no fecking about with sterilising bottles, no getting the temperature right, no added costs with seemingly giant boxes of formula that in reality deplete very quickly! Really, it was a no brainer!Of course, I was basing my ability to breastfeed on two misconceptions-that breast feeding, being one of the most natural things in the world should therefore be one of the things that comes most naturally to new mums and that Mini's arrival into the world would be complication free. Unfortunately in my case-neither of those turned out to be true.

Mini's initial diagnosis of Down syndrome happened very quickly-no sooner was the goop and blood being cleared off her gorgeous chubby face than a different doctor appeared at my side, talking about "the suspicion of a genetic mutation having occurred while she was in the womb." I didn't take in a lot of what this new doctor was saying but caught random words, some disheartening, some frankly terrifying like 'testing,' 'difficulty with breastfeeding' 'feeding issues' 'cardiac scan' and 'other underlying health concerns.' Then as quickly as she had come, this harbinger of nightmarish news was gone and the midwives continued to flutter about me in a flurry of newborn led activity-weighing Mini, dressing her, and introducing her to my breast. "Now, she probably will have problems latching on, but sure we'll give it a go anyway," one of them muttered to me as this new baby-not the perfectly formed precious bundle I was hoping for- was thrust upon my chest.

My initial reaction was to say to call it quits on the whole breastfeeding business there and then. I had been given too much to deal with and wanted the easy way out. But then I thought, well, I've already failed her as  mother-somehow causing some genetic mutation to seep into her cells and create an extra chromosome. I better not compound my failure by not giving her the milk she is entitled to have. Good mothers breastfed-that was what I had been led to believe. It was after all, the most natural thing in the world. Only lazy, selfish mothers chose bottle over boob. So I allowed the midwives to place her at my chest, and instruct me as to the correct positioning for breastfeeding.

But Mini refused to latch on at every feeding that day and by that evening, she was refusing even  to latch onto synthetic teeth. At about 10 o'clock the midwives told me she was being transferred to the neo natal ward due to feeding issues. A few hours later I waddled out of room, up the two flights of stairs(the lift was out of action) and into a room full of incubators containing tiny, sickly babes. There was Mini, a tube in her nose, under neon lights-as well as the feeding issues, she also had newborn jaundice. I was introduced to the (real name) "lactation station" a room I shared with other mums of prematurely born or ill babies which was sparsely furnished-two chairs, one water cooler and two industrial strength breast pumping machines. So I pumped and I pumped. I was told I had a 'good supply' by one of the nurses. I didn't want any to go to waste and so when I was discharged two days later without my baby, who would remain in the hospital for another four days, I made sure to return to the lactation station every four hours to pump the precious liquid that I believed would give her the best start in life,or at least go some way to improving the shitty start she had been doled out.

Through the very visceral pain of being a post bump mother without her baby, as I waited for Mini to be released from hospital, I read up about breastfeeding and bought an electrical breast pump. I read about other babies with Down syndrome who learned to latch on and I was determined that this would be the case for Mini. So Mini went down the road less travelled, going from being tube fed, to bottle fed, to finally being breastfed.



I persevered for weeks- one nugget of information planted deeply in my brain that apparently breastfeeding babies have a higher IQ than bottle fed ones and hey, my child needed all the extra IQ points there was to get, right?-through the pain of cracked and burning nipples; used every prop available to me-nipple cream, nipple shields, feeding pillow. Sometimes it really felt like she was feeding well. Other times, it seems she spent ages just trying to latch on and by the time she managed it she would get no more than two sups before slumping back in my arms exhausted with the effort. The times she did get it were magical though like a gushing warm feeling that would bond the two of us together making the rest of the world just melted away. So I kept going.

Until the day when Mini's 6 week check up came around. She was given a clean bill of health but her weight gain (or lack of it) was something of a concern for the nurse and doctor. In 6 weeks, she had only gained an extra 17 oz. "Um, is that bad?" I mumbled, my cheeks burning with newly found shame-I was continuing to fail my child!
"Yes, it's quite bad-she should be gaining at least 2-3 oz a day," the doctor explained. "Perhaps you would consider introducing a formula feed a day." I duly did just that and one formula feed gradually became two, became three and so on, so by the time Mini was two months old, the breast had been retired from active service. Mini was thriving and the medical staff were much happier with her at her next check up.

Some time later, a friend came to visit. She had given birth herself only a few months previously. We got to talking about breastfeeding and it transpired that she had only lasted a few weeks before mastitis put an abrupt end to her efforts. "It's not easy, is it?" I said. "No, " she replied. "It really isn't!"

If you intend on breastfeeding, don't do what I did and tough it out on your own-look for help. Ask anyone and everyone you can-mammies, sisters, aunties, cousins, friends, hospital staff. There are great resources out there if you ask-breastfeeding groups are normally held at local hospitals where pregnant mums are welcome to attend. There is also La Leche League a support group for breastfeeding women that is based nationwide.

And if it doesn't work out, please don't beat yourself up about it- it's not the end of the world as I thought. Any bit of breastfeeding is wonderful. I know now I'm not lazy, selfish or a bad mother for switching to smelly formula after only 6 weeks  this is not just a negatively applied adjective, the stuff really does reek!). Every choice made is one that benefits both you and your baby and thinking logically-it must therefore be the best one for you both. Happy mama equals happy baby, boob or no boob!

6 comments:

  1. I had problems breastfeeding my first child, we stuck at it and at times both of us were is floods of tears through exhaustion and frustration. I stuck at it and struggled through on my own until we got it. With my second, I still had problems, however this time I didn't mess about, and as you said, I asked everyone I could for help and within a few days we were sorted.

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    1. It's such a tough time-asking for help is key I think.I'm not going to mess around second time around thats for sure!

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  2. I think you're brilliant. And you're right, hearing that "it's the most natural thing in the world" can be counter-productive, when it makes mothers feel like they are failing if breastfeeding is difficult. Most people do need help I think, and most of us don't know where to find this help first time round.

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    1. Thanks Andrea. I don't know of anyone who breastfeeding just 'came naturally' to them!

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  3. Amen to happy mothers and babies, but fair play to you for persevering as long as you did xx

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