Prior to the weekend, we had a number of only breastfeeding and being on Mama Bear will really comfort me kinda days. Now, as exhausting as they were, I love my breastfeeding relationship with little Bear and those days have given me cause to reflect on all the challenges I faced in the early weeks and months of breastfeeding.
It was exhausting.
It was frustrating.
It was mentally draining.
It was bloody hard and there were days where I was an emotional wreck.
But I wouldn’t change anything…
Now, this is not a pity party as I know others have had it far worse – especially if their little ones have suffered with tongue tie (6/8 in my NCT group of amazing Mamas, Papas and babes) – but man those first four months were rough.
For the first five days of his life, little Bear was tube fed; he was born with hypoglycemia and his blood sugars needed to be stabilised. After our first precious cuddles, little Bear was rushed away to NICU. It upset me that his first feed wasn’t from me and also that I could not be the first person to feed little Bear. The following day I tried to express the liquid gold colostrum that I knew was important and the best thing for him, but I was incredibly disheartened when only a few drops emerged. We spent some time doing kangaroo care and I tried to breastfeed him at every scheduled feed throughout the first day of his life; however, little Bear struggled to latch as his mouth was so small and he got tired very quickly. However, I was determined that I would breastfeed my son and I refused to stop trying; I spent the next few days working on increasing my supply by trying to feed him at each planned feed and then expressing in the hours in between – it was exhausting but worth it when, with a lot of help from the Infant Feeding Team at my local hospital, he finally had his first proper breastfeed. Nevertheless, it would be a further four days before we would be discharged from NICU and then another three weeks before he would latch without the support of nipple shields. Of course there were the usual days and nights where he would feed non-stop but after looking to the Cherubs group on Facebook I realised that this ‘cluster feeding’ behaviour was perfectly normal (something we hadn’t been told at ANY antenatal class we had attended including out breastfeeding one at the hospital) and settled in with the box sets for those days.
Then things suddenly changed.
Just after I took and edited this picture, from out of nowhere breastfeeding became difficult again: little Bear would not latch properly; it would hurt; I would be engorged; I had an oversupply; little Bear would choke/cough on my milk and then refuse to feed. What was the cause? In a word: mastitis. I have been unfortunate to have suffered with mastitis three times since I started breastfeeding, and each time it was been worse than the last. Luckily now I know the signs and as soon as a I get a red warm patch on my breast I massage it while feeding and if that doesn’t work I make sure I get help from the Doctor.
I think our darkest days though were when little Bear was aged between two and three months. We had managed to get him to take a bottle for one feed a day with Papa Bear, and seeing him feed our son was so special. But, after a couple of weeks little Bear started to refuse and reject the bottle we were using, and any other we tried to give. I read that we had to be persistent and consistent and that eventually he would take the bottle but this just wasn’t working. Nevertheless, no matter how hard we tried we just could not get little Bear to drink my expressed breast milk from a bottle – each time I had to throw away my expressed milk I was sad as it felt like such a waste. Then to add insult to injury, little Bear did not want to breastfeed properly either. I remember days spent sobbing and worrying that he just wasn’t getting enough milk, especially when his weight began to fall on the percentiles. However, he was developing fine, hitting his milestones and doing well in comparison to babies of his age based on his birth and gestational age, so I was told not to worry by healthcare professionals.
Then we had a eureka moment: stashed away in one of the cupboards, where I had put the freebies I had procured from various baby shows/ events during my pregnancy, I found a MAM Anti-colic bottle. Examining the teat it looked very similar to the dummy which I had reluctantly given little Bear on the odd occasion. Figuring that he had accepted this shaped dummy we tried to give him this bottle and immediately he took to it, and thankfully five months on he is still a fan. At the same time we met with some friends who had mentioned that they knew another mother who was breastfeeding but having issues with giving their baby expressed milk. It turned out that the reason why their baby didn’t like it was because they were giving defrosted milk, not fresh, which is exactly what we had been doing. Unfortunately, at that time I didn’t have any fresh milk to offer, so once again we tried little Bear with some SMA formula (the same that he had in the hospital when he was born) and … success he was drinking from the bottle like a trooper.
I know lots of breastfeeding mothers strongly feel that exclusively breastfeeding is best – and while I agree I for one know that I was not mentally or emotionally in a good place when little Bear was two months old and he was refusing to latch. It may sound awful and even controversial to some, but I truly believe that our breastfeeding relationship has been saved by my being able to pass little Bear to his dad for one feed a day, and it has meant that I have been able to leave little Bear with his grandparents for the odd morning or day whilst I have been completing GCSE exam marking and KiT days.
Furthermore, if you had asked me at two/ three months if I though I would still be
breastfeeding at nearly 8 months I would have said ‘no’, but now I can’t honestly see a time when we’ll stop any time soon. I didn’t think it would get any better and quite often wanted to throw the towel in. When I got my silver boobs (6 months feeding) I felt incredibly proud of myself as I had reached my breastfeeding target.
It’s tiring, hard work and still challenging at times but the connection I feel to little Bear when I feed him is just amazing and I can’t really put it into words. So… whilst I’m trying to stop the comfort feeding on days like today, when he feels unsettled, I’m glad that he does find comfort from the breast as otherwise I wonder what I’d do.
How long will we continue with breastfeeding? Who knows… in an ideal world I would like for him to decide when he is ready to stop, but in reality it may be sooner with the demands of work. Only time will tell.
For all of you who are struggling with feeding, you are not alone. I know it feels difficult and that no end is in sight sometimes, but it does get better. Regardless though, you are doing an amazing job!
Mama Bear x