My Breastfeeding Journey
I remember world breastfeeding week this time last year so well. my daughter was a little over a month old and in terms of breastfeeding I was having a pretty awful time. I so badly wanted to breastfeed. You hear about “breast is best” and other totally ludicrous statements like “of course breastfeeding is going to be easy, it’s completely natural”. Well it’s the most unnatural natural thing I’ve ever done! I’m going to be honest about my experience in the hope that it might encourage other women to keep going.
The story might not start well but there is a happy ending I promise. 8/10 women give up breastfeeding before they intended to. If my story could give one of those ladies the right professional to contact or just some comfort in knowing they aren’t on their own I’ll be happy! To be clear I’m by no means a breastfeeding or lactation consultant, this is my story and experience with what helped me through one of the most challenging times in my life. No Joke I thought I’d fractured my big toe one day I was kicking the coffee table so hard to counteract the pain I was in feeding my daughter. I don’t want other women to have to go through that.
I set a target in my mind the day my daughter was born, I love a goal! I wanted to try and get to 6 months of breastfeeding. So it came to the 7th August 2019, I was on my first bout of mastitis, I had a horrendously cracked and bleeding nipple on the right and I was in crippling agony 50% of the time. I absolutely dreaded feeding, I was in searing pain when my daughter was trying to latch on the right and severe discomfort on the left. I have been watched feeding my daughter by 3 midwives and 3 NHS healthcare assistants who specialise in breastfeeding support at a designated centre in Honiton. Honestly I’ve never flashed my boobs at so many people. I was beyond caring at this point, I just wanted to feed and not be in pain. The only relief I was getting was from using the classic laonsil after feeding and using silver nipple shields. These were brilliant, they made me look slightly like a fembot but I’d take that over having to peel my scabbed nipple off the inside of my bra. Sweet Jesus that hurt! Ladies who have been there know this is horrendous! I’ll put a link to the sliver shields in the references.
There was initial talk of my daughter having a tongue tie but after the healthcare support workers and midwives watching me feed that was ruled out. That was until a home visit from a health visitor who agreed my daughter did have a marked tongue tie. With that my husband and I decided time was of the essence and I found a wonderful lactation consultant called Liz Gunn who works out of Healthy Babies UK in Tiverton. Liz is a highly experienced midwife, IBCLC lactation consultant, tongue tie practitioner and breastfeeding councillor amongst many other things I’m sure I’ve forgotten to mention. Basically she’s the oracle for breastfeeding. You can find your nearest IBCLC lactation consultant on their website, I’ll put the link to it in the references at the end of the post. After a quick assessment Liz confirmed my daughter did have a tongue tie and using the outcome measures it was substantial enough to have it cut. I felt incredibly guilty about this and discussed at length with Liz the ethics around me making this decision. I was on my own as my husband had gone back to work. I was worried my daughter was going to experience pain to make my life easier. In actual fact the procedure appeared painless and my daughter was passed to me to feed immediately which she did virtually pain free. It was an incredible relief.
What I didn’t realise was that I was about to develop mastitis, because I was actually allergic to Lansinoh. I mean honestly it’s just my luck. That’s right the miracle cream in the purple tube everybody raves about and I was merrily slathering on myself daily. The really annoying thing is that I didn’t realise this until almost 6 months into my breastfeeding journey. I’d have another 3 bouts of mastitis, one of them lasting almost 4 weeks. Each time I’d try my best to feed through the pain. The endless googling and trips to the GP were tough. I remember trying to dangle feed it requires some impressive manouvweing! One of the midwives suggested it to unclog the milk ducts. Light massage, warm compresses cabbage leaves, you name it I did it. The pain of mastitis is so intense I think you’d do just about anything to make it stop. I used to describe it as having a snow globe full of glass stuck on your chest, it never goes, only intensifies. It was the most horrendous stabbing pain I’ve ever felt.
I saw another two health visitors who watched me latch my daughter and feed her. I even went to the latch and attach clinic where another health visitor gave us all brilliant advice on latching baby correctly, feeding positions you name it they had the information. I visited local breastfeeding support groups with some wonderful breastfeeding support workers who were trained by Healthy Babies UK. The Nappuccino group that meet in Exeter were so welcoming and helpful. The breastfeeding support workers I met there were a huge help and other breastfeeding mums were lovely. One of the breastfeeding support ladies even turned up on my doorstep with a breast bump on a Sunday because the pain had got too much for me to feed my daughter and I was having to express off the right and give her the expressed milk in a bottle. During numerous trips to the GP I had milk samples taken and nipple swabs. Looking back now I do metaphorically pat myself on the back! At the time I just thought my boob on the right was for ornamental purposes and the left boob was the work horse! Mentally it pushed me to the brink, I just wanted to feed my daughter and not be kicking coffee tables and punching walls in pain.
It turns out it was just the bloody Lansinoh!! It wasn’t until I went one day to the baby boutique in Ottery St Mary and mentioned what a horrendous time I was having and a lady suggested trying a different nipple cream. I switched to Weleda and funnily enough 24 hours later all my symptoms disappeared. I was like a new person, I could relax when I was feeding. My shoulders weren’t touching my ears with the anticipation of pain and I wasn’t bracing my tummy. The boob on the right that I’d thought was just for decoration healed and my daughter fed from it with no issue. That was December 2019.
During the lactation and breast health course For physiotherapists run by Suzanne Cagney she spoke of “the will to feed.” I never really understood it before, until I looked back at everything I’d endured to feed my daughter. I spoke before about a practice nurse who I regularly have a difference in clinical opinion with. Oh the fun we have. She asked me how set I was on breastfeeding. I was 10 weeks in and going through everything mentioned above. I laughed and said “Well I’ve done 10 weeks, I’d rather die than give up.”
She didn’t see the funny side, she just said “well you might die if this infection takes hold.” No support no encouragement, just a dressing down and damming of my decision to feed my daughter. I walked out of the GP surgery thinking,
“F**k you, I’m doing it with or without your help.”
Wouldn’t it just have been nicer to have had her help! I’m completely pro choice for postpartum women. A fed baby is ALWAYS best, anybody who says anything different is wrong, there’s no two ways about it. The mental and physical suffering I endured tested me like nothing before and I sincerely hope should I be lucky enough to have any more children, that it won’t happen again. I still remember that time like it was yesterday and so does my husband. When I was writing this post he said how it left him feeling, watching his wife in pieces dealing with physical agony and the mental drain of it all. BUT I wanted to do it! Fast forward a year a month and three days, I’m still breastfeeding, pain free and happy.
So Mama, if you want to do it, you can. If you don’t want to do it, it’s fine. If you want to try it, that’s great. If you want to combination feed then you do that. It’s your body and it’s your rules. There is the help out there, sometimes you need to shout a little louder to get it. Whatever your decision Mama let it be 100% informed and 100% yours. Take it from someone who butted heads with the practice nurse on many occasions, you will not regret maintaining your decision and standing up to anybody who suggests differently. Big love Vx
Find an IBCLC Lactation Consultant; https://lcgb.org/find-an-ibclc/
Healthy Babies UK; http://www.healthy-babies-uk.org
Silverette nursing cups; https://www.amazon.co.uk/Silverette-Nursing-Cups-Soothing-Breasts/dp/B00D4MWKNQ