Breastfeeding was by far the hardest thing I have done in my life
Many hours of our dietetics degree is dedicated to training us on breastfeeding so it may come as no surprise to you then that dietitians are very strong breastfeeding advocates. Breastfeeding as most of us know has amazing benefits for both mom and baby and there is no doubt that breastfeeding is best. As a dietitian I have spent many hours helping moms with breastfeeding and educating them on the benefits of it, still nothing and I mean really nothing prepared me for the walk I took on my breastfeeding journey.
I have always suffered with back pain, headaches and terrible posture thanks to my size E/F bra size ( thanks family genes) . In 2011 after much deliberation, I decided to undergo breast reduction surgery and it was life changing for me dropping by three cup sizes. Of course my biggest concern to the plastic surgeon at the time was will I be able to breastfeed? He said it was hard to say as every person is different but is most cases the women who undergo this surgery don't have a problem, so I thought I should be fine.
Fast forward five years to 2016, the year my daughter was born. I had an emergency Caesar and had a wonderful experience with a fantastic gynae, Emily latched wonderfully even though she was a little small ( 2.9kg) as I was being wheeled back into the ward so I was ecstatic. It all went downhill from there. I remember vividly sitting in my hospital bed the first night pressing the call button every hour to call a nurse to try get some help with latching my child. I managed to get her to latch on day 2 on the one side with the help of a lactation consultant friend of mine but my right nipple was flat post reduction surgery and even nipple shields weren't helping. I sent my husband off with a list to dischem stating more nipple shields ( I tried every brand) , breast pump, and nipple puller ( yes a little suction that elongates the nipple which actually does help a lot and I recommend) the poor guy didn't know what he was signing up for.
I was managing to get Emily to latch for a couple of minutes by the end of day two just on the left side and thought we were doing quite well. She lost 500g alone in hospital so way more than the standard 10% most babies lose. Our first night back home I spent in tears as I just couldn't latch her and she cried the whole night. After a day and a half of pretty much no wet nappies I expressed and tried syringe and cup feeding just to get some fluids in. Most of my hard earned expressed milk went shooting out the sides of her mouth and in panic I knocked over all my expressed milk which any expressing mom knows is like sheer torture. By our second and third day at home I was getting a better latch but was still having to offer expressed milk to get wet nappies. I thought things were going well but my daughter was just not gaining weight. I went from strategies of latching and then offering expressed milk top ups to expressing every single feed which meant expressing every two hours through the night to keep up my supply. By week three Emily had still not got back to her birth weight which should usually happen by day 10 at the latest and so even though as a dietitian who is a huge breastfeeding advocate I decided after much guilt and emotional processing to supplement her and within a a day or two she had reached her birth weight. I was still set on her getting as much breastmilk as possible and so I continued to latch and express but Emily had other ideas and slowly starting to refuse to latch again and then my supply started to diminish. I managed to keep expressing for another 3-4 weeks after this until my supply dried up and then Emily had to be feed via formula from week 8 which I am still to this day very heartsore about even though she is a happy healthy little girl.
When I found out I was pregnant again I really hoped I would have better luck and on the day Kade was born and we found out it was a boy I was ecstatic as I had heard boys were better feeders and so maybe Kade would have a better latch. Things were looking good in hospital with him latching on the one side even though my nipples were terribly cracked and already bleeding on day two ( damage done by Emily) I was feeling good. Problems started our first night home again when he suddenly just would fuss and not latch or latch and pull off straight away. I didn't hesitate to start expressing straight away the next morning as I didn't want a child who was battling to gain weight again and no wet nappies. He would latch for 5 minutes and then when I offered expressed milk after guzzle it down like he was starving. It was an endless fight and was accompanied by loads of tears . At two weeks I made the decision to stop trying to latch as my daughter was also getting upset every time I latched as I would cry from the pain and this would upset her and so I decided just to express, this also meant having to supplement as well as I didn’t have enough milk even with expressing every 3 hours.
Second time round I have been much more chilled and just want my son to get as much breast milk as possible and at the moment unfortunately that is through a bottle and not latching and is something I have just had to come to terms with as we know exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months is ideal.
Everyone’s journey is different and I was lucky enough that I had the knowledge and support to encourage me to keep offering as much breast milk as I can as I am sure many mothers don’t have this available.
I am heartsore I can't breastfeed but I just have to focus that my son will still get the amazing benefits of breastmilk which are is endless. The one thing I really encourage moms to do is to seek the advice of a lactation consultant even in hospital if you can as a bad latch can be hard to correct. Breastfeeding might come easier to some than others but there is alot to learn about it and a lot that can go wrong and I would not have survived without the help of colleagues who are trained even as a dietitian and with dietetic training.
Here are some of my tips to help with breastfeeding or expressing. These are just what I found helped me on my journey.
1. Invest in a good pump and do some research, my husband had to run out at the last minute and buy one ( thank goodness it was on special) but even then I bought one that is meant for occasional use and not all day use so it is already packing up.
2. Nipple puller. Yes it is a tiny little suction thing that you squeeze to elongate your nipple just before you latch and it can be very useful.
3. Fluids. I remember messaging my husband from upstairs requesting water whilst I was feeding. Literally as your child latches the fluid is drained from you so you have to be intentional about drinking and always have a bottle next to you before you even start feeding. I found I craved more sweet juices like pure apple juice and other fruit juices so I used that to my advantage and made jungle juice.
4. Snacks. Unlike most women I loose my appetite completely during breastfeeding and expressing. I suffer terrible with nausea and have to force myself to eat a meal and even then I just poke at it with my fork. I found rusks, fruit, nuts and even some biscuits were helpful to have around as I could manage small amounts of those throughout the day.
5. Breastfeeding cream: Use the lanolin, medela or Bepanthem cream on your nipple from day one in the hospital and keep applying it all day.
6. Laser: I had this done in hospital and even though my nipples were damaged from Emily it did help so request the physiotherapist to come do it if you struggling in the early days.
7. Get comfortable: Posture is important with feeding and so make sure you have cushions behind you back and you not leaning forward whilst feeding. I had a breastfeeding pillow with both my kids and it helped to have something to rest my arm on or hold ems up as she was a small baby.