Before I gave birth, I expected two things. One, that the fact I’d kept so fit and active during my pregnancy would secure me a lovely, easy (ish!), natural labour (Oh the naivity!!!), and two, that I probably wouldn’t be able to breastfeed. Due to a range of issues neither my Mum or Grandma was able to breastfeed, and so I just assumed that, though I was determined to give it a shot, I’d probably follow in their footsteps and not have much luck with it.
I quickly learned though that when it comes to all things baby-related, there’s just no way of telling what your experience will be like until you’re in the thick of it!
After having had a textbook pregnancy, I was shocked to found out at 38 and a half weeks that Ottilie was breech. Though I was able to have her turned back into the head down position through a procedure called an ECV, she was such a wriggler in my belly that she wound up laying back to back inside me, which led to me having a hideously drawn out and very painful four day long labour. After 72 hours of trying for my drug-free water birth, I ended up delivering Ottilie with a very strong working epidural.
And yet once she’d finally made her appearance, she was latched on and feeding from me before my stitches were even complete! I remember so vividly laying on the bed in the delivery room with her warm little body pressed against mine, as she found her way to my right breast and took her first ever feed. It was magic.
And though I experienced some soreness, breastfeeding continued to be magical! She gained weight well, the soreness cleared up during week three, and with each feed the most intense feelings of love and pride and joy would wash over me and I’d feel happier than I’d ever felt before.
But after those dreamy first few weeks, where I was forever on the sofa or sat up in bed with a tiny fluffy haired babe in my arms, my experience changed quite literally overnight. When Ottilie hit the six week growth spurt, she all of a sudden began pulling off me just a couple of minutes into her feeds, screaming until she she was red in the face. The first couple of times it happened I thought it was just a fluke, but it quickly became a pattern.
She began refusing to feed from me all together, and each time I’d try to latch her on she’d get more and more upset. The peaceful, bonding feeding experiences I used to enjoy so much became fraught and upsetting for us both, and I began dreading each time three hours had ticked away and she was due her next feed. Each feed became a battle as I struggled to get Ottilie to latch on and suck, and as she screamed my stress levels would rise and pretty soon I’d join her in the crying. It was dreadful.
After the first week of it happening, I took her to the doctor and she was diagnosed with reflux. My instincts at the time told me that the diagnosis was incorrect (she never displayed any other reflux symptoms other than crying mid-feed), and so I wasn’t surprised when she didn’t respond at all to the Gaviscon we’d been given.
Over the course of four weeks, as her weight gain slowed down and she dropped down the centile lines, I tore my hair out as I searched desperately for a diagnosis for her issues- was it a cow’s milk protein intolerance, or an allergy to something else I was eating, or simply a rejection of the breast?
In the end, it was a breastfeeding helpline who helped me find an answer! It turned out that the very mild posterior tongue tie Ottilie was diagnosed with early on had suddenly begun to affect her.
It never presented a problem for her early on, but when she hit the week six growth spurt and her appetite increased, she was then unable to draw the milk from me as efficiently as she wanted to. She’d become frustrated and turn away from me as she screamed, and those cries of frustration would then turn to cries of hunger as she’d get upset to the point where she’d simply refuse to feed at all.
Finally understanding what the issues were that we were experiencing felt like the greatest relief. I was able to begin working around the problem- concentrating hard on helping Ottilie latch, and offering a bottle of expressed milk at the beginning of the feeds so that she could then come to the breast with her hunger sated.
Now that we’re in in week 14 and things are finally getting back to being easy again, looking back I have no doubt that if it weren’t for the army of expressing equipment I had at my disposal, I would never have been able to continue breastfeeding at all. I was sent a Medela Harmony handheld pump and Swing Electric pump for review purposes when I was pregnant, but I never expected to get quite as much use from them as I have done!
Over the past few weeks I’ve relied heavily on bottles not only to keep Ottilie full and happy when she’s struggled to feed, but also have needed to express frequently to keep up my supply. In fact, I’d say that if anything I’ve actually managed to increase my supply using the Medela pumps over the past few weeks, and have gone from only being able to express 0.5-1.5 ounces at a time, to managing at least 3-4oz per expressing session!
Both the pumps are so simple to assemble and make expressing a doddle, which is absolutely vital when you’re putting them together one handed whilst holding a baby in the other!
Expressing from one side whilst I feed Ottilie on the other for me yields the best results, and allows me to create a little stockpile of bottles in the fridge ready for Ottilie to have as and when she wants or needs them. And with the Calma teats being so beautifully designed to help a baby switch from breast to bottle and back again, I’ve never had to worry at all about Ottilie getting any nipple confusion.
Breastfeeding is hard, hard work at times but even with all the difficulties we’ve experienced, I still find it so very rewarding and am so grateful that we’ve managed to keep going. I can’t advise highly enough seeking help early on- websites like ‘kellymom‘ are a treasure trove of information about feeding, and there are many forums online filled with women happy to answer questions and provide support.
Medela also offer a helpline for mothers via their lactation consultant Sioned Hilton, and I’d be more than happy to chat all things baby or answer any questions about feeding in the comments!