Monday, 30 May 2011

Tears and Joy - My Breastfeeding Story

If someone had told me I would breastfeed Skye for 12 months when she was first born I probably would have slapped them and told them they were kidding themselves. I was truly unprepared for just how difficult it would be, I had always believed that if I decided that I wanted to breastfeed my children I would have no trouble doing so. To say I was misguided is somewhat of an understatement.

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Every time I managed to get her to attach, Skye would fall asleep rather than feed, incredibly frustrating as I knew she would wake up hungry again only to repeat the process. I was terrified of being discharged from the hospital because I had not once been able to successfully feed Skye without assistance in the 5 days we were there. While we were in hospital I had so much trouble with attachment, over-supply of milk, Skye’s small mouth and whatever other reason I was given that we had decided that expressing was our best option. So armed with a fresh supply of bottles and Milton, we checked out and headed home to settle into our new family life.

As it turns out I am pretty lazy when I am overwhelmed by a hungry new baby and very little sleep so the process of sterilising, feeding and pumping got really old really quickly. I felt like my whole day was consumed with some stage of the feeding process and there was so much double-handling because I would express straight after Skye had her feed just to stay ahead of her appetite. The day after we had come home I was feeling a bit more relaxed and thought we should try again. It was the first time she had attached properly enough to not fall asleep, I was so relieved! From that point on I was determined to make it work, I had seen that it was possible so there was no point in giving up now.

Our success rate was pretty hit and miss though. The night feeds when we were both half asleep were the worst and I would just grit my teeth and curl my toes until Skye had finished, of course I know now that this was not doing either of us any good and Skye was unlikely to be getting a sufficient amount of nourishment by doing this, but it was the best I could manage with the small amount of experience I had at the time. Fortunately Skye continued to gain weight despite her limited intake otherwise I would have switched her to formula without question.

I was given a whole range of reasons why I was not able to feed Skye comfortably and at one point was even considering booking her in to have her tongue-tie rectified (turns out she was never tongue-tied). Regardless of the hurdles I did not want to give up, I just told myself that if I could get through the first 3 months then I would put her on formula, I had tried my best and I would have to be satisfied with that. I could see so many positives for trying to make it work; my milk was always the right temperature, didn’t need to be sterilised and was ready to go whenever my demand feeding bundle requested. Something that had always been in my favour, which I am very grateful for, was that my supply was good and as such I saw no reason to do away with breastfeeding just yet. 

At roughly the 8 week mark we had a particularly bad feed and the following day I was changing Skye’s dirty nappy and it was black. I had no idea what had caused it and as the day went on and dirty nappies got darker and darker I decided it was best to take Skye into the Paediatric Casualty section of the hospital where she was born to get their opinion. It did nothing to alleviate my concern when the doctors had the same shocked expression as me when they examined the sample I had brought in. After running some tests they were able to confirm that Skye was fine, it was in fact my blood from severely cracked nipples causing the problem and we were sent home.

After seeking help from our local Clinic who had a breastfeeding drop-in service, Skye and I slowly began to improve and by 3 months, we seemed to be on track. I was surprised to find that I was actually beginning to enjoy the process and now that I was not spending the whole time with my entire body clenched in agony it became a very relaxing and nurturing time for both of us. I loved that it was something that only I was able to give her and I had an almost fool-proof way to comfort her when she was sick, teething or just unsettled.

After such a rocky start I can say that I am proud to have been able to breastfeed Skye for the first year of her life. Not because I believe that it is “the best” way to feed your baby or that I have somehow developed a superior bond because we did not use bottles. I think that this kind of attitude just adds unnecessary pressure to new mothers who are already worried that they are doing all the “right things”. I am just grateful that we were able to turn it into such a positive experience after thinking it would be impossible. 

Because we were lucky enough to be able to overcome our initial struggles, I now have fond memories of the times we spent in our little feeding bubble. The tickle of her tiny hand on my arm, stroking her hair and soothing her to sleep, her soft blissful smile when she was finished, to me these memories make the heartache of the earlier failures insignificant. Now that she is weaned I still get an occasional pang of sadness because we have moved on from that stage. I know that she is still a baby who needs me in so many ways, and I do enjoy having some of my freedom back, but I felt we had such a strong connection during that time and it is something I will always treasure.

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