I have been wondering whether to write this post for a while. Its been hard to put into words and mainly because for me its an emotional subject. I am talking about breastfeeding and this at almost eight weeks in is my experience of it.
It had never been a question for me whether I would breastfeed my child once I had one. Not only because of the health benefits but I really looked forward to the bond it would create. I never once even considered it would be anything other than easy to nurse my baby.
The moment Wilfryd was born and placed on my chest he instinctively fed and I gazed down at him with so much love. It was a scene I had envisioned in my head for the longest time and it was playing out just as I had imagined. Having such a amazing birth experience and then feeding him straight away with no issues I felt so blessed and that things were exactly as they should be.
Over the next couple of days I nursed with no problems, it pinched a little and when my milk came in it burned but I was expecting this and was nothing a couple of cabbage leaves couldn't deal with.
By four days in or so the constant pinching was taking its toll and although I covered myself with Lansinoh my nipples (I feel a bit prudish writing the word nipples on my blog!) were chapped/cracked and beginning to bleed. Still I knew that this was something that is very common and would pass, the midwives were still coming round every few days but I didnt think to mention anything to them. Wilf was putting on weight and I knew it could be hard at the start. By the end of the first week it was hurting more and more until one night, my breasts were still hot enough to fry eggs on and the heat seemed to extend to my whole body. I was sweating and burning up, my head was thumping, I must have gone down with the flu I thought. I spent the whole rest of the day in bed, burning up. Wilf was hungry every hour or so Tom would hand him to me, I would feed him in pain. The pain was so much it felt like my skin was being ripped off my body, something I couldn't even describe and twice as worse as any pain I have ever felt in my life.
I had called the doctors surgery in the morning, and a doctor called me back. She advised she would get the midwives to call me, by 2pm I called back only to be told this message hadn't been passed on (third time this had happened with doctors at this surgery). The midwives arrived at around three, they checked my breasts and told me they were engorged and enflamed. They advised me that as Wilf was putting on lots of weight I could start feeding him every two hours instead of one as he wasn't going to starve and this might reduce my milk supply. My milk-ducts were blocked which was causing the pain, I was told expressing before a feed wouldn't help as it would only produce more milk. They checked to see if he was tongue tied (which he wasn't) and that as it was going to be christmas (in two days) and things would be shut perhaps I should get a course of antibiotics to help until after christmas, to do this they had to call the doctor for a prescription. The doctor wouldn't give this without seeing me and wouldn't come out (there was NO way I could have come in, I was practically delirious) so they said to see how I felt after Christmas…
Instead they worked through some breastfeeding techniques with me, we realised he wasn't latching on properly being held in the more common positions so they tried placing him on my chest with me lying flat on my back. Within seconds Wilf actually crawled up my chest and latched on lying on top of me (which was incredible to see). Although it still hurt in this position it was clear he was finally latching properly so I used this position for a while when convenient!
My fever died down over the next day but I was still in a great deal of pain, I remember coming down to the living room from a nap to Tom looking after Wilf who was clearly due a feed. The terror of the impending pain made me hyperventilate and I sobbed and sobbed onto Wilf as every suck felt like my nipples being clamped and twisted. From then on every time I fed him I sobbed and sobbed in pain and sadness, this wasn't how it was meant to be. It hurts so much to write this but looking at Wilf I could only see pain and not my lovely lovely baby. I had been so looking forward to breastfeeding and having this amazing connection with my him and it was all going wrong.
After Christmas I suffered a sudden blood loss (that turned out to be nothing) and was sent to the doctors to receive a letter for a scan, he checked my breasts and told me they were still hugely enflamed and engorged and that I had Mastitis. I was finally given a course of antibiotics and eventually felt relief for the first time.
By this time Wilf was about three weeks old. I had bought a breastfeeding pillow to help with the angle, and to make sure he latched properly. It was hurting a lot less but I still found it painful, an over-productive milk supply meant if I didn't feed him every two hours my breasts would get blocked again. Over the next few weeks I tried heat and cool packs, massaging them in the bath with a hot flannel and even combing the lumps out with a comb! A few days before Tom returned to work (at 4.5weeks) I washed the cover for my breastfeeding pillow and shrunk it by accident, the pillow couldn't work without the cover as that held the clips (the one I got was this one and would recommend it) I convinced myself I couldn't feed without the cushion and so the thought of not being able to use it made me breakdown in fear, I cried and cried and told Tom I couldn't do it any longer. The thought of giving up after all this time, that I would never have that breastfeeding experience I had wanted, that bond and closeness the thought I was doing the best I could for him..it broke my heart. I felt like the biggest failure as a mother, that I had let him down...there were moments when I lay there and as hard as it is to confess now..I thought he would be better off without me..I wasn't good enough for him..that I might as well not exist...its not a thing I like to think about too much but there were even times I thought it would be better if I was no longer alive.
All of this because of my difficulty feeding my baby.
Fortunately a few days after what was probably my lowest point I think I had a breakthrough, suddenly it was hurting less and less. Instead of Wilf screaming and crying trying to latch on and me wincing and crying with every suck I would look down at him and smile, stroke his head and he fed. He would turn to me and beam, full with with milk. It wasn't instant and to be truthful there are times now at almost eight week that it can pinch a little to start with.
The very worst time of day for me used to be bed time, the constant night time feeds, Tom asleep or in the other room and me just sobbing into the darkness, it felt like hell on earth. Now when we go to bed I look forward to it and I love the times just Wilf and I, cuddling as he nurses, his big eyes happy and content. As selfish as it may sound I love that sometimes it is only me that can sooth him (by nursing) and I love our one on one time.
Breastfeeding for me was a struggle and is only now coming into place. I had gone through some of the worst pain in my life with mastitis and some of the lowest and most heartbreaking moments. I am so relieved to say that I have come out the other end and now love it and the moments we have.
What I have learnt from this experience is that breastfeeding doesn't come naturally for everyone, yes I still believe that 'breast is best' for your baby but I also believe it can be really really hard work. That some people find it hard and that there is nothing to be ashamed of in asking for help. That being said it also isn't always difficult for people this is just my experience. Just like childbirth people's experiences can vary hugely. I just wanted to share my experience and know that what ever we choose we shouldn't be hard of ourselves or judgemental of others (as mothers can definitely be to each other!).
I would also like to mention that if you do happen to get Mastitus (even if you are planning on giving up breastfeeding afterwards) the best solution is to work through it or it will get worse. You can find more about Mastitus here