I’d always wanted to breastfeed my children – it’s just something I expected to be able to do and something I felt strongly about doing. I knew lots of people can’t and lots of people struggle, but deep down I always thought I would be able to.
Our breastfeeding journey didn’t get off to a great start… Millar was very sick the night he was born, throwing up brown blood and gunk that he’d swallowed on the way out. When they had put him on me to try to feed, he had sort of suckled a bit, but I don’t think he got anything really. Certainly when I tried to express later that evening nothing came out.
As he was being so sick, his blood sugar kept falling and they decided to cup feed him some formula to try to bring it back up. He enjoyed this, burped and then went back down in his cot. But then he was really sick and brought most of it up again. This made his blood sugar fall even lower and the decision was made at about 1am that he should go to special care. I was too much in a daze to know what was going on really. But suddenly I was on a ward with three other women and their babies and suddenly I didn’t have my baby with me – and that was really horrible.
When I went down to special care again in the morning, they had already changed the infamous first nappy so I didn’t get a chance to do that. They had washed out his stomach of all the gunk and had fed him through a tube. And he was still being sick. I said I wanted to breastfeed him so they organised for me to have a bed on the special care unit so that I could feed him that night. I assumed it would only be for one night and that we’d go home the next day (Tuesday – he’d been born Sunday afternoon). That day I did my best to feed him but he really wasn’t that interested. I perhaps got him to latch on for about 5 minutes each time, from 30 or so minutes of trying. I was getting so disheartened. That night, a really lovely nurse sat with me and helped a lot. She said that my nipples are a bit flat and that I should try nipple shields to give him more to latch on to. They were amazing! Millar got the hang of it quickly and was suddenly drinking for a good 15-20 minutes.
The problem was that when they weighed him on Tuesday morning, he’d lost weight. We had to stay in until he’d regained enough. By Wednesday morning, he’d lost 11% of his body weight and gone from 7lbs 15oz at birth to 7lbs 1oz. They wouldn’t let me go home again. All this time, Mark was having to go home and leave me each night at 9pm. I hated it when he went. They also didn’t feed me so I was living on whatever he brought in with him. It felt like such a huge responsibility there on my own looking after a tiny baby who was losing weight. That day and night I fed him as much as physically possible. I noticed milk in the nipple shields and he started looking drunk after each feed. Part of the battle was keeping him awake while feeding. It got so tiring – stripping him down to a nappy during every feed – sometimes two or three times to try to keep him awake and feeding.
On the Thursday we were finally allowed to go home and I carried on feeding him whenever he wanted it (although the hospital imposed a rigid 3 hour system which was hard to get out of my head). He was feeding for about half an hour from each breast, often doing a one hour on, one hour off thing and it was exhausting! He was also screaming all the time when not feeding and by Friday morning when Mark went to work, I didn’t know what to do. A midwife came to visit in the afternoon and I cried on her – absolutely broke down sobbing. He had just fed for an hour and was still screaming. She had a good look at him and agreed that this was not a normal baby cry and that something was wrong. It was a big relief for a professional person to say this – as in hospital they had not seemed that interested. She said she thought either he had a headache or he was still hungry. She asked if I had any formula and said that although she wouldn’t normally suggest it, it might be an idea to see if he would drink it. He guzzled all 100mls of it. She advised topping him up after a breastfeed with as much formula as he wanted to drink, as he seemed a very hungry baby!
This worked well for a while. I was still using the nipple shields. Then about two weeks ago, my left breast started to really hurt when I was feeding. It became a real stabbing pain right beneath the nipple. I tried to continue, and did for about a week, but it was getting to the point where I dreaded feeding him and would cry while feeding on that side.
Then a friend noticed that Millar had a really white mouth and just mentioned that it could be thrush. I’d never even heard of babies getting thrush – I’d only heard of the nasty itchy thrush down below! I read about it an it all seemed to fit – the stabbing pain, the unhappy feeder, the white mouth. I went to the doctor, had it confirmed and thought it was the breakthrough we needed. All it would take was a week to clear and then we’d be pain free again. I spent the next week (which luckily was half term and Mark was off and my mum came to visit) feeding him on the right side, expressing on the left and giving him a bit of formula to top him up. A week later, the doctor thought his mouth looked better and with great expectations I started to feed on the left side again, even managing to get him not to use the shield – result! But it quickly started hurting, just as painfully as before. I persevered. It got worse. I was crying out in pain as he fed on the left. In despair, I rang two breastfeeding counsellors to come and help. These two lovely ladies sat with me for an hour and a half, listened to my story and watched him feed. According to them, his latch was perfect – his position excellent – my nipples absolutely fine. But I was in agony.
They thought it was that the thrush hadn’t gone and advised I see the doctor ASAP. I dutifully went back and persuaded him to give me the oral drug which is not licensed for breastfeeding but regarded as safe. I needed something stronger than the cream I’d had before. I had spent all day in floods of tears not knowing what to do. When I had people around, expressing was fine as I could hand Millar to someone and go and do my thing. But term time is a different story. I just don’t have time to express regularly. He rarely sleeps during the day and wants to be held all the time. It’s so exhausting. He cries a lot during the day. Everybody kept asking why I was doing this to myself – why didn’t I just bottle feed him and then we’d be much happier. But I was so determined. I really wanted to breastfeed. I decided I would give him mainly formula for a week and express whatever I could for him until the thrush had gone. We’d start a fresh after that. It was a relief.
That night, I didn’t get a chance to do any expressing and I woke up yesterday morning with the most painful breasts ever. They were like rocks! I knew I needed to express and empty them so Mark fed Millar his bottle and I got to work. But expressing was suddenly painful and even after I’d got quite a bit out, the left one was painful and still really hard. I was supposed to be going to a baby class but my health visitor rang and I burst into tears (again) on her so she said I should go to the drop in clinic near the baby class on my way. I went, dissolved in tears and never made it to the baby class. My left breast felt like it was being kicked repeatedly – I could barely lift my left arm and I had a splitting headache. They were pretty sure I had a nasty case of mastitis, but I was confused as it had come on so quickly. The health visitors were amazing. They rang my doctors, where the receptionists are notoriously difficult, and bullied them into getting me an appointment that day. I was full on shaking shivering and sobbing by that point, so they also rang Mark’s school and got him to come and pick me up as I couldn’t drive home.
Mastitis was confirmed and I’m now on a hefty dose of antibiotics and guzzling paracetamol and ibuprofen alternately. Yesterday I spent all evening shivering, then all night sweating and today I feel a bit better. I’ve managed to express from the right, and a little from the left but that really hurts. It’s best actually hand expressing while lying in the bath. The milk gets wasted but at least I feel better.
So now I’m in a quandary. Something in me wants to persevere with the breastfeeding, but I’ve been hearing how difficult it is to get rid of thrush – and that the only reliable way of keeping it away is to cut sugar and wheat from your diet! Again??? Was the gestational diabetes not enough??? I just can’t see that it will ever be pain free and it was making all of us so miserable when I was in pain. Millar’s wind was awful, I was tense and crying…it’s hard enough looking after a new baby without all this. On top of that, I’m terrified that I’ll get mastitis again and I really really can’t do that.
Millar is fine with a bottle, although I can tell that he really wants to breastfeed and a bottle just doesn’t do the same thing. I just don’t know what to do for the best. Either way, I’m having a week off, expressing to keep up my supply, and I’ll decide later on. Who knew it was so tough?!