I really wanted to breastfeed.
Not because breast is best (blah blah).
It just appeals to me and when I did breastfeed I loved it.
This week is International Breastfeeding Week and the Irish Parenting Bloggers Group (IPBG) is doing a blog march to raise awareness and talk about our experiences of breastfeeding. This year’s theme is Breastfeeding Support: Close to Mothers. You can read more about it on http://worldbreastfeedingweek.org. The focus is on community support, particularly in the form of peer-to-peer support.
Just to give you a backdrop of my own breastfeeding failure, without going into it too deeply, I had a fairly traumatic labour which ended up in an unplanned c-section.
I believe that this, combined with the lack of caring in the after care, and lack of breastfeeding support offered and lack of knowledge that support is available, I was pumping and giving top ups (as recommended by a pediatrician) within two days. Within two weeks, my baby was formula fed and I was devastated.
I never met with a lactation consultant- I never knew they existed in the hospital. Also, as my babies weight dropped ‘too much’ I was advised to give her top-ups. This, combined with lack of support, was the demise of my breastfeeding journey. The post-natal sister who, although quite cold and emotionless, was very pro-breastfeeding was disgusted that I was recommended to top up considering my baby had no other symptoms such as jaundice, her temperature was fine and she was fully alert.
When I first wrote this post I had included what was practically an essay on all the contributory factors that lead to the demise of my breastfeeding. It became so long (and a bit of a sob story) that I decided to cut all the detail and try to be as succinct as possible.
The sad thing, is that there were so many contributory factors as to why I failed so I have bullet pointed some of them below to point out some reasons as to why I believe that in Ireland you are supported on paper but not in practice along with some advice for first time breastfeeders from a hind-sighted perspective. Please note that a lot of these points are based on my experiences with individual maternity staff and obviously don’t reflect the wonderful, beautiful people who are passionate about their maternity career. I guess I was either unlucky with who was on staff at the time or that I was so naive that I allowed certain behaviours to persist.
- I was shown once how to latch. I needed to be shown again shortly after whilst listening to the midwife tutting, huffing and puffing. I never asked for help again. In hindsight, I could have requested a lactation consultant, I could have employed a private lactation consultant, I could have seeked out an experienced breastfeeding mother.
- You are only told the benefits of breastfeeding before you give birth- no one ever tells you about the pain, the cracked nipples, the gorging, the mastitis. No one teaches you that you need to pep-talk yourself through the discomfort. In hindsight, I would have put more effort into preparing for breastfeeding through talking to local groups, going to a preparation class etc.
- There is a general intolerance of women who voice their pain and exhaustion- whether in labour, post labour or when breastfeeding. You are promptly told to buck it up, sure haven’t we all been there? Its as if by acknowledging your own feelings you are invalidating every other mother on the planet. The bitterness aimed at you when you voice your feelings is unbearable and really does shut you up fairly quickly. I wish I had of known to have found the right person to talk to about my discomfort and exhaustion- an experienced breastfeeder, a private consultant or the la leche league. I also think that many mothers are too shy to approach breastfeeding organisations- is there any way the system can make this more accessible?
- No one tells you that it is completely normal that your infant may feed non-stop until your milk comes through. WOW. I only found this out months later on a parenting blog. My baby was normal after all. In fact, my baby was clearly a successful little feeder. Only an experienced feeder could tell you this- not a text book.
- They come around and switch the lights on at 6am with breakfast. They frown upon anyone sleeping during the day- even if you are feeding every two hours 24 hours a day for the first few days. Even if you’ve had a fifteen hour traumatic labour that ended up in an emergency c-section- everyone else has done it without complaining so why can’t you? In hindsight, I wish I had of just ignored the frowning and napped between feeds. They say to sleep when baby sleeps yet they don’t let you do this on the ward during the day. Being rested and relaxed is essential to establishing breastfeeding.
- When the ward is busy you may have to share a cubicle. Unfortunately, there is only one buzzer to call for help. They do not distinguish between breastfeeding/bottle feeding mamas nor c-section/natural birth mamas as to who gets to be beside the buzzer. So, if the midwife doesn’t bother coming around with the 2am painkiller and you are up against the wall and your abdomen is in too much pain to be able to twist aside to pick up your mooching infant, you may either have to shout out and wake everyone in the ward, or take the five minutes to move as slow as you can to manage the pain from the tightening stitches after your abdomen surgery, or maybe find some paracetamol in your bag (you are sleeping with it on your bed as there is no floor space). Just so you know- you get a bollocking for taking your own medication. YOU CANNOT WIN. No matter what choice you make you are guaranteed to get tutted at, huffed at and made to feel like a stupid idiot. In hindsight, I remember thinking about needing the buzzer as they pushed me into the wall- I wish I had of said something. I knew that they’d forget to bring my my AM medication again, hence why I had my husband bring me in some paracetamol- I wish I had of had the balls to say it to them at 10pm that I needed the 2am one. I also wish I hadn’t of taken their intolerance, lack of caring and forgetfulness personally. I could have done without that feeling, especially while I was already trying to psychologically recover from that awful labour.
- The use of ‘top-ups’ is shockingly high. My infant lost too much weight. Or, should I say, my infant didn’t fit on the chart by losing the average amount of weight. Therefore they jumped straight to formula milk top-ups. In hindsight, as a first time mother I didn’t realise I could of thanked them for their opinion and then told them to leave me alone to establish feeding.
- I was the only breastfeeder on my ward. I got to listen to mothers snoring, waking every 3/4 hours, feeding quickly, snoring. In hindsight, I never knew how irregular it was to breastfeed. Even though I don’t know anyone (locally) who breastfed, I was really taken aback by how tempting it was to just do what everyone else on the ward was doing- even though I felt great love and affection for breastfeeding. I wish hospitals would have a breastfeeding ward. This way, they could assign midwives who are experienced in breastfeeding. They could also motivate the mothers to support each other if there were predominantly breastfeeders on a single ward rather than spaced out based on first come first serve basis. This is especially important as as the maternity wards are so understaffed that if there was a community vibe on a breastfeeding ward that problem would solve itself without having to employ extra staff.
- I think the formula option is too available. It helps maternity hospitals function- it speeds up recovery and allows them to ship off their patients earlier. The reality, for me, was that it left my baby with six months worth of colic and constipation. Also, when I started pumping my top ups I started taking to the pump machine because my nipples didn’t hurt. I started exclusively pumping. This certainly did not help as I started producing less milk. Then I started giving milk top ups. Eventually, my baby was on the formula. In hindsight, I wouldn’t have allowed them to give top-ups. I also wouldn’t have pumped so soon. I needed to feed through the pain and no one told me this. I would have thanked the pediatrician for their advise and I would have just continued breastfeeding. So be it if it means I had to stay longer in the hospital. So be it.
- I found that there was a subtle attitude with some people in society- as if I were unnecessarily being hard on myself. Why bother with the hardship when you can just bottle feed? I never had anyone say anything to me directly but I could sense it and read it through pursed lips and silence. I never received any direct encouragment. No one ever just said to me ‘you can do it‘. In hindsight, as I had no family or friends close to me (I never thought to pick up the phone to those far away) who breastfed, I really needed to establish a contact list of people who could have given me the encouragment I needed. It is only now that I have been so hurt by my failure that I have found so many wonderful women out there- in local groups, in organisations and on the internet who have been there too. Who intimately know that pain and exhaustion- who can just say those words you so badly need to hear ‘you can do this’.
So to summarise, the things I would have done differently:
- My baby was fully alert, had no jaundice and a perfect temperature- just because she lost more weight than the average was not enough cause to put her on top ups.
- I would have pressed for an appointment with a lactation consultant.
- I would have contacted my local breast feeding group.
- I would have had the courage to thank the Ped. for their advise but continued to exclusively breast feed.
- I would have contacted my homeopath earlier. I contacted her after two weeks (my milk was still low) and she sent me out a remedy. My milk started gushing two hours after taking the first dose! Unfortunately, my baby was fed up with the breast at that stage. I know now that the homeopathic remedy sorted out my milk supply but I didn’t have the balls to contact a breastfeeding agency or group for the mental, emotional and directional support- meeting new people stresses me out and at that time of my life I don’t think I had it in me to push myself socially; although I regret this now.
If I had the power to bring change to the hospitals to make breastfeeding more accessible:
- I would have a post-natal breastfeeding ward. Put all the breastfeeding mothers together so that they can support one another. Even if this was just six beds at one half of the room- once they are together.
- I would insist that the staff behave with respect, courtesy and treat every single patient with dignity. I’d get them training so they could learn to leave their bad mood in the locker room.
- Also, staff can have a more tolerant attitude to a mothers pain and exhaustion without molly-coddling them. Its OK to need painkillers if you are in pain. It shouldn’t be one extreme of the other and its not a competition to be the biggest martyr.
- I would ensure patients know that they don’t have to be subjected to intolerance, rudeness, patronisation or disrespect- that they have the power to stand up for themselves and/or make a complaint about a staff members behaviour.
- As pointed out by Office Mum, the money being spent on ineffective breastfeeding posters around the hospital could be spent elsewhere to support breastfeeders to establish their technique and supply. Maybe more lactation consultants? Maybe that post-natal breastfeeding ward I was talking about? Maybe home visits to follow up? (Seen as the majority of breastfeeding mothers give up once they get home).
If I had the power to change society:
- I would teach it that breasts are much more than sexual objects and that a women publicly breastfeeding IS COMPLETELY NORMAL.
- I would teach it to help struggling mothers through encouragement rather than jingling the easy way out in their face.
- I would teach it to be tolerant, kind and nurturing to the new mothers discomfort, exhaustion and pain. Don’t force her to put on a face, just like you had to. I often feel sad when I hear older women being intolerant toward new mothers with the attitude ‘well I had to do it all on my own so why can’t you?’. Or, in competition, ‘well, I did that only I had five children to care for too’. How about loving support through understanding? How about society support todays mothers to break the cycle?
If you need help and support breastfeeding please do take a look at all of these other blogs that have contributed to the blogmarch- you wouldn’t believe the wealth of experience on these pages:
August 1st: Wholesome Ireland with World Breastfeeding Week and The Happy Womb with The Power of Breasts
August 2nd: Awfully Chipper with The Accidental Extender and Office Mum with Breastfeeding Support: Change the Focus
August 3rd: Wonderful Wagon with Hippy Hippy Milkshake and It Begins With a Verse with World Breastfeeding Week
August 4th: Glitter Mama Wishes with World Breastfeeding Week – Blog March – My Experiences and Ouch My Fanny Hurts with Let’s Talk About Boobs Baby
August 5th: Debalicious, Bumbles of Rice with Breastfeeding in the Middle Ground and Mind the Baby
August 6th: My Internal World, Musings and Chatterings and Mama Courage
August 7th: The Nest, Mama.ie, At The Clothesline and Learner Mama