Thursday 28 June 2012

Rootn Tootn & Breastfeeding

It is National Breastfeeding Week here in the UK, and I thought I'd share some of my thoughts and experiences. This is also the first post I intend to add to the Britmums linky - I wish I had found out about Britmums before their event last weekend!

When I was pregnant, the midwives kept asking if I was "going" to breastfeed. I knew enough from friends' experiences that it is not always a choice - sometimes the baby just won't latch, or your breasts do not give enough milk. So I told them that I "hoped to" or "planned to" but figured I wouldn't really know until Junior was born. I bought a few nursing tops and bras, as well as a few bottles. I thought it was best to be prepared for any eventuality.

When Junior was born, he was on my breast within minutes. He had a strong latch and I was pleased. He fed nearly non-stop for the first two days in the hospital, and I let him, being encouraged by the midwives to do "baby-led breastfeeding". I was told not to pull him off until he was done, so we did marathon hour and hour-and-a-half feeds - just on one side! I didn't usually offer him the other side immediately, knowing that the next feed was only an hour away.

By Day 5, my nipples were raw.

The midwives were supportive and encouraging, but kept offering conflicting advice. There was no latch problem, so we experimented with different positions. There was a possible tongue-tie, but no one was sure. I started using various accessories to try to reduce the pain: Medela nipple shields, Lansinoh soothing gel pads*, Lansinoh lanolin, vitamin E, and pure aloe vera gel.

By Week 1, he had lost a few grams. By Week 2, he was still under his birth weight.

When he continued to struggle with his weight over the first few weeks, more drastic measures were discussed. At Week 5, he had his mild tongue-tie clipped; I started taking Domperidone and Fenugreek to boost my milk supply; and we started supplementing with formula. His weight gain was fine after that.

I continued to breastfeed, although every feed was still painful. Gradually, I found out that "baby-led breastfeeding" didn't mean feeding for hours every time and that it really was best to offer both sides. His feeds became slightly shorter, and I began to offer both sides each time. We managed to get into a routine of alternating breastfeeds and formula, and I admit I did not adhere to the recommended not-more-than-X-hours-between-feeds advice since his shortest feeds were still around 45 minutes long.

The pain didn't stop, though. I stopped using the nipple shields after a few weeks, and stopped using the gels and creams as well in an effort to "toughen up" my breasts. Junior and I had found comfortable positions, his latch was as strong as ever, and my milk was increasing.

Now, at six-going-on-seven months, breastfeeding is still painful but I do it. Every few weeks, when he is on a growth spurt, he does what I call SSM: Super Suck Mode. My right nipple is still raw and I curse under my breath whenever he latches, but I only pull him off when the searing pain goes through my entire body. The left side has never been that bad, perhaps because he still feeds longer on the right. (I have come to think of the left side as my "reserve breast", which I give him first when the right side is unbearable.)

Why do I keep going? There are times when it's not so bad and I sort-of-kind-of understand what women mean when they talk about the tender bond between mother and baby. It soothes him, when nothing else will. And I believe that it is still the best foundation I can give him. So my goal is to get to one year. Or he has teeth. Or I just can't bloody take it anymore.

In the meantime, I got in the early habit of timing all his feeds. My lovely husband developed an iPhone app, which makes it easy to record feeds and set reminders for the next side, feed, nappy change, etc. I am proud to say that I came up with the name, Rootn Tootn. Junior was born at St Georges Hospital in the neighbouring part of London called Tooting, and I started calling him the "rooting tooting cowboy" since he was always hungry and often ... well, let's just say making certain noises.

I wish that breastfeeding was not so painful for me. I wish people wouldn't tell me it shouldn't hurt anymore (thanks for nothing!) I wish Junior sucked nicely and properly. I wish he spent the same amount of time on each breast. I wish he didn't hit me / wave his arm / scrunch my nose / wiggle his leg AND breastfeed at the same time. I wish he would do quick, efficient no-longer-than-ten-minutes-on-a-side feeds. I wish I could produce enough milk not to need Domperidone and Fenugreek (I'm still taking it. Goodness only knows what it is doing to my insides.)

But I'm glad that I can do it at all. I often think about the millions of women around the world who have no breastfeeding support - how do they manage? Do they give up, or do they figure it out on their own? Do they bother with nursing pillows, pads, creams, (iPhone apps!), different bras for day and night?

I'll keep going and sometimes I'll enjoy it. But listen out for my quiet cursing. Watch me wince. And know that it's not always the gentle experience that they tell you it will be.


(*best things EVER - why aren't they more readily available in the UK? I ordered mine on


Unknown said...

Great Post - I think there there really isn't enough support as there could be for bfing mums in the UK. I really struggled with my first as she had tounge-tie but it wasn't diagnosed until it was too late and my supply had dried up. Well done for keeping it up - it is hard work but worth it and something you will never regret!

Unknown said...

Good article - breastfeeding mums can do with as much support as possible. I had trouble with my first as she had undiagnosed tounge-tie and it would have been great to have had more support. Well done for keeping going!

brandarling said...

Thanks, Mystic Mummy! How awful that they couldn't recognise DD's tongue-tie. In Junior's case, it was mild but they clipped it anyway.

aedredhead said...

Thanks for posting your story!

Anonymous said...

thanks for this post! it's funny how people don't tell you how difficult breastfeeding can be. in the hospital, i had midwife who told me to just 'stick it in' my daughter's mouth, that she would figure it out at six hours old. she's almost sixteen weeks old now and we've only just now figured it out (for the most part...except when she uses me as a teether) after many desperate calls to LLL and the national breastfeeding helpline as well as trips to the BF clinics in town. it's nice to hear the honest side of things!