So I thought, after my birth story for Fraser, where I alluded to our feeding journey, that I might give you an idea of how that looked for us. Because it really wasn’t an easy one. I’m going to use the term breastfeeding because I’m talking about myself, and I do refer to them as my breasts.
We spent a long time in hospital, 6 days for us both, and 8 days totally for me. I had real trouble getting him to latch, and for the first 3 days of him being here I felt like it was just one really shitty feed after another. Every single one was painful, and they were so frequent, I didn’t know how much babies fed. I didn’t know what was normal.
He fed constantly. When we got home, every time he needed a feed I used to have to go and sit on my bed surrounded by pillows to make it work. For however long it took him to feed. Which was actually fucking ages.
Two days after we came home, I have really vivid memories of feeding him to sleep, and then going for a shower, and just crying because I was DREADING him waking for his next feed. It was at this point that I sent Grant to the shops to get nipple shields. I thought if I could feed him for a wee while with shields I would be happy, and I could retry without in a few days.
The midwife came round, and I essentially cried all over her. She told me that if shields help then shields help. And she was right. They are the reason I was able to feed him. So I kind of gave myself permission to be ok with them.
When Fraser was about 12 weeks old, I spoke to our health visitor, and explained that on my right side, I was ALWAYS in pain, and that he was ALWAYS hungry. That I had spent hours online researching, how to get the perfect latch, how to stop the fucking pain I was in, and that all of the issues we were having coupled with a few other things led me to think he had something called a posterior tongue tie. She had never heard of this. So she told me to leave it with her.
She came back to me a couple of weeks later to tell me that she had done some research and she agreed, he fitted the bill. But that she couldn’t refer him because he was too old, I would have to go to my Dr and ask them to do it......which they reluctantly did.
When he was about 16 weeks, I got mastitis. Feeding Fraser I would have mastitis four times. Which was really miserable, I also got thrush twice, and a few blebs. I had no idea you could get thrush in your nipples. None.
Blebs, well, as a side note, they are when the skin, covers over your duct, or a little bit of milk hardens in the duct, they are sore and uncomfortable and the best way to get rid of them is to feed feed feed!
I digress, also, at 16 weeks, we finally got our appointment through to be seen by the infant feeding specialist and tongue tie specialist. I was really happy, felt really positive about it. It seemed like we were being taken seriously.
People kept telling me with such good intentions that feeding shouldn’t be painful, and that something wasn’t right. I fucking knew that, my tits knew it too. It’s not helpful to just point out whats wrong, when you don’t have an answer or the ability to pick my child up, and place him with precision and skill onto my breast like some kind of revelation.
Eventually the appointment rolled round, and the specialist had zero help. Yes it feels tight in there. It seems like a ‘slight’ posterior tie, but at the NHS we don’t cut them. With a side portion of ‘he will be on solids soon, and you will be weaning then’.........how fucking awkward, WHO advise breast until 2 years.......thanks for utterly nothing.
So we just carried on. I think by this point I was a bit resigned, I had mastered having my left boob as the one most used, I basically didn’t feed from my right side when we were out. Feeding with shields in public is a blast.......but it’s completely achievable. It’s not that you can’t it’s that you might not have the guts to get your tit out and leave it swinging there while you sheath up!
And we carried on this way until the seven month mark. And I think on reflection my mental health really took a battering. I was always in some degree of pain, and I was ALWAYS feeding. Fraser was always small, and petite but the health visitor was always telling me at weigh in that he wasn’t gaining like the would like to see, and that they would keep their eye on him. I literally fed him for hours of my day. And when he wasn’t feeding he was looking for a feed. My house was a mess, my husband did not get it. He was supportive but he had the same mindset I had before the kiddo showed up. Normal life, baby arrives, big celebrations, normal life resumes, but with new person I tow. But it wasn’t like that at all.
And I know this story sounds like a horror story. I know it will give some people the fear, but this isn’t a normal feeding journey. There wasn’t anything text book or online that I had read that matched my experience. I was just fucking muddling through.
What no one tells you about using nipple shields long term, is that they come with their own host of issues.....like, weaning away from them, or what happens when they are teething I had days when Fraser has sucked my actual nipple through the holes in the shield. We never really mastered weaning. If the moon was at the right height in the sky, every third Tuesday bi monthly he might consider going on without, but not without real effort and real battles.
Until that one day. One day at 7 months old the kid took the shield off. And wouldn’t have it back on. Not once. It was fucking agony all over again for about a week, but he got there in the end. We went on to feed for and other 19 months. Without shields. And after that first week things slowly clicked, and we got there. My right side was never very good, but it did the job, and sometimes when he was teething we would go backwards, but after the first few months it was just what I had struggled for. It was just what I had imagined it to be.
So our feeding journey wasn’t normal. And it for some parts wasn’t entirely healthy for my brain. Not really. I was emotionally fatigued. I’m proud that I carried on, but I’m not really proud that it was to my detriment. I have made an effort since then to educate myself. And to learn what is and is not biological baby feeding behaviour. It seems to me that most of the problems with feeding is that there is little to no education. And there is minimal practical help. There are untold problems that can and sometimes do occur. I can’t stress enough how much I want to support people who have struggled because of how much I struggled. I used to joke that if there was something that could happen to a nipple it had happened to me, and it’s not far off.
Because I could have probably coped far better with all that was going on if I knew I had someone who I could talk to who had the slightest idea what it feels like to struggle to feed your baby and be told every single time it was mentioned that you should just stop.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom which I’m well aware this sounds like it was. It was hard as fuck, but it was really really great when it finally clicked, and all the struggling felt justified. All the time spend dreading weigh ins, the failed attempt to get help with the tongue tie, the shields, it was all actually worth it, because we made it work. If you have read my birth story, it won’t take you too long to see that the reason I was so dogged about the feeding was a control issue. It was all a bit of a personal endurance test that turned out good in the end. I can never decide if I was punishing myself for not fighting harder for myself when I was in labour, or if it was about me seeing this as a way to regain control.
Either way, I learned more than I could have ever hoped to, I have an empathy for people who struggle to feed that I couldn’t have had if I had the smooth textbook journey that some people are fortunate to have. And the next time I had the opportunity to do it I was much more confident.
My son and I learnt a lot in the first seven months about one another and I’m forever grateful.