This post was definitely one I had to think about sharing, it was difficult for me to write. It feels very vulnerable for me to share my experience and this period of my life – the raw truth is breastfeeding can be HARD.
only 2.6kg and she was born at 39 + 4 weeks, so almost full term. From the very beginning, being such a small baby, there was a lot of emphasis on her weight and how much weight she had gained or lost each week. She was very sleepy in the first few d
ays and I was encouraged to express colostrum into syringe to feed her, after spending up to an hour every 2 hours trying to wake her enough to get her to latch on the breast. Once my milk came in, I was then told to pump every 2-3 hours to ‘top her up’ with some milk because she had lost weight. Bare in mind, some weight loss can be normal during this time but again, she was a small baby and we didn’t want her to end up back in hospital due to low weight gain.
The midwives would weigh her on each visit, every 2-3 days. I was lucky to have 2 amazing private midwives so this was all done from my home. Just before every weigh in, I had high anxiety wondering ‘had she removed enough milk from the breast?’ and ‘h
ad I done enough top ups?’. Every time Cirilla’s weight either stayed the same or only had a small gain, I became upset and worried. Cirilla’s weigh ins moved to weekly at this point. One week she would have a really good gain, I would start to reduce my pumping and top ups slightly thinking ‘yay, she is gaining now, we can just feed from the breast’. Then the next one or two weighs, she would hardly gain much at all. It was like being on a rollercoaster, anxiety one minute and fine the next.
There was suspicion that Cirilla had a tongue tie and this was the reason she wasn’t gaining weight. We had her tongue assessed at 3 weeks of age and the doctor confirmed she had a grade 3 tie. He assured us that once the tie was corrected, everything would be fine and she would start gaining weight. To be honest, having her tie cut was quite traumatising for me, seeing her scream with blood in her mouth because of something I allowed, felt horrible, even though the doctor tried to assure me they ‘didn’t feel the cut’. I still didn’t believe it. But it was all going to be worth it I told myself, it would all be ok now. We stopped the top ups and Cirilla gained weight for the first week and then, back to no weight gain the next. I was devastated, I cried and cried. I felt so confused. I went back to our schedule called ‘triple feeding’ - Feeding her on the breast, pumping for 15 minutes then giving her the expressed milk in a bottle. I did this every 3 hours, around the clock. I felt like I was living Groundhog Day. Barely any time to eat or shower, because as soon as I had finished breastfeeding, pumping, bottle feeding, settling her to sleep and cleaning the pump, it was almost time to do it all over again.
We saw a lactation consultant when she was 7 weeks who believed Cirilla was not effectively using her tongue to draw/remove the milk from my breast at each feed and If I wanted to continue breastfeeding, I would need to continue the top ups with either expressed milk or formula. I was told that once she was a bit older and stronger, things should be easier and I could stop the top ups. The thought of using formula at this point felt so wrong to me. Im a Naturopath I thought, the last thing I wanted to do was give her formula. I felt exhausted from our feeding schedule but I just couldn’t give up, it felt like I was failing my baby. I worried about her health, gut function and immune system. I wanted her to have the best start in life and that picture did not involve formula for us.
I was so determined not to give her formula, I tried all the lactation cookies, herbal medicine etc but the rollercoaster ride continued. It was starting to impact my mental health at this point. When I was alone with Cirilla for too long, I started to feel depressed at times and our schedule made it difficult to leave the house for longer periods of time. We bought scales and every Friday we would weigh her. Each Friday I woke up with anxiety and dread, knowing what was to come. If she had a good weigh, I was ok. If she had a bad weigh, I was a mess. Cirilla started to have a bottle preference and would scream on the breast until I gave her a bottle. I wasn’t ready to stop breastfeeding so I had to reduce her bottles for a while so she would go back on the breast. At 3 months I read that tongue ties can reattach and that is exactly what happened. The same doctor who did the first revision, confirmed my thoughts. All this time, the reattached tongue tie was contributing to our issues.
I also read that if you had ever had surgery on your beasts, poor weight gain could be caused by issues with your milk ‘let down’ due to nerve damage. If this was your issue, an oxytocin nasal spray could help your baby get more milk with each let down. Some of you may already know that I had implants and had them removed almost 4 years ago due to breast implant illness. I thought, WOW this could be it. I tried the spray and it worked. I pumped more and my milk came out quicker, so I figured Cirilla must be receiving more on the breast. This did improve her weight gain and we also made the decision to weigh her fortnightly and my husband would often weigh her and not tell me, for my mental health.
I know this story seems somewhat negative but our experience was so much more than just nutrition for my baby. It was a bonding experience like no other and whilst we struggled, it was also very reward at times. Once she was over 6 months of age, things did start to get easier, she was more efficient on the breast and we had started to introduce solids, so I did feel some stress disappear once she got a little older.
At almost 6 months of age she received her first bottle of formula. I cried because in my head, it felt like this was the end of our breastfeeding journey together. It wasn’t, I had built it up in my head and once the first bottle was done, it no longer felt like the worst thing in the world. Cirilla now receives a bottle of formula every now and then.
It's not the end of the world, and if I hadn’t been so stubborn and determined, my mental health wouldn’t have been impacted and instead of stress, anxiety and depression, I would have actually been able to enjoy this time with my baby a lot more. Do I recommend doing what I did? No, I do not. This is why I say, sometimes it isn’t always worth persevering with breastfeeding. But we made it to 11 months and Im so incredibly proud of us for getting this far. It was the journey we were meant to have and Cirilla, you were all worth it baby.
If you or another mother you know is struggling with their breastfeeding journey, please know you are not alone. Please share this story so other mumma's can hopefully feel comfort or learn something from our experience.