I'm sitting in a hospital room. My first baby, two days old, has been attached to my engorged boobs for 8 hours. I didn't know the term then, but she's 'cluster feeding.' All I want is to fill her small tummy, burp her and pop her into her bassinet so she will sleep. My lady bits feel like they've been through a meat grinder. I feel anxious; this small person is all mine and I don't know what to do to feed her properly. The midwives all tell me it's normal, to hang in there. Let her cluster feed. Don't give her formula, don't express - these are the cardinal rules, I discover. If I do anything but let her cluster feed, I'll stuff up this breastfeeding journey and apparently, that would be a terrible thing.
I never knew it would be this hard, and I went to the breastfeeding class when I was pregnant. I paid attention. I pride myself on getting things like this right, but there's this niggling feeling that something is going wrong. I feel a simmer of anxiety, bubbling slightly, deep down somewhere I can't see. Why won't this baby get off my boobs?
But there's one older midwife who is appalled. 'Your nipples must be like a pair of old boots!' My husband, lying next to me in bed, lets out a loud laugh. Old-school midwife isn't impressed and turns to him, 'well that's a nice contribution from you.' Then she leaves and I'm confused because I still don't know what to do with this 4.2kg baby hanging from my boobs night and day.
I later read in my hospital notes written when they discharged me that we were 'breastfeeding well.' We weren't and even now looking back, it still upsets me. I didn't speak up and they didn't ask. The baby blues hit me hard when I got home. It was like a tap had been turned on and for the life of me I couldn't stop crying. Chloe wanted to feed constantly, yet as soon as I laid her in her bassinet, (with slow, precise actions like someone dismantling a bomb) within minutes her little legs began to wriggle and she'd wail, that heart-breaking newborn wail that all mothers are biologically programmed to detest.
I started to fall to pieces. My mum and sister found a lactation consultant. She was smart, kind and very pro-breastfeeding, obviously. ('She's a lactation consultant, not a bottle consultant' my tell-it-like-it-is obstetrician later informed me when I told him the saga months later.) The lactation consultant saw how upset I was and told me I should probably not feel bad about feeding my baby formula, as the makeup of Chloe's gut had already been changed due to having a course of antibiotics for sepsis at birth. She was trying to help, but it made me feel worse. She also said Chloe had a bad latch because she was slightly tongue tied. So we raced off to the paediatrician, hoping for a miracle, but he was reluctant to cut it and sent us home with instructions to work on Chloe's latch. I began to dread every feed, each lasting hours on end, only to be met with a hungry baby an hour later.
Still, I persisted with breastfeeding. I tried to get Chloe in the right position, to get her to latch properly, to be patient. But still, each feed took hour upon hour, and I found myself sweating, stripping off layers of clothes, shaking with anxiety. My husband went out to buy formula at 7am one morning and begged me to give it to her. I don't know why I resisted. I tried to pump milk for a bottle, but I was so stressed and anxious that I couldn't express a single drop.
I was a mess. I remember sitting on the couch crying as my mother and husband argued. Luke thought I had postnatal depression, though mum knew I didn't - I had the baby blues, and to top it off, breastfeeding was single-handedly turning me into an anxious mess.
Looking back, I'm so glad I found my feet when I did, otherwise I think I would have gone down the path of postnatal anxiety. Just over two weeks into Chloe's life, I'd had enough of trying to breastfeed. Everyone around me, who loved and supported me, was also encouraging me to give Chloe some formula. I mixed up the bottle through my tears and offered it to her, feeling like the world's biggest failure. She squirmed, wailed and shook her head from side to side as she tried to figure out this strange teat, which most definitely wasn't her mama's boobie. Then, a second later, she attached her little mouth to it. She mewed, sighed and guzzled as she drank the whole 100mls, and then proceeded to sleep for three hours. I cried, but this time they were tears of relief.
It was like all the prayers that I had sent up, as I sat sobbing on the shower floor, had been answered. We realised she had been so unsettled because the poor little soul had been hungry. Her dodgy attachment to my breast meant she was getting sugary foremilk, but none of the fatty hindmilk, meaning she was hungry sooner, and napping instead of sleeping.
Once we gave Chloe that one bottle, we never looked back. She then proceeded to sleep like a total boss. Five, six or even seven hours straight, most nights, at three weeks old. I began expressing multiple times a day, and giving her breastmilk from the bottle, as well as the occasional bottle of formula. I discovered, being from a good dairy country like New Zealand, that I had an unusually large amount of milk. My sister took to calling me Daisy the dairy cow. I expressed almost a litre most mornings, and began stockpiling breast milk in the freezer. Chloe fed beautifully from the bottle, and my confidence grew and grew. I started to love being with her, and being her mama. I fell in love with her, over and over and over again. I never doubted the choice we had made to give up breastfeeding, and to this day, I still don't.
It was upsetting to discover she didn't want my breast when I offered it to her a few days later, but to be honest I didn't blame her. She cuddled close as she fed, and to me it was no real difference. My husband loved to feed her, which gave me time to express, rest or have a shower.
I ended up expressing twice a day until Chloe was six months old. Not because I didn't want her to have formula, but because I was getting such a great amount of milk that it seemed such a waste not to. That gentle, rhythmic hum of the Medela Freestyle still reminds me of those early months of Chloe's life, where I finally found my way.
I do have pangs of longing when I see people breastfeeding, however I now know it's not an easy journey for most people, and that it takes practice and patience. I think Chloe and I would have got there in the end, but at the time, my mental health was also a huge consideration, and enough was enough. Chloe was bottle fed, but she also had a mother who was happy and engaged. When I tried to breastfeed her, she had a mother who was sobbing and anxious.
It still bothers me that breastfeeding is pushed so hard upon new mothers. Yes, we do know that breast is best, but formula is also pretty bloody good too. Our hungry babies need to be fed, and as long as they're fed, I don't see the drama. Our babies need mothers who are calm, gentle and interactive with them - it's so important for their mental and emotional development. To this day, I don't believe breastfeeding should be pushed so hard, often at the expense of a mother's mental health. It's too damaging, not only to ourselves, but to our babies, families and marriages.
My bond with Chloe is amazing, and I don't think it's been affected by not breastfeeding in the slightest. Her bond with her bottle, however, was a little too amazing, but that's another story!
Joanna says: Wife, mama, long haul flight attendant, writer, travel obsessed, lover of wine and cheese, compulsive shopper and therefore currently explaining the credit card bill to my husband.
Children: 1 girl - Chloe.
Motherhood in 5 words: Scary, hilarious, life-changing, AMAZING!
Fav family-friendly place: Love the Yarra Valley and Mornington wineries, they usually have big open places for kids to run around, and, you know, WINE!
Coffee order: Soy cappuccino
Blog: Melbourne Mamarazzi
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