Saturday 13 January 2018

My Breastfeeding Journey

My breastfeeding journey never really started if I'm completely honest, a decision that has made me feel guilty since Joshua was switched to formula. Guilty, because breast is best is rammed down your throat from the minute you step into your dating appointment. Guilty, because I was so clueless when it came to choosing formula. Guilty, because the Government are more focused on pushing breastfeeding than it is on helping and educating people on fed is best. I wrote a post called 10 Thoughts I've Had About Breastfeeding and I wish I'd re-read this at the time and remembered what I'd said. 

From the get go, I said I wanted to breastfeed. I knew the benefits and I knew how amazing the female body was to be able to do such a thing, I wanted our son to have the best start to life imaginable and because of the completely one sided initiative, I almost put too much pressure on myself to breastfeed even though I told everyone around me I wouldn't let it get to me. I think the one comment that always stuck in my mind was at my dating appointment which was "Well, we prefer all mothers to breastfeed". My response was "I'll do whatever works, fed is better than nothing" and I wish I'd stuck to that and told anyone that said different where to go.

Joshua's birth was traumatic and probably one of the worst experiences of my life, something I am not ready to talk about to anyone but it was that coupled with unhelpful and careless midwives at the Princess Anne Hospital in Southampton that ultimately finished my journey before it even started. I was too unwell to feed Joshua straight away and he didn't feed until four hours after his birth when a midwife fed him with formula by syringe in a corner away from me. I wish I had been well enough to tell her to show Arran what to do and get him involved but that never happened. She kept our newborn son away from us and that was the beginning of a catalogue of errors and negligence. I never once had skin to skin, even after asking for it, asking for someone to help me sit up and enable me to do it. Skin to skin was one thing I was so, so set on in my maternity notes but they wouldn't help.

Later that afternoon, I was eventually able to hold and begin to feed him myself but did anyone help? No. I continually asked for help to breastfeed but I just kept being told to put him under my arm and hold him to latch which was incredibly painful and difficult due to the emergency caesarean. My parents came to visit us that evening and instead of being able to meet their grandson properly for the first time, my mum spent the hour trying to get Joshua to latch and feed after still not being helped on the ward.

That night was the worst night because he just cried and cried, he was hungry and I couldn't do anything to help. A midwife came to see what the problem was and instead of helping me to feed him, stood there and said I could hand express, another thing I didn't know how to do and numerous midwives wouldn't help me with, or that she could get formula and a syringe if needed. No help of latching or checking if he was okay. Nothing.

He wasn't latching and he wasn't feeding and the following day when I asked for help again, the ward sister in charge for the day told me that they didn't have the time and I'd just have to do it myself before walking away, ignoring my cries for help. A health care assistant overheard this conversation and told me that there was a maternity service within the hospital called Breastfeeding Babes, a service that helps with breastfeeding and that she would get the woman who ran it to come and speak to me. While waiting for the woman to come and speak to me I was given a leaflet, as they seem to do with everything, to read while I battled on that morning trying to feed.

I managed to finally get him to latch, for a cleaner to then come round and tell me I needed to get out of bed because she needed to change the bed, I said no and she said again how she needed to change the bed sheets then came behind the drawn curtains, stood by the head of the bed and commented on me breastfeeding. I just burst into tears. I felt like I was on show even though the curtains were closed for privacy. I wish I'd reported her there and then but I didn't have the energy. Every moment on that ward that I wasn't helped and just cast aside, chipped away at me.

While all this was going on Joshua was barely getting enough milk, something that no one on the ward seemed to give a toss about. Instead of helping me, they just supplied formula and a syringe, and I was just left to get on with it and hope I was doing it correctly. Out of all the midwives I asked for help, there was only one that sat with me for an hour one morning and helped me feed him. 

Once I had the feeling back in my legs the next day after the epidural, I had to walk the length of the hospital and down two floors while wheeling Joshua with no help to get to the Breastfeeding Babes room so I could feed my two day old baby. I lasted ten minutes in the room before I nearly collapsed and ended up being wheeled back to the ward where once again I ended up back to square one and not being able to feed properly. Joshua was screaming through hunger and frustration and I was in agony. The second night I was so tired and frustrated through lack of help and care that I broke down and cried while trying to feed him again. A midwife came to check on me and instead of helping, gave me the post natal depression chat at 4.30am even after I told her I was struggling to feed. The following morning I had had enough of the lack of care, neglect and ignorance of the midwives that I pushed and pushed for discharge. A discharge that was actually unsafe, not that they cared. 

I was sent home at 11pm with a baby I couldn't feed. A baby that was hungry and severely dehydrated. A baby that they incorrectly wrote on my notes was happy, feeding and latching well and was progressing normally. That night, he had his first proper bottle of formula, I sat and cried, repeatedly apologising to him because I couldn't feed him. My first home visit from a midwife went slightly better but by this point we were advised to combination feed because of how dehydrated Joshua was. My milk did come in but with the ongoing battle to feed Joshua, I barely got my supply up.

I wouldn't feed him with the formula myself, I couldn't. I felt like I was letting him down so much through the pressure I experienced at every turn when making the decision on how to feed him during my pregnancy. Arran fed him the majority of the time because I just couldn't I was so disappointed in myself. We only saw my parents and my sister for the first two weeks and if anyone else wanted to feed him, I jumped at the chance and let them. I could probably count on one hand how many times I fed him those first two weeks with formula. I just couldn't do it.

I began to express with my Medela Swing Maxi Double Pump, feeding Joshua with the expressed milk made me feel slightly better as it was mine, I could feed him with that but I was just getting an oz from each breast so he had formula to top up. I was so disheartened and so, so hard on myself. The Medela pump was the only thing that made the whole experience that little bit easier. It was easy to put together, even easier to use and comfortable. Did I feel like a milk cow? Yes but I was finally able to feed my son myself even if it was the tiniest amount, it was something. I was feeding him.  

Three days later I was back in hospital with a severe infection in my section wound, I was told I couldn't breastfeed with the antibiotics I had to take and as I was already part feeding with formula I shouldn't find it too hard to switch over. It was probably a good job I was unwell otherwise I would've flipped at that comment from the nurse in the day unit on labour ward. With no more advice on breastfeeding or how I could lower my supply properly to prevent mastitis and engorgement, I was sent away to Google what I needed to know. A couple of weeks later it turned out the information I was given that night was false and the antibiotics I was given were fine to take while breastfeeding and I didn't have to stop. By this point, my milk had all but dried up and Joshua wasn't interested. I was devastated.

My journey was practically ruined before it had started by the people that were meant to help me, people that were meant to care and advise, people that I am told I should be thankful for. People that so regularly pushed breast is best upon me. People that have let me down so severely in more ways than one.

The Medela Swing Maxi Double Pump sent as press sample - see disclaimer.
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