Leanne Pearce is an artist based in the North East of England who has created a series of "Portraits with Purpose" entitled "Breastfeed". Her work aims to highlight the diversity of ways in which mothers feed their babies, by sharing their stories through her art.
Before I begin with this part of the Patch, I wanted to express something very clearly.
I believe in a woman’s right to choose what is best for both herself and her baby.
I remember clearly having this argument with someone in the last few weeks of my pregnancy. I was determined that I personally wanted to try breastfeeding, but equally I didn’t want to feel guilty if it didn’t work. I knew it was a truly personal choice and one that I wanted to make for myself. And the same should be true for all women.
That doesn’t mean that I didn’t feel huge amounts of guilt when breastfeeding didn’t work for us. It doesn’t mean that I didn’t feel anger at the lack of support during my problems. But I felt those things because breastfeeding was something I desperately wanted for myself and my baby.
As it turns out, Little Man was so much happier, calmer and healthier once we switched to formula that I felt guilty for wanting to perservere for so long. And it just strengthened my belief that the decision between breast and bottle feeding should never be one that is judged by outsiders.
Some women, like me, desperately want to breastfeed but have an issue that makes it extremely challenging. Others may have reasons why they do not want to breastfeed. One thing I know for sure, there should be no “you CAN breastfeed and so you should do it”. You have no idea what reasons someone may have for not wishing to breastfeed, so keep your nose out of it!
With that being said, I wanted to dedicate a section of my site to breastfeeding support. I gave up exclusive breastfeeding at 12 weeks after 6 weeks of awful blocked ducts (a new one every other day, on both sides, causing large and extremely painful swellings and an inability to feed my child properly). Even before those 6 weeks of hell, Oscar struggled with major colic and was the most unsettled baby I knew.
As a new mum I didn’t know what to expect. I hadn’t a clue and so I looked for help. I called my health visitor, who was unavailable. So another one came and just sat beside me, said “his latch is fine” and left. I then went to a local breastfeeding support group and the health visitor there simply tried to force Oscar, screaming, onto the breast only to say “oh well he’s obviously just a fussy baby” when I told her to stop distressing him as it wasn’t helping. Her opinion on my blocked ducts was “he’s probably chomping down and damaging your nipples”. Even when I asked her about “oversupply issues” which I suspected I had from my own research, she just refused to see beyond her own opinion on the matter.
I desperately fought to continue breastfeeding but at 2am one morning as I cried in the kitchen whilst trying to clear yet another blockage I realised I dreaded each feed and continuing was not in our best interest. It was heartbreaking to give up on the dream I had, especially after such a rough pregnancy, but it had to be done.
We continued to comfort feed until 16 weeks when we both got D&V and Oscar went on nursing strike. By the time he agreed to latch on once more my supply was pretty much gone and he lost interest completely. That was the end of our breastfeeding journey and it breaks my heart to think of what we didn’t get to have. Again, I want to reiterate that this is something that I wanted, it’s no something I think every mum should do.
I often wish I had been able to find better support. The NHS has a massive “breast is best” campaign and yet the lack of educated support for anyone who has difficulties breastfeeding is shocking. I don’t know if we’ll ever be brave enough to have another baby of our own (due to my traumatic pregnancy last time) but I hope we might be so that I can have another chance to breastfeed. And yet I will always feel sad at what happened for me and Oscar this time around. If only we had been able to get better support, we might have been able to continue…
Which is why I am using this space to share links to groups and bloggers who may be able to help you on your own breastfeeding journey, if you choose to take that route.
La Leche League is a great place to start, and it was through a friend who attended such a group that I received information on oversupply, something my own health visitor seemed unaware of.
Lactation Consultants of Great Britain is a fantastic resource for finding a lactation consultant close to where you live. I wish I had known to find a lactation consultant in my early days of breastfeeding.
KellyMom is an excellent resource with lots of information on a variety of breastfeeding issues.
Mixed Bag of Allsorts is a blog written by a friend of mine. She had to overcome issues with her supply and writes openl about breastfeeding.
I have been meaning to write a review of the fantastic nursing cover I bought several weeks ago, but just haven't found the time. And now that my breastfeeding days are numbered I thought I better get it done!
If time were not so limited for me right now I would of course have dedicated an entire post to the review and a separate one to my decision to switch to formula feeding. But with Little Man to occupy most of my time, and Christmas preparations taking up what is left, I'm afraid you will have to do with a combined post. I'm sure you'll forgive me.
So, first, let's do the review:
Any breastfeeding mother will surely know how difficult it is to nurse her baby out in public without a handy cover to protect her modesty. Some may even have heard about nursing covers. I know I had heard of them a long time before I even fell pregnant. But for some reason I had this crazy idea in my head that a simple blanket or muslin cloth would suffice… how wrong I was!
If you have ever tried to feed a fussy, squirming baby whilst trying to keep a blanket over your boob that is flashed to the entire world every time baby moves, you'll know what I mean. Even with TJ's help to hold the blanket steady, we still managed to give several customers in the local coffee shop more than they had bargained for.
So, when my friend showed me hers and reminded me that they existed, I decided to go ahead and buy one.
You can buy these in lots of places. My friend got her from Mothercare. However I decided that I wanted to have a pretty handmade one to make it feel extra special and to support the work of people like me who are just trying to make a little extra cash from selling items they have made with love and care. I did the same when buying my changing bag, another item I must write a review about when I get the chance.
I was expecting to pay a little more than my friend had for a handmade item, but actually found several that were almost half the price of the mass produced one. So there's a lesson for anyone who believes handmade has to mean more expensive!
I looked around at various options and eventually chose this one because I fell in love with the bird and branches print. As you know, I am a huge fan of trees and as the changing bag I have yet to show you also contains a bird print (you'll have to take my word on that for the time being) I decided this was the perfect cover for me.
But it was not only pretty. Oh no, the person who made it was thoughtful enough to include a little pouch in one corner, which can be used to store a dummy in and/or wipe the milk that babies sometimes manage to dribble all over themselves. Now isn't that a great little addition?
I hope you can tell just how much I love this cover. I am not yet sure what to do with it once I finish breastfeeding Little Man. I might try and make it into a little bag to store things in his nursery (another thing I have to show you). I have fond memories of using it out and about and don't want to just discard it or pass it on when we finish needing it. That is how much I love this cover. I hope that shows how great it is.
As you can see, the cover is fantastic at making sure you are perfectly covered no matter what position your baby manages to get himself or herself into. It just slips over you head, you swivel it around until it covers the part you need it to, and then you adjust the neck part so that the hoop part at the front lies in a way that allows you to see the baby while you nurse without anyone else seeing.
Not only is this practical, but it also helps make nursing in public much more intimate between you and your baby, as your baby is sheltered in his or her own little world that you can look into and see. How wonderful is that?
And now on to my decision to give up breastfeeding…
When I decided I wanted to breastfeed Little Man, I told myself that if it didn't work out for us I wouldn't worry as I believe in a woman's choice and that a happy, healthy baby has a happy, healthy mother.
Well, for the first few weeks breastfeeding went wonderfully. It was challenging, of course, but I enjoyed pretty much every minute of being able to feed my baby in that way.
But when Little Man was 6 weeks old I started developing blocked ducts. These developed roughly every couple of days and although they would generally clear up within a few hours (thanks to some rather painful nursing and hand expressing for those several hours pretty much non-stop) they were mightily painful.
I discovered that I was having issues with oversupply, that is that my body was making too much milk. Reading the list of symptoms it explained so much of my problems and Little Man's feeding habits such as chomping down on the nipple, gagging and coming off the breast at the beginning of feeds, fussing and wanting to feed every half hour (to name just a few). So I started trying things such as block feeding and putting Little Man into a 3 hourly routine rather than letting him feed on demand. And it did feel like things were getting better as I only had two blocked ducts in a fortnight.
Then things got worse again. I got a terrible blocked duct that would not clear for about 12 hours. I don't think it fully cleared anyway because I was in agony every time I fed that week. It brought me to tears, I dreaded feeding him, I bit my lip the whole time he was feeding, and that wasn't all… I also had throbbing pain whenever he wasn't feeding.
This led to more blocked ducts (or the same one, I don't know) which didn't clear for 2 days. Not only was I in agony but Little Man was screaming because every time I put him to the breast to try to clear the duct he was sucking for dear life but nothing was coming out… and he was hungry!!
One night in the midst of this last episode I decided enough was enough. Not only was I in pain, but Little Man was suffering too. I was having to give him formula anyway when I had blocked ducts that wouldn't clear during his feed and seeing as they were happening so regularly we were on our way to mixed feeding as it was.
And even worse than that was the fact that our relationship was being battered too. I no longer enjoyed feeding him, but felt like screaming whenever he latched on. I was cross that he took so long to feed when every suck felt like razor blades on my nipple. I wasn't sleeping because of the pain from the blocked ducts. I was crying for hours on end from the pain and frustration of it all. And Little Man wasn't getting the best of me. Nor was TJ.
That was when I realised that I didn't want to remember these early days with him in this way. So I decided to switch to formula feeding. I am sad that breastfeeding hasn't worked out the way I hoped. I resent the fact that yet again my body isn't working as it was meant to. But I do NOT feel guilty. And I never will, because I know I am doing this for Little Man as much as I am doing it for me. He needs a happy, strong and healthy mama to love him, not one who puts the pressure to breastfeed above the desire to be the best person she can be for him.
I feel lucky that I was able to breastfeed at all. Some women never get that chance. Yes, I had wanted to continue breastfeeding until he was weaned, but because I have to slowly switch over to formula by dropping just one feed every 3-5 days to avoid too many blocked ducts and mastitis, he will be over 3 months by the time he is on formula full time. And that is an achievement I am proud of.
I know I have done everything possible to continue as long as I could. I didn't give up at the first sign of difficulty. I carried on as long as I could, trying strategies to overcome the problem by researching my options throroughly. And I am relieved to be making this change. It feels right to feed Little Man in a way I will enjoy rather than a way that brings me so much pain I dread feeding him. Already I enjoy the single formula feed I give him each day far more than the painful breastfeeds I do the rest of the day and I am looking forward to the time when every feed will be pleasureable once more.
So, I have enjoyed my breastfeeding journey. And it is with a certain amount of sadness that I say goodbye to it. But by ending it now I can hold on to those fond memories forever, unmarred by the pain of the past few weeks.
Well hello everyone, long time no blog!
I took this photo ready to send out with our Christmas cards this year and it suddenly hit me how very fast time is flying by now Little Man is here. This year seems to have dragged by with the pregnancy but now it is over it is really whizzing by and I suddenly find I haven’t blogged for so very long and have so very much to tell you. So please excuse the bullet points, but it is the only way I will ever catch up!
- Little Man is now 9 weeks old. He had his first set of vaccinations last week, which went well. But he had a cold prior to them which made his usual snottiness even worse, so he hasn’t felt all that happy at times this past week. But we’re still getting smiles at the photo above proves 🙂
- We’ve started trying to move from feeding on demand to a routine of feeding every 3 hours now and he is taking to it really well. I was reluctant to put him into a set routine too early but actually he seems to be happier for it. As are we! Instead of fighting to get him to go to sleep by 1am and surviving on as little as 3 or 4 hours per night, he has suddenly started being put to bed between 8 and 9pm and falling asleep within the hour, only to wake us between 1am and 3am for a feed, and then going back to sleep again until 5 or 6am. This feels like a miracle!
- I am still getting the odd blocked duct, some which clear relatively easy with a bit of persuasion and some which still take hours to clear and one that we even had to burst the milk blister to in order to clear (OUCH!) I very almost lost my will to continue and we were looking at changing to mixed feeding, but since bringing in the routine my supply seems to be settling a little bit more and I am hoping that in turn the blockd ducts will become less of an issue too…
- I had my 6 week follow up from my tear at he hospital and my 8 week post-natal check with the GP and everything seems to be healing beautifully. I just had my bloods taken again to check that I am no longer anaemic and that my liver function has returned to normal after the cholestasis, and should hear about that within the next week.
- I also have an appointment next Tuesday to meet with someone to discuss what happenend during my pregnancy and to talk through the emotional implications of that. I am looking forward to that as it will be good to discuss it with someone who is there just to listen.
- I have now been to a couple of breastfeeding cafes here and have to say I enjoy getting out and meeting new mums. So I am now on the lookout for more groups as I want Little Man to spend more time with babies his own age. I’m thinking music groups will be perfect as the boy just loves to be sung to.
- Incidentally, there was a lady at yesterday’s group who had her baby 8 days late and she only wighed 6lbs something… she looked so tiny and fragile compared to what Little Man did. But then again he was over 3lbs heavier at birth so I guess my perception of what newborns normally look like is a little bit “off”.
I am sure there were other things I wanted to tell you. In fact there are so many things I know I want to tell you but they would be much better in posts of their own. But I need to go shower now while Little Man is still sleeping. So I’ll try and catch up again soon!