Lumps, pumps and grumps – things I never knew about breastfeeding!

August 1st – August 7th 2013 is World Breastfeeding Week – read more about it here
The focus is on community support, particularly in the form of peer-to-peer support. To show our support for World Breastfeeding Week, the Irish Parenting Bloggers group is coming together in a blog march about our varied breastfeeding experiences, including our experiences with breastfeeding support in Ireland. So here’s my contribution.

I intended to breastfeed from before I was even pregnant. I’d read up on it, spoken to other women who had done it and decided it was right for me and my babies – who were still to be conceived at this stage. Once I was pregnant this certainty that it was right only intensified. Breast is best, health benefits for baby, health benefits for me etc etc. But if I’m honest part of my wish to breastfeed was a image in my head of me holding our baby curled into me and the baby gazing back at me adoringly while having a good feed. And I eventually got there but not without many tears (mine), much frustration (mine), immeasurable patience (husband’s) and some experiences I’d never expected to have (all 3 of us).

As previous readers will know our daughter was born with physical and intellectual disabilities which had been diagnosed prenatally. I had not been able to have the birth I wanted and had a planned C section instead which I struggled with for a long time (and have written about before here.) So being able to breastfeed her then became vital – I had to succeed at some part of this whole new mum experience. Looking back now that belief added to and exacerbated all my problems.

When I was brought back from recovery after the section, my husband and our brand new daughter were waiting for me on the ward. I was settled into bed and one of the senior midwives came to help me try feeding. Fionnuala didn’t seem interested but no one seemed too concerned by that so we just cuddled and drank in every aspect of this snuggly warm bundle. Later that day SCBU staff (special care baby unit) suggested a formula feed as she still wasn’t sucking – I wouldn’t allow them give a bottle but allowed a cup feed which she took fairly well. Roll around to day 2 and one of the lactation consultants came to see me in the afternoon after hours of me asking to see one – babs had not latched on at all by this stage and she was now about 31 hours old. No one had suggested I try expressing or had even mentioned it to me. After trying to force my nipple into our baby’s tiny mouth, the lactation consultant announced that she had a tongue-tie and would probably never be able to nurse. I was devastated to say the least, and am still angry at how this was done, I had had a c-section just the day before, I was sore, tired and my baby had a serious health condition and that is how I was treated. I wish I’d had the strength to stand up for both of us but I didn’t. Finally on day 3 I was shown how to express and started to get something but it wasn’t until day 4 that there was anything of mine to give my little girl, she was still having formula by cup, but at this stage the SCBU team were making noises about tubes and her not being able to come home with me as she wasn’t feeding enough, so after much sobbing and distress and upset for both my husband and I that I agreed to try a bottle with her, I just wanted so desperately to bring her home.

We left hospital when she was 6 days old, and she was having mostly formula and some expressed breast milk (EBM) all by bottle. We had bought a pump and as well as the enormity of having a new baby and her diagnosis I also struggled to cope with attaching a rather delicate part of my anatomy to what felt like a mini milking machine every few hours (including during the night – my husband would give F a bottle while I pumped away). We continued like this with the amount of formula lessening and the EBM increasing until she was 8 weeks old. By which stage I was completely exhausted, expressing and caring for a little baby is unbelievably hard work. I was very close to putting her completely on formula until my wonderful PHN suggested using a nipple shield to help counteract the tongue-tie, after some hard work we succeeded at this. So we got there in the end but I can’t help wondering if it all could have been different and if we could have been saved so much distress if someone had just mentioned nipple shields to me before. But we got there and by using nipple shields I managed to breastfeed our darling girl until she was 20 months old. She probably would have continued but I wanted to stop, her appointments and therapies were increasing and I just felt it was time to stop.

So that was my experience of some very poor help and some very good help from the Irish health system – the pumps! The lumps (blocked ducts) I was aware might happen but oh holy jaysus the pain!!!! I couldn’t get the whole cabbage leaf thing to work and the massage didn’t seem to work either. Then a lovely woman on a parenting forum suggested I use a hairbrush with nobbly bits on the end and try ‘brushing’ towards the nipple. It sounded utterly mad. It worked. That’s one thing I never thought I’d check off my to-do list!

One thing that DID take me a little by surprise was the attitude of some members of society towards breastfeeding. Once we had established breastfeeding successfully I had no problem with feeding in public. I found most rooms set aside for nursing mothers smelled of stinky nappies and weren’t always clean – no way was my baby having her food there – so I would feed her whenever and wherever she wanted to be fed. One such occasion was in a fast food place. A man sitting a few seats away from us glared when he saw me feeding the baby and ostentatiously moved further away. My stepchildren commented on how rude he was and I couldn’t disagree. My husband was livid, pointing out that if there had been some young woman sitting there in a revealing top leaving little to the imagination that same man would probably have lapped it up. At other times some people looked away when they saw me feeding but I don’t know if they were embarrassed or disgusted. And I don’t care. Hence the grumps.

With World Breastfeeding Week in mind, I’ve been wondering what advice I’d give any pregnant woman – its very simple. Give breastfeeding a try. If it works for you, that’s great! If it doesn’t work for you, you are not a failure. The advice I would give wider society is equally simple: support any woman who is breastfeeding or who wants to try. Don’t make her feel uncomfortable and don’t doubt her if the first few weeks aren’t all plain sailing. I know one woman whose daughter was keen to breastfeed. I met her a few days after the baby had been born and asked how the feeding was going. “Oh she had to stop, he (baby) wanted to feed all the time. She couldn’t keep doing that it was ridiculous.” I explained that is how babies regulate their mother’s milk supply – by feeding whenever they need to. If that new mum had had more support and understanding it is possible she might have continued to breastfeed. As it was she gave up under lack of support from her mother and husband – and sadly that is such a common story. Even if you have no experience of breastfeeding (whether yourself or someone near you), help a new mum however you can. And one of the best ways? Give her a hug (if you know her well obviously!) and tell her she’s a great mum. Cos she is.

Parenting · Special Needs

Our little ray of hope – Fionnuala’s arrival (5 years later!!)

Well they do say better late than never!

Some of you will know our story but for anyone who doesn’t a quick recap – our DD was diagnosed at 29 wks with a rare neurological condition and had to be delivered by CS at 39+2. She is now 5 years old (no I don’t know where those 5 years went) and while I have had emotional issues over her birth I feel I want to write it all down to see if that helps me reach some closure. So here we go.

This was my second pregnancy and having lost our first baba to mmc the previous year I was hugely nervous throughout the first trimester of this pregnancy. Once I got to 13 weeks I relaxed a lot more and began to really enjoy things. I felt healthy, baby was growing nicely, it was a textbook pregnancy. I was booked into the MLU in Cavan hospital and was very happy with the care I was getting. I was keen to give birth with minimal if any intervention and no drugs.

So when we got DD’s diagnosis everything changed. I am not going into all of that here, but one of the many things that had to change was my birth plans – from being a low risk MLU patient I became a very high risk, full-on intervention, planned CS delivery. Now I want to say here that at no time did I ever argue for a vaginal delivery – it would have been too dangerous for F to even consider anything else.

I was scanned every week to monitor babs and at 36 wks my CS date was booked – 3rd July. I was so upset at the thought of the CS – it just seemed like too much to deal with. The obs was brilliant with me all the way through. At 37 wks he told us he had to change the CS date. When I snapped that “you better have a really good reason!!” he just smiled and said yes he did – he wanted a specific paed to take our daughter’s case so wanted him present at the birth. The man he wanted was on emergency call on the 3rd so the CS was changed to the 5th. We are eternally grateful to the obs for this as F has the best most caring paed we could have asked for.

So roll on 39+1 and I go into hospital to have the CS the next day. We were both very tense, scared shitless of what might happen the next day (we had been warned that she might not breathe at birth etc). Got through the night – no idea how. Woke up the next morning and waited for it all to begin. First thing was the catheter. OUCH OUCH OUCH. No one warned me they would do that before the epidural!!!!!

So DH arrives and we all head to theatre. Him one corridor with a nurse, me another on the bed. He was taken off to get scrubs on and I am wheeled into theatre. By this stage I am beyond terrified – so desperately wanted her to arrive but was in fear of how she would be. Anyway, the anaesthetist (sp??) comes over to do the spinal block. His assistant told me to lie on my side and draw my knees up as close to my chin as I could – I looked her straight in the eye and in all seriousness said “I can’t do that, I have a big bump”. She very gently just held my hand and said “yes I know, thats why you’re here.”

The needle went in and they moved me onto my back. DH was still outside at this stage and I was really beginning to lose the plot. I started counting the staff to keep calm but the buggers kept moving around the theatre!! Then I became totally convinced I could move my right toes – shit!!! That meant the epidural hadn’t worked and I would have to have a GA and DH wouldn’t be allowed in and neither of us would hear our baby’s birth and and and – panic rising rapidly. I told the team I was wiggling my toes and the anaesthetist came over, looked over the screen and gently said “Dr S has just made the first incision – did you feel anything?” With a sense of relief I shut up and looked over to see DH walking in with a nurse. He was put sitting at my head and to this day neither of us know what we said to each other while we waited.

After an amazingly short space of time we heard the incredible and longed for sound of our little daughter roaring her head off. Dr S announced “And we have a baby girl! But we knew that!!” (Prenatal scans) I burst into tears and sobbed “She’s alive, she’s alive”. As I turned my head to watch the paed and team take her to the cot thingy I could see some of the nursing staff were in tears (they had been with us all the way since diagnosis) and we could see two arms and two legs waving furiously and the roaring continued.

After a few minutes our darling girl was wrapped in a blanket and handed to her anxiously waiting daddy. I should explain that some children with F’s condition can have facial malformations and we were aware of that possibility. So when I saw she was wrapped up with the blanket covering most of her little face I panicked again and demanded DH let me see her face. He peeled back the blanket and the most perfect, teeny, adorable little pink and white face peeped back at us. More tears of relief.

While I was being tended to at the other end, we just gazed at our little bundle who was breathing on her own, who scored 9 on her APGAR at 2 mins and 10 at 5 mins, who was here and who we already were madly in love with. And we chose her name – Fionnuala. After about 10 mins they took DH and DD off to SCBU to give her a thorough check and carried on sewing me back together.

I still can’t describe the elation, relief, love, shock, amazement that I felt for the next hour or so while I was in recovery on my own. Yes it would have been preferable to have her and DH with me but in a general hospital thats not an option. But we were reunited on the ward soon enough and we were able to spend the whole day with our little daughter just revelling in her existence and feeling so relieved that she had passed the first big test.

It was the next day when I was struggling to establish breastfeeding and F had her first brain scan that the enormity of it all began to hit. I felt that I had not given birth to my darling girl, rather that I had been a passive onlooker and it had all just happened to me. TBH I felt I had failed her. Looking back now it is possible that I would not have felt this so intensely if the feeding was going well. But I felt like this for a long long time – and still do to some extent.

I convinced myself that I would be able to resolve these feelings by having a VBAC next time round and then everything would be fine. That hope was dashed when F was 2 and we learnt her condition was genetic with a 1 in 4 chance of happening again. After much agonising we decided not to have more children and so I had to come to terms with the fact that I would never experience a contraction, never know the pain of labour nor the sense of achievement that I assume you get after pushing your baby into this world. That has been hanging over me for ages now. But you know what? Writing this down has helped. I still wish so much things had been different. But I realise now that I didn’t fail my little woman.