Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Triumphant Tuesday - What support looks like

Breastfeeding support is a hybrid: sometimes it’s delightfully good. Sometimes it’s mercilessly bad. Good support is a mother’s best arsenal against boobie-traps. Bad support is a boobie-trap itself. In an era that considers the assertion: “You tried your best, breastfeeding is not the be all and end all” to be supportive, a mother wishing to breastfeed is swimming against rapids.

Whilst good support is not an absolute prerequisite for successful breastfeeding (Triumphant Tuesday stories are sobering demonstrations of this!), good support does tend to smooth the path between new motherhood and one’s breastfeeding goals. The following story is a perfect illustration of what good (and bad) support looks like.

Even before I became pregnant I always knew I wanted to breastfeed. Being a vegan it seemed the most natural and ‘normal’ way to bring up our baby. I was surprised at some of the reactions I got from people when I discussed my choice to breastfeed. Work colleagues suggested I should get some formula in ‘just in case’. 

Most of the people I knew had formula fed and they were open about not wanting to breastfeed because they wanted to drink, didn’t see the benefits or said their milk hadn’t come in. Not being a big drinker myself I couldn’t understand the need people have for a drink of alcohol. I know that with planning you are able to still have the odd drink and night out while breastfeeding and having chose to have children and I think this is a small sacrifice mothers should be willing to take for the health of their child. I feel alcohol may be just another excuse for people not to try and breastfeed. 

I also think often people that choose to formula feed may have a lot of family and friends that have also formula fed and as their children appear to be healthy, they don’t see the need to breastfeed. They often listen to others' opinions instead of listening to research.

I researched breastfeeding and it looked fairly easy and I believed it would come to me naturally. Mothers had breastfed since the beginning of time so how hard could it be? I even started to look down my nose at people that hadn’t even tried to breastfeed.

A breastfeeding advisor from my local Children’s Centre visited me and my partner at home to discuss breastfeeding and this built up my confidence even more, and reinforced the ideas behind our decision. She was so encouraging and made it clear I could contact her anytime for help. All I needed now was a baby...

It begins...

I was fully dilated by the time we got to the hospital and before I knew it the baby was there. I was in shock and didn’t feel how I thought I was supposed to feel. I didn’t feel this surge of love that everybody talked about. I didn’t feel emotional or overwhelmed. I just felt confused and vulnerable.

I asked for help with breastfeeding and a lady from the hospital Bambis (Baby and Mother Breastfeeding Information Service) team came up to help. She showed me how the baby would move towards my nipple and open her mouth to feed. This looked so magical and I was amazed how easy this was. A few hours later I tried to recreate this but found this impossible to do. It left me feeling frustrated and helpless so I gave up and let the baby sleep.

Understaffed and undereducated

That night I asked for help again with feeding. The midwives were very busy but one came in, put the baby in my arms, waited for it to open its mouth and then she pushed my breast in. She said she would come back to check on me but she didn’t. I felt the midwives didn’t see breastfeeding as something they needed to invest their time in. The baby’s father was not allowed to stay with me that night in hospital so I was on my own in a room. 

I felt like my baby was feeding all night and it was very sore and painful. I still wasn’t feeling this bond with my baby and just wanted somebody to help me. I told the first midwife that came to see me the next morning that feeding was constant and very painful and she just smiled and said it was good the baby was feeding. 

By the afternoon I was desperate for some help so I asked another midwife to help me. She just said “It is painful. That’s why so many people give up” and then she left. I carried on, determined not to give up.

Home alone

The first night at home was hard. I dreaded my baby waking up to feed. My nipples felt like they were going to fall off. I kept looking at the leaflet I was given by the Bambis team but I didn’t know what to do. I don’t live near my family. In the middle of the night in tears I decided I was going to ring Clare (the Bambis advisor) first thing in the morning. 

My mother formula fed. She lives 2 hours away from me. On the occasion I saw her I was very stressed out and upset. She suggested giving formula and periodically would push me to start weaning and stop breastfeeding.

Support to the rescue!

At 9am I was on the phone asking for help. Clare couldn’t get round until the afternoon but she sent another Bambi round straight away. I felt so relieved I was close to tears with gratitude. The bambi was the first person that I feel understood what I needed. She asked me to show her how I was feeding and revealed the problem: I was nipple feeding, which is why I was so sore. She came with her trusty knitted booby and demonstrated how the baby should be feeding. She showed me different feeding positions and let me practice them so I could do them myself. I was still very overwhelmed but was so relieved somebody was here to help. 

Clare came in the afternoon and immediately cheered me up. I was still not feeling confident and getting it right so she helped again with positioning and advice. She made me feel so much better. She visited me again the next day and followed this with phone calls and text messages. I am feeling emotional now just thinking about how vital this support was to my breastfeeding journey. I am forever grateful!

There were still many tears to come. It took me and my little one a while to get the hang of breastfeeding. I would still dread feeds as my nipples were going to take a while to recover from the damage and I cried as I tried to latch my baby on. They were cracked and incredibly sore to touch. I had a blister on one side that took weeks to heal. I was sick of people telling me that if it hurt, I was doing it wrong.  I tried different nipple creams, hot baths, cabbage leaves, expressing, massaging and came close to giving up a few times in the middle of the night. I’m thankful that my partner encouraged me to carry on. He would take the baby while I calmed down then he would help latch her on. I know it would have been easy for him to ease my pain and get some formula but I am grateful he didn’t as I would have lived with the guilt forever. Finally, I was advised by a herbalist to use Calendula cream which worked well.

On the third week I started attending a breastfeeding support group. I was nervous attending the group as it was my first with my baby and also my first breastfeed away from my house. Everybody was so welcoming and told me how beautiful my baby was.  Listening to others experiences I knew I wasn’t alone and what I felt and experienced was normal. I sat beside a woman whose baby was a week older than mine and she had had mastitis and thrush so I suddenly started to feel very lucky!

After about 6 weeks my nipples stopped hurting and I was finally beginning to enjoy breastfeeding and enjoy being a mummy. I am always jealous of people that say they have this amazing feeling of love from the beginning. I feel guilty that I didn’t but know I need to be honest about it as I am sure there are many people that experience this too.

I feel so lucky that I now have this special bond with my baby, and so proud of myself for getting here and intend to feed for as long as I can. I love my baby so much I know I am giving her the best start in life. I am very grateful for the help and support the community Bambis have given me and I feel proud to live in Liverpool. I have moments where people tell me that formula is easier but I have learnt not to listen.”

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