Breastfeeding is easy, right? Out pops the baby, you given them a cuddle, plenty of skin to skin and then you pop a boob in their mouth and away you go!
Only it’s not always that easy is it?
Eliza was born prematurely, and as such her latch wasn’t very strong. I hand expressed colostrum for her first few feeds and spent plenty of time topless with her on my chest, to encourage bonding, supply and latch. And it seemed to work – by day 2 she was starting to root, and to suckle. I was chuffed to bits – until the doctor cam around that is. Because Eliza was born at 36 weeks she needed to have her blood sugar levels monitored. This involved a heel prick blood test after a feed, then 3 more before her next 3 feeds. Her levels needed to stay above the magic 2.5 mark.
It started well, with readings of 2.6, 2.5 and 2.5. We started to plan going home – until her final blood test came back at 2.1. This didn’t simply mean another blood test before the next feed, but involved the whole process being started again – 4 more blood tests with readings above 2.5.
The next reading was 1.9. There were mentions of SCBU, and talk of formula to ‘top her up’.
Thankfully, this was at midwife handover time, and the next midwife to take over our care was amazing. She sat with me, talked me down from my panic and told me to keep doing what I was doing. She spent a long time with Eliza and I, hand expressing drops of colostrum into her mouth to encourage her to latch, and sitting with us while she fed to make sure she was sucking and swallowing properly.
Once she had fed, the midwife again helped us express enough for a top up feed – this was given by cup to prevent any interference with breastfeeding. It was a long, slow process but it worked – by the next blood test her sugar levels were back up to 2.6. We continued with the 3 hourly feeding and cup top ups, and her next 2 results were 2.8 and 3.1!
We went home, and carried on. Feeding seemed to be going well, but when the midwife weighed her she had lost 9% of her birth weight. I was told this was OK, but she couldn’t afford to lose more. 2 days later she had lost 11%. I started to question what I was doing wrong, but chatting with some lovely friends online made me realise I wasn’t failing her – she was just a bit early and a bit small and needed more time. I convinced the midwives to give us another 48 hours and then re-weigh. Lo and behold, she started to put on weight. It just took her a little bit longer. That’s OK.
I am not going to pretend it’s been easy – but I don’t think the early days ever are. You have so much to contend with – bone crushing tiredness, post birth soreness, older children demanding your attention. On top of that you can really suffer in those first days and nights – cracked, sore nipples can be enough to make your toes curl and question your feeding method. That’s where a hefty dose of Medela Purelan and a cup of tea comes in. It will pass.
Breastfeeding is an amazing thing, but it’s not always easy. It can be hard, emotional and draining. But if you can soldier through those first weeks it does get easier. Make sure you have support – whether that is from your partner, your midwife or a lactation consultant. Be prepared for the first few days to be pretty much nothing but feeding and sleeping – for you and baby. That’s OK – you’re both recovering from the birth. Be prepared for your boobs to rival Dolly Partons once your milk comes in, and try not to poke your husband in the eye when he accidentally brushes against you in bed. The fullness and tenderness will go as your supply regulates. Take paracetamol and try some Medela Hydrogel pads for instant relief. If you find you are ending up with milk marks on your top, consider using breast shells – they work in the same way as breast pads, but they collect your milk instead of absorbing it – you can then tip this into a milk bag and freeze it for future use!