We were still in the cycle of 3 hourly expressing, bottle feeding expressed milk and breastfeeding when I could stand it. I say when I could stand it as by this stage my breasts were really suffering. I had reached the bleeding, cracked, ridiculously sore stage that meant that yet again, I questioned continuing with all of this at all. We were all exhausted from 3 nights more in hospital, and I was in so much pain every time the pump or his hungry little mouth went near me. But I did what has become my go to when things get tough in the breastfeeding world - handed him to Sarah and got myself in to the shower.
There is something about standing under that warm water that makes you stop and reflect. Maybe it's the time and space away from the boy you are trying so damn hard to do your best for, or maybe it's the soothing warmth of that water that provides temporary relief to your sore body, but either way the shower seems to be my place to go when things are getting tough. I decided that for today, I would carry on. I didn't need to think any further ahead than that, but for today I would dry myself off, whack on the lanolin, and get through it. I was tougher than I ever thought I could be, and more determined than I ever thought possible, but I wanted this so much.
We were discharged from hospital that day, after Oskar's jaundice levels had come down enough to allow him off the baby sun bed for good. I was so glad to be going home again, but terrified at the same time. What if it happened again and he lost weight because of my milk? I tried to remember what the midwife had said, "in spite of us doing our very best, not because of". I tried to remember that he was now gaining weight steadily, and that my milk supply had never been an issue. We decided to continue with the feeding plan for now - 3 hourly expressing and bottle feeds, breastfeeds on top.
That night we went to bed early. Unlike in the hospital, Oskar was unsettled at home. Whether it was the white noise of the hospital, his baby sun bed with its warmth and gentle blue glow, or the fact he was now just hungrier, the expressed milk just wasn't settling him. So I needed to breastfeed him more. But when I tried he punched and yelled. I tried to guide him on and he'd fight to push away. I felt like an absolute failure. I wanted more than anything to breastfeed my beautiful baby boy, but I couldn't even have him near me without him fighting and screaming. At about 4am I broke down. I cried and cried. I told Sarah that this was the final straw and that in the morning she needed to go and buy formula. I told her I'd make my decision and after 9 days now of giving it my all, it was clear it just wasn't working for us. She held Oskar on her chest and he fell asleep, she held me in her arms and I did too. I will never forget how much comfort I found in her arms in that moment. I had officially reached the lowest point of our breastfeeding journey.
At 8:30 I was woken up by my phone ringing. It was the midwife on for the day. She asked how I was and how the feeding was going. I told her it wasn't going and I was going to formula feed him. She told me not to do anything right now and she's be round shortly as she would make us her first visit.
The midwife that came was kind and gentle. She held Oskar in her hands so tenderly and asked me to show her how he fed. She told me to lie down on my back so she could show me the biological nursing or "laid back breastfeeding" position. It is supposed to allow babies to calmly and gently self attach to the breast in their own time, by having maximum contact with their Mummies by lying tummy to tummy with them. She placed him on me, he opened his mouth wide and on to the breast he went. Sucking, for the very first time, with no pain. For the very first time I was breastfeeding my baby, comfortably and without excruciating pain. He fed for around 45 minutes and then fell asleep in my arms. It all felt like a perfect dream. The next time he wanted to feed he did it again, on the other side.
Throughout the day the three of us lay down together, Oskar slept on Sarah's chest and came to me for feeds. We relaxed, we listened to music, we slept. He fed beautifully and peacefully in the biological nurturing position. I was overwhelmed and overjoyed that we were getting somewhere. We could do this.
But then the night came, and it must've been because I was tired and he was hungry that he started to get fractious again. We had been doing so much googling throughout the last 9 nights or so trying in vain to find a solution to his difficulty in latching effectively or latching at all. "How to deepen latch" "How to stop lipstick shaped nipple" "What is the flipple technique". We'd tried it all. It was only when reading on a forum that someone had only managed to persevere with the help of nipple shields that I remembered we had that option. We had used them a few days back, before being admitted to hospital, but not since then. In hospital we had persevered without them, in the hope we could crack it just by ourselves. But if it meant he was breastfeeding again, I was happy to give it a go. We honestly would not have got this far without the products we bought from Medela, particularly the nipple shields, electric pump, and Calma teats that replicate breast feeding.
The other thing about latching Oskar on was his laziness to open his mouth properly. I knew that the repeated pain in my nipples and the way he squashed them so much during feeds meant that he wasn't taking in enough breast tissue, but I had no idea how to stop it. So we tried various positions. Not the standard ones you will see if you google "how to hold your baby for breastfeeding", these positions involved me sitting Oskar in front of me,upright, holding him so that he tipped his head as far back as he could, and then me leaning against him while I latched him on. I felt like a contortionist but somehow, it worked! He was on, he was breastfeeding, and the pain was still there but was bearable. We managed like this for the rest of the night and in to the next day. I was still expressing 3 hourly and giving him that, but when he was going to the breast, he was doing so with less of a fight and was actually managing to suck effectively and swallow / gulp away at the milk.
The following day, Day 11. I was starting to get a little concerned that we were still struggling so much and he was 11 days old, but at least we were heading in the right direction. With the help of the shields Oskar was now at least feeding at the breast far more, our reliance on pumping milk and bottle feeding was lessening, and my nipples were showing signs of healing. Some friends came to visit and brought lunch with them, and while they were here Oskar wanted to feed. There was only one thing for it - I got myself ready, put on the nipple shield, and on he went. No fighting, no tension from me or him, and in addition, very little pain. When he came off he hadn't squashed my nipple at all. I think it was the distraction of having friends round that allowed me to relax enough to not get worked up about whether he would latch "properly" or not. He seemed to respond by doing exactly what he needed to, staying calm, opening his mouth wide and sucking well. I didn't realise at the time that this was to be the biggest turning point in getting us to breastfeed.
It seemed as though once Oskar had done it once he knew how to do it again. At least on my right hand side if not quite managing on my left. I think the fact I am right handed and so can easily get him in to position using the rugby ball position on my right side means I struggle a bit more with my left. But with each feed from this point we grew with a little more confidence and my mindset changed from "we absolutely can't do this" to "maybe we can".
Day 13. We were still struggling a little with the left side, but I felt that we had pretty much cracked it now on the right. Oskar has a habit of turning his head the wrong way and sticking his hands in his mouth when he wants to feed, so it's a team effort to get him on - Sarah holds his hands, I hold his shoulders / head with one hand and the nipple shield in place with the other and on he goes. But even with this huge step forwards in terms of our positioning and his latch, I still felt as though we could be missing a reason as to why his latch was still often not deep enough and he was still often squashing / hurting my nipples.
We decided to visit an IBCLC or international board certified lactation consultant to you and me. The highest qualification you can obtain in breastfeeding support, hoping we may finally get some answers. She first of all observed Oskar's feed and commented on his wide open mouth and willingness to feed. She told me that the rugby ball position was fine but as he grew bigger my arms would ache from holding him like this. She asked us about his birth, his feeding pattern, our concerns. She checked him for tongue tie, and commented on how he could have a posterior tongue tie, but felt that having watched a feed she could probably help us get round it without referring us for a division. She showed me how to hold him across my body, and told Sarah how to check he was on well. And told us to go back next week to let her see how we are getting on. It was the reassurance I needed to know that we (I) wasn't doing anything wrong. There was no glaringly obvious problem preventing Oskar from breastfeeding, it was just going to take a little more practice, and patience.
As Oskar hit two weeks of age I couldn't help but be overwhelmed with pride at having made it that far on breastmilk alone.
We were now one of the 40% of people who intended to breastfeed at birth who were still going. But wow, I never ever expected getting there to be quite so tough. If you are reading this and are one of those wanted to do it but couldn't and swapped to formula feeding, we get it. A couple of times we nearly joined you. You didn't "give up" and you certainly didn't fail, you made the best choice for you and your baby at the time, and you deserve a medal for doing that. And if you made it to two weeks, you have nothing but our respect. Breastfeeding is the most natural thing in the world but as we have discovered, it's also one of the hardest. Getting this far deserves some kind of medal. I was now determined more than ever that we could keep going. My next goal - to reach one month of exclusive breastmilk. Wish us luck!