Wednesday, 3 August 2016

World Breastfeeding Week - We're Still Going!

This week is World Breastfeeding Week. It is also the week that our little cutie turns two months old. That means that we have been breastfeeding for two whole months! It has gone in a blur, passed in a second, one feed merging in to the next. But in honour of WBW I thought I would update our 'breastfeeding diaries'. We have seen a lot recently on social media about how weeks like this are designed to make women feel guilty. We don't agree. Each parent makes the decision about how best to raise their child. That includes what they are fed, but what their child is fed does not define them as parents. We agree that we want our son to be exclusively on breastmilk for as long as it is feasible for all of us, or until he weans. This does not mean by any means that we are judging anyone else for not making this choice, or for making the choice to give their child formula, it is simply a decision that we have made for our family, and for our son. It is no-ones business whether we breast or bottle feed, so why can't we just get on with feeding our own children, and offering advice, not judgement or defensiveness?  Everyone's set of circumstances is unique to them, and we don't need to tear each other down to validate our own decisions.

I am really, really proud that we are still going. The reason for this is simple - breastfeeding is really hard work, it is still hard, and I still often want to give up. But we have chosen that breastfeeding is the best thing for our son, so no matter how hard it gets, I keep going. And I'm proud of that. Sometimes it is not the best thing for me, but it is still the best thing for him, and that spurs me on, that keeps me going until the sun rises again, or until his mammoth cluster feed session ends, or until we get him weighed again and see he has gained weight solely from my milk. Knowing it is the best thing for him is the thing that makes me want to continue without a doubt.

Back at the one month mark I posted that we were still using nipple shields, and that we were waiting for an appointment for his tongue tie division. The appointment finally came when he was six weeks old. At the appointment the midwife assessed the way he used his tongue, and watched him feed. She diagnosed a sub-mucousal posterior tongue tie, which was restricting his ability to stick out his tongue and thus achieve a deep enough latch. Thus we were relying on nipple shields, as he was unable to grasp the breast fully. The procedure was simple and quick. He hated being held in a certain position, but didn't seem to mind the procedure at all. He was handed to me for a feed, nipple shield free, and the midwife asked if it felt better. I wasn't too sure but said that I thought so. She suggested we try 48 hours without the shields and see if I felt able to carry on without them.

Forty eight hours later and I was very sore again, but wondered if my boobs now needed to get used to the sensation of feeding a baby without the protection of the silicone of the nipple shield against the movement of his tongue, so I persevered. Four days later and the pain was still ever present. No amount of adjusting his position / trying different techniques to deepen his latch / latching, re-latching and latching again helped, it was just painful. So we went back to shields. The stupid thing is, even though I am breastfeeding my baby - he latches on to MY breast, he gulps away at MY milk, and he falls asleep full up because of it, when using shields I don't feel like I really am breastfeeding.

So a couple of days later I tried again. Again, at first the pain wasn't too bad, but within 3 days of no shields it was excruciating again, so on they went again. And this is how we have continued. No amount of googling is providing me with answers, no amount of trying different ways of latching him on provides relief, so I am slowly coming to the conclusion that we either breastfeed with nipple shields, or we don't breastfeed at all. One more appointment with a lactation consultant on Friday is my final shot at providing an 'answer' before I fully commit myself to long-term feeding with nipple shields.

I have learnt a lot over the two months. Not only about myself, my resilience and my determination to achieve something I want so much and have always wanted, but also about the art of breastfeeding itself. Through various support groups, both online and in person (Facebook has some amazing groups!), I have learnt that very, very rarely is someone's breastfeeding journey straight forward. I have also learnt that many breastfeeding 'problems' are fixable, with a bit of determination and a lot of hard work. I have met people with low supply, oversupply, tongue tie, cleft palate, weight loss issues, slow weight gain, and many many people who have been through sore and painful nipples, but who have gone on to feed their babies successfully long term. It is these people who give me the inspiration and drive to continue, in the hope that one day I can feed my baby without pain.

It also makes me realise how little people actually talk about the issues they face. People with babies slightly older than Oskar, who are breastfeeding, now come to me and tell me the issues they faced while establishing feeding, but I often wonder why they didn't tell me this beforehand, so I was more prepared when I faced problems. Why don't we share the difficulties we had, and how we got over them? Perhaps then more people would be equipped with the knowledge to deal with these issues when they themselves face them. Perhaps then there would be more than 24% of UK mothers still exclusively breastfeeding at six weeks, and 17% at three months. A lot of formula feeding mothers speak of being guilt tripped by health professionals for not breast feeding, but we found it quite the opposite. Our health visitor asked how we were planning to feed, and when we replied 'breastfeeding' her response was one of doubt, dismissively telling us that we probably wouldn't manage it, as it was very difficult. In hospital, not one member of staff offered advice or help, when they saw me expressing they did not enquire if I needed help to breastfeed or why I was expressing. When Oskar was slow to put on weight, I was told by a charming midwife that my milk 'wasn't good enough', who then unceremoniously plonked a bottle of formula in front of me. I didn't use it.

When I look back at our early days, I was so full of hope for this journey, I was so excited to get our breastfeeding started and looked forward to the time it became easy. Whilst it is definitely a lot, lot easier, it is still not easy, and I wonder if it ever will be. But I'm OK with that, because I am proud of the fact that regardless of the difficulties along the way, we are still going. I am proud that in the heatwave my body made my milk more watery to keep my little boy hydrated as he drank day and night. I am glad that when I got a cold my milk provided him with the antibodies that meant he didn't get it. I am proud that after his 8 week injections yesterday I could instantly soothe him just putting him to my breast. And I am proud of the fact that he is growing, changing every day, nourished and sustained solely by something I made, especially for him.

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