My Bumpy Breastfeeding Journeys
Journey Number One - Twins
I have loved breastfeeding our twin girls and little boy, but they have each come with their breastfeeding challenges and despite being a midwife I still needed support!
Our twin girls were born at 34 weeks. The one who could stay with me right from the start initially fed like a dream but became fractious and jaundiced by day two - she just didn't have the fat reserves that a full-term baby would and needed extra energy and fluids. So, she had a nasogastic tube inserted (quite a quick procedure) and received formula top-ups through this for a couple of weeks, in addition to breastfeeding.
The other twin had gone straight to special care due to her slightly smaller size. She struggled to breastfeed from the start - perhaps due to this initial separation, who knows. She was fed with donor milk via a nasogastric tube for almost three weeks as she would open her mouth but not suck. It was only when we introduced nipple shields thanks to the advice of one of the nurses that she discovered what she needed to do and began her journey. Those nipple shields were like magic and by hitting the roof of her mouth stimulated her sucking reflex.
We started weaning her off the nipple shields at 6-8 weeks, which didn't take long. I would start to feed her using the shield and then quickly take it off in the middle of the feed and hope she would continue!
During those first few weeks I spent A LOT of time attached to a breast pump. Breasts work by supply and demand so I had to demand a lot of them to encourage the supply to be enough for two. I was physically and emotionally drained at times - to be honest I have never been more tired! It felt like a constant struggle to provide the milk they needed. Every three hours I was breastfeeding, pumping, sterilising and trying to fit in eating and sleeping where I could.
I remember the moment the paediatrician said we should up the volume of milk they received - nooooooooooooooooooooooooo! The more tired and stressed I felt, the less I was able to produce milk. I remember one nursery nurse who kept saying "Mummy needs to sleep" - the bags under my eyes were very noticeable! But I persevered with the help of my husband and the nurses, daytime naps and a lot of chocolate pastries. By the time we left on day 20 I was exclusively breastfeeding both and so happy to have done it!
I am not blogging about this experience to brag about how I succeeded. My journey was not easy and actually was far harder than I had anticipated. They had formula and donor milk, nasogastric tubes and nipple shields, none of which were part of my plan. But what I want to show is that with the right support, you can get through a bumpy breastfeeding journey. And the support is there - and if not, reach out elsewhere...
Journey Number Two - Tongue-Tie
This photo is our son having his first feed. I didn't doubt I could breastfeed him, but wasn't anticipating the surprise tongue-tie hurdle.
By day two, my nipples were becoming sooooo sore, cracked and bleeding, and by day four I was having shooting pains down my inner arm on the side he was feeding from. The let-down (when the milk starts to flow) stopped happening due to the pain and tension (oxytocin gives you the let-down and enough adrenaline will stop you producing it). I was dreaded feeding him and felt so guilty about this.
I visited a breastfeeding volunteer who identified the tongue-tie. This is where the frenulum under the tongue is too tight and stops the baby being able to stick its tongue out over its gums and feeding effectively. Many babies have a bit of a tongue-tie, but it is typically only when there are feeding difficulties that anything is done about it.
I started using a nipple shield to try and prevent more damage. Within a couple of days an independent lactation consultant had been to our home to assess him and how he fed. She then offered to cut the frenulum under his tongue. It sounds gruesome but it was such a quick, little chop with a pair of blunt scissors, which literally transformed our lives.
I used the nipple shield for 4-5 days as the pain was still quite acute (and I was scared shitless of breastfeeding without them by then too!), but we slowly got there and then carried on until he was 2.5 years old!
Breastfeeding journeys can be bumpy but most bumps can be overcome with the right support. The most common problem is actually the easiest to solve - repositioning baby so that he can get a better latch (basically more boob in the mouth!). So if you have any issues, ask your midwife, speak to the infant feeding specialist in your hospital, phone the National Breastfeeding Helpline or seek the help of an independent lactation counsellor.