Right from when I fell pregnant with my first daughter, breastfeeding was definitely something I wanted to try, even if I couldn’t do it for long, I knew I needed to have a go. Early induction, due to Pre-Eclampsia, a very slow labour ending in an emergency caesarean section, nothing was going according to the plan in which I wanted. She was whisked into NICU and I was introduced to a breast pump. Unfortunately days after birth was when my breastfeeding journey with her went downhill. I was made to have bed rest for 24 hours, where I couldn’t see my baby, it was difficult being inexperienced figuring out how to pump. There was the odd nice midwife who took their time to try and help. But I ended up getting mixed messages from the Antenatal Ward and NICU, it was terribly confusing. At six days old she was allowed to come to the ward with me. Being tube fed for the days she was in NICU, it was also difficult for her, head moving from side to side, we were both getting frustrated.
A stern midwife, old school I guess came and thought she was helping, yet actually she triggered the final switch for me to end. She picked up my daughter, held her by the back of the head, grabbed my breast, and roughly pushed us together, no chance of her (who was 4lb 8oz born, but had of course dropped weight too), ever being able to latch, looking back now, it was impossible.
Going home on day eight feeling deflated and drained, my body had been through a lot, by day nine our breastfeeding journey stopped. It is something I will always deeply regret, particularly as I look back from where I am now to back then.
Just under three years later, I had my son. Once again I really wanted to try breastfeeding again. This time I was left to my own mind. It was an elective caesarean that time, he was able to stay with me, rather than be taken to NICU, which of course was a huge relief. I was numb and unable to move, I couldn’t quite reach my bell by my bed, so it gave me the opportunity to have a go at latching him by myself. Thankfully he took to it, a complete natural, he fed beautifully and a lot. I was soon advised from family members, health visitors to top him up with formula, because he seemed to be feeding “too much”. But we continued, even when I returned to work, he’d have a feed at breakfast, then at bed and overnight.
The relationship between his Dad and I broke down, I continued to feed a little while longer, but made the decision with a new relationship forming, that around two years old was enough for both of us. (My son and I). I felt so pleased to have gotten that far with him, he mostly weaned himself; he’d go days where he wouldn’t want a feed. But it was the perfect end to how I’d wanted.
With a new relationship, we started to add to our family, fell pregnant with my next daughter. After a difficult pregnancy, she was born via emergency caesarean section at just 26+6 weeks, the point of delivery I had no idea as to whether she’d survive let alone breastfeeding her, at point of birth I didn’t think it would happen.
But it did, but not direct.
As soon as I was back in recovery, I had an amazing midwife (definitely a lot more hands on than the earlier one), who came to my room, armed with syringes, and a knitted boob. My arms were full of needles and BP equipment, I could barely move, numb, but also in pain and very anxious, she was determined to get the best start for our girl, who I didn’t even know how she was doing.
She patiently showed me how to hand express, used the knitted boob, helped show me the position for my hands to be in, she even showed my husband – that was amusing. After some movement, I had expressed 1.5ml. I wasn’t overly impressed, I guess I was expecting it to just flow out. But the Midwife was thrilled; even 1.5 ml would at that stage be far too much for our tiny little girl. (1.5lb of tiny). It was a start. It was the start of my pumping journey for our micro premature baby.
Although my eldest was born early, and there were pumps involved, this level of prematurity was really a whole new level of difficulty.
I’d still have to pump around the clock as if I had a baby with me, it was hard when all I had was a picture or a Muslim square for her scent, but in reality it really is not the same.
I’d walk into the unit, with my little bottles of expressed milk, placed into the freezer, it was my routine, it was a special walk knowing that I was feeding her.
There were times where they would give her formula, it certainly wasn’t ideal, would have rather donor milk, but of course it wasn’t available. I just wanted her to have to best start for someone so early. I’d have domperidone to help bring in my supply, to keep up with her demands.
I was able to express by her cot, where I would shoot my husband in the back side with the milk which had missed the bottle. Him being surprised that my milk was warm, is one of my favourite memories.
Unfortunately our pumping journey came to an abrupt end, when she passed away at five weeks old.
My freshly pumped milk and breast pump, I threw in the bin, swapping my domperidone for tablets to make the milk which had come in on the day she died, to stop.
I’m afraid I wasn’t the person to donate my unused milk; it was the last thing on my mind. I found it incredibly hard to have milk, and absolutely no baby.
Our baby after our daughter arrived 13 months later. Not only was I determined for her not to enter NICU, but to never have a drop of formula. I’d developed a fear of it, it wasn’t the cause of death, of course it wasn’t but my brain had somehow associated it with our lost daughter, it was something I just didn’t want for our new baby.
Again she took to the breast instantly, she dropped weight, and there were talks of formula and NICU trips, things that were definitely off the list of things we wanted.
With sheer determination, and a supportive husband, we were able to stay home, avoid NICU and we avoided formula, for six months she was exclusively breastfed, carrying on her feeding until a little over three. (Although has had a sneaky overnight boob with her sister, and I recently expressed some when she was really ill, she is now four years old).
We tandem fed for a while, once her little sister was born, and we fed through my very difficult pregnancy with her, suffering with severe Hyperemesis, it was the only thing I could cope with.
My fifth and final pregnancy, as I mentioned above was very challenging, many, many hospital trips, vomiting so many times a day. Our youngest was born via my fifth caesarean section. She took to feeding sooner than any of them before her, wanted a breast before I had finished being stitched back together.
She has pretty much stayed on the breast ever since!
She has just turned two, with no signs of stopping any time soon. She has had to deal with allergies, which meant I have had to go product free. Starting with gluten, wheat, celery, milk free. She has come out of the gluten, wheat and celery intolerances, but we’re still working on the dairy.
So, for me this was another new challenge, but removing these from my diet, was so worth it, as I have been able to continue to feed her through tummy pains and reflux.
I will be sad once the feeding has ended, as she is my final baby. But I really am proud of what we have achieved together.
This brings me to my Best Breast Friend – my husband.
He has been my rock through all the difficult times of feeding.
From getting up at 4am for pumping sessions, making me a cup of tea, putting the pump together, even when at times I would fall back to sleep!
For getting me a mountain of flap jack or oaty products, letting me take baby moons with the youngest two.
Researching the various dairy free options for dieting or treats. .