Struggling To Breastfeed – When It All Goes T*ts Up

struggling to breastfeed

When the twigs were smaller, I once had a lady say to me that the reason they got chicken pox was because I didn’t breastfeed them. Struggling to breastfeed my twins when they were first born had been a deeply painful and upsetting experience for me. So I’ll be honest, what she said really hurt.

Not A Breast Vs Bottle Debate!

Before I go on, I am NOT disputing that breastfeeding gives babies antibodies to fight off things like chicken pox. I know that what she said was scientifically accurate. Also I genuinely take my hat off to anyone who breastfeeds their babies, particularly mums of multiples! Actually don’t know how you do it, just amazing!

Equally I have no problem with anyone who bottlefeeds – it’s what I did. This post is NOT a breastfeeding vs bottlefeeding debate in any way! I am very much of the ‘each to their own’ mindset and think everyone should just be allowed to get on with doing things their way for their own children.

BUT… I did object to the insensitivity of the comment and the blunt way it was said. I don’t think the lady meant any harm really. She had managed to breastfeed fairly easily and I think she just felt she was stating a fact. It probably didn’t occur to her that it could be a sensitive subject for some people.

Why Is Breastfeeding A Sensitive Subject?

I am always seeing phrases like ‘if you choose to bottle-feed’ or ‘it’s your choice how you feed your baby’ etc. Plenty of women choose not to breastfeed and that’s fine – having experienced it now I can totally understand that decision.

For me though, I don’t really feel I had a choice. In a nutshell, I really really wanted to breastfeed but just couldn’t f**king do it. And I was devastated. I’ve spoken to a lot of mums of both singletons and twins who felt the same. Yet somehow it still seems to be divided into two camps – those who breastfeed and those who choose not to. And no-one seems to really realise about the third camp who feel they had no choice.

Preparing For Breastfeeding

I’m going to tell the story of my breastfeeding journey. (It was a short journey – barely left the b*stard station tbh 🙈) When I was pregnant, I always knew I wanted to breastfeed. I went to an NHS antenatal class run by militant breastfeeding midwives. They basically said your child would die if you didn’t breastfeed them (ok not quite 🙊) But they also said a lot of things like ‘your body knows what to do’, ‘your body is capable of producing enough milk, even for twins,’ ‘the baby’s instincts will tell it what to do’ etc.

I left that class thinking it was all going to be so easy and I’d perfect the rugby ball hold with a twin on each boob in no time. Oh how naive.

WHY can’t they be a bit more bloody realistic and warn you that actually sometimes your body doesn’t know what the f**k to do, it doesn’t produce enough milk, it BLOODY HURTS, some babies don’t/can’t/won’t latch properly and you’ll more than likely end up with bleeding nipples on at least one occasion! Never mind the fact that you’ll probably be in a sh*t load of pain from the traumatic birth which was also supposed to be beautiful and easy, overwhelmed by the fear and responsibility of having a small life or two suddenly depending on you and crying hormonally every two minutes when you don’t even know why. But they don’t tell you any of that!

I know they don’t want to put women off trying to breastfeed, but for me I honestly wish I had been better prepared mentally for just how hard it could be. I know it’s not the same for everyone and some are lucky in that it does come naturally and quite easily, but for me and probably many others, there just seemed to be so many factors working against me.

Trying To Breastfeed

I was an absolute wreck after the birth. My episiotomy was buggered, I had a blood transfusion a few days after having the twiglets, I was in total shock and utterly overwhelmed. Feeding didn’t feel natural in the slightest – if I’m honest I was such a mess I definitely don’t think I bonded with the babies straightaway.

C didn’t seem able/willing to latch at all so we concentrated on trying to get H feeding to begin with. I had just about every midwife/breastfeeding person in the hospital try to help me. But he still kept coming on and off and I didn’t feel like he was really getting anything from me. I kept trying but it was really distressing. He was hungry and would scream in frustration.

I felt like I was torturing my baby by trying to do the right thing.

I was also painstakingly hand-expressing drops of colostrum to feed the twigs. I refused to give them bottles and insisted on only cup- or syringe-feeding them as I’d heard this would make them more likely to be able to move on to the breast.

But eventually there was blood in H’s nappy from dehydration so I was forced into giving them bottles. I was so upset and already felt like I’d failed. To be quite honest, for me, trying to breastfeed was one huge trauma. I never expected I would be quite as emotional about it as I was.

Looking back, I kind of wish I’d just accepted then that it wasn’t going to happen and moved on but I didn’t. I decided to pump and keep trying with the feeding.

Going Home and Expressing

When we went home, I was absolutely terrified and there was so so much to think about. I had been so naive thinking that I’d be breastfeeding them both that I had nothing ready for bottle-feeding at all. So we had to buy bottles, a steriliser, formula etc and learn how to use it all.

It all felt so overwhelming that I didn’t really realise that I needed to start expressing straightaway to get my supply going. Although I didn’t have a feeling of my milk ‘coming in’ I guess maybe it did because I got engorged quite quickly. This was sooo painful! My boobs were like actual rocks and just agony. I didn’t know how to use the pump and I didn’t know if I should when they were like that.

In desperation I spoke to a ‘La Leche League’ woman on the phone at like 2am one night. She basically said ‘why are you pumping, just feed them!’ which was really unhelpful at that point as I just didn’t know how to! She did not make me feel any better.

Anyway with cabbage leaves and hand expressing in a hot shower, I eventually sorted out the engorgement. But I never got on with pumping. I don’t know if I wasn’t doing it right or what but I barely made any milk and my nips became sore and bleeding.

Struggling

Plus it was HARD. The babies were feeding every three hours through the day and night (formula with a tiny top-up of my milk at some feeds), with each feed taking about an hour. I was trying to express every three hours as well. I would sit alone for ages at night in my pumping bra (aka T*t Mask Of Zorro) with my double pump pulsating beside me. (Anyone who has pumped will know that noise all too well). Then I would snatch maybe 20 minutes sleep before the cycle started again.

Not to mention my stitches had come apart again and they couldn’t stitch me back up this time so I was in a lot of pain, still bleeding heavily and healing very slowly. I was barely even finding time to try either of them on the boob and once my other half went back to work, I could barely find the time to express either.

Breastfeeding Support

Other than the unhelpful La Leche League woman, the only other support I got was when I asked to see a breastfeeding support worker from the Children’s Centre. She advised me to try nipple shields and we did actually manage to get C latched on, which was amazing. But my nipples were so so sore from the pump by then that I literally screamed in pain when C latched on.

That was the point where I thought ‘enough’s enough’ – I couldn’t cope with any more. I’d expressed (poorly) for three weeks but was barely making any milk and just making myself miserable – it was all too much.

Stopping Pumping

So the pump was banished and we bottle-fed them fully from then on. I’d like to say I was relieved and happier after but actually the guilt was unbearable. I was so upset and felt like a total failure.

Looking back, I probably should have sought more help really. I was still very traumatised from the birth as well. I’m aware this is sounding so so negative 🙈 But it’s genuinely how I remember the very beginning. I don’t really look back on that time very positively, which again makes me feel even more guilty about it all. Motherhood is one neverending guilt trip right? 😏

Of course there were so many lovely and amazing moments in amongst all the crap. I haven’t mentioned those in this post because I just really wanted to focus on talking honestly about my feeding experience. And unfortunately, for me this wasn’t the most positive 🙊

So What’s My Point?

So anyway getting back to my original point – that is why I don’t really feel I had much of a choice when it came to not breastfeeding. Even now I feel a pang of jealousy/guilt/sadness when I see a woman breastfeeding, and I know I should really have got over it by now! 🙈

But I think more people need to understand that struggling to breastfeed can be such a sensitive subject and just think before they make offhand comments about women who haven’t breastfed. Whether they chose not to or just simply couldn’t do it for whatever reason. You just never know what feelings someone might be hiding.

And if you are struggling to breastfeed right now, please seek support. There is way more support out there than I had realised at the time when I needed it. Facebook is a great place to find support groups and your local children’s centre will likely run breastfeeding clinics. This NHS page has a great list of available support.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to share your feeding experiences with me – I’d love to hear them!

Till next time,

Hannah xx

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