I was surprised that while I was pregnant one of the first questions people would ask was whether or not I intended to breastfeed. It is not a question I had ever asked anybody in my entire life. I think it is quite a personal one but it seems everybody wants to know.
I am a realistic type of person. I had heard of people who didn’t get a good milk supply or those who couldn’t get their baby to latch and so I would answer with ‘I am going to try’. I liked the idea of breastfeeding, they say it’s best for baby, but I was adamant that I was not going to put pressure on myself. If it didn’t happen for me, it didn’t happen. There was nothing wrong with giving formula. I was going to wait and see what happened. Pregnancy is a lengthy and difficult nine months, labour is hard and, in my case, long, then there is the brand new world of a screaming newborn, the last thing we need is the added pressure to breastfeed if it just isn’t happening.
When Indie was born, she was placed on my chest and we got a few hours of skin-to-skin time. I had attended a class on breastfeeding and read up on it. I knew that this was the best time to try to get your baby to latch for the first time. I was so exhausted after twenty eight and a half hours of labour that while the idea crossed my mind, I didn’t actively attempt it until the midwife suggested it. I tried but Indie was sleepy after the labour too and just kept falling asleep. A little while after that, the midwife said we needed to feed her and tried to goad her mouth on to me with little success. A second midwife came along. She was a little rougher, coaxing the colostrum out of my nipple (rather painfully) and shoving Indie’s head on. She sucked for a minute or two before falling asleep again.
By the time we were transferred down to the ward, Indie still hadn’t really fed and the midwife who would now be looking after us told me that it was priority. Indie was now a few hours old and hadn’t eaten. She said that if we couldn’t get her to latch, we would have to feed her a bottle. I told her that I was perfectly happy to do that. While I was happy to persevere with the breast, I wasn’t going to let Indie starve. Then during our checks, the midwife noticed that Indie’s temperature was down. She thought it may be a sign of low blood sugar and told me she needed to be taken away for tests. At this stage, some people may panic. My husband had gone home to shower and nap after being with me overnight so I was alone. However, the midwife was so reassuring that I knew Indie was in safe hands. Around forty five minutes later, she returned to let me know that Indie’s blood sugar level was fine but that they had given her a bottle as she had gone too long without feeding. She also needed to be kept in an incubator in order to raise her temperature.
All of the drama was over within an hour or so and Indie was perfectly healthy and at a normal temperature. We had our visiting hours and then we were left alone once more. Overnight and for the majority of the next day, a barage of nurses including a lactation specialist tweaked and pulled on my nipples, trying every trick in the book to get her to latch. On the occasions that we failed, she was given a bottle but sometimes we were successful. I realised that when I laid on my side, Indie seemed to latch easier and we did a few stints of twenty minutes. Indie was still very tired though (as was I!) and she often fell asleep during a feed. By the time Indie was about thirty hours old, I felt like I was getting the hang of it. The midwives had shown me all of the little tricks to get her to latch and keep her awake. I was content that we were getting somewhere.
I am lucky enough to live within the catchment area for the Early Transfer Home program. That means that I could be discharged from the hospital the day after I gave birth and a midwife would call to my house to check up on us for a few days afterwards. The night Indie was born, I had had a terrible night sleep with every baby (except my own) screaming the place down so I was anxious to get home. I wanted to start a routine and get back to my family. The midwife in the ward was unsure. She wasn’t content that Indie was latching every time. She checked on us constantly throughout the day and eventually, at seven o’clock the evening after Indie was born, she told me she would discharge us. We had a serious conversation about it first. I assured her that I had a lot of support at home and that if I wasn’t happy with Indie feeding, I would give her a bottle. I was confident that all of the midwives I had encountered in the hospital had taught me all of the tricks when it came to breastfeeding and it was just a case of putting them into practice and persevering. Indie was only one day old and while I told myself that if breastfeeding didn’t work, I wasn’t putting pressure on myself to do it, I wasn’t ready to give up yet.
At home, I lay on my side for every feed and Indie latched enough that I was happy. I was so exhausted after my long labour and a sleepless night in hospital that this all gets a bit blurry in my mind. The local midwife called the next day and gave me some more tips on getting her to latch and I am pretty sure it was that night that Indie screamed the place down. I was worried she was in pain as she was really going for it and when the midwife called the next day, I told her all about it. She told me she was pretty sure that Indie was hungry. The guilt I felt was awful and if I wasn’t so drained, beaten up, exhausted and in so much pain, I know I would have really berated myself about it. The midwife was wonderful and so reassuring. She never made me feel bad about it. She simply came up with a plan. She made a tracker for us, telling me what times to feed Indie and allowing me to record for how long she fed each time. She also instructed me to top her up with some formula after each feed so that she wouldn’t go hungry. I felt so confident with this plan in place and Indie seemed to be thriving. The midwife said my milk seemed to be slow to come in and that it was probably because I was so exhausted after the long labour. She instructed me to allow my family to help with the baby so that I could get some decent sleep.
The next day my milk was in and I felt like I really had feeding down to an art. I would lie on my side with Indie beside me and she would eat. I was delighted that we had mastered breastfeeding. That was until the midwife called again and told me that we should try some new positions. She pointed out that it was great that I could get Indie to feed while we lay down but realistically I couldn’t spend months lying down every time she needed to feed. We would never be able to leave the house. While she informed me that my nipples were a great shape for feeding, it seemed Indie was reluctant to latch in any other position. We tried and tried and even when we succeeded, Indie would slip off and we would have to start again from square one. The midwife asked if I had a nipple shield. My husband’s aunt had gifted me a huge hamper full of breast pads, compresses and other bits and bobs that I couldn’t even identify but I had a brief recollection of seeing a nipple shield. I retrieved it and the midwife told me to put it on and attempt to get Indie to latch again. Now Indie had been having top-up bottles with every feed so she was well used to sucking from a teat and she began to suck away contentedly. The midwife then told me to take it off after a minute or so of use. She explained that using the nipple shield could pull the nipple out into a better position so then when I took it off, Indie could latch easier. It seemed to work.
After she left, I used the shield with each feed but found that taking Indie off to remove it upset her and then I had issues getting her back on. I was still tired, healing and struggling with just about everything. I learned that I could leave the shield on and Indie would eat away happily with no issues. It became second nature. When Indie would feed, I would use the shield. I never suffered from the dry, cracked or painful nipples that I heard everybody talk about. I never had to worry about any latching problems. Using the shield seemed like the dream. I wondered why they weren’t talked about more. Why did everybody not use them?
Several weeks of using the shield later, I started to worry that there was a very serious reason other people weren’t using them. Perhaps I was harming her by using it for every feed. I decided to do some research. I found forums where people discussed them and quite a few people talked about using them for the entirety of their time breastfeeding. They claimed that the only negative was when they would forget them, the baby would not know how to latch without it. It seemed like a minor problem to me. I used one with every feed and packed it in my baby bag as religiously as I would pack nappies.
A few weeks later, it started bugging me again. Why do more people not use nipple shields? I did some more research and found the official guidelines from the HSE for midwives. They were only to recommend them in necessary cases. They warned that the negative side effects were that it could affect the milk supply or the baby might not get enough milk. Obviously I can only speak from personal experience but I have always had quite a lot of milk. I can count on one hand the number of times Indie has completely drained one of my boobs and she is three months old now. She is also thriving. Her weight is coming along nicely, she’s starting to get a little pudgey looking which is absolutely adorable and every nurse or doctor we see comments on how healthy she is. So using a nipple shield has had no negative effect for us. If breastfeeding is something you’re struggling to master, I would recommend giving one a go as it really has made our life so simple. I have tried her without the shield once or twice when it has fallen off and she honestly has no idea how to feed from the nipple without it though, so that is something to bear in mind!
Indie is a hungry baby. She feeds every two to three hours, even through the night, which is said to be normal but is really exhausting. I thought that it was normal for babies to wake every few hours but several people I talk to who have had babies around the same time as me and bottle feed, claim their babies now sleep all the way through the night! Indie had her three month check up with the public health nurse yesterday and she claimed that she wouldn’t really expect a breastfed baby to sleep through the night until about six months when she has started on solids. She told me breast milk passes through their systems faster so it doesn’t keep them full for as long as formula which is why they wake.
Indie also takes about one bottle of formula a day and there is nothing wrong with that. I joined and then left a Facebook group for breastfeeding mums because of the absolute elitism. Mothers were attacking other mothers for giving their child a soother, for God’s sake! The thing is you have to do what works for you. Because Indie is awake a lot during the night, I am in a state of permanent exhaustion, even three months after her birth, and my mam is good enough to take Indie for a few hours in the morning so that I can try to catch up on my sleep. During that time, she gives her a bottle if she’s hungry. (She alway is). I told my doctor this and she applauded it. She said that it is more important for me to catch up on sleep so that I maintain a good milk supply.
Some other issues I had with breastfeeding started very early on when it turned out Indie had colic. She would scream and cry for hours, crippled with trapped wind pain. I spent hours researching online. I asked on Instagram. I would have done anything to take her pain and put it on myself instead. We tried Infacol, an orange-flavoured medicine you give before every feed. I cut down on dairy – substituting milk, cheese and yogurts but never going to the extremes of reading the fine print on every product to spot hidden milk traces, finding amazing dairy alternatives in the process. We tried her on Gaviscon, although that tasted so foul that she spat it all out every time so we gave up on that one. All of these were doctor recommended. She mentioned all of these things to try and told me that eventually we would cure her although we may never know for sure which method was the one that did it. A lot of people say babies just grow out of it. I can safely say it has been a good few weeks now since Indie has exhibited any colic symptoms; something I only admit in a whisper, just in case.
During some online research I found information on dairy allergies and while she was at ear-shattering levels of colic screaming one night, I contemplated giving up breastfeeding and trialing dairy-free formula instead. I was surprised to find that the idea of giving up breastfeeding really upset me. I was the person not putting any pressure on myself to do it and now I was crying at the thought of not doing it. People often talk about the closeness and bond that you get from breastfeeding, and while I’m in no way inferring that you don’t bond with your baby while you bottle feed, it is a really nice feeling. Also, if you are lazy like me, it is great that there are no bottles to sterilise. It is also handy if you’re heading out for the day. You don’t have to worry about how many bottles to pack or where to heat a bottle. I am not confident enough to whip a boob out and feed her in a packed restaurant in broad daylight (more power to you if you are!) but I still manage – slipping into the back seat of our car has become a fail-safe option.
There have been times where I have almost cried because I’m frustrated and think that she couldn’t possibly be hungry again. There have been days where I have felt that I have done nothing but sit around and feed. My husband has begged me to let him give her a bottle as I sit up at four AM, my eyes in the back of my skull, zombified. (I refuse because he is up for work in the morning so I would never expect him to do night feeds). My mother, who never breastfed, has tried to convince me to switch to formula so that Indie will sleep through the night and I might possibly get some form of a life back. But I won’t. Don’t get me wrong. I am not someone who wants to breastfeed until she is four years old. I have six months in mind as the finish line but I can see myself missing it when it ends. I have turned from somebody who was going to attempt it into somebody who loves it and although it might be the harder option and the lows are very low, if I were to get pregnant again, I would do it all again in a heartbeat.
With absolutely no judgement, share your breast and bottle feeding stories below. I am always curious to know why people choose either option and their experience with.