After finding out I would have to have a caesarean, the absolute opposite of my birth wishes, I switched my focus to breastfeeding. I knew I wanted to do it (until at least six months, at the time) and nothing would stop me. Although lord knows the universe threw enough curve balls at me to try and stop it!
When my little girl Scarlett arrived and it was time for our first feed, I wasn’t impressed with the way our midwife handled things. She grabbed my breast in one hand and Scarletts head in the other and forced the two together in an acceptable latch. The baby did feed though, so even though I’d have preferred if she’d left us alone, I let it go. The next few times we tried to feed in hospital weren’t as successful. Scarlett wouldn’t (couldn’t?) latch and wasn’t getting any colostrum. Luckily I had expressed and frozen some and brought it to the hospital with me. It wasn’t much, about 25ml in total, but the midwives were amazed – none of them had had a patient do that at our little country hospital before. We would keep trying to feed then when I was in tears from pain (by day 2 I had a rip in the skin 3/4 of the way around one nipple) they would heat a syringe for me to give her. On night two the midwife on duty, who was apparently the breastfeeding guru, told me Scarlett was lazy and gave me a nipple shield to try. It lessened the pain so I was happy to have it! My milk came in on day 4 and we packed up to go home because I was well and truly over staying there. For our entire hospital stay Scarlett drank only the 25ml of expressed colostrum. When the GP OB/GYN came to do Scarletts newborn check I asked about tongue ties, and she had a look but gave us the all clear.
We headed home with the nipple shields hubby had picked up for me and kept trying to feed. On our domiciliary nurses recommendations I made an appointment at a Lactation Clinic for when Scarlett was 2wks old. Feeding still hurt, the rip wasn’t healing, and no amount of Lansinoh could help! The two lactation consultants at the clinic both checked again for tongue tied and gave her the all clear. They gave me some tips for the shields and how to position her better while feeding and sent me on my way. At our first MCHN visit we were still having troubles so they suggested we see an osteo, who over four visits (between 4 and 7 weeks) adjusted Scarletts neck – she believed that being breech for a long time with her head up under my ribs had made her neck muscles too tight on one side. To add to my worries, Scarlett had reflux so was vomiting the small amount of milk she was getting. She was also very small and slow to gain weight – so we had to take her in twice a week to be weighed. To their credit my MCHN and GP never suggested formula, her gains were slow (50 grams a week) but a gain is a gain! At 3 weeks we ended up at the RCH with Scarlett vomiting blood. The reflux had torn up her little throat. A visit at our GP the next week (as soon as I could get an appointment) was unsuccessful in getting help as he just told us no medication was necessary and she would outgrow the reflux.
Over the weeks, nothing really improved. I continued to use the shields but breastfeeding still hurt. I would cry in the night from the pain and think about going to buy formula in the morning. Then the sun would come up and I would see that little face and know I had to keep trying. She was still vomiting constantly and had to be held upright most of the time, but would routinely scream for four hours until passing out for exhaustion. One day, at 9 weeks, all of a sudden Scarlett refused to go near the nipple shields. I tried her without it – and she latched! It still hurt. But I could overlook that for the fact she was feeding all by herself. We used shields for another two weeks just at night time, and then she was done with them altogether. It felt like such a huge win! This photo was taken for our first ‘out in public’ feed, because I wasnt comfortable feeding in front of others with the shields (I’m just not that coordinated!)
At 15 weeks we saw our new GP and he immediately prescribed omeprazole for Scarletts reflux – and just like that, she started to gain weight. My skinny little pocket rocket became a roly poly chunky girl. She was still a bit fussy though and seemed to have a lot of belly pain. After a lot of thinking and trial and error we found out she had a Cows Milk Protein Intolerance, so all the dairy I was eating was upsetting her belly. From 4-11 months I cut all dairy from my diet, not even having thing that ‘may contain traces of dairy’. You don’t realize how restrictive that is until you’re in the situation. Salami, chicken stock, gravy – it all had dairy! But again – I was committed and I would do anything to give my girl the best start so that’s just what it took.
Still the breastfeeding hurt.
We saw an IBCLC/GP when Scarlett was about six months old. She gave us some tips on dealing with CMPI and also checked for tongue/lip ties and gave Scarlett the all clear.
When she was 7 months old I had to return to work part time. Scarlett wasn’t fond of real food at this point so still got all of her nutrition from breastmilk – which means I had to pump. Turns out I suck at pumping! I became good friends with (dairy free) lactation cookies and made some every single week for five months. The most I was ever able to pump was 100ml total over the course of a day, which Scarlett would then have at childcare the next day. Luckily she wasn’t a fan of bottles either so 100ml was all she needed – I also fed her at drop off and pick up, and gave up my lunch breaks so I could go visit and feed her then too.
At around eight months, I had my first painless breastfeed. It was amazing to see the light at the end of the long painful tunnel. I still thought Scarlett had a very shallow latch though, so at 10 months we went to see yet another IBCLC for pointers. As soon as she looked at Scarletts mouth she diagnosed a Posterior Tongue Tie and Upper Lip Tie. All of the pain and tears could have been spared had we seen her in the early days. I was (and still am) so frustrated that the others all missed it. We decided not to have the ties revised as the procedure at that age would be traumatic – and we had made it this far after all! But it was nice to know its not something we were doing wrong that made things so hard for us. In the future we will look at having the ties revised if they cause any issues with Scarletts speech or her teeth alignment but for the time being it’s just something to think about later. The pain-free feeds were few and far apart, and I also had to deal with excruciating vasospasms caused from the shallow latch. Still, I couldn’t give up.
Feeding nowadays can still be a bit iffy. For the most part it’s painless but a couple of times a week it will hurt a little. Scarlett still has a very shallow latch and if anything hurts her mouth (like teething, or a horrid case of Hand Food and Mouth that she had once) then it REALLY hurts – but I just grit my teeth and get through it.
In a couple of weeks Scarlett will be turning two! I can’t believe we are still breastfeeding after all of that but I’m so proud of us for making it to full term. Having our photos taken for the Australian Breastfeeding Project was fantastic. I’m so glad we have these beautiful photos to remind us of our journey, however long it may last.