When I was pregnant one of my concerns was breastfeeding and I was wondering whether I would be able to breastfeed? This concern came about because my mom and older sister were unable to breastfeed.
My mom said she didn’t have milk even though she tried to breastfeed all 3 of us. She was told at the time by the nurses (and others) that it is not possible to just not have any milk, but she tried her best and it just wasn’t there. One of my concerns when I was pregnant was that I might not have any milk.
My first experience of attempting to breastfeed was immediately after my daughter was born via C-section. After a long and difficult 42 hour labour I was lying on the surgery table throwing up while they were stitching me up and I was shivering like crazy with my daughter on my chest and Marianne, the midwife, pinching my nipples trying to latch my daughter. All in all it wasn’t the comfortable, warm, bonding experience I had pictured in my mind!
Very soon Marianne could see I was not doing very well and gave my daughter to my husband for skin to skin so they could bond, while I worked hard at shivering and throwing up. I was then taken to recovery, which I remember nothing about and a bit later to the maternity ward.
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Do you want to laser your nipples?
At some stage during my hospital stay a nurse asked me if I want to have laser treatment on my nipples, I was like “hell no”, what on earth was that anyway? It sounded very suspicious! She warned me that I would regret that decision and told me I could change my mind and let them know. The outcome of that? I regret it of course; I should have had the laser treatment!
The hospital stay was mostly a blur, I was exhausted and I was sore. The nurses wanted to take my daughter and keep her in the nursery and bring her to me only for feeding but I wanted her with me all the time and insisted on keeping her.
I found out very quickly that breastfeeding did not come that naturally to me. I didn’t know how to hold her while feeding and my shoulders and back ached and she kicked my stitches. One thing I am very fortunate with is that my daughter knew exactly what to do, she latched beautifully. I still worried that maybe she wasn’t getting enough out but she seemed quite content afterwards and fell asleep after every feed.
I had read all the books and knew that on about the third day I should start producing milk but for some reason when on the second day the nurses and midwife told me my milk had come in I was so shocked. It was at that moment I realised how much I doubted my body’s ability to do what it should be doing. I felt such a sense of surprise and achievement.
Was she getting enough milk?
Even though I was told my milk had come in I worried that my daughter wasn’t getting enough milk. What if only a little milk was coming out and she was still hungry? How did I know she was getting anything in? I was told I should feed 20-30 minutes per side but my daughter dropped off my boob after about 5 minutes so I would then put her on the other side and again after 5 minutes flat she would unlatch and fall asleep. What did this mean? Wasn’t she hungry or maybe the milk was finished so she wasn’t bothering trying anymore? How do you measure how much milk she is getting? The nurses told me not to worry that everything was fine, but I wanted something more concrete.
My nipples started to really hurt and breastfeeding become more strenuous as everything ached when I held her and I couldn’t relax my body. The nurses kept telling me to relax, but I couldn’t.
This baby was sucking so hard and my body was sore and tired. I told them my nipples were sore and I was told the only reason for sore nipples was an incorrect latch so they came to watch and said that the latch is fine and my nipples will toughen up with a bit of time and I will get used to it.
After 3 days we left the hospital and spent the night with my parents in Cape Town and the following day we came home to Saldanha. Coming “home” to Saldanha was scary as I had just moved there to be with my hubby when I was 6 months pregnant and I didn’t know anyone except my husband and parents in law.
Hubby was on paternity leave for another few days and at home with us so it wasn’t too scary. The day he went back to work was the scariest ever! I couldn’t drive as I was still too sore and I was in a town where I knew nobody.
My mom was over 150kms away and here I was keeping this baby alive with only my boobs. Maybe I am a little strange, but for me that was firstly quite amazing, but mostly just plain scary. We had no formula in the house so what if my boobs let me down and I was alone with a hungry baby? Yes I know my hubby was only a few minute’s drive away and I could call him for help, but it was still a very scary feeling.
The breastfeeding for the first week or so was physically draining and painful, my nipples were sore and my whole body was aching while I tried to find a position where baby and I were comfortable. I read through all the books on breastfeeding positions and tried them all over and over again and none felt right. Something always ached. I also worried about whether she was getting enough milk.
Cracked, Bleeding Nipples
By the end of the first week the breastfeeding reached as stage where I nearly gave up. My nipples were now cracked and bleeding and no cream helped. It was so painful and having my baby latch was; so painful I cried. My hubby would come to me with this crying baby and ask me why I didn’t want to feed her.
She also wanted to feed all the time!It seemed every few minutes this baby wanted to be fed! My baby had this accusing look in her eye when she looked at me, I’m sure of it. It felt like she thought I was a bad mom for not wanting to feed her when she was hungry.
I read through all the books again looking for an answer to my problem. And then I found it. I had what they call a “barracuda baby” … this type of baby is all business when it comes to feeding. They latch hard and they suck hard… no nibbling, playing, unlatching, no messing around.
I learnt that there was nothing wrong with the latch, with a “barracuda baby” you will get cracked and bleeding nipples simply because they suck so hard. It also explained why she fed so fast!
So I had an answer, but no solution. I had started expressing for some feeds because it was not nearly as painful to express as it was to feed her. That night I was in so much pain I sent hubby to the shop to buy formula. I was in so much pain I was scared I wouldn’t be able to feed her through the night and wanted food for her just in case.
I barely made it feeding her through that night and in the morning remembered the nurse telling me about laser treatment so I called the hospital and went in. It was nothing really, they shone this light thingy on my nipples for a few minutes and off I went thinking that was weird and doubting it would work. Within 24 hours I could see and feel the difference. My nipples were almost already healed. It was an absolute miracle!
Don’t think it was smooth sailing from there! It was still painful to feed her and it took a very long time for us to find a position that worked for both of us. The position that did it was us both lying down on our sides facing each other. It was relaxing and comforting for us both, but we only perfected this technique when she was about 2 month old. And of course we couldn’t do this when we went out.
Going out was always an ordeal with the breastfeeding. I understand that plenty of women feel safe and confident breast feeding their babies in public, sometimes without even covering up. I have no issue with that and think nothing of others doing it, but for me and my daughter – no thank you! Feeding time is private and personal for us.
I tried feeding a few times covered with a blanket, but she kept pulling it down leaving me exposed and even when she didn’t I wasn’t comfortable with this. Since I was a new mother I didn’t know about all the amazing breastfeeding products including breastfeeding covers!
On a trip to Cape Town I had to stop driving and feed her on the side of the road which was horrible, I felt so exposed and at risk. There are high-jackers and criminals all over and me sitting with my boob hanging out feeding my daughter on the side of the road felt so wrong. There have also been occasions when I fed her in public toilets, I don’t think I need to explain how I felt about that.
By the time my daughter was 2 months old I had to start getting back into work properly and she was not sleeping so much during the day so I was struggling to get anything done. My mother in law started looking after her a few times a week which made breastfeeding even more difficult.
To express enough milk to send with her was hard enough and then while she was away from me drinking expressed milk I had to express too so that firstly I didn’t start leaking and getting sore, but also to keep my supply up. I hated expressing and found that when my daughter wasn’t there and I was stressing out about expressing, nothing would come out. I would spend most of the time attempting to express instead of working which defeated the entire point!
Topping up with formula
The solution I found for us was to combination feed. I stopped worrying so much and just went with the flow. If I was going to go out with her I took a bottle of formula; if she was going to my mother in law she had formula and when we were at home I breastfed her. It solved my problem … well almost.
As is often the case with combination feeding, over time I started producing less milk and my daughter also started preferring the bottle and she would sometimes refuse the breast. By the time she was 4 months old she had formula during the day and breastfed at night. By the time she was 6 months old she went on a complete boob strike and refused to breastfeed.
That was a time of very conflicting emotions. I felt relief because to be completely honest, I hated breastfeeding. I also felt a lot of guilt. So many moms say they love breastfeeding and I felt like there must be something wrong with me for not enjoying it.
There was also a huge amount of sadness, a sense of loss which conflicted with my relief. I felt like there was a new separation between me and my baby which wasn’t there before.
Maybe it was all in my mind but it felt very real.