Today marks the beginning of World Breastfeeding Week August 1-8 2022 which has prompted me to share my own journey breastfeeding.
Our first baby Eden was born 10 weeks premature so in a way the months after her birth were intense and overwhelming. But Ben and I can be quite pragmatic and we took it all on, adamant to do everything perfectly. But for me, my first time around breastfeeding was easily harder than giving birth.
Baby's born younger than around 37 weeks gestation often haven't developed the suck reflex required to breastfeed. So for Eden, who had dropped to 1500g in weight was exclusively tube fed for the first 10 days of her life.
I was expressing milk attached to a commercial type pumping machine every 3 hours - 24 hours a day! I'd look at photos of my tiny baby and cry while encouraging my milk to come in. Initially drop by drop collected was given to the nurses to use for her tube feeds. Some feeds over the first few weeks were a mixture of breastmilk and supplements to help her put on weight.
At nearly 2 weeks old and only 32 weeks gestation, Eden was showing signs of sucking and it was suggested we start to try a short breastfeed. My breasts were engorged from the constant pumping and the fact that my baby wasn't able to drain them. Getting our tiny baby girl to attach was difficult so I was using nipple shields to help give her something more substantial to attach to.
Initially she would just play around getting familiar with the nipple for a few minutes at time in an attempt to promote breastfeeding without tiring her out. Then day by day she was able to work up to a full breastfeed each day.
Keep in mind I was still pumping every 3 hours to promote my supply and feed her via her nasogastric tube. I think it could be this early regular expressing that set me up so well to have a big milk supply, but in reflection I wouldn't stick to the recommendation to pump around the clock again. It was exhausting at a time when I was vulnerable, and in my personal case I suspect unnecessary.
Over the next 4 weeks we increased breastfeeds until we could demonstrate a 24 hour period without needing a tube feed, this was our ticket home. And at 34 weeks gestation, 4 weeks old and weighing a massive 2.4kg we took our baby girl home.
Breastfeeding with nipple shields tracked along perfectly and I was more than happy to use the shields forever, it was no big deal popping them on for each feed. Until... at around 3 months old, I started getting pain from the friction caused by Eden being able to suck harder. We had some advice from the local breastfeeding clinic that it was time to ditch the shields.
While Eden's latch looked good, I was still getting heaps of pain together with cracked, sore nipples so I knew something wasn't right. Over the next two weeks I became more and more worked up for each feed because it was excruciating and Eden was becoming distressed before each feed because she was starving. I was literally psyching myself up before she attached because it was hurting me so much. Think needles stabbing into your nipple!
While this time was really difficult, I was committed to breastfeeding. I'd worked so hard to keep my supply up while Eden was tube fed and felt that I owed it to my vulnerable little girl to give her liquid gold and nothing else. Again, in reflection I'd probably go easier on myself and look to add a formula bottle feed each day to give me flexibility, but introducing a different bottle teat into the mix would've been risky.
Getting breastfeeding support was actually hard. The clinic was only open a couple of days a week and inevitably not available when I was in distress and really needed them.
I am forever grateful that a friend reached out and offered the support of a lactation consultant colleague she worked with. These ladies offered to be on call, to come to my house for each feed for the next few days. So selflessly generous to support a fellow mother. We realised Eden had nipple confusion coming off the nipple shields and in fact still wasn't latching correctly. Day by day with support and encouragement, her latch became less painful and we were able to re teach her to suck correctly.
Really, from that point on we didn't look back. I went on to feed Eden until just before her 2nd birthday, and go onto feed our son Henry until around the same age.
To any mummas out there struggling, I urge you to seek out support, talk to friends, turn up at community clinics or even reach out to me. I have hours of support to give back to the universe!