Just like birth – the journey of feeding your baby will be different for everyone. I asked some of my mums to share their feeding journeys to help to see the multitude of experiences and options when it comes to this part of your postpartum journey. Their stories include everything from the breast crawl, nipple shields, engorgement, lactation consultants, low supply, donor milk, colic, supply lines, expressing, bottle feeding, mixed feeding, formula feeding and more. I hope that by reading their journeys you will be able to connect with their experiences and feel less alone if you are finding feeding particularly challenging.
YOLLYS FEEDING JOURNEY
TAYLOR’S FEEDING JOURNEY
Teddy made a spontaneous entry into the world at 31.5 weeks via natural birth.
Within hours of being earthside he was being fed small amounts of Donor Breastmilk, an option we consented to and feel very privileged was available to us, mixed with my colostrum via a tube. Once my milk came in, we were able to reduce the ratio of donor milk to my milk and within days I had enough to supply to support all feeds. At 36 weeks gestation Teddy successfully latched for a breastfeed first go and could soon do a mix of tube and breast feeds.
Before discharge Teddy had to be on all ‘suck feeds’ this meant a mixture of bottle and breast
feeds before they would allow him home. He favoured bottle feeds as breastfeeds were tiring at his size and he started to lose weight due to the physical exertion.
I felt immense pressure to breastfeed, it had been drilled into me in NICU that it was “liquid gold” and Formula was a ‘no go’. I wrestled with this for weeks after Teddy had come home, after months of 2 hourly feeds, pumping, 2x power pump sessions a day and my 100th bowl of oatmeal, I was EXHASUTED and felt like I was failing. Failing because my body couldn’t carry a baby to term and that it couldn’t sustain him. I couldn’t even cuddle him because if he was on me he wanted to feed and I felt resentful of my husband for their bond.
I was lucky to have a community nurse that did Teddy’s weigh in sessions 2x a week who could see the toll the pressure of not only keeping Teddy fed but also assisting him to gain large amounts of weight was having on me. I finally had the ‘permission’ I felt I needed, that I was longing for, to try formula.
When I finally made the decision to formula feed and wean, I felt like I could finally see Teddy and love myself as a mother. Motherhood didn’t need to be this chore of feeding, the never-ending power pumping sessions or filled with anxiety. I could remove all the stress and just feed him, love him and finally have delicious newborn cuddles!
“Breastmilk isn’t liquid gold if it costs you your happiness”
I’m hopeful to carry another healthy baby again.
I hope to give birth at full-term.
I’m also hopeful to be able to breastfeed or attempt breastfeeding again. I will go into that journey knowing that motherhood is so much more than how you feed your baby and hopefully with a little more kindness for myself.
JESS’S FEEDING JOURNEY
SARAH’S FEEDING JOURNEY
I’m coming up to 12 months of fulltime breastfeeding my beautiful little girl. Initially I had a lot of nipple pain and went through lanolin (which was ok), hydrogel breast dics (they are a bit chemical but create a nice cooling barrier) and an assortment of organic nipple creams. My favourite balm was hands down Moo Goo nipple balm. But my friend then put me onto Silverettes and they were an absolute game changer. They look a bit weird if you wear tight t-shirts, but I didn’t care. I wore them for a few months and loved them. I’ve had a pretty smooth journey. I was very scared about getting mastitis so was quite fastidious with cleaning anything that went on my nipples and massaging my breasts if they were getting very engorged during the first few months. For about 6 months I used the Haaka pump on alternate breasts and froze what I collected for emergencies. I freelance with my own business so have used the Spectra S2 breastpump on days when I’m out for work. The haaka only collects the thin top milk so the Spectra was my go-to for making sure I got thick milk with all the goodness. I love this pump. Having said that, my baby has never really taken to the bottle – so it’s more there so she has the option if I’m out. For the first few months, if I had to work all day, I’d always make sure I brought at least my haaka so I didn’t get too engorged throughout the day. I also highly recommend the Minbie steriliser and dryer, as well as Minbie bottles. Sarah
KAT’S FEEDING JOURNEY
I tried not to have too many expectations of what the first year of mothering might look like. But breastfeeding was definitely part of the picture – so much so that I had contacted a lactation consultant while pregnant to make sure I immediately had the right support. I had heard so many horror stories about bad latches, pain and struggles and I wanted to get on top of it as soon as problems emerged after birth.
After a straightforward pregnancy and an empowering birth (thanks Nat!), my daughter Cleo was placed immediately on my chest and I watched her as she crawled to my breast and sucked for an hour or so. Our breastfeeding journey was off to the start I had dreamed of.
The first two weeks were tough trying to get my small baby to open her mouth wide enough to get a deep latch. The seemingly inevitable nipple damage and grazes led to emergency midnight nipple shield purchases, calls to the Australian breastfeeding association hotline and googling different feeding positions with my husband in the middle of the night.
But I persisted and, with the help of a nipple shield and a helpful midwife who visited at home and suggested different feeding positions, my nipples healed quickly and things were looking up. When I went to my first community health clinic check up two weeks and two days after birth, I nodded with pride when the nurse watched me feed Cleo and remark ‘wow she knows what she’s doing. Look at her go!’
The nurse’s praise stopped there and then. Two minutes later she had weighed Cleo and was telling me Cleo’s weight gain was too low and that meant my milk supply was low so I had to go out immediately and buy a breast pump to stimulate supply and I also needed formula to top up. Well, that was unexpected. My alert happy baby was hungry and I hadn’t even noticed! Nothing quite like that wake up call to remove the spring from my step!
I was confident this was a short term issue we’d solve and I began working with a lactation consultant to get my supply up: feed on demand at least 10 times a day, pump as much as possible, switch feeding, breast compressions, taking medication (motilium) etc etc. I even went back to my obstetrician to have an ultrasound to check I didn’t have any retained placenta as that can be a reason for low supply. I had read that introducing formula top ups would undermine efforts to increase supply because babies get full on the formula and are therefore on the breast less. But, after the lactation consultant examined Cleo and commented on her saggy skin that wasn’t filling out, I had to introduce formula top ups to make sure she was getting food ASAP.
And so I fed and fed and fed. To get around the formula dilemma, I made sure I kept breastfeeding often and that formula was not replacing a feed but was always offered after as a top up. I also started using a supply line (supplementary nursing system) which allowed Cleo to get the formula top up through a tube attached to my breast. This meant she was still sucking (so stimulating supply) and had to work for her food – which wouldn’t have necessarily been the case if I had used a free flowing bottle.
After weeks of what felt like a rigorous regime, Cleo’s weight slowly increased but not enough to suggest the formula was no longer needed. My supply was still too low to exclusively breastfeed. I was in denial and kept reminding myself that so many of my symptoms were also experienced by mums who had enough milk – ie I didn’t leak much, I could often only pump drops, my boobs didn’t go from extremely full to empty following a feed, I couldn’t feel my letdown and so on.
I was pretty devastated. But what was more devastating was realising that I was actually devastated because my new mixed feeding regime did not align with my image of myself as some kind of mystical earth mama. So I didn’t feel guilty about giving Cleo formula but was more upset because not exclusively breastfeeding jarred with my identity. How vain and lame!
The lactation consultant told me she hasn’t had a case like mine in her 20 year career. It’s hard to know what to believe and I still do think low milk supply is super rare and usually a result of not feeding enough or a bad latch. I don’t know if there’s something I did along the way that was ‘wrong’ or if there’s another issue at play that caused my supply issues. We are now in the groove of mixed feeding and I hope we can do this indefinitely. Little Cleo is still in the 5th percentile for weight but tracking well and getting plumper by the day. She might just be a small kid, who knows. Someone has to be in the 5th percentile!
There are still a few terms that are anxiety inducing: deep, nutritive suck; 5-6 heavily wet nappies; fully drained breasts. These are the terms that governed my life for a couple of months. I’m grateful I can still breastfeed in some form or another and, of course, there are worse issues out there. But when you’re in the throes of first time motherhood and sleep deprived, the smallest things can feel like huge mountains of disappointment and struggle. I suspect there are a few more moments of struggle to rear their heads in my parenting journey!