Why Breastfeeding is NOT the most natural thing in the world!
Like many mums-to-be, I assumed that breast feeding would come naturally and would be something I’d be good at- I was committed and really believed it was the best form of nutrition having drastically reduced my own intake of cow milk and felt the benefits of less dairy. I did an NCT antenatal course as well as a Hypnobirthing course and the hospital 2 hour workshop on Breastfeeding- surely I had this covered right?
After a 34 hour labour from start to finish, needless to say I was pretty tired. The hospital bed wasn’t very comfy and I was still in some pain, but somehow passed into a dreamless sleep. I still had a catheter in so didn’t need to worry about getting up to pee at least (TMI?!) I was only woken by the regular blood pressure checks the nurses came around to do.
Leo was born at 3pm on a Wednesday and hadn’t successfully breastfed before the evening- I thought it was OK- we were both still recovering from the shock of it all. However as the time passed and with each attempt he wasn’t able to latch on or really show any interest, I became more worried. I was hand expressing a drop at a time of milk as it hadn’t fully come in yet less than 24 hours post-birth. This was given in tiny syringes to Leo but he barely seemed to register them. I worried it was because of the painkillers I’d had during birth, but I didn’t feel bad because frankly there was no way I’d have got through it without them! So much for my natural birth plan!
I managed to eat breakfast and lunch and got a bit more rest... I don’t really know where the time went, but suddenly it was almost 3pm on the Thursday and Leo still hadn’t managed to have a proper feed. The midwife was quite concerned saying that he was getting dehydrated and that I’d need to express more milk- she gave me an amount to express and a deadline (so not conducive to the process!) When I was unable to express more than 0.5ml she said I should really give him some formula. I wasn’t keen but I also was worried- shouldn’t he have fed by now? Was he distressed? Why wasn’t he feeding? So the midwife poured out a few ml of formula and then began our combination feeding journey. Leo drank it all down and seemed better- more calmer and relaxed. I was upset his first proper feed hadn’t been from me.
I was still determined to breastfeed in the hope of replacing the formula completely. We syringe and cup-fed Leo for the first 2 weeks and that was hard going- messy and not satisfying for him- there was lots of crying and split milk. So began my 3 month breastfeeding journey in which I tried every single potion and lotion, pumps and diet I could find online- here is a quick summary in case you’re on a similar journey.
Potions (supplements and drugs)
Domperidone - You can get this as an ‘off-label’ medicine that is known to increase lactation as a side effect. However no proper study has been done into effect of using it longer term to stimulate milk. I found it did help, but made my whole chest area quite sore and upset my stomach.
Goats Rue, Fenugreek, Blessed Thistle, Brewers Yeast, Nettle Leaf, Fennel Seeds, Shatavari, Anise Seed
I took all of the above together- not sure if this was a great idea but didn’t seem to have any side effects. I don’t think they made a big difference to my supply.
Oatmeal, lactation-friendly tea.
I ate Oatmeal porridge every day and had at least 2 cups of tea made from the same herbs as above that are meant to stimulate supply.
Personally, I found a manual hand pump gave me best results, though was a bit tedious. I tried the electric double pump and found it didn’t work that well for me. Single pump was OK, but in the end I realised I was getting more milk from a hand pump.
At first I tried to feed and pump at least once every 3 hours but I found I was getting no sleep. When I did get more sleep I actually made more milk across the whole day. It needs to be sustainable. When you are feeding, putting to sleep then pumping as well, before you know it, the baby is awake again ready for more food and you’ve had zero rest!
In the end my breastfeeding journey finished when my son was 3 months. He suddenly decided he wouldn’t breastfeed at all any more. It was the final straw for me- struggling with a screaming baby refusing to feed on top of lack of sleep and super human efforts to stimulate milk supplies. By that time I had managed to find 2 amazing breast milk donors to ensure Leo still got human milk, but that is a separate post!