“she was just a bit lazy about sucking” – breastfeeding round 2 for Ellen

Ellen struggled to breastfeed her first baby and bravely wrote about it here – she has decided to share her experience of feeding child number two after hearing that a friend was told to breastfeed or risk cot death.

Well, where do I start? I was the one who had the baby and the boobs who knew exactly what to do with breastfeeding the first time but I just couldn’t cope.

Second time round and I know what i’m doing, I know what to expect.  I’m going to have another go. I will be able to cope with it, because i’ve done it before. Plus my section is planned this time so, no crazy labour before a mad rush to theatre. Nope, i’ll be checking in to a weird kind of hotel and then at 1.40pm they will give me my baby. After that I know the drill – piece of cake!

Needless to say it didn’t quite work like that…

Coming out of theatre, with a bouncing baby girl who was a total surprise (we hadn’t found out and were fully expecting another boy) I felt tired but relaxed. Once she had been weighed and we were having some skin-to-skin she began to root around as if ready to feed. Here we go I thought, it’s going to be marvellous.  Me and my girl have it sussed from the word go.

Over the next 48 hours I was calm and collected, she would cry I would try to latch her on she would cry some more, fall asleep and within the hour it would all start again.

The midwives all assured me she was getting a little each time and as a section baby she would take longer to work out what to do and just to keep at it.

So keep at it I did.

Some times she would sleep for two hours, sometimes 20 minutes. everytime she would half latch, scream then pull away as if poisoned.

But that was fine apparently, she was just ‘a bit lazy about sucking’. I was convinced that each time she came close enough to do any good, my ginormous breasts were suffocating her and that’s why she was pulling away. But no, apparently all was fine – we were discharged after 48 hours and a maximum feed lasting all of five minutes.

So day three at home dawns after a whole night of screaming, not latching, screaming, dozing and screaming some more. The midwife arrives all lovely and kind until she is weighed. She had dropped from a lovely bouncy 8lb 2oz to a scary 7lb 1oz!

You can guess what’s coming next… the hospital who couldn’t wait to be rid of us the day before wanted us back.

Back we went straight to the special support clinic where we were told she was getting very dehydrated and needed cup feeding. I was asked to demonstrate how I was feeding her… but little madame was having none of it. Next came a lovely lady with a knitted (yes knitted) boob to demonstrate how to hand express.

Twenty soul-destroying minutes later I am the proud owner of 2mls of breast milk. Miss Madame is offered the cup which she drinks like a pro and promptly falls back to sleep. We are sent home again and told she will be weighed again tomorrow.The next day she has put on an ounce and a despite the knitted boob lady’s obsession with the wonders of hand expressing, I am now the owner of a hand pump.

Over the next four days we are seen daily and she is putting on weight via the cup but defiantly refusing to latch on, she just has no interest or inclination to do so.

Day five arrives and our daily visit dawns. The baby is doing very well with the cup and up until now, not a bottle has passed her lips – we are TERRIFIED of nipple confusion!

At this point I am knackered. All I do is pump all she does is refuse to feed from me and I also have a very switched on 3 year old who asks a lot of questions and understandably cannot grasp what the hell is going on.

Day five’s midwife is great. I think I may have fallen a bit in love with her. For the one hundredth time I ask, ‘is it worth it? Is she ever going to get it?’

The angel in the blue smock looks me straight in the eye and says I have to prepare myself for that fact that some babies are not going to get it.

Hallelujah! Someone has finally been man enough to tell me what I think I already knew on day two.

So within ten minutes a bottle of the amber nectar has been prepared and guess what? – the child needs no instruction.By day seven she has put on a weeks worth of weigh in two days – we are officially off the naughty step.

For four weeks I managed to hand pump almost every bottle until my supply dwindled and I realised I needed to to be a mum to two people now. I still think breast milk is the best start for your new baby, but it’s not always an option you can choose.

This time round, I feel less damaged by my feeding debacle. But, there will always be a part of me that wonders. Should I not have had that  elective c-section? Should I have tried harder with her brother? Is this my punishment for ‘giving up’ the first time?

My bouncing baby girl is almost six months old now and it has taken me that long to write this post without it coming out like scribble. But just this week my best friend who is now 36 weeks pregnant has been told (for the second time) that in order to avoid cot death she needs to breastfeed.

It made me realise the most important thing for new mums out there is information, support and preparation for that fact that sometimes the babies, or the boobs or the mummies just can’t do it and that is FINE.

Read more stories in Birth, Boobs and Bad Advice – the book!

Why stop at paying mums to breastfeed?

Now that mothers in some areas are being bribed encouraged to breastfeed by being offered £200 if they last for six months (by which point mothers like me with no supply would probably have no child left to feed), I’ve been thinking about other worthy but difficult parental tasks that could perhaps be improved by some sort of financial motivation.

Nappy change – New parents to be taught how to grade each nappy according to volume and consistency, and submit their claims accordingly. Rates range from £20 for a real humdinger to £2 for a damp squib. Additional funding is available if this happens a) during rush hour on the M25, b) if the only available changing facility is the dirty floor of a napkin-sized cubicle in the gents or c) in a projectile manner while you are half way through the changing process and therefore directly in the firing line. Supporting evidence may be required (unlikely). If it really is poomageddon, proceed to….

Outfit change – let’s face it, it’s a pain in the proverbial, this. You’ve just finished the above only to discover there’s been an overflow. Perhaps Little Darling has also by now thrown up all that hard earned milk for good measure. Sometimes the resulting debris is localised but more often than not the whole ensemble ends up soaking in a bucket of Nappysan for four days and you have to start faffing about with babygro press studs from scratch. It’s got to be worth a fiver. And you may need to do a…

Bath – It’s 11pm. You have been up since 4.39am. Baby has been screaming ever since and you’ve lost track of how many nappy claims you’ve registered. You may feel too frazzled to even contemplate plunging your arms and your tiny, angry beloved into a bowl of lukewarm water while your neighbours call the council to complain about the noise. But it is really important that you keep your child clean so…could you perhaps be persuaded by a tenner?

Sleep – or rather lack of. We all know that sleep deprivation is a form of torture so why shouldn’t parents get compensation for all those missing Zs spent pandering to the nocternal demands of their offspring? The UK minimum wage is £6.31 per hour – which should just about pay for all the coffee you’ll need to get through it.

Reading/singing – Yes, nursery rhymes and baby books are short (one of ours is only 4 words long. Mummy. Daddy. Baby. Faces. Genius) but it’s the repetition that grinds you down. You really haven’t lived until you’ve spent 35 minutes crooning Twinkle Little Star to a howling infant. According to Gigwise Mariah Carey charges £164,000 per song for a private performance. Granted it’s fair to say that most of us are no Mariah Carey but the experts claim this is an important part of stimulating the minds of the next generation so £50 per session seems reasonable. It’s still cheaper than both PRS and all the therapy the children will no doubt need in later life if they grow up without said warbling.

If only eh?

Breastfeeding – second time unlucky

baby's hand

Awww.

I started writing this three weeks ago, at 2.28am, during an impromptu night out at the Hotel NHS – for the second time since the birth of our gorgeous little son, our youngest child, five days previously.

I was awake – as per usual – and our son was asleep (at that point, less usual).

I’m ashamed to say the reason I was there was because, despite all my research and rage over the insane pressure to breastfeed my first son and the shit that was thrown at me when I couldn’t, and despite the fact that I wrote an entire angry book about the fiasco that I and many other women have been through, and despite my absolute conviction that I wouldn’t drive myself mad about bloody breastfeeding ever again… I drove myself mad about bloody breastfeeding again.

That was a long sentence.

Sorry.

But that’s what you get at 2.28am.

Anyway the result of my decision to try to do something I already know from previous experience I am crap at was a dehydrated baby. I don’t need to tell you about the epic guilt trip I’m still on about that.

Have you ever spent time in a neonatal unit? It is as inspirational as it is heartbreaking –  incubators reminiscent of sci-fi spacecraft pods house tiny little babies, while beeps and flashes on the screens which surround them drum out the statistics that are keeping them alive. Heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen. Sometimes the beeps get more shrill and then everybody comes running. The babies are literally the size of your hand. They don’t cry.

While I was there I listened to a doctor delicately talk an exhausted couple through the agonising decision of whether to allow their 24 hour old son to have a chest drain. His lungs were not inflating properly and the medics were unsure as to why. The doctor was amazing. I found myself thinking that perhaps he was doing the only job in the world that really matters – and knowing that I would be unable to handle it myself.

Imagine what a fraud I felt – there I was, with a perfectly healthy baby, who simply hadn’t had enough to drink because of me.

With Son 1, my milk never came in. We tried everything – a million different positions, pumping every 2 hours night and day (horrid horrid horrid), fenugreek (smelly), stout (vile) and so on. At my peak I managed to express a measly 20ml per gruelling 45 minute pumping session. By this point my son was easily drinking 100ml per feed. It felt useless, I felt useless… and everywhere I looked it felt like there were people lining up to agree with me on that.

With Son 2, we were prepared. This time, we bought bottles, teats, sterilising fluid, formula ante-natally. And we had every intention of using them from the get-go.

But what threw me completely was that, within an hour of his birth, Son 2 latched on of his own accord and stayed there for over an hour. My husband and I stared at each other in disbelief. What the hell was he doing? Son 1 screamed like he was being murdered every single time my boobs were thrust in his general direction by one of an endless cohort of midwives  (and some were more gentle than others).

Son 2 never really stopped breastfeeding. He couldn’t get enough – quite literally as it turned out. Nonetheless, this time we were top of the class – midwives and health visitors alike congratulated ourselves on our “perfect technique” and after being so browbeaten last time, I felt smug. I guess I also felt that perhaps I could lay a ghost to rest here too.

I still have no issue with formula. Honestly, I don’t. I spoke to numerous experts when I was writing the book and they all agree that the merits of breastmilk are somewhat exaggerated (to put it politely) by the breastfeeding brigade. One of my favourite mad claims is that it raises your IQ. Yup, seriously. Never mind that little line in the research paper which states that other lifestyle factors (like, erm, education?) cannot be ruled out. Shush. Nothing to see there.

I just felt that if breast was what Son 2 wanted, perhaps that was what he could get. Maybe the fact that he was actually willing to put in the effort of looking for it would mean I would be able to produce it this time. And let’s face it, it’s a hell of a lot cheaper.

Unfortunately once again my boobs decided not to play ball. To describe my milk supply as low is an overstatement. This time though I shut the door before getting sucked in (again no pun intended) to  the pumping rituals, the endless fenugreek, the “have you tried…?” and the “I know someone who produced mountains of milk after breaking a leg…” – all that well meaning advice that usually involves doing something horrendous. Besides I’ve already tried most of it, first time around.

With the exception of the one midwife who curtly exclaimed “well you are his mother, I suppose” (yes, well done dear, I am)  the health professionals were surprisingly supportive of our decision to formula feed. I say decision – it wasn’t really much of a choice. Babies are hungry creatures, and they don’t tend to favour pizza. But I have a toddler, and a husband, and a life, goddammit, which in my view is too short to spend waiting for my body to figure out how to do something it really doesn’t seem to get.

It is time to face the fact that I may be many things, but a milk factory ain’t one of them. And finally, I think – I hope –  I’m at peace with that.

A make up lesson – how much is “too much”?

make up free

Me without make up. Does it make me a better mum?

I read a tabloid take recently on women who wear make up to work. Needless to say, it was yet another occasion upon which the ladies under scrutiny – through no choice of their own – did not fair well.

The gist of the story was that bosses tend to look down on female staff who wear what they deem to be “too much” on the cosmetics front. I’ve googled like mad and I can’t for the life of me find the article so it must have been some online filler (no pun intended) designed to boost somebody’s ad clicks that day – the only reference I could find to anything similar dates back three years to a very dubious PR survey of about 5 people in the west midlands or some-such so I won’t link to it here.

The feature had a lot to do with lipstick, I seem to recall. Lashings of lippy = bad colleague, apparently.

So far, so cliched, and the rest of the article did not disappoint, containing exactly the sort of lazy man-bashing views you’ve probably second-guessed already… these disapproving bosses must obviously all be men and they must obviously all feel threatened/distracted/intimidated/aroused by being around attractive women in the workplace . Or maybe they’re just downright jealous.

I’m not so sure about that.

The men in my life don’t tend to bat much of an eyelid about the make up I wear at work, unless I’ve really, really gone for it. Television make up attracts the comments,  but that is utter warpaint in the flesh. And the guys have to wear it too. Put it this way – the age of HD has a lot to answer for.

Generally, it’s the women you need to watch out for, if you’re feeling self-conscious.

I once took part in a German exchange programme in secondary school and one of the visiting teachers, a colourful Fraulein whose name I have long since forgotten, had the misfortune to have a few wobbles with her eyebrow pencil.

For this alone she was utterly ridiculed by us, as openly as we dared. We were the archetypal bitchy English teenage contingent, despite being at a fairly experimental stage with our cheap cosmetics ourselves. It’s telling that 20 years later all I can remember about the entire scheme is a pair of badly drawn brows.

What has all this got to do with breastfeeding? A friend confided recently that she went to visit a “breastfeeding counsellor” because she was having feeding issues.

Only she made the mistake of throwing on a bit of eyeliner and some lipsalve on her way out the door. Despite her desperation the counsellor’s opening gambit was that obviously things couldn’t be that bad because she’d had time to put on make up, followed by an equally uninvited tirade about “career girls”.

Not exactly what you expect from a counsellor, is it? Even if she thought that – and clearly she did – why say it out loud?

It’s certainly a new one on me though – I hadn’t realised that successful breastfeeding depended entirely on ditching the mascara wand.

Except guess what – it turned out it was an undiagnosed tongue-tie, rather than my friend’s cosmetic regime, which was causing her problems.

Who knew.

Breastfeeding in public

image

There’s a story doing the rounds today about a woman who says she was told to leave a leisure centre because she was breastfeeding in the swimming pool.

A journalist approached me for comment about it and was obviously hoping I would do a bit of shit stirring on the media’s behalf.

Did I think it was disgusting, the reporter asked, or was it a sign that the formula feeding crowd had gone too far in their message?

At the time i was busy trying to stop my toddler leaping into a lift on the third floor of Debenhams while singing twinkle twinkle little star at thw top of his lungs so in all honesty what little brain i had left was not exactly firing on all cylinders.

However – I am also a journalist (if not of that particular ilk) and so fortunately I recognize a leading question when I hear one. I said I needed to see the story first and would call back.

After a few missed calls and texts I actually got an email. I replied to that.

What do I think about this story?  I think parents should be able to feed their babies as and when they need to. It is sad that this lady experienced the disapproval and humiliation also faced by thousands of people when they get out a bottle of formula in a public place, I wrote.

I guess I’d make a rubbish troll because I never heard from the reporter again. it was an interesting little lesson in how easily you can become a caricature though – it still feels like a close shave.

Through the looking glass (yeah, did i mention I’m pregnant again?)

In about eight weeks time Baby Number 2 is due to make his grand entrance.

I am older, wider and a lot more exhausted this time around but at least I’m finally being treated like a grown-up.

Shall I tell you how many times a health professional has mentioned breastfeeding to me in the last 32 weeks?

Once.

When I first met my midwife, she asked how I was planning to feed the new baby. I said that I hadn’t been able to breastfeed last time around and would see how it went this time – but that I wouldn’t push myself to the brink of madness over it ever again.

I waited for the questions, the “did you try….?”, the deluge of leaflets, phone numbers and  “support group” meeting dates to rain down upon me. I braced myself for a lecture at the very least.

Nothing. The midwife just nodded and told me to roll up my sleeve for a blood test. I was actually stunned into silence – most unusually for me.

Last night I went to a “refresher course” for pregnant people who have already had kids.

What a strange bunch we were – this group of women from all walks of life, all with our different shaped bumps and swollen ankles, some supported by wary partners, others alone, with our handbags full of wetwipes and half eaten toddler snacks.

Breastfeeding was bound to come up, right?

Wrong!

“You can tell a first time mum anything and they’ll accept it, but you lot know the truth now,” the teacher began.

We’re through the looking glass now, I thought, looking around.

At the start we discussed our biggest fears.

Mine, i said, was not being listened to – again. Being told I wasn’t “really” in labour while the contractions came thick and fast, just four hours before my son was born, being told to “just keep trying” after days and days of not producing any milk and then getting shouted out for doing what I was told as his little body screamed for the food I didn’t have.

“They will listen to you now,” the teacher said.

“They just tend to think first time mums don’t know what they’re saying”.

It felt like that scene from V for Vendetta [SPOILER!] when Natalie Portman emerges from her horrible hostage experience only to find it was all just a set-up to make her more tough.

Not sure it was ever intended as a model for 21st century maternity care but it’s not exactly her fault.

What I learned from my own initiation to parenthood was not to trust anybody who claims to be an expert in the area.

That said….  if the pressure is indeed well and truly off, and I’m not going to be hit by a roller coaster of well-intentioned but ultimately useless and conflicting advice, it might just work out a bit better this time mightn’t it? Now there’s a thought.

Guest post: Why wasn’t my milk coming in?

BRIDIE’S STORY

It’s almost six years since my daughter was born, but even today I feel angry when I look back at those early days.

Being ten days overdue, my obstetrician told me I had to be induced, despite both myself and my baby being very well. My labour started within five hours of the gel being applied, but after an initial couple of hours of progressing well it slowed down and resulted in my daughter being brought into the world with the aid of forceps.

During the first few minutes of cuddling my beautiful new baby, I distinctly remember the doctor asking the midwife to confirm that the placenta was all present and her reassuring him that it was.

I felt like I had been through hell, little realising that the days ahead would be even worse.

My first attempts at breastfeeding didn’t go so well, but I put that down to us both being tired – after all, it had been a big day for baby too! The following day I was still having problems getting my daughter to latch on and, once she did, nothing seemed to happen. I then spent 20 minutes on each boob trying desperately to express even a single drop of colostrum.

Eventually it came, but it was such a minute amount after such a lot of effort and did little to sate my baby’s appetite. She was given some formula to tide her over until the next time.

Over the next 36 hours various midwives came in, shoved their hands on my breasts and forced them into my baby’s mouth. Every one of them had a different method, there was no consistency, and I was starting to feel confused. In between this I seemed to spend hours on the “milking machine”.

Why wasn’t my milk coming in? Why was breast feeding so hard, when everything I’d seen and read made it appear so easy and natural? After each fruitless attempt to feed, another amount of formula was given and I was left to feel completely useless.

When my husband popped in on his lunch break the following day I burst into tears. I’d had enough.

Breast feeding wasn’t working, I just wanted my baby to have a full tummy and for me to get some rest. I was physically and emotionally exhausted. Shocked at my state, he rang for the duty midwife and told her, in no uncertain terms, that from now on it was bottle only (formula, plus what I could express) and that nobody was to mention breast feeding again. It was such a relief, literally like a weight lifting off my shoulders.

The hours that followed were bliss in comparison. My baby slept because she was no longer hungry, and that meant I finally got the rest I needed. Night-time wasn’t so good. At 4am, and after a large feed, my baby wouldn’t settle. She cried and cried, and I was almost at my wit’s end. I rang for the midwife to ask what I should do. Was it trapped wind, or was she still hungry?

I couldn’t believe it when the midwife, far from helping a distressed mum and baby, stood there and lectured me about how it broke her heart that I wasn’t breast feeding! I felt sick.

The next morning I decided I’d had enough and took my baby home. The midwife that checked me out was amazing. She asked what I planned to do about feeding and I told her I was going to formula feed, as well as keep expressing. She looked straight at me and, obviously seeing my heart wasn’t in it, told me to make a decision to do one or the other and not to feel bad if I didn’t want to express. It was a breath of fresh air. Where had she been all those days?

So I took my baby home, and for six weeks I enjoyed being a new mum. Formula feeding worked really well, as it allowed my husband to feel included and meant I could at least get some sleep at night. Then I experienced heavy blood loss. It happened twice, and scared the life out of me. After the second time, I rang the health line and was told to present to the Emergency Department.

A referral for an ultrasound was made, and they discovered a piece of the placenta that had broken off and was still sitting in my womb. I was devastated, not least because the conversation between the doctor and midwife was so clearly etched in my memory. A D&C followed, which thankfully solved the problem.

It’s only in recent months that I’ve learned that that little piece of placenta would have prevented my milk coming in. That one error by the delivering midwife turned out to be the cause of so much distress that I ended up with PND and look back on the first few days of my daughter’s life with dread, rather than happiness.

Second time around, I told the midwife while I was in labour that it would be bottle feeding from the start (I took my own formula as I’d heard that the hospital refused to stock it). Once you’ve been there, done that, you can make your voice head, but it breaks my heart how many other first time mums go through distress during what should be the happiest days of their life.

Bridie Jenner moved from the UK to Western Australia in 2005, where she now lives with her husband and two little Aussies.

To get in touch email breastfeedingbattles.gmail.com.

You can buy the book Birth Boobs and Bad Advice here.