Feeding a baby is hard. They don’t really tell you just how hard.
By ‘they’, I mean pretty much everyone who may have talked to us about having a baby. Our midwife, our childbirth educator at antenatal class, other people who’ve had babies. They know it’s hard, but they just didn’t relay that piece of information to us.
Actually, in our feeding session at antenatal class I’m pretty sure something was said about it being hard and you have to stick with it, but the point wasn’t laboured. Most of the focus was on teaching us to breastfeed. And now I can see why so much emphasis was placed on it.
Breastfeeding is hard work. I can’t believe how difficult this supposedly natural thing is, and how much of a mental toll it takes on mothers. Does anyone find it easy? Perhaps. But so many women seem to struggle with it at first. This is our little feeding story.
Breastmilk isn’t there at birth. Most people have a tiny bit of colostrum (a few teaspoons per feed), but that’s it for a while. The milk’s meant to take a few days to come in. Colostrum is like breastmilk, but not quite. A woman’s body starts making it a few months before birth, and it’s a high-powered dose of antibodies and other good stuff to protect the baby from infection.
When Jasper had his first feed, he latched to the breast OK and started sucking pretty well. I asked the midwife if he was getting anything, and she told me you just have to trust that he is.
I find that weird, because what if he’s not? If there’s no milk supply, you can’t just make it come with pure trust. That would be amazing! I wish life was like that. Like, do we have bacon in the fridge? If I trust that there is, there will be!
He sucked for about 30 minutes so we assumed he was getting something, but as the day went on he got crankier and crankier. The midwives actually tried to milk Liv’s boob (like, literally – they taught her to squeeze it just right so milk comes out), but even then she was only getting about 0.1ml of liquid. Not only did Liv not have any breast milk at first, she didn’t even have colostrum. This is when the midwives suggested we give him a little bit of formula. We agreed, and by evening Jasper was finally getting some food!
They wouldn’t let us use a bottle to do this – Liv had to wear a nipple shield (a plastic fake nipple that goes over the real one) so that Jasper would know he still had to work to get anything out, and therefore hopefully help to get more milk flowing. They put the formula into a syringe and use a small tube running into the shield to get the formula to him. He continued to get formula through the shield about 10 times a day. It took an hour each time and required a nurse or midwife to stand there the whole time. Then she had to go on the breastpump 45 minutes after each feed for 15 minutes to try to get the milk to come in. This, too, happened 10 times day. Talk about exhausting!
All of this meant Liv got no time to feed the baby alone. Also, every time Jasper cried, even a little bit, someone would come rushing in assuming he was hungry again. Later, when we got home, she resented that for the five days we were there, she missed out on that essential bonding time because there always had to be someone hovering over her to make sure he was being fed correctly. But they all had different ideas of how much food he should be getting and the right way to give it to him. This meant every eight hours when they changed shifts we were being completely different advice.
This raises a theme that I think occurs in all aspects of raising children, that so many people want to help and think they’re helping, but actually sometimes they’re hurting. There are always unintended consequences, I guess.
So anyway, by day three the milk still hadn’t arrived (worst milkman ever!). Jasper was getting more formula and was happy enough, but Liv was getting distressed and emotional. She felt like a failure for not being able to feed her baby. I constantly tried to reassure her that she wasn’t, but I don’t think anything could have stopped her feeling like that. Of course she felt like a failure. In an age where breastfeeding is treated as the only safe and reasonable option by the Ministry of Health, and many midwives, it’s no wonder women feel immense distress when they can’t do it. I was skeptical of the Breast is Best campaign before we had Jasper, but now I’m downright angry about it. I don’t know why this campaign is necessary, but from my point of view it only serves to emotionally harm women who only want to feed their children. And to make matters worse, at our maternity unit the walls were covered with huge collages about how amazing and natural breastfeeding is, with pictures of animals breastfeeding! Huh??
We were lucky that we had no hangups about formula, because what would we have done otherwise? I’ve heard horror stories from other birthing centres in Auckland where the midwives won’t give a baby formula until it’s lost at least 10 percent of its body weight. That could take a few days! It just seems unnecessarily mean to the baby, and the parents, when you have a safe and nutritious alternative.
Late on day three the midwife was visiting us at the birthing centre and was talking to us about feeding. She suggested that we’d need to consider the idea that the milk might not come at all, and we could consider medicine that might help lactation. I thought this was a little drastic, but I guess she was preparing us for the worst. Liv broke down in tears, desperate to feed Jasper. I felt so sorry for her, but tried to remain positive and told her the milk wouldn’t be far away.
And it wasn’t – the next day she got a few mls. And then a bit more. But she still wasn’t allowed to put J on her breast – she had to keep expressing and giving it to him via the syringe so they’d know how much he was getting. This got annoying, so one night, when J was particularly upset, Liv just put him on her boob and let him go for it. He loved it! And it totally settled him. We just had to do what we wanted to do in the end, and ignore what we were being forced to do.
When we got home, Liv was feeding Jasper on the breast for a while, then every feed he was topped up with a bit of formula – about 50ml. Liv was then expressing on the breastpump between feeds to boost her supply. We’d then top J up with the expressed milk too, and then the formula if he needed it.
But as the days have gone on, and Liv’s milk supply increased even more, Jasper was mostly on the breast. Now, he has some formula at night, mainly to give Liv a bit more of a rest (he’s a hungry fella who feeds for 40 minutes each side!). She’s still expressing a bit, but he’s mostly on the breast.
The point is, that first week is so hard in terms of feeding. The midwives at the birthing unit kept telling us it gets better after a couple of weeks, and they’re right. Now, just over three weeks in, we’ve got it down. Liv and Jasper have their routine, and I help out with a bottle feed or two every now and then. For Liv it was worth persisting with the breastfeeding because that’s what she wanted to do. It was a nightmare at first but things did all fall in to place.
I know this isn’t the case for everyone – some people actually just can’t do it. And some don’t want to, and that’s totally valid. All I know is that Liv seems to get some joy out of the bonding she gets with J when they’re feeding. Of course there are so many ways to bond, but I guess this is their little thing that they share.