Guest blog by Katy - @katyandolivia27
My name is Katy and this is the story of my breastfeeding journey so far.
I had a love/hate relationship with my pregnancy. Most of it was amazing though and I couldn’t wait to be a mum. I always wanted to be a mum and after two and a half years of trying, it finally happened! My partner and I were both over the moon.
I knew, even before I fell pregnant, that I wanted to breastfeed. My mum breastfed me, I was eight weeks premature as my mum had pre-eclampsia, so she would express and feed me through a tube, then at two weeks old she started to breastfeed me. She put a lot of effort and determination into breastfeeding me, as I needed to be fed every hour, day and night. So, I always knew breastfeeding was the best choice for my baby.
I went into active labour at 40+2 days, after my waters broke during the night. Long story short , I was in labour for a a total of 65 hours, which ended in an emergency c-section. I caught sepsis in theatre so had a three day stay in hospital on a drip.
After Olivia was born (Wednesday evening), I got the chance to hold her straight away, then they took her away to be weighed etc. and I was taken to the Labour Suite so they could keep an eye on me after the c-section, before going to the Maternity Unit. I then had plenty of skin-to-skin with Olivia and with a bit of guidance she naturally latched and had her first feed. I wish I could remember that moment better, but it’s all a bit of a blur, because I hadn’t slept in four days. I had every pain relief under the sun due to Olivia changing position to back-to-back during labour, then was induced, then the section, so everything was a bit surreal! The next couple of days were amazing with my new baby. I was in a lot of pain and my partner stayed with me in hospital as I couldn’t even get out of bed by myself, never mind pick up Olivia. She was feeding every hour and I was loving it! A couple of really lovely midwives and a breastfeeding support worker taught me how to get a good latch and Olivia took to it straight away. I was so happy that we'd managed to breastfeed like pros already.
By day two (Friday) early evening, Olivia was on the boob constantly and wouldn’t settle. A midwife took her away for an hour so I could eat my (cold) food and get some sleep for an hour. Then she brought her back just as my partner Mark came back (he would go away during the day to get us more stuff and check on the cats) I was also getting lots of visitors too so he knew they would keep an eye on me.
Olivia cried all night and into the next morning. She would fall asleep here and there, but when she was awake, she would cry again. I could hear the other new mums in the wards next to me sighing over the lack of sleep they were getting because my baby wouldn’t stop crying. I didn’t know why, I just assumed it was normal for some babies to cry a lot, as nobody seemed concerned. But I was so disappointed, because Olivia was an extremely content baby for the first two days.
That morning (Saturday), Mark left again, my visitors came and went. Then I was left, with this crying baby. I was exhausted, I hadn’t slept by this point in about a week, except an hour or two here and there. Olivia was weighed and had lost more weight than she should have done. I started to realise something was wrong, when I again, was trying to feed Olivia. She was on one boob, would pull away, I would switch sides, then she would pull away, then back to the first side and so on. This went on for what felt like a lifetime. I tried calling the nurse button, but no-one came. I felt like I was failing as a mum. The other three mums in the ward seemed to have had it sussed. Their babies weren’t screaming for hours on end. I phoned my boyfriend and begged him to come back, I was struggling to cope, I didn’t know what to do and was in tears by now. I was in pieces. Little did I know, he was in town buying me my first Mother’s Day presents as it was Mother's Day the next day. He said he would be as quick as he could.
Eventually a midwife came to check on me, I was crying my eyes out, telling her I had been pressing the call button, but I found out later that the system wasn’t working that day! I asked her what was wrong with my latch and she said we were doing everything perfectly and that she couldn’t understand why Olivia wouldn’t settle on the breast. I then said, out of desperation "she is clearly getting nothing from me, she is starving, please give her a bottle!" I remember the midwife asking if I was sure as that would be a big decision, but all I was thinking about was that my baby was starving and that I couldn’t provide for her. I was too ashamed to give her the bottle, also I didn’t know where to start with feeding from a
bottle, so the midwife did it. Olivia went right back to her usual content self. It was bliss. A feeling of pure relief. I was calm for the first time in two days. She took Olivia away so I could get some rest. Mark came back and he gave her a bottle, and the bond I witnessed between him and his daughter was unreal. I was so proud of my new family.
I rested up and the doctor came to see us that afternoon. He said we could go home. When we got home that night, it was amazing. But I was still in a lot of pain. Mark had to help me into bed. He did everything for Olivia and me. He fed and changed her and helped me walk and get into bed, and propped pillows all around me. He did the night feed. The next morning (Sunday) was Mother’s Day. My boobs were HUGE!!! And sore. My milk had come in. I was totally shocked, because I genuinely thought I'd dried up. I didn’t realise a c-section could delay your milk coming in. But I was totally put off. How am I going to feed my baby, when I can’t even get out of bed myself. When I can’t even pick my baby up. When I can’t even wash myself. I felt totally uselessand Mark was so amazing with the feeds. I was just so overwhelmed with it all I just blanked out every single one of my beliefs that breastfeeding was the best way forward. To me, breastfeeding was now associated with pain, bleeding and cracked nipples, screaming babies, being ignored and feeling a major lack of support (it wasn’t anybody’s fault, I was just so unprepared for the challenges of breastfeeding – I knew it was going to be hard, but after what my body had just been through in the last week, it was amazing how it affected my thoughts). My mum had bought me a manual breast pump, even after I told her I didn’t want to breastfeed, hoping I would change my mind. I remember feeling a little bit annoyed, like she wasn’t listening to me!
After a few days, after some rest and starting to feel more like myself again, I began feeling very guilty. I started to regret my decision to not breastfeed when my milk eventually came in. Breastfeeding was all I ever wanted to do. So I did a little research. I literally googled ‘is it possible to breastfeed again after a break?' and I came across relactation, which is the process of building and increasing your milk supply, which I genuinely didn’t even think was possible! I did a lot of research online learning about how we make milk and everything else breastfeeding related. I joined social media groups regarding breastfeeding and relactation. I asked questions on online forums and groups and got lots of advice. On day 10, the last day I saw my midwife, I told her of my intentions to relactate and she said it could be possible. I think I just wanted the go ahead really. This all gave me hope!
As soon as I got home from my appointment I put my research into practice. I was so glad my mum bought me that breast pump! I would pump every couple of hours, until my hand got cramp! I power pumped too! I wouldn’t get any milk but I kept going and going, day and night. After a few days, I started getting drops of colostrum, which gradually turned into milk. And within a few weeks, I was getting about 20mls. When I mentioned it all to my health visitor, she arranged for me to get a hospital grade breast pump on loan. It was a lifesaver! I ate porridge every morning, I drank LOADS, I had ‘bed days' with Olivia where we would stay in bed for a couple of days at a time, getting lots of skin-to-skin, I carried her in the sling around the house ALL the time, and when we were out and about. We co-slept, and she napped on me (we still do this!). I would feed Olivia formula, then she would go to sleep, then I would pump. Then I would give Olivia the one or two ounces I had built up at the end of the day. This was our routine for weeks. I can’t remember the exact time frame, but after maybe three or four weeks, I started trying to get Olivia to latch on.
I was really worried she would have forgotten how to latch, but she didn’t. It took a few days of trying, as sometimes she just wasn’t interested because she wasn’t getting much from me at all! But once she started latching properly, things progressed so much quicker! Which makes a lot of sense, because baby is better than any breast pump! She would feed from me, then have a formula top up. Olivia gradually started taking less and less formula, until one day, when she was eight weeks old, she totally refused top up bottles. Olivia has been exclusively breastfed since. She is now 20 weeks old.
When I started my relactation journey, I never expected I’d able to exclusively breastfeed, although that was my goal. But as long as my baby got some breast milk, I would have been happy.
It wasn’t easy. I was exhausted! I was lucky Olivia was so young and slept a lot, so I squeezed in expressing whenever I had the opportunity. Also, because of the c-section I couldn’t drive and was really sore for weeks, so I wasn’t going out much and I found the time. And I think this kept my mind busy too because otherwise I probably would have gone insane being stuck in the house! Mark was a massive help. He was so supportive, as were my friends and family. Support was a massive, massive thing for me. I constantly worried about whether Olivia was getting enough, if she was putting on enough weight.
Sometimes getting her to latch, especially during the night when she was half asleep was really difficult and I had sore nipples again, and would break down in tears almost every day. However a lot of this was due to hormones and lack of sleep. The health visitor would weigh and check on her regularly and Olivia was thriving! She had problems with constipation and wind before I began to relactate, but since she has been breastfed, all those problems have disappeared.
The bond I have with Olivia is unreal. She really is my everything. I’m so proud of her for getting through this with me. She had been just as determined as I was. And now she LOVES the boobie! I’m finding breastfeeding much easier now and more convenient than bottle feeding ever was. And I know it has all been worth it when Olivia gives me that little smile, before I help her onto the boob. I will always be forever grateful that I got a second chance.
I have since started attending a breastfeeding support group and that would be my advice to any expectant or new mum, to attend a local support group. If I had more information, I probably wouldn’t have given up. Support groups are amazing.