Mum and Baby laughing

Gemma was keen to “give it a go” but never imagined how much breastfeeding would come to mean to her...

During pregnancy I was really keen to have my delivery be as natural as possible and it was important to me from early on to “give breastfeeding a go”. When I discovered that a natural delivery wasn’t the best option for me because baby was breech, I was really disappointed but it made me even more determined to succeed with breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding appealed to me as I was well aware of it’s importance for my baby’s health but when I attended birthing classes I learned more about the benefits to my own health and the bond that breastfeeding can help form between mum and baby. The financial benefit, saving more than £520 a year on buying milk, and the convenience of breastfeeding.

I made sure to include my desire to breastfeed in my birth plan. I requested to have skin-to-skin contact in theatre and to be left undisturbed for the first hour to establish breastfeeding ourselves. Although I did get skin-to-skin contact with Jonah as soon as he started crying/breathing after quite a difficult delivery, we didn’t get our undisturbed “golden hour” as there were concerns about the amount of fluid I had been carrying which called into question his ability to swallow. He had to have an NG tube inserted to check that his oesophagus had formed properly before I was able to feed him. This was a scary moment but thankfully the test came back all clear. So began our breastfeeding journey!

BEING A FIRST TIME MUM I HAD NO IDEA WHAT WAS NORMAL

I remember being taken aback in hospital that so much focus was put on the length of time baby fed for in minutes. I felt increasingly under pressure to make him stay on for longer and felt like a failure any time I “only” managed 15 minutes. I quickly started to “watch the clock” instead of my baby and I feel this undermined my confidence in my own instincts. The first two nights in hospital were extremely challenging as I was recovering from a c section so trying to lift my baby out of the cot was excruciating plus the ward was such a noisy environment I felt stressed and lonely without my husband there. Being a first time Mum I had no idea what was normal, how much my baby should be feeding or what a proper latch looked like. Although I had watched videos and attended antenatal classes it was very difficult to judge this in person. The midwives were lovely and tried to help but I found they were so busy and overworked that I didn’t want to bother them. I expressed some concerns about how baby was feeding as I felt his nappy output wasn’t good but I was assured his latch looked great and that he just wouldn’t have much output until my milk came in. I was so relieved not to have to stay another night that I jumped at the chance to get home on day 3.

Although my baby had just about managed to latch on initially, once my milk “came in” at home, it became pretty much impossible for him. I had been told never to use a pump before 6 weeks or I would end up with an oversupply so I battled on, attempting to get baby to feed and becoming more and more engorged in the process. The first night at home was a very sleepless one, the more engorged I became the harder he found it to latch...

ONE KIND, SUPPORTIVE PERSON CAN MAKE ALL THE DIFFERENCE

Thankfully, my community midwife came bright and early at 9 am the next morning and how glad I was to see her! She commented on how chilled I was for a new mum and made me feel so at ease, however she immediately noticed that my baby had a very severe tongue tie which was visible when he cried. She warned me that as a result it was highly likely that he would have lost a lot of weight and reassured me that this was not my fault. Her approach, honestly, was so important in protecting my breastfeeding journey and I am so grateful for it. One kind, supportive person can make all the difference. The midwife weighed my little man and confirmed that he had lost 13% of his birthweight and was jaundiced. I felt terrible but again she assured me that this was not my fault. She never once suggested formula but instead helped me to express and gave Jonah my milk in a bottle. Seeing him take a bottle so hungrily really broke something in me and I burst into tears, I felt I had failed him. It didn’t help that this was all happening on day 3 post birth which is notorious for being a “blue” day!

ONCE I HELD HIM IN MY ARMS THE INSTINCT TO KEEP FEEDING HIM MYSELF WAS VERY STRONG

My midwife explained that we would need to be readmitted to hospital right away, although she was fairly confident that the tongue tie was the cause of Jonah’s jaundice and dehydration it was important to rule out any other infections or problems. We spent a very stressful 24 hours in the paediatric ward undergoing tests. This was probably my biggest challenge as the medical staff were obviously keen to rectify the dehydration and this caused them to focus on the amount of fluids I was getting him to take by bottle. Their priority was not to get my baby back to the breast. Thankfully, with the support of my amazing husband, our mums and one wonderful paediatric nurse who came and sat with me to share her personal experience of breastfeeding and encourage me not to give up, I made it through without having to give Jonah any formula. Although I had started out thinking “I’d like to breastfeed if I can”, once I held him in my arms the instinct to keep feeding him myself was very strong and I became so determined to make it work!

The next 6 weeks were tough; we battled through the first week giving bottles of EBM until his tongue-tie was snipped at 1 week old. Once it was snipped it took us several weeks to get the hang of breastfeeding as he had got used to a bottle. I persevered using nipple shields to transition and eventually managed to phase them out during his second month.

Breastfeeding by the beach
Mum and Baby having milk on the beach

Once breastfeeding clicked it became the most amazing, rewarding experience of my life. I felt such an achievement at overcoming obstacles to keep feeding my baby. Watching him grow and develop into the healthy, bright and happy 10 month old he is today has made every moment so worth it. Although the early days were tough, once I got through them I was so glad I didn’t give up. Breastfeeding is so convenient for me now and has had such an obvious impact on my baby’s health and development and on our bond.

Now I am 10 months into my journey and feel really passionate about helping other mums who want to breastfeed to achieve their goals!

Follow Gemma's journey on her YouTube Channel