We talk to three mums about the problems they faced during their breastfeeding journeys
So you’ve managed to bring a little baby into the world. the hard part done, right? If only! You’re still recovering from the upheaval of labour, and suddenly there’s a whole new feat your body must accomplish. It seems like it should be easy, but for some women breastfeeding can be a bigger challenge than the birth. Many mums struggle to get their baby to latch, suffer from cracked and bleeding nipples, get sick with mastitis or fear that they can’t supply the baby with the amount of milk he needs. And they must get to grips with these things under huge pressure from hungry babies. “Breastfeeding is a learned skill,” explains Auckland lactation consultant Trish Warder, “and it certainly takes two of you to tango. Some mothers and babies do have a harder road than others and it doesn’t happen easily for everyone.” This is confirmed by New Zealand’s breastfeeding statistics, which tell us that most mums start off breastfeeding and yet the rate of exclusively breastfeeding mothers drops dramatically over the first weeks.” Warder says there are many factors that play a part in breastfeeding success, such as luck, a mother’s prior knowledge about breastfeeding, the birth, after-birth care, family support, her expectations, her health and medical conditions, if there have been problems with feeding before, babies with special needs (e.g. twins or premature babies), or mothers with special needs (e.g. breast concerns). She points out that new mums are swamped with information – not all of it correct or helpful – and many mothers feel confused by conflicting advice. It’s hard to know who to believe. Warder advises that good information will come from a variety of sources such as mothers who have successfully breastfed, La Leche League and lactation consultants. And if there’s a problem, getting help quickly is crucial. “Breasts and nipples are tender in the first days but painful feeds are
not normal,” says Warder. “If the mother is in pain then it can lead to feeds being cut short which means the baby and the milk production may not grow.” Just as the problems vary between each mother and her baby, so too do the solutions. “Some of the women I meet are just too emotionally drained by the time they come to me,” says Warder. “At that point, they haven’t got the energy to keep going, so they wean and plan to get help next time.” Ultimately, each mother must find the best course of action for her. The following three mums share some of their breastfeeding challenges and the choices they made.
Olivia had latching problems and an inadequate expressing regime led to recurring mastitis I was in hospital because I’d had a caesarean and the midwives told me my son wasn’t latching properly. He didn’t seem to be getting any milk and just kept falling asleep. I was also told I had flat nipples, which would make it harder for him to latch. They were getting raw
‘I GRIEVED FOR QUITE A LONG TIME THAT I COULDN’T BREASTFEED. IT WAS NO ONE’S FAULT, JUST THE NATURE OF THE SITUATION’
and bloodied. They said Max was losing too much weight and then they noticed he wasn’t actually swallowing when he fed. This meant my milk wasn’t really coming in so I had to start expressing. I took fenugreek pills, ate LSA (ground linseed, sunflower seeds and almonds) and used the pump to boost my supply. When I started expressing it all seemed to go well. He was taking the bottle, my nipples were healing and I knew he was getting my breast milk. When I tried to put him back on the breast, I worried how much he was getting and as soon as my nipples started hurting I got scared. I decided to keep pumping and I did that three times a day. I was getting lots of milk so I thought that was fine but then I got mastitis. I had a fever and at first I thought it was to do with my surgery but my midwife diagnosed it and put me on antibiotics. I was in bed for two days – it really knocks you back. I got over that but I just kept doing three pumps a day but I now know it should have been six times a day to correspond with the feeds. Two weeks later, I got it in the other breast. I had to be hand expressed by the lactation consultant for about an hour and I was nearly in tears. She did it again the next day and my husband had to do it for me in between times so he learned a new skill! With that round of mastitis I was in bed for nearly a week. My mum came over nearly every day to help out but I realised I couldn’t afford to get it again. I also felt I wasn’t able to enjoy my baby when I was feeling so low so I decided to wean. I was happy that he would get about three months’ worth of breast milk because I had lots stored in the freezer. Next time I will get help from day one.
Angeline’s baby had a tongue-tie and lip-tie that needed treating before breastfeeding could begin The first night after my son was born they ended up using a syringe to give him the colostrum because he wasn’t able to feed. Every feed took three hours and he was struggling and getting tired and stressed. The midwives were able to get him on the breast for a little while but then he’d nod off again. It was a constant cycle like that for three days. Every feeding time I was sweating and crying and I thought, “It’s not meant to be this way!”
It’s not a very good start because you’re not enjoying the baby, you’re just managing your own pain and worrying about him being upset. After that I started using the breast pump and feeding him by bottle just to get some milk into him. He was putting effort into breastfeeding but just not getting anything out of it. He wasn’t found to be tongue-tied at that time but I got a second opinion and it turns out he was both tongue-tied and lip-tied, so he couldn’t move his top lip to latch on properly. We got the laser cut done on his tongue and lip on day five. It’s a little bit painful for them but it’s a five-minute procedure. After that he latched on right away. Over the last few weeks, he’s definitely improving. I still needed help with the right positioning and learning techniques to get him to open his mouth. I’m feeding him completely by breast now and I can see things are improving. I can understand why some women switch to formula, though. In those first few days, I don’t think I’d ever been so stressed. I was worried I was getting postnatal depression.i need to start back at work later in the year so I hope to breastfeed till then but I’m also taking it week by week.
Adele had health problems that severely affected her milk supply I’ve always dreamed of having kids and like any mum I dreamed of a natural birth and being able to breastfeed, but I’ve always been outside that box. Firstly, my son was IVF so we’d already been on a long journey to get him. Then, during pregnancy, I developed gestational diabetes and severe pre-eclampsia. Because of all this, I went into hospital a few weeks prior to my caesarean date and at that point got really sick with pneumonia. I was 34 weeks by then so they pumped me full of antibiotics and did the c-section two days later. When my son was born he also had pneumonia so he was taken to NICU straight away. Because he was so little, I couldn’t breastfeed. Everything was going through a gastric tube. The midwives immediately want breast milk from you but I think because he was prem, and with the c-section as well, the hormones just didn’t kick in. It’s like you’re trying to force your body to start lactating when you’re not ready. Then you have strangers hand-expressing you. I’ve never been shy about my body but it was still quite mortifying. Eventually they got me on to a breast pump and I was doing that every three hours. Once the baby is well enough and has reached a certain weight they get them breastfeeding. My son was about two weeks old when this happened but he just never latched very well. We had lactation consultants and midwives trying but he was never really awake. It was a race to try and express enough breast milk for the next feed and there was stress among the mums on the ward about how much they could express – 10ml was like a victory. We took him home at about six weeks and I persevered with the breastfeeding. He was latching but I had to use nipple shields to make my nipples small enough to go into his mouth. Then one of my breasts started to dry up. My midwife told me to keep trying on the other side but she warned me that it seemed like my body was stopping. I was still quite sick and with polycystic ovaries, which I have, your milk can dry up. It wasn’t that I decided to give up but my body decided for me. The first time I bought formula he was eight weeks old and I got a rude comment from someone in the supermarket and I left in tears. I grieved for quite a long time that I couldn’t breastfeed. It was no one’s fault, just the nature of the situation.
World Breastfeeding Week will take place on August 1-7, 2017. For more information on breastfeeding, visit treasures.co.nz/ baby/feeding.