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  • Writer's picturethe_uphill_runner

Latching, Letdown and Leakages

As this week is World Breastfeeding Week 2021 I thought it would be the perfect time to share my own breastfeeding experience as a first time mum.

Although I had decided early on in my pregnancy that I wanted to give breastfeeding a try, it really wasn’t a smooth start and I had almost given up with the idea completely by the time Max was three days old. Immediately after Max’s birth, a huge part of the joy I was feeling dissolved into devastation as I hadn’t been offered the chance for an initial bonding time and ‘first feed’ that I had been promised as soon as the baby was born. Instead, suddenly the room felt full of people and I was being whisked away from him to be stitched up. By the time I was reunited with my newborn son, my birth partner had had to leave (as it was during the peak of the first coronavirus wave in the UK) and although I was required to stay in hospital for at least one more night, I would not be allowed any visits from family or friends due to the strict lockdown.

Most of the midwives in hospital were really encouraging and supportive, including one who painstakingly helped me to harvest some colostrum to feed Max through a tiny syringe, but lots of them seemed to be asking me questions I didn’t really know the answers to in that newborn haze, making me already begin to doubt my abilities and instincts as a new mum. I didn’t really know how long ago he’d last fed, or how long it had been for, as my watch was somewhere in the depths of my out of reach hospital bag. I didn’t really know how to hold him correctly or how to help him latch on, but somehow we were managing something. However, during what could have been such a magical time of mother and baby bonding, I still felt like I was being told off at times for not being good enough. One midwife told me not to stroke my newborn baby’s head during a feed as it might make him fall asleep, meaning that he would not eat enough and therefore not gain enough weight, and that really scared me into never doing that again. I wish I had just ignored her and soaked up that special newborn moment.

After a day and a half of being alone in hospital with a newborn baby Max, I really just wanted to go home. The hospital staff were very reluctant to discharge me without me being more confident with feeding (especially as support in the community was practically non-existent due to the covid outbreak) but in the end I just gritted my teeth, smiled and said I was feeling fine about it.

As soon as I got home I realised that I still really had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I had daily phone calls from a lovely midwife but all I could do was cry down the phone and make her feel more helpless than she probably already did. The baby blues were starting to manifest themselves, along with my milk coming in properly, and I just wasn’t sure if it was worth persevering with breastfeeding. I had one extremely hot and engorged breast, and an inverted nipple on the other side. Max was finding it more and more difficult to latch on, and although I was trying to relieve the pressure and also get some milk into my little baby’s tummy by hand expressing, the tiny amount of milk for such a lot of effort disheartened me even more. It was time to look into formula feeding.

During my next call from the midwife I asked her a few questions about using formula, as I had no idea about that either, having pinned all my hopes on breastfeeding prior to then. Her responses to my questions about how much and how often were brushed away with demands about why I couldn’t just keep trying with the breastfeeding for a little bit longer. My heart really goes out to those mums who have no choice but to formula feed as every professional I spoke to continued to push the benefits of breastfeeding, making it clear that their opinion was “breast is best”. But actually, fed is best. For new mums trying to learn how to keep their new baby happy and healthy all whilst having to survive on a few hours of broken sleep, such a dismissive attitude to formula feeding will only make things worse.

Eventually, as I had been so distressed on the phone, a nurse agreed to come out in person to offer extra support, whether that be continuing with breastfeeding or switching to formula. I cannot thank her enough as without knowing it, she was the one person who managed to rescue my breastfeeding journey from coming to an abrupt and early end. She spoke to me about both formula and breastfeeding and also brought me a pair of nipple shields to try out. They were a godsend! Not only did starting to use them reduce the pain and soreness I was experiencing with each feed, but they also helped my inverted nipple to revert back to its normal shape. Using them began to boost my confidence, and after managing a couple of weeks still exclusively breastfeeding I tentatively started to remove them and work on Max’s latch again. I had quite a fast let down and the latch still wasn’t perfect but I was starting to settle into my new role as a mum just a little bit more. Both mentally and physically, I was able to give it another try. Max and I continued to practise and learn together, and I continued to feed him on demand day and night as the weeks went on.

Over the next six months, we both really settled into feeding this way, quickly ditching any apps, trackers or strict routines as they were only causing more stress than help. There always seemed to be leaked milk all over everything, especially my clothes, but I was so grateful for the reusable fabric breast pads that had been given to me as a gift before Max was born which mopped up the frequent leakages! They are definitely worth investing in and so much more comfortable than the rustly and sticky disposable equivalent.

When Max turned six months old I had really mixed feelings about beginning weaning him onto solid food as after nine months of growing him followed by six months of exclusive breastfeeding it felt like a big step for my body to no longer be his one and only source of sustenance. I’m so glad I decided to do baby led weaning, as it meant the transition was really gradual - in fact nothing much changed in our breastfeeding pattern until he was around eight months old and was starting to eat three meals a day more reliably. At this point we dropped down to four feeds a day (plus continuing night feeds), and by the time Max was just under a year old, it dropped down to just two feeds, morning and evening.

Even now at almost sixteen months old, Max still feeds morning, evening and very often at least once during the night. Although at various points throughout our journey I have felt pressure both from my own internal comparisons with other mums and from external sources such as health visitors and well meaning family and friends to stop breastfeeding or to sleep train in order to encourage Max to sleep better through the night, it seems to work well for us and our situation the majority of the time. Max usually settles back to sleep relatively reliably after a quick feed and a cuddle.

As I write this, I’m really not sure when our breastfeeding journey will end, and I’m actually a little bit apprehensive about that time inevitably approaching, but whenever that day may be, I’m already so proud of how far we’ve come. In the meantime, as long as Max still wants my milk, I’ll still gladly offer it to him.

Feel free to share your own breastfeeding stories in the comments below. To read my previous blog posts about my pregnancy and birth experiences, click here. Or if you want to know more about my postpartum running journey, click here. Don’t forget to subscribe to be the first to know about any news and updates, just enter your email address at the bottom of the page. Thanks!

Some breastfeeding support websites:

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