Breastfeeding Awareness Week: Wendy’s Story
Wendy’s story highlights the importance of trusting your own judgement. We all need support in our breastfeeding journey, but we also need to learn to trust ourselves. You might want to keep a tissue handy to read this one.
My eldest daughter was born 8 weeks early, weighing just 2lbs 13.5 ozs, and despite being badgered by a midwife about what brand of formula I wanted her to have as I was wheeled – already scared – into an emergency C section, leaving me with the belief that I was actually going to die and they’d neglected to tell me – I was determined to breastfeed. So determined that I was introduced to the milking machine from hell within a couple of hours of coming round (my gown was soaked incidentally as my body and boobs reacted appropriately to the early delivery). I was soon producing enough to feed the entire ward, but sadly back then, they weren’t freezing donated milk. It seemed so wrong to just throw it away. But at least Nicola had plenty, and the midwife pointed out how creamy coloured it was compared to normal ‘full term’ milk making me feel like a heifer as she delighted in how “buttery” it looked in her rich West Country accent 🙂
When Nicola came home at 4lbs 4oz she was on 2 hourly feeds and we only managed thanks to nipple shields which allowed her to latch on properly until she grew a bit. These were big mexican hat shaped rubbery things, a pain in the neck to wash and sterilise on top of everything else, but they worked, and after a few weeks were no longer needed. I only stopped breastfeeding at 8 months when Nicola decided my nipples would make good teething rings!
So, fast forward almost 2 years later when my youngest daughter was born – full term, by elective C section, weighing only 5lbs 13 ozs. I hadn’t given breastfeeding a second thought this time round; it just didn’t crop up as an issue for me – I figured that as I had succeeded first time round, there was no reason to think I wouldn’t be able to feed a full time baby. I was wrong. The universe oft times has other ideas.
Becky was with me from the start, and seemed like a very hungry baby, and I was getting a let down, but the milk was flooding out of her mouth and there was coughing and near choking, and then she started turning blue when feeding. To say I was alarmed is an understatement. We stayed in hospital for 10 days because of this, and the fact that Becky’s little hands weren’t balled into fists like other babies – they were all limp; the doctors decided she had no muscle tone but could not find a cause. During this time, only one midwife actually believed me that there was something wrong, and she sat with me for a few hours one quiet night shift and agreed that something wasn’t right. She came to see me before she went home to let me know that she had told the day shift about it at handover and not one of them agreed with her – they just thought it was because Becky was small and my boobs rather large in comparison! How naive and rather stupid of them.
Feeding continued to be a problem once home, and Becky continued to lose weight at a faster rate than was normal. The midwife did no more than comment on it as not being a good thing. Then one morning I KNEW things were getting serious when I had been able to sleep for 8 hours – she hadn’t woken me for a feed, and I told my mum I thought she was sleeping herself away. That afternoon, my mum and dad took Nicola shopping, and I sat with a drink and a sleepy Becky and just kept trying to feed her – she wanted it but it just wasn’t happening. I knew by how my boobs felt, yet she’d fall asleep as babies do when they’ve had enough. Then, completely out the blue her eyes rolled into the back of her head and she went rigid. She was fitting. I was on the phone to the doctor as mum and dad got home and was told to go straight to SCBU – he would phone ahead. I knew the staff at SCBU from the 6 weeks of living there after Nic was born, and I trusted them.
They took swabs, and blood and the Ward Sister (who was a little scary but really knew her stuff, and genuinely cared) had a plan. She put a milk tube in and asked me to feed her as normal, then expirated the milk from Becky and we found that for every 5 mls of milk she was taking, she was also taking in 40 mls of air. She examined her mouth. Now, I had noticed Becky’s tongue didn’t seem as long as Nicola’s had been, and had wondered if it might be part of the problem, but when I had voiced this to the community midwife she’d seemed very dubious. Seems I was right, though. Becky had a short tongue, but more importantly she had a very high roof to her mouth, and these two factors meant she wasn’t able to form an air tight seal around my nipple. And she had indeed been sleeping herself away. Too weak from lack of nourishment she had succumbed to a virus that the swabs showed was everywhere and she’d had a fit. I was later told that she could so easily have been born with a cleft palette.
I met up with the milking machine from hell again and she was tube fed on demand. The Sister told me we’d know for sure within 24 hrs of tube feeding. And lo and behold – in 24 hrs she put on 8 ozs!
We stayed in only long enough for the antibiotics to work and for her to gain a bit of weight and the wonderful mexican hats were once again employed – tho not as successfully as before.
I had given Nicola a dummy to help her sucking reflex develop but Becky was having none of it – she was a finger sucker, and this extended to mexican hat nipple shields once she realised they weren’t my skin, and once home feeding became a true nightmare.
I tried her with a bottle with my milk, but this was ‘artificial’ as well, and as we battled I stopped being able to express. So different from first time round, and I felt dreadful about it. One day the midwife arrived to me in tears and told me to give it up and put her on formula. I was so exhausted I meekly did as she said. She took the formula ok, until she realised that the teats were ‘artificial’ and at this point, determined not to disrupt Nicola’s world any more by taking her beloved baby back to hospital – which I was also becoming slightly phobic about after everything – battle commenced again. We tried everything – every kind of teat then available, training cups, syringes, spoons – you name it we tried it, and this continued for about 2 weeks. She would drink but hated every minute of it. In absolute desperation one day I put her to the breast to comfort her as she had been crying so much. I was astonished that not only did she finally do the quick shake of the head thing as she smelt my skin, she latched on perfectly and began sucking madly. The crying had stopped, and I felt a slight let down. The midwife was due again the next day and she arrived to a quiet but untidy house as I hadn’t moved from the chair apart from to see to Nicola. Becky did not want to give up the boob any longer than necessary, bless her.
The midwife was astonished that after 2 + weeks of not feeding that I was actually producing milk again – albeit not much at a time, hence the almost constant feeding. I did nothing but rest with Becky at my boobs helping herself, eating and drinking ALOT and within another 2 weeks Becky was finally into a routine, my milk was flowing with no problems and she was gaining weight, and we were all a lot happier. She continued to feed well and finally gave up her night feed when she was 2, of her own accord.
Nicola is now 22, Becky is 20 and they are both fine, and I am very proud of the young women they have become. Looking back on this story as I write it now, I wonder, could I have done anything differently ? Maybe I could, but this was 20 years ago, and apart from my younger brother I had no real experience of babies, I was only in my early 20’s myself. Now, and if one of my daughters had similar problems I would know who to contact for real help, and how to go about contesting what I was told by the professional people. But then, that is the voice of experience, which is partly why I wanted to write this story down.