Warning: a lot of chat about breasts and breastfeeding in this post. Nothing in this piece is meant to cause controversy – I simply want to add my own narrative to the general conversation and to help those who may experience similar situations or feelings to my own.
In the mummy mags, there are beautiful pictures of blissful mamas breastfeeding their babies with beatific smiles on their faces. As a pregnant woman you read accounts of how it’s such a special time of connection and you look forward to having that with your child. And for some of my friends, that has been their experience. For us, it wasn’t that easy.
As I said in my previous post, feeding at the hospital was anything but straight forward. We had the tongue tie issue and we were lucky enough that our midwife is trained in surgically snipping them. The midwives at the hospital were commenting on how prevalent a tongue tie is these days. They used to see maybe one baby a week or fortnight that has a tongue tie and now they have what feels like every second baby with a tie. It’s usually easy to pick up because as they try and stick their tongue out to feed, it has a little heart shape to it. What was interesting is that when we told Papa M’s parents, they told us that he’d also had a tongue tie and that was why he was a formula baby. I find it interesting that there might be a bit of a genetic link there, although another theory that the midwives had was that increased prevalence was due to increased folic acid in pregnant women’s diets. I’d rather have a son with tongue tie than spina bifida so it won’t change my thoughts on prenatals for next time.
Even though CJ had had his tie corrected, his tongue was not strong enough to feed efficiently and he already had low blood sugar from the couple of days of inefficient feeding. The nurses and midwives had me pumping diligently but it’s never really as effective as a baby, especially in those first days. Sidenote: I am glad that they did, although it was torture at the time, because I’ve not had a single problem with supply since my milk came in. This mean that he had formula, and it was the weirdest thing ever to see my teeny tiny man drink it out of a cup – he was very tidy about it too! The district health board policy is to not give them a bottle unless specifically medically indicated so cup it was. It was also decided to introduce a shield at this point to help his latch.
All of this was done with the best of intentions, in order to give CJ the best chance at getting mama milk with all of the associated antibodies and colostrum-y benefits. It was difficult for me though, because it definitely wasn’t the easy, beautiful start that I had imagined. Every time I would try and get him on without the shield he would find it difficult to latch so it soon became part of our routine. It’s not always easy to feed discretely when you are trying to balance what is in essence a plastic nipple on top of your own nipple while trying to bring a squirmy baby to the breast – kind of like trying to juggle on a unicycle!
So we continued on with the assisted breast-feeding, and CJ did not have any further problems with low blood sugar. He started to gain weight nicely too, including one week when he gained over half a pound. We came home from the hospital and continued to feed using the shields. We tried without the shields but his tongue just wasn’t strong enough to do what it needed to do without them. This was my first point of frustration – so far as my (poor, tired) brain could work out, his problem was “fixed”, so why could he not do it properly? I was also feeling the fairly common symptom of being “touched out”. I am a pretty introverted person, meaning that I need time on my own to recharge. Not only was I not getting any alone time, but I was also dealing with this teeny tiny person consistently being in my “personal space” and that was a huge adjustment. Ironically, CJ now shows the same characteristics – he doesn’t mind a quick cuddle if he’s in the mood and using you as his minion to carry him round and see interesting things but then he wants time on his own, on the floor, preferably under his play gym.
I was very lucky during this time to have a midwife who encouraged me in my self-care process. She recommended to me in early days to feed him up three times within an hour and then take an hour out for myself while Papa M looked after CJ. The first time we did this I just drove down to the local river, went for a little walk and had a swing on the swings. I felt very conflicted – aren’t mothers meant to want to be around their babies all the time? Wasn’t I meant to want to rock with my baby for hours, enjoying loads of baby cuddles? What kind of mum needs to take off for an hour when her little baby is only two weeks old? Oh my god, I have a kid and am feel guilty about having time to myself for the rest of my life! It took me a couple more weeks to realize that even though my role within the family has changed (I’m now wife AND mummy), the essence of who I am as a person hasn’t changed. I’m a person who feels revitalized by just a little bit of alone time and that is okay!
The midwife also supported me in my desire to express milk and introduce a bottle, so CJ had his first bottle just shy of four weeks old. We chose to introduce him to bottle feeding with the Tommee Tippee Closer to Nature bottles because the teat requires that he uses his jaw to work for it, the same as when he was breast-feeding. He had no issue with transitioning between bottle and breast and in that way I think the shields actually helped – it was either a real breast covered with plastic or a plastic breast pretending to be real. It was so funny to see Papa M feed CJ his first bottle – poor wee mite was very surprised that all of a sudden daddy could give him milk and a cuddle too! I still felt a little guilty that he was getting a bottle when not “necessary” but sometimes, at the end of a hard day that guilt was overwhelmed by a relief that I could sit out on the deck and get some much needed fresh air while my baby’s needs were still being filled.
Around Week 4 & 5 was when CJ started running to more of a schedule and when I started to feel more like myself. It was a bit of a surprise to me that he wasn’t a textbook baby – he’s perfectly happy on only three hours of day sleep (yikes) – but his alertness and personality started to shine through, my hormones were starting to return to normal and I was getting those little spaces of time to myself. The one thing that did start to concern me is that over a patch of about four days (conveniently after our four week final sign off appointment with the midwife) I noticed that as his tongue appeared to be getting stronger, his latch appeared to be getting worse. While he should have been able to latch better and without the shields, heHe also had such terrible gas! I turned to every mother’s best friend and worst nightmare, Google. One of the things that they mentioned was upper lip tie. With a sleepy baby on my lap, I lifted up his top lip and…
Bugger. That, my friends, is a lip tie. For once, this mummy’s diagnosis was a win. After contacting a few of my friends, they referred us to a dental clinic that specializes in lip ties (they can create dental issues later in life) and we were very lucky to be scheduled in for the following Monday. We were astounded to find out that they do eight of these corrections a day, especially seeing as it is outside the public health system and requires a triple-figure investment. I spent the weekend feeling very sad for my little guy – he wants so much to eat and to grow and it has been hard for him since day 1. I also felt a little sad for me, that this feeding journey has been so complex and not the blissful experience that we had been led to believe.
The following Monday we took him on the hour’s journey to have the correction and the staff at the clinic couldn’t have been nicer. We spoke briefly to a parent in the waiting room with the same issues (her sweet little girl was a week older) and it was nice to know that we weren’t alone. Our dentist said that while his tie wasn’t very thick, it was very tight and would continue to cause him problems unless he had a facial injury and tore it on his own. The actual procedure was very quick and while CJ screamed, I think it was more from the shock of having rubbery fingers and a suction hose in his mouth than any horrendous pain. I fed him immediately after and could already feel a slight difference in his latch. Great, right?
There is, however, a big but. By the time that we had sorted CJ’s lip tie, he was almost six weeks old. He’s also a skinny baby – only 25th percentile on the weight charts. How do these two things correlate? He now has a shield preference – when he is hungry, he is HUNGRY and not interested in the extra work he has to do to feed without a shield. I can get him to (maybe) feed once a day without a shield. I’m not happy with letting him go without a feed to “force” him into feeding without a shield as he needs the calories too badly. So while the issues that have prevented him from feeding properly have been repaired, we’re still a shield-feeding pair. Does it suck? Yeah, a little. Do I still hope that he’ll decide that having an ordinary breast is great? Of course – it would be way easier and faster for discrete feeding. But if the rest of our breast-feeding journey is with the use of a shield, I’ll be okay with that too.
Yes, breast is best, but sometimes it can be harder than expected. I’ve already surpassed my first goals of feeding for a month, and feeding for six weeks. I’m now focusing on my three month goal and will work from there to my ultimate goal of six months. I wish that we’d had the beautiful experience and that I’d grieve the end of the breast-feeding relationship but I really am only doing this for the health benefits to my son. We’ll continue to have our snuggly times and he’ll warm my heart with his big cheery smiles and babble long after the era of breastfeeding is over. And what is great is that in this day and age, it’s my right to choose how and when that era ends.