I was adamant that I would embark on the breastfeeding journey & nourish our little lady with my golden elixir of life. I thought it would be easy… I thought it would be idyllic and beautiful, and I thought I would enjoy it…
There is so much misinformation out there and more agendas than you can shake a stick at in a hospital environment (which is where I ended up being held hostage very much against my own will for eighteen long days) and mine and Bea’s start was very rocky with a punishing routine, very little support for breastfeeding (staff were pro breastfeeding in their discourse but not in action) and my extreme exhaustion.
The circumstances of Bea’s arrival into the world meant that my body was not yet ready to produce its own brand milk and in all honesty, in the whirlwind and shock of coming into hospital to deliver my child seven weeks early I had not even considered the possibility that I would not be ready to breastfeed!
Amazingly my milk did come in the day following Bea’s birth. She was being looked after in the NICU and was being fed through an IV. This meant that there wasn’t the opportunity for the medical staff to attempt to enforce a formula policy on me because I was able to provide for my child as soon as she fought herself off the drip and blipping machines.
It was gruelling though and so soul destroying on Day 0 (Bea’s Birth day), as I hand expressed to no avail. I questioned why my body continues to let me down (I had now not gone to full term in two out of two pregnancies!) and because of the very early arrival I may have had to wait up to five days for my milk to come in!! After every unsuccessful hand expressing session I wondered if I was even cut out to be a Mum (crazy thoughts whizz through your mind when you have so much time to kill without your baby in your arms!)
I was advised on Day 1 (the day following Bea’s Birth) that I could use the industrial Madela pump to encourage my milk to come in. It certainly was an odd experience as it tugged roughly at my mamories, set to initiate status. The pump almost moo’ed in sympathy with me as I felt like a prize milker! It was so depressing and hilarious all at once as I sat eating my breakfast; toast in one hand and pump in the other.
Truly when you have a child any shred of dignity disappears, and eventually it came to pass that I would just sit there in my room (no shroud, not hiding away) with breasts fully exposed at various points of the day! One poor Midwife didn’t meet me fully clothed and without a breast out until the end of the first week of our stay & he joked upon that meeting “well it’s nice to meet you and not just your boobs!”
The expressing was a great success and by Day 1 I had collected colostrum (that precious liquid gold) to feed my child. It was only 2ml per session (I pumped every 2-4 hours in between the 4 hourly feeds) but I could not have been more proud of myself! I would run into the NICU and deliver my premium commodity to the nurse on duty! I would squeal in excitement “Special Delivery!” (I am sure this probably wore thin after a few days but each time the lovely lady on duty would humor me!)
By Day 2 Bea was being topped up with my milk and amazingly was out of NICU Care by the third day! This was when I was first allowed to feed her through her tube and felt on top of the world as the liquid disappeared inside our beautiful baby! I knew it was my milk that fortified her body and made her strong.
It was amazing to see the increase in milk supply over the first week and its change in consistency and colour to ensure it was delivering all my babies needs. To this day I find it incredible that our milk provides exactly what our babies solicit and changes to meet these requirements! There is a reason that “breast is best” scientifically- there is no use in denying that as “fed” is the minimum standard, but there is already such a body of work on this topic that for this post I do not aim to get into debate. The purpose of this post is to highlight the positives of combination feeding as there seems to be far less conversation about it!
For my almost 3 weeks in hospital I had to solely express as Bea was unable to latch due to a myriad of issues and circumstances from her own biology to the nurture (or lack there of) aspect. I have so much respect for those Mothers who express/pump to feed because I was shattered from this lifestyle by a month and a half in. I continued expressing until Bea finally took to the boob in June but still had my expressed breast milk as “back up” in the fridge and found time to express here and there, where possible.
Due to my utter exhaustion I had to battle through low supply not once, not twice but THREE times in hospital. Each time I pumped and could not seem to exceed 50ml it felt like a punch to my gut and I nearly gave up. The one thing that kept me going was Bea and her recovery. It was unlikely that I would be getting out of the hospital with her fully breastfeeding but I was going stir crazy after week 2 and just wanted to get our family home and back to some sort of normality.
The caviat for escaping was Bea to be drinking at least 50% of her bottle 50% of the daily feed schedule. An “easy way out” was to leave hospital with her feeding tube in which was NO option for me. She may not have been breastfeeding but I was determined she would be feeding well enough that she could sustain herself and would not need any further hospital care.
Essentially a bottle was the first experience Bea had of eating food in a normal capacity ie: not straight into her tummy. In one respect bottle feeding was so much easier in the hospital setting than ‘real life’ because all the equipment was ready to use- no sterilising bottles or waiting for formula to cool. I would just express into a sterile bottle but then I had the added dimension of tube feeding (which I had to get medically signed off on). It was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do in my life. On minimal sleep I had to ensure our baby was fed safely.
Tube feeding also involves an element where you have to extract your own child’s stomach contents to test the ph levels and ensure it is safe to feed. Before every feed I would have to syringe Bea’s feeding tube and test it on litmus papers. It would have to present itself the correct colouration before I could proceed with her feed and sometimes where the milk was absorbed from the last feed it could take two to four attempts.
Bea’s condition was improving after a mystery viral infection (which was never actually solved as to what it was, having had the medical staff mention possible herpes or sepsis!) She had finally had a chest X-ray after badgering the medical staff to get it booked in. This took over five days to complete, and in that time I was beside myself, trying to convince myself that she didn’t have a clot on her lung after a preliminary X-Ray had shown a dark spot clinging on somewhere between her vital organs (heart and lungs).
Oddly my sense of “normality” became tied up with my Express/Feed routine which I had altered to a more on demand basis (keen to move toward some kind of routine that would be more breastfeeding compatible.) As previously mentioned Express Feeding is difficult. I barely had time in the day to look after myself, I had however been put off bathing after the clot that joined me in the tub the day after giving birth! (People tell you that you will bleed but not the full extent…) I was starting to feel like a dairy cow more and more as they days passed in a blur.
I had soon realised that the staff were not going to come to me when I wanted to attempt breastfeeding Bea so my mum came to look after us for a week, taking the time to help me get Bea latching. Bea was defying all odds and the usual conventions of a premmie baby (medical marvel. The trainee doctors even used her as a medical case study and would come and visit us every morning as part of the doctors rounds to note her progress!) I was thrilled when we both managed a five minute feed. It felt like such a breakthrough and made me feel like I was capable of feeding her how I wanted to! I would tell the Outreach Team that I would still be breastfeeding Bea and not having to rely on expressing.
With sheer determination Bea was feeding without her nose tube around the 27th April and I reckon I was getting on the last nerve of a few of the ladies on the Ward, who I think found me difficult with my constant questions and stubbornness about how I wanted to feed. I was almost militant that Bea would not be fed formula unless completely necessary to her survival. It crushed my the first time I had to top her up with SMA milk when my supply had dwindled.
When we were finally released on 5th May, the light at the end of our long hospital tunnel otherwise known as our Outreach Team fully supported my Boob Mission! On their weekly visits they would support my breastfeeding endeavours and helped me formulate Bea and I’s best practice for feeding! (We did not get on with the regular feeding positions.)
I was exclusively breastfeeding by June, but found I had a very love/hate relationship with it. When it was going well I was on top of the world but then those leaps would change everything. Just when I thought we had cracked it we would experience a set back such as the sweltering Summer heat, cluster feeding, low supply (again) & extended fussy periods of time!
I threatened to stop breastfeeding almost every week… but didn’t because I honestly had found such a sense of pride in being able to exclusively provide everything my child needed to thrive.
My favourite feeds are the first and last of the day because they are in sync, quiet and stress free. I call them our “Sleepy Feeds” and we both pretty much doze through them and our bodies just do what they are meant to do. I started to find that my supply dipped around 3pm & 7pm feeds and we believed that Bea had “Intellectual Collic” (we had never heard of it either before wondering why she was being a Tinker every evening between 6pm-8pm). This is where I started introducing a formula bottle feed and that quickly improved our evening routine and seemed to “fix” the crying/fussy issue.
By no means was this an “easy way out” because I was wracked with guilt each time Bea had “fake milk” instead of mine. I battled with feelings of not being good enough but my husband reminded me that I had been breastfeeding three times longer than he had anticipated. I think in all honesty a lot of people either didn’t think I would end up breastfeeding at all or I would maybe do a few weeks then pack it in!
I had expressed for over a month, then exclusively breastfed for over two months. I will admit that I didn’t love breastfeeding most the time but any time I was close to quitting I would remind myself of the benefits to both Bea and I and how close it made me feel to Bea when she was feeding well.
Going into her fifth month we have a few more formula bottles in the day now. Some days I still feel such guilt that I couldn’t fully sustain her on my breastmilk… but I guess “Mum Guilt” is felt from all angles. Mums are pressured in all capacities. Everyone has their opinion on what is “the right way” but really you have to find your own best lives and live it and let other mums do the same!!! Never try to shame them for their choices when all we are all trying to do is bring up healthy and happy little people.
I am confident in the fact that Bea will never enjoy formula as much as my breast milk so it makes our feeds so much more special as I see her excitement in coming to me for comfort and her meal! There’s not that much information readily given about combination feeding so Bea and I have pretty much just worked it out for ourselves.
I believe that there isn’t such a side effect as “nipple confusion” because Bea KNOWS where the ‘Good Stuff’ comes from. She can just be somewhat lazy and prefer the convenience of a bottle at times. I feel that I continued with breastfeeding because I ended up relaxing on the “all-or-nothing” approach to it.
Instead of fighting with Bea to breastfeed her, I know that she can quite happily have a prepared bottle and I am no less of a breastfeeding Momma for it! I am sure the very militant breastfeeders would disagree with me. I feel that combi/mixed feeders are perhaps judged the most and judgement of any kind, of any Mother needs to stop now because sometimes we just need a little bit of support.
Breastfeeding is NOT easy, despite it being natural. Expressing is certainly NOT easy, exclusively bottle feeding is NOT easy. I feel that combi feeding offers Bea and I a sense of flexibility and a safety net for me knowing that in one way or another my child will be getting enough to eat over the course of the day and she is happy. As with most things now Bea dictates how she wants to be fed at the time. I just make sure I have a sterilised bottle ready to go then we make our decision there and then as the need to feed kicks in.
I enjoy the freedom to feed in the best possible way. I do feel bad to admit it but I don’t think I was fully cut out for exclusively breastfeeding (I am too impatient!) but that’s okay. Just feed your child and love your child. I know that Bea doesn’t just love me because I feed her… it’s all the other things too! Combi feeding affords you the opportunity to continue breastfeeding if you perhaps thought the intensity wasn’t for you.
I think there needs to be more infotnation about the mixed feeding method to give Mums another way. Feeding is not a “us and them” game and I traverse between the two worlds. I was a loud and proud breastfeeder for 4 months (as I count the expressing method too) and now I am a breastfeeder with some back up.
Have you ever felt singled out as a combi feeder? Is mixed feeding an option that your health visitor discussed with you? Did you have an issue with breastfeeding when you wanted to feed in this way? I look forward to your opinions on MIXED FEEDING only- no attack’s on breast of formula feeding please!
Love Bea’s Mummy x