Emma Robson, a mother who knows first-hand why breastfeeding support matters, shares her story with us.
Breastfeeding is easy, breastfeeding is natural, breastfeeding is best! All statements I came across while pregnant and I certainly wanted to give breastfeeding a go but didn’t want to pressure myself. I was quite relaxed about it all despite being told at every midwife appointment to read up on best latch and positions. I don’t know about you but I learn better by doing, so yes I duly read the info, but knew I’d have to get to grips with it once my daughter arrived.
Roll on the birth and arrival of baby – she was sleepy and tired from the birth and our breastfeeding journey began with someone at hospital helping me to express colostrum- not quite as magical as I thought it would be! I was then left to try and express myself, to use a pump – I got nothing! We ended up having to give her formula after a day as we couldn’t get breastfeeding going and pumping was producing very little or nothing.
We had to stay in hospital for a few days and I felt well supported with breastfeeding by all the maternity support workers coming when I called to help me with latch and positioning. One of the midwives noticed that she had a tongue tie and sent someone to come and talk to us. The person explained that it might not impact feeding and to keep going and see how things worked. I wish I had known the various options out there as this wasn’t the right advice for me and my daughter but as a first time mum I didn’t know any better so persevered with feeding that was uncomfortable (not super painful, well not yet anyway).
I knew about breastfeeding drop ins and helpline numbers but thought feeding was going well when I got home so didn’t do anything for another week. It was only as my nipples were super sore and pinched that I thought I should seek support – feeding was now painful for me.
That coupled with my daughter not gaining much weight meant we were still using formula/expressed breastmilk top ups with some feeds being entirely formula while I tried to express with a single pump. The pain got so bad at one point that I was expressing for all feeds and giving formula when I couldn’t express enough. That’s when I turned to Cambridge Breastfeeding Alliance and their drop-in at Trumpington. My mum came with me as I was a bit of an emotional wreck due to being in pain a lot of the time (and hormones).
My daughter was 2 weeks old. We saw one of the breastfeeding counsellors there and I explained the problem. The most important question she asked was how can we support you to continue breastfeeding? I needed support with latch and position and emotional support to tell me it can improve. She also thought my baby was finding it hard to use her tongue well, and suggested that it would be good to get my daughters tongue assessed by a tongue tie practitioner and provided information on what we could do about it. We decided to get it divided.
At 2 weeks 3 days, we took our daughter to see a lactation consultant and tongue tie practitioner who diagnosed a 50% posterior tongue tie. It was a no brainier to me to get it divided so she did it there and then. We were also recommended to see an osteopath as her jaw was tight which was probably affecting her latch.
The support has been invaluable. There were two times when I thought I was going to give up but didn’t really want to:
- Once was when I was exhausted from trying to feed, pumping, sterilising and had sore nipples and it all felt relentless. I did a lot of crying! It was after this dreadful weekend that I sought support from the drop in at Trumpington and I’m so glad I did.
- The second time was after the tongue tie had been divided and after a couple of weeks it wasn’t getting better. If anything it felt worse. My nipples were constantly sore, I was still expressing now with a hospital grade double pump to give them a break. Again I went to my support network and got help.
What I knew was that it can take 6 weeks or maybe longer post tongue tie division to see an improvement and I knew not to give up on a bad day. I can’t stress that enough. Don’t give up on a bad day. Sleep deprivation makes us new parents irritable, emotional and desperate at times. I just thought about why I wanted to breastfeed my baby and waited to see what tomorrow would bring.
Why didn’t I give up?
- Because I had support, people who would listen and empathise as well as help with expert advice on latch and positioning.
- Because I could tell it was getting better. Yes, it was slow progress but it was improving.
- Because I didn’t want the faff of preparing formula when out and about. Don’t get me wrong I know loads of mums do it and manage fine, but I didn’t want that for me and my baby.
The Trumpington drop in became my Monday class and I’m still going now for tips and help with little incremental changes, especially as baby grows and gets heavier!
My journey has been a long and slow one- approx 6 weeks ago, I would say 1/10 feeds were pain-free. About 3 weeks ago I would say 6/10 feeds were pain-free. Today 9/10 and sometimes 10/10 are pain-free.
Breastfeeding is hard, you and baby both have to work at it. Practice really does help. I got mastitis after a particularly bad day where I didn’t breastfeed due to the pain and didn’t find time to pump… since then I have been exclusively breastfeeding- and yes it’s not always been pain-free but the improvements meant I am still going now!
I’m so glad I am- it’s like I woke up one day and realised it didn’t hurt for any feeds yesterday.
Yes, breastfeeding is wonderful and natural but for some of us it’s bloody hard work and I’d like to say well done to all those mums who have persevered when feeding has been uncomfortable or difficult. You are amazing!