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Everyone always hammers home the fact that breast-feeding is the perfect thing for your newborn baby. When I was pregnant, everyone spoke about all the benefits, and I really wanted to breastfeed my child. But what happens if it doesn’t work out this way for you? Is breastfeeding not working for you either? Well here is my experiences and what to do that may help.
Is Breast Best? What To Do When Breastfeeding Is Not Working
Most medical sources would tell you that it is really important to breastfeed. Current W.H.O. guidelines are to breastfeed until at least 2 years of age.
The NHS website recommends to breastfeed until at least 6 months, and beyond to still breast feed as you wean onto solid foods.
The Benefits of Breastfeeding
Lots of research has shown that breast milk can provide lots of benefits to your baby such as
Protecting against infections
Preventing obesity in later life
Reducing the risks of heart disease in later life
and even goes so far as saying that breastfeeding can reduce the risks of S.I.D.S.
There is further research out there saying that breastfeeding reduces the risks to the mother of having certain types of cancer in the future.
So breast is best right? But what do you do then if breastfeeding is not working for you?
I really looked forward to trying to breastfeed my little girl. I did an NCT course prior to giving birth and they really stressed that breastfeeding was best.
However, 15 years before my little girl was born I’d had a breast uplift and enlargement operation. And so I wasn’t sure if that would affect breastfeeding. I was delighted when I started leaking milk just before she was born.
During my ‘labour’ my blood pressure and heart rate rose ridiculously, and so did the heart rate of my baby. The caesarean was not pleasant. After the birth, we were both given intravenous antibiotics due to an infection. And we were both kept in hospital for 5 days after her birth.
Starting Breastfeeding Was Not Happening
For the first few hours I couldn’t hold my child, because of the depth of the epidural needed for the caesarean. Skin to Skin contact – that everyone had told us was so important – was impossible until about 6 hours after the birth. I really tried to breast feed and the hospital midwives there were really pushing me to breast feed but no colostrum or milk seemed to come.
My little girl also didn’t seem to latch properly, although the midwives said she was doing fine. I felt anxious that I was not feeding my little girl and that she was constantly hungry. In hospital I was incredibly tired, sleep deprived and anxious, and I am sure that none of this helped me to produce milk.
And My Baby Was Hungry
At the end of day 2 my little girl was very jaundiced, but the midwives insisted I carry on trying to breastfeed. They provided a big industrial breast pump, but I still didn’t really produce much milk. Where some women were making 200mls of milk at a time, I struggled to make 20ml.
By the end of day 3 I still didn’t feel as though I was feeding her properly, and she was REALLY losing weight. Then, and only then, the hospital midwives accepted that I could move to formula feeding.
But they still insisted that I persist trying to breast feed too. I gave more formula than breast milk and finally my little one put on some weight. But I still did not feel that breast feeding was working for me.
Out of Hospital
I carried on trying to breastfeed for 3 weeks. It seemed as though I was spending 24 hours a day feeding. We bought an expensive Medala breast pump machine, I practically spent the day with it attached to me.
In addition, I bought a whole load of nursing aids. Pillows, a different hand pump, a milk catcher for my other breast to make sure I didn’t waste a drop.
I saw the midwife for a session on latching. Nothing worked, I really wasn’t producing enough milk. After 3 weeks I admitted defeat as my milk production dropped lower and lower.
I felt so dreadful, like I had failed as a mother. Even though I had said to myself before having my baby that I wouldn’t put too much pressure on myself, I think that the experience in hospital had really made me feel ashamed that I was not producing enough milk to be able to breastfeed my own baby.
Thank goodness that the health visitor and practice midwife were so supportive. I have heard many stories where the mums weren’t so supported, where they beat themselves up for much longer over how breastfeeding wasn’t working for them.
What Did I Take From All This?
This may seem like a very medical personnel bashing piece. I would hate if you went away thinking that, as overall my care and treatment was excellent, but I do fear that breast feeding is pushed too heavily into new mothers. I worry that there is a bit of a culture to shame new mums who cannot breast feed, or just choose to formula feed.
After all, it is a choice at the end of the day.
Even as an intelligent older mum with a medical background I felt very pressured in the hospital. Like it wasn’t a choice to use formula. And even though I had told myself I wouldn’t be upset if I couldn’t breast feed, I still beat myself up so much when it just didn’t and couldn’t happen for me.
I was lucky that my midwife and health visitor were so supportive, but I have heard other mum friends who were truly bullied and cajoled into persisting with breast feeding even when it truly wasn’t working. Becoming a new mum can be such an overwhelming experience that I would not be surprised if this kind of medical pressure could have serious mental health implications for the mums involved.
I had an element of PND even though those around me were supportive.
What Happens if Breastfeeding Doesn’t Work for You?
The NHS website has a section on “myth busting” where in response to the “myth” that some women don’t produce enough milk they state that “almost all women are physically able to breastfeed”.
This statement irritates me slightly, as I do feel that it has an element of shaming those who cannot breastfeed. I know that I couldn’t, and if you are having trouble, then maybe you should realise that you may just not be able to either.
There are lots of reasons that you may just not find breastfeeding right for you.
Low Lactation Supply
Your milk just may not come. I do think that having had breast surgery in the past, this was a main factor in why my own milk did not arrive. There are other medical reasons why your lactation supply may be low and you may just not produce enough milk.
There is a lot of talk about when your milk ‘comes’. Yes, I had that ‘full breasted’ feeling on about day 4 in hospital, but even then, it went down just as quickly. And at that point I was using an industrial pumping machine which did nothing but make my nipples quite sore! I think that I just had a low milk supply, and that nothing was going to work.
Your Baby May Have A Tongue Tie
Tongue Tie is one of the main reasons that a new bay has a poor latch. A tongue tie is when the baby has a piece of skin connecting the tip of the tongue too closely to the lower gums, or a large piece of skin that connects the gum to the inside of the lips. This means that the baby cannot get a good seal, and just finds nursing hard as it cannot get a latch.
I already knew a lot about tongue tie as a dental surgeon, so I did consider this option. But it is important to have this ruled out if you are having breast feeding problems. And I will say, it can be missed – it was missed in my niece who was born 5 months before my own little girl. And so my own sister in law also had some breastfeeding issues.
Sore Nipples and Mastitis
Sometimes the whole act of breastfeeding can make your whole breasts sore. Very sore nipples and even infection (mastitis) can be the result of struggling with breastfeeding.
There are a whole load of creams and ointments out there that can help.
So – Is Breastfeeding Not Working For You? What Could You Do?
Try different holds.
The rugby hold was a great one for me having had a caesarean, as it seemed easier. But there are a lot of different positions to try.
Ask For Some Breastfeeding Support
There are specialist breastfeeding counsellors and lactation consultants out there, A friend tried one. However, she did not find her too useful. You might, though, so it is worth bearing in mind.
Ask Someone To Check How Latching Is Going
If you are still having real trouble with latching you can ask your midwife or health visitor for more tips and support. My midwife did say that my latch was fine, which is just another reason that I think that my milk was just not there.
Consider Different Ways Of Feeding
Maybe consider expressing and using a bottle for your baby instead of breastfeeding. This can also help build your milk supply up.
I didn’t find the machines useful, but maybe buying (or borrowing) a machine may help.
Also with the machines, ensure you have the right type of nipple shield, as the wrong size may be more of a hinderance than a help. I did buy some bigger shields for my machine, but it still made no difference.
Another fellow mum found expressing rather than feeding much easier, and she even found a hand pump really useful.
Plus, a positive note from this is that your partner can help out with feeds by being able to give a bottle of your own milk!
Do Remember Though – Baby May Not Be Able To Transition Breast To Bottle And Back To Breast.
Everyone kept pointing this out to me when I tried to feed baby formula in hospital. I’ve since found plenty of mums who bottle AND breast feed and it isn’t an issue, but they kept stressing me out that I was making an irreversible decision.
I am therefore not sure if it is as big a deal as everyone makes it out. My little girl still was getting a good latch according to the health visitor even though she was having some formula in a bottle too.
It just stressed me out too much.
Freeze Any Extra Milk You Produce
Do remember that you can freeze breast milk in the event that you do make too much at one point. This can take a little pressure off you if you get some in the bank.
Try Not To Get Too Stressed
Try to relax. I do think that my medical condition after the birth, plus how stressed and tired I was really affected my milk production. Maybe if I could have been a bit less stressed, my oxytocin (happy love hormones) may have helped with my milk production. It can be hard to chill when you are so tired and anxious though.
And finally, know when it is time to stop trying. Formula feeding is still giving your baby the nutrients and food to grow.
Breastfeeding not working out for you is not a reason to berate yourself. You have done your best. And you are still an amazing mum.
Yes, it is certainly beneficial to breast feed if you can, and I would never say otherwise. But it is also much better to be able to spot when your newborn isn’t feeding normally. And to be able to know where to reach out to a good support system that will be able to guide you to the best option for you and your baby objectively. Breast is not best if it isn’t working for you. And there is no shame in that.
Or do read this post about how breastfeeding nearly sent Leah into depression – homefamilylife.co.uk
I’d love to find out your opinions on this piece. I’ve got good friends who found breast feeding very easy, some that found it hard but they managed through it, and others that could not do it at all like myself. Is breastfeeding not working for you? What did you do if it didn’t work? Do leave your thoughts in the box below, or contact me on social media.