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"My blind pursuit of exclusive breastfeeding perfection almost cost us our son’s life."

“Stop trying to be the perfect mother.”

We were strangers, but the Lactation Consultant knew my story. I had to breastfeed; I had to belong to the exclusive, golden drop club of leaking immunoglobulins. My blind pursuit of feeding perfection almost cost us our son’s life.

Discharged after an overnight stay in hospital, I had managed to breastfeed once without assistance prior to leaving. The midwife tugged at my breast and told me to shape my nipple into something my baby could suck on, this was the first time I felt a tightening in my stomach.

The video clips in the birthing classes showed women dancing, singing and swaying their voluptuous breasts, their babies latching without a hitch. I did not question my ability to breastfeed, not once. I chose to ignore the nagging anxiety, I had to do this, there was no other option for me.

After 24 hours of bliss, we had a shocking second night. Our boy screamed until he became quiet in the morning. His rooting reflex was wild as he head butted my chest whenever I held him. He was unable to latch properly and still screamed after I tried to feed him.

As new parents, we were extremely distressed. His wet nappies dwindled, his skin looked like an oversized sock and his cry was more like a whine. We called the breastfeeding helpline, the maternal child health 24 hour number and the hospital ward we were discharged from. Apparently, this was typical cluster feeding behaviour.

A visit from the midwife the following day confirmed a critically ill baby. He had become jaundiced and lethargic overnight and had lost 11.2 per cent of his body weight. He also had what appeared to be an infectious lesion on the back of his head. We rushed to the paediatric emergency department in a blind panic; our lethargic 3-day-old baby was triaged as high priority. He was admitted to hospital with significant dehydration, jaundice and meningitis. All of these medical problems stemmed from insufficient milk intake.

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Katie's baby was rushed to emergency after a midwife confirmed he was critically ill. Image: Supplied.

I was so traumatised my body shut down, including my milk supply. Every time I closed my eyes, I could see by baby’s screaming face, begging for a drink that I thought I was giving to him. I ruminated constantly about how I had focused too much on work during my pregnancy; I should have taken maternity leave earlier than 37 weeks. Instead of buying baby clothes, why didn’t I spend time researching breastfeeding?

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I commenced an exhausting regimen of expressing 10 times a day, breastfeeding followed by formula top up feeding. It was stressful. When my baby slept, I jumped straight on the breast pump before he woke again. This routine robbed me of time to enjoy and appreciate my beautiful baby.

The amount of milk I expressed did not change, despite taking lactogenic medication and adding lactogenic ingredients to my diet. I became obsessed with the amount of milk I expressed and obsessed over how much my baby was consuming. My breasts had still never really felt ‘full’ and up to this point, I had not had a letdown.

My baby is now three-months-old, I can still breast feed two to three times per day in addition to formula feeding. It has taken me a long time to accept that my baby is formula fed, but I have made my peace with it now. In the first instance, weight gain was the priority so there was no option and from that perspective you could say – the formula was lifesaving.

When I stopped expressing to stimulate my milk supply, I was more relaxed and was even able to laugh occasionally, it was only then that I experienced a letdown. Feeding is such a significant part of new motherhood, it can be a beautiful time, but it can also be stressful if it does not live up to your expectations.

If I could start again, this is what I would have spent my pregnancy researching:

1. Start with your breasts. It is not the size of your breasts but the size and shape of your nipples that may affect your breastfeeding experience. My nipples are flat and so it was difficult for my baby to latch. If you have flat or inverted nipples you may need the help of a nipple shield.

2. Speak to the women in your family – mothers, sisters, aunties, grandma! Find out about their feeding experiences, do you have the same breasts as your mother and how did she feed you? People give so much advice we do not ask for during pregnancy, there is the tendency not to listen to the important advice we do actually need to hear.

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" It has taken me a long time to accept that my baby is formula fed, but I have made my peace with it now." Image: Supplied.
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3. Understand that your personality can influence your milk supply. What type of personality do you have? Are you prone to stress, worry, anxiety? These emotions might delay your milk supply and letdown reflex. I was unaware of how relaxed I needed to be to experience a letdown.

4. Your milk supply can take a few days to come in. Have a backup plan, find out about bottles, teats, sterilising and formula just in case you need them, this will keep you safe.

5. Speak up and be persistent. If you do not feel ready to leave hospital and you are not convinced by your breastfeeding, tell them.  Ask for help and for a longer stay until you feel confident.

6. Examine how you feel about breast and formula feeding. Try to keep an open mind and remember it is most important for your baby to be fed, well and alive, regardless of how it’s done.

The controversial campaign #FedisBest is a foundation dedicated to the safe feeding of infants, regardless of how it’s achieved. The founder of the foundation, Dr Christie Del Castillo-Hegyi, is an emergency physician; her six-year-old child is neurologically disabled due to insufficient breastfeeding, dehydration and jaundice in the first days of life.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

Celebrating all moms, all babies, all forms of safe infant feeding. #FedisBest

A post shared by The Fed is Best Foundation (@fedisbestfoundation) on

Every time my baby talks gibberish, giggles and smiles, we are reminded how incredibility blessed we are that we caught the perfect storm just in time. The Fed is Best website contains information for parents about safe feeding, reading this might save your child’s life.

Did you experience difficulties breastfeeding? Share your stories in the comments below.

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