“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.
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?