I think the biggest thing I have learned from having a baby is to expect the unexpected and that you can’t plan everything. I don’t even know if you can plan anything. I planned a natural water birth and what happened was far from it (I’m currently writing ‘my birth story’, so stay tuned). I planned to breast feed –of course!– and, unfortunately, that’s not happening either. With Sebastian staying in the hospital for over two weeks after he was born, breast feeding became a bit of a challenge, albeit one I rose up to.
Homerton Hospital, where Sebastian was born, encourages breast feeding to the point that it gives minimal support for bottle-formula fed babies, or parents who wish to do so. It’s the complete opposite of what’s happening in the states with bags being given to new mothers filled with formula advertising from different companies. I was happy to know that there would be so much support for breast feeding from the midwives, although I wasn’t worried as my mom would be there to help me. I had envisioned placing him right to my breast after birth. I didn’t know that I wouldn’t first hold him until three days after he was born, and there was no skin to skin contact even then.
Because the hospital encourages breast feeding, they give you a breast pump and show you where the ‘Express Room’ and ‘Milk Kitchen’ are in the Special Care Baby Unit, so that you can express your milk and they can then feed it to your baby through a feeding tube placed in his nose which travels to his stomach. I began immediately. I squeezed. I pumped. I massaged. I did everything to get the milk going, but it wasn’t there. The colostrum hadn’t come in either. I was encouraged by the staff in the unit that it would come, to keep trying. As Sebastian was getting nutrients through drips, he didn’t have milk until a couple days after he was born. Because I couldn’t express anything, he had to have formula as his first milk.
Although it was just a little bit, I felt like a failure. Everyone kept telling me that I had to relax, that stress can also make it more difficult for the milk to come in. It was pretty impossible not to be stressed when I was staying in a post natal ward with other mothers who had their babies in a cot next to them and I had to walk down to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and later the Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU) to see my baby. It was difficult because I hadn’t held him yet, yet I was expected to produce milk without my babes mouth to help me along. After two days, I was getting tiny drops of colostrum that I could collect with a plastic syringe and take down proudly to the unit and hand it over to be combined with the milk they were giving him. I swelled with pride even at the smallest drop, although I was withering inside from exhaustion, worry and frustration.
Finally, the second time I got to hold him (Day 4), we put him to my breast and he weakly latched on, even if only for a moment. My colustrum came in and after a couple weeks my milk came in. Thus began the routine of epxressing every two hours as much as I could in order to keep up with his hospital feeding schedule. Over time, as his schedule extended, so did mine. We made it to three hours and then four. But as the hours grew, so did the milk needed. I kept up with every feed, except for the middle of the night feeds. By the end of his stay in the hospital, I was only missing one feed and he was able to have breast milk for the rest. Some would say this was an accomplishment, I would say it was my duty.
When we took Sebastian home, he was still on the feeding tube. Our goal was to get the tube out, so we focussed on one form of feeding, the bottle. It seemed this worked better for him because as he became more alert –with the medicine from his hospitalisation wearing off– he was taking less and less to the breast. It was tiresome for him. He didn’t get milk as fast as he got it from the bottle. Much of the hospital staff also thought he didn’t have his sucking reflex fully developed. I found this difficult to believe because I had felt him suck full force. We later found out that he has acid reflux and this contributes to much of his challenges and tears during and after feeding time. Although we really wanted his feeding tube out, once we were home we needed to make sure he was able to eat enough so we went on with feeding him as much as he would take by the bottle and the rest by the tube. He was home for one week when he decided he’d had enough of the tube himself and he pulled it out during an early morning feed. After that, it took just two days to get him eating a full bottle consistently. Victory.
Feeding time is difficult with Sebastian. Sometimes in the morning when he first wakes up, I can entice him with the breast and he eats for about five minutes and then he’s had enough. These times happen often enough to keep me motivated to keep expressing. It’s bloody hard to do what I do. He is eating every three hours, pretty on schedule. I express after each feed to get the next one ready. I was able to get enough for two feeds for awhile, but now that he’s eating more, it’s not possible. This means I’m also expressing in the middle of the night after he eats as well as during the day while he is napping. Makes for one tired Mama. I do have to supplement once in awhile if I haven’t had time or energy to get enough milk, and I do so with HIPP Organic Milk. He doesn’t have an aversion to it, so that makes me feel good. But I also had to accept this myself, it was difficult to accept I had to give him some formula: again with the failure complex. When people are so pro-breastfeeding, they can also be anti-formula/bottle feeding. I think one should never judge because you have no idea the journey they had to take to get where they are.
I don’t know how long I will be able to express full feeds for Sebastian. My job is taking care of him, so I don’t have to worry about other employment getting in the way. I know it’s best to at least breast feed until six months. I’d like to think I can last that long, but I also have to be realistic with myself and what I can physically produce. Sometimes I can get pretty down and frustrated and most of that is due to exhaustion. I’d like to be sleeping when he is but I have to express first. The most difficult times are when I have to hold him and express at the same time. I wish he could understand how easy our lives would be if he would breast feed. It would even be easier for him with his acid reflux. But he doesn’t understand. He just wants to make sure to get the milk the quickest way he knows how. And that’s with the bottle. So this is what we do.
Almost feeding time. He stirs from his afternoon nap.