Whatever works for you

By Alyssa Fraser

My first child was born in 2007. I was blissfully unaware that breastfeeding was frequently difficult for women. I had no idea that there was anything more you had to do than put the baby’s mouth on your breast. I didn’t even know that the baby sucked the areola and not the nipple itself.

My baby girl Charli was 2.6kg and seemed starving. She wanted to be fed hourly. The first couple of days were confusing with conflicting information coming from the midwives. After one insisted the baby was on correctly, despite it being painful, my horrible journey of cracked and bleeding nipples began.

On day three in the hospital I asked a midwife if I could please express and feed using a bottle to give my poor nipples a rest. With arms crossed over her chest she glared at me and said “So what you’re saying is you want to bottle feed your baby?” I said just this once, yes. She huffed at me and said she would tell the staff at handover and walked out. No one returned with any supplies and with a screaming baby I had no choice but to put her on my sore breast while I sat and cried my eyes out.

On that same day two midwives stood at the door of my room and loudly talked about me. They were saying things like “Well, if she wants to start giving bottles now she’ll never be successful at breastfeeding”. And “These kind of women that lack mother craft skills just give up before they’ve even tried.”

I went home after five days in hospital, terrified that I still didn’t have it right. Thankfully I had a slight reprieve with a nipple shield which I used on alternate feeds.  But at home the drama continued. I was so scared of “failing” that I didn’t use a bottle at all. I stuck at it. I cried with every single feed. My nipples were cracked, bleeding and dry. When feed time approached I would start tensing up and almost hyperventilating. And when I couldn’t relax my milk wouldn’t let down and baby would start to fuss and get upset.

With an unhappy mother and unhappy baby our sleep issues began.

Someone had told me that if I could get through six weeks of breastfeeding I’d be successful. So I had that time frame in my head. I was under increasing pressure from my husband and mother in law to give up breastfeeding. At the time I thought they were being unsupportive. But really they just saw the hell I was going through and wanted things to be easier for me.

The magic six week mark came and it surely did get easier.

But although our feeding issues were sorted, the sleep issues continued. Because of my negative experience with midwives I did not go for our checks or allow them to visit me at home. By the time Charli was four months old I was suicidal. I admitted as much to my husband and he packed us up to move in with my parents.

Gradually things got better. As she got older I tried her on the bottle – she flatly refused. I would get frustrated with how limiting this was – I couldn’t go out and get some time to myself. She wouldn’t even take expressed milk from a bottle. Just boob, and man she loved a boob!

After 13 months of sheer hell with no sleep, I weaned her and left her to cry in her cot. It was cruel and I hated doing it but after three nights she finally started sleeping through and my sanity gradually returned.

There’s a five year age gap between our children. I was terrified to do it again. Eventually I decided I had to dive in head first because I knew I was never going to have that feeling of being ‘ready’.

Along came Jai. He was a healthy weight at 3.6kg and I came pre-prepared. I had told my doctor I would NOT be staying in hospital and I would be going straight home after birth. She advised me that I needed to stay for four hours due to the risk of complications after birth. I agreed. But.. Jai developed a temperature and I had to stay. Thankfully I had prepared for that, too. I had packed my own bottles and some formula.

I gave Jai a bottle of formula every night as planned, so he would sleep.  I did it in secret and wrote it on the feeding chart as a long breastfeed.

What a totally opposite experience my second time was!! I only stayed the one night in the hospital and this time I enjoyed every minute of being a mum to a new baby. I was a bit sore again in the first two weeks of establishing feeding but I did whatever I felt I needed to. This included expressing and giving him a mix of bottles and breast. It was wonderful. Hubby and I could go out for a kid free dinner and leave both of them with my mum and some bottles of expressed milk or formula. He slept well… and I was a happy mamma. I didn’t go to his health checks either. I knew he was healthy and thriving and I wanted to avoid midwives as much as possible for fear of their judgement.

I now encourage all my friends to do whatever works for them. I firmly believe if women’s choices were supported, and if we were offered to mix up bottle and breastfeeding that more people would be successful at breastfeeding. There really is a knack to it – and it’s not easy.

Alyssa was 22 when Charli was born. Charli is now 10 and their second, Jai,  is almost 5 years old. They were both born in Port Lincoln SA, and the family has since moved to Darwin where Alyssa is a registered nurse.

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