As Remy's first birthday rockets closer I feel equal parts sad, happy and proud: sad that my little baby is no longer a squidgy newborn; joyful at the sheer happiness his little soul brings to our family; and proud of us both that we are going to reach my breastfeeding goal.
It's a long post sorry - but I know it would have helped me in those long, lonely hours. #sorrynotsorry
I have friends going through the newborn stage at the moment. Fed is best and nothing is more important than a happy healthy Mum and bub. Whichever way you want to feed your baby is 100% perfect for you. I have an especially huge amount of respect for those mums who try bf and make the decision that it's not the right thing for their baby or themselves. I know the guilt and heartache that surrounds that decision - because I was one pump away from it.
Breastfeeding was something I really wanted to do. I'm not a health-freak (I like chocolate and coffee too much for that). I just felt that it would be a nice bonding experience for us given my family situation.
I don't know anyone who said it was easy in those first few weeks. I tried to remind myself of that. I was prepared for it to hurt. I was prepared for it to be difficult. I'd done a three hour bf course at Baby Steps to learn. I'd joined the Australian Breastfeeding Association and bought their book (a very good reference too). I'd worded up my husband and my Mum that I wanted their support - especially in those first 6-8 weeks.
I wanted to feed for a year to give him a good start - immunity, good gut health, protection from obesity and other issues later in life, a strong bond - all that good stuff. I thought I was ready.
The first six weeks
I didn't have a birth plan for Remy's arrival. I told my obstetrician I'd like a natural delivery, but was happy to have pain relief and also that I would do whatever he told me was best. At 24 weeks I developed high blood pressure and went on medication. At 32 weeks the medication wasn't working as well and we started growth scans. By 37 weeks I was booked in for monitoring every second day and induction at week 38 and a bit. We didn't make it.
The second morning of monitoring and bloods showed that I was developing pre-eclampsia and my doc said it was best to get him out - now. Within two hours I was finally a Mummy by c-section. I tell you this because it did have an effect on my breastfeeding journey. Caesarean can lead to a slight delay in milk production and this, coupled with a tongue and lip tie led to a poor latch and cycle of low supply. (Pic above - 1ml was so momentous I took a picture...)
On day two (or was it three? who knows it's all fuzzy), when Remy showed signs of dehydration in his nappy the nurses said I would have to supplement with formula and I felt totally defeated. How could it all be over so quickly? I was so prepared. I thought the midwives would be all 'you must breastfeed' - but they weren't and were very compassionate.
I'm pretty sure they took pity on me when I had my day 3 hormonal meltdown and called the paediatrician to do a tongue tie release with scissors. I saw a hospital lactation consultant at my insistence who recommended a nipple shield to help him latch and said as he grew he would get stronger. I sat with countless wonderful midwives who shoved his little mouth to my engorged, sore boobs and didn't really have a reason for why he would fall asleep constantly and wasn't thriving.
I was eventually sent home with a baby that had lost over 10% of his weight, was feeding around an hour on the breast with a nipple shield, stripped bare to stop him falling asleep from exhaustion, then topped up with expressed breast milk, and supplemented with formula. I had no idea how to figure out how much I needed to give him in total.
Luckily my hospital (private - lucky I know) had a breastfeeding circle which I qualified for and I had an appointment on day 10 to see how things were going (all hospitals should have these). When I arrived the nurse pretty much took one look at Remy, weighed him, interrogated me about what I was feeding him and marched me back to the hospital.
I felt like the worst mother ever. How did I not know I was starving my beautiful baby?
In hindsight she was actually probably very gentle with me. But it didn't feel that way. We were readmitted to the 'Mothercraft' room in the neonatal ward - to teach me how to mother I assume... In that time I'd had as many midwives as I've drunk lattes (a lot), many who said that there's no shame in giving him the bottle - which there isn't.
When we went home from that stay I was on domperidone medication to increase supply, pumping eight times a day with a hospital grade double pump, still using a shield and eating all the lactation cookies my sister could bake. I was armed with the magic formula to work out how much expressed milk and formula to give him in total and this ensured that he started to gain some weight.
Seven Weeks Old
So things went on like that for another 6 weeks. Remy was still on the lower end of the growth scale, but growing. My supply didn't seem to be increasing a great deal even though I was pumping a total of two hours a day (15 mins after every feed, both sides).
I've been going to West Perth Osteopathy for about four years and saw Bob throughout my pregnancy. I knew he also treated babies, so took Remy for a check. I was running out of ideas. After a few treatments and no improvements in my supply Bob suggested we go see Eve at Best Start lactation to see if Remy's suck coordination could be improved - he suspected the tongue tie was still causing issues. After a very quick assessment Eve saw not only a severe tongue tie (to the floor of his mouth) but also an upper lip tie. She referred us to Tim Johnson a paediatric dentist at iKids for a laser procedure to release it.
For anyone going through this at the moment - especially if you really want to bf - I can tell you there are as many opinions about this as there are nappies to change. My GP said he would grow out of it and it wasn't required - but it was required for MY mental health at that point. I had decided that if this didn't work I would throw in the towel, knowing I'd given it my best shot.
By some stroke of serendipity, while in the waiting room at the GPs office (after being told it wouldn't help) I sat next to a man with a slightly older baby. He told me the laser procedure was the best thing they ever did and it solved their boy's latch straight away. That's why I am writing this post.
Having some hope - when you're in that cycle of 'not knowing' and not sleeping and googling all night while your baby falls asleep from exhaustion at your breast -it was the light I needed.
The procedure itself was more traumatic for us than for Remy. He was swaddled into a velcro tight swaddle attached to a board to make sure he didn't move - this was probably the most traumatic thing for him. He was given an anaesthetic injected into his tongue and lip, and then released to have a little cuddle with me and settle back down. Then back into the swaddle for the laser. I'm not going to lie - he cried, I cried - but it was all over in about two minutes and we were whisked into a serene feeding room with Eve to coach his new suck.
I felt a difference immediately! That pulling, toe curling feeling you're supposed to have when your baby latches correctly - it was the best feeling ever.
He had a good feed and a big sleep. We were given some exercises to do and a follow up with Eve to make sure he was developing a good strong sucking habit. The nurses, Tim, Eve and Bob were all amazingly supportive and caring. Tongue tie release gets a bad rap on some mummy forums - but trust me, none of them wanted to hurt my baby.
For about four days I'm not gonna lie, he was miserable. Feeding well - cluster feeding to build my milk up - but also in pain. His lip was swollen and we had to do exercises to stop the wound from rejoining. We managed it with panadol and lots of cuddles. I felt terrible for putting him through it and at times regretted it - until I saw the scales going up and up. It had worked!
To help anyone making this decision, the picture below shows how quickly Remy's weight
caught up after that second month. You can see how it coincides with the tongue and lip tie release at 7.5 weeks.
That was all the proof I needed - a happy, thriving and sleeping baby. Finally.
6 months +
From the procedure onwards Remy rocketed up the growth scale - more aligned to his length. Until 6 months I continued to pump to keep supply on the right side up, as he would quite often refuse it (dunno why, maybe because there wasn't much there because of our slow start, or to do with some tightness lying on that side because of how he lay in utero...)
I was paranoid that if I stopped pumping he would be hungry and my supply would plummet. I'd power pump for an hour (5 mins on, 5 mins off) once a week to keep supply up on the right side, and once every night to get a night ' top up' for the following day. Stopping feeding off that side was a good decision - it meant no more bottles to wash, no more pumping equipment to sterilise, and a bit more me time in the evenings.
The past months (6 - almost 12) have been the easiest and most rewarding. I've been more relaxed about feeding and less paranoid about maintaining supply. I've loved not having to cart around bottles and have become more confident feeding in public and in my body in general.
Breastfeeding an older baby has its own complexities - he has had nursing strikes when learning a new skill like crawling, walking, teething. I've had a couple of bites but nothing too severe. I've also burnt a kagillion calories wrangling a wriggly baby who wants to take off with my boob in his mouth. Most of all I've enjoyed looking at his face, trying to commit the little pulses of his hands to memory because I know this special time together won't last forever.
So now we've reached the goal - what now?
Much to my stepkids dismay I'm not about to go cold turkey on bf now that we've reached the goal. I'm also not planning on nursing a toddler. We are down to just two quick feeds a day - morning and pre-bedtime. Given we are starting daycare and I'm heading back to work in the next few weeks I don't want to add in complete weaning to his separation issues.
I am looking forward to having my body back. Remy eats solids well and is slowly drinking more water. Once settled in daycare I'll phase out the morning and eventually the evening feeds.
For anyone out there struggling - I hope this has helped. Be sure to reach out. You're not alone and you're doing an awesome job.
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