This beautiful story shows that even when birth and the early days may not go as planned, and even with some physiological and health challenges, breastfeeding is possible and sometimes even ‘easy’.
Here is Shantel’s story.
When my first child was born, he was three and half weeks early and due to his low blood sugar levels, he was taken into the special care nursery within a few hours of me having him. Other than the extraordinary first feeding moments in the labour ward, which were so precious and natural. Patrick was fed from a nasal tube for the first few days of his life and my introduction to breast feeding was hand expressing of colostrum, which the nurse demonstrated to me. At this moment, I thought, ‘Oh my, this is not how I’d thought it would be!’ I felt a bit vulnerable actually. When Patrick’s nasal tube was removed, I finally got to feed Patrick, and he was only very tiny and weak, so didn’t feed for too long. The majority of the nurses were brilliant! Very encouraging and giving me many of pointers, one that I think was significant in the success of feeding Patrick for the first 9 months of his life, was the ‘football hold’. As one, not so subtle nurse pointed out my nipples were ‘different’, and I would struggle to feed him in the ‘normal’ way/hold. I remember feeling quite hurt and disheartened by that comment, and maybe a little determined to defy her.
I thought that the ‘motherly instinct’, was somewhat of a myth (bit of an optimist), but when I got home with Patrick, I honestly believe that my motherly instinct kicked in. I was extremely lucky, my breast feeding experience with Patrick, came so naturally and with ease. I remember thinking that I didn’t want to set a goal on how long I wanted to feed him for, I just took each day as a blessing that I could. I was a good milker, the doctors would always make the comment, ‘that he is in a good paddock, isn’t he?’ I recall asking quite innocently if he was overweight… I was reminded many a times, that he will only drink as much as he needs. He was often well into the 90th percentile. I successfully breastfed my little boy until he was 9 months old and expressed for about 1 month or so, before putting him onto formula when I went back to work.
I had the pleasure of sharing the majority of my second pregnancy with my older sister, our baby girls were born 5 weeks apart. Evie was again born early, two and half weeks early and oddly enough, my labours were both very quick and started and finished within half an hour of one another!! When Evie was born, there was no thinking about it, I was going to breastfeed her. My sister being the passionate breastfeeder that she was then and still is now, she always encouraged me to feed for as long as I could. Breastfeeding my little girl came as naturally as it did with my son.
Both of my babies were ones to cover you in vomit after a good feed. Except with Evie, the vomit didn’t settle, it got worse, a lot worse. At four and half weeks the midwife at my local QLD Health clinic suggested I take her to a GP straight away, she could have a blockage in her bowel!! After getting an ultrasound done straight away, it was confirmed by the sonographer and doctor, that my tiny little baby did have a blockage to her bowel, Pyloric Stenosis. We were told to take her straight to the Childrens Mater Hospital in Brisbane, where the wait began.. Evie wasn’t the classic Pyloric case, her vomiting wasn’t trajectile enough to be hitting the wall, wasn’t vomiting all the time and the scans showed that the blockage was definitely there, but not terribly severe…yet! She defied the statistics aswell. Statistically, Pyloric effects, first born boys. Evie was a second born, girl. After many discussions and opinions given by various surgeons, and more scans and blood tests to confirm that she did in fact have pyloric stenosis, at last it was decided that she did need the key hole surgery. We were devastated, but knew that she was going to fine and was going to be in great hands. After the lengthy time waiting in the emergency department, and lots of comfort feeding for little miss (she had a drip in each arm and had multiple blood tests), at around midnight Evie and I got taken up to the ward to get some rest, before the surgery that we were told would be scheduled for first thing in the morning at 8am. I was told that Evie would need to fast from 1am in the morning, so no feeding her at all!!! Let me tell you how devastating it is to hear the helpless cries from your tiny little baby because all she wants and needs is to feed from her Mumma! I was asked by the nurses on the ward if I intended on continuing to breastfeed her…I said, ‘Yes, I would like to try’. They introduced me to my friend the Medela. She was by my side every few hours to pump milk for my little girl for when she could feed again. The guilt I felt pumping, while all Evie needed was to feed from me, was indescribable. Evie finally went in to surgery at around 5pm that evening, she had been fasting for 16 hours. It brings tears to my eyes now, thinking back to the sound of her cries. I recall her not crying as much from about 2/3pm, she was giving up, she didn’t think she was ever going to get fed.. This broke me and my husband! It was hard to understand in the moment, that her surgery wasn’t critical and that there had been emergency surgeries put in front of hers. I understand now, but this was very hard to comprehend in the moment. When the surgeon came and took her from my arms, I recall being so relieved that this would soon be over, and I could feed my baby! It was a long wait, for a quick surgery, but I was holding my little bubba in recovery and couldn’t have held her any tighter. The surgeon came to chat to me while she was in recovery to let me know how well the surgery went, such a relief. My next question was, ‘When can I feed her?!?’ The nurse had said to me that I couldn’t feed her for a minimum of 4 hours post surgery, to let her stomach and bowel rest. Thankfully when I spoke with the surgeon she said, as her Mother, you will know when you can feed her. She will tell you when she is ready. Let me tell you, it was so true. I knew and she knew, and we were both so god damn happy about it!!
Feeding Evie was so special, remembering her cries in hospital, all she needed to do was look like crying and I would whip it out in no time! I was fortunate again this time, Evie was always a good doer. Making up for all that milk that she threw up in her early weeks, it didn’t take her long to hold her spot in the 95th percentile…beating her older brother.
Likewise with feeding my first son, I never took for granted that I could breastfeed and took each day as they came. I recall getting my first ever bout of Mastitis when Evie was around 5/6 months old, the pain that comes with mastitis was still not a big enough deterent to give up feeding her. Evie was always a good sleeper as a little baby, perfect baby…If I dare say that, and from about the age of 6 months, decided that she liked to wake up much more often than ever before. I remember getting all kinds of advice from all kinds of people, like; Maybe she needs topping up with formula?!, she is old enough to not need feeding at night if she is started on solids?!, let her cry! All of which is a load of crap in my eyes, if feeding her for a feed or purely a comfort feed kept her calm and got her back to sleep then it was happy days for entire household. Upon returning to work, I purchased a Medela electric breast pump and without this I don’t believe I would have expressed for as long as I did. I am stoked that I was lucky enough to be able to feed my little girl until she was 12 months old. I think that if I had of discovered an electric breast pump with Patrick, then I would have reached my goal of 12 months with him as well.
My breastfeeding journey is similar to my labours…too good to be true, just ask my sister for a varied story, some things just aren’t genetic! Having a great support person/husband made my journey easier too, I recall my husband bringing me a glass of water when I would sit down to feed. My only advice is don’t over think it, just do it! Take the days as they come and look into your babies eyes and enjoy the moment. Listen to your baby, between the two of you, you both know what you need; even though some days you’ll think otherwise. Happy feeding.