When I was pregnant Breastfeeding just wasn't a big deal, I mean I wanted to give it a go but I bought all the equipment needed if I changed my mind or if it just didn't work for me. The plan was to not put any pressure on myself and see how it went. I even took mini bottles of cow and gate in my hospital bag, just in case, as I wasn't going to allow anyone to tell me what or how to feed my baby. I knew having my own formula would stop the interfering midwives I had heard about.
When Charlotte was born, she latched like a dream. It seemed like we were both a natural, however after she just slept. Anyone would think I had a perfect baby but in reality it was the jaundice that was making her so sleepy.
Hours after her first feed, when other babies on the ward were screaming with hunger, Charlotte just slept and looked so blissful. At the time I didn't want to disturb her, you know that saying 'never disturb a sleeping baby'. When you give birth to your child its an overwhelming, indescribable sense of love. You just want to hold and stare and kiss them all over. The fact that you carried this most perfect creature inside you, created them and gave birth to them seems unbelievable and dreamlike. I just kept thinking how can someone this perfect be my baby.
After a while it didn't seem right that she hadn't woken for a feed, especially after some babies were now on their third or fourth feed. As soon as I saw her move, desperate to hold her again, I scooped her up and tried to get her to latch but she just wouldn't wake. So after a long cuddle, I put her down accepting that birth must have been exhausting for her and hoped that she would eventually wake through the night or tomorrow with avengeance. So I decided to get some sleep while I could.
Eventually she did stir through the night but she just woke with a little cry, she just didn't have the energy to give anything else. I picked her up but she just drifted back off, she just wouldn't wake to feed and when she did, she just couldn't latch before falling back to sleep again.
Early the next day, things hadn't improved and after many blood tests, the nurse explained that Charlotte's bilirubin levels were rising and the doctors decided she needed phototherapy. The nurse moved us into a side ward so she could start treatment. Soon after my mum popped in, while she was dropping Daddy off to see us, she explained how important it was to get Charlotte to feed. Luckily, my Mum is a neonatal sister and is used to babies with Charlotte's condition and having difficulty feeding. She explained how Charlotte needed to feed to excrete the bilirubin out of her system. She told me that without this, she would eventually be moved to the Special Care Unit and would need IV fluids while she was under the light.
The thought of having her taken away from me was terrifying. I needed her to be with me and I couldn't cope with the thought of us being apart. I realised, that Charlotte wasn't just sleepy, she was unresponsive and her little body was using all its energy to fight. I had no choice, I had to introduce formula. It was so disheartening that I had to introduce it so early. After Charlotte's first feed, I knew how amazing being able to feed her was. I was doing something that noone else could do for her. My body was making liquid gold that was produced just for her. I had no intention of giving that up but I had to try the formula. I would rather my baby get better quickly than risk us being parted and allowing her to get worse.
Without hesitation and with tears rolling down my face, I popped a teat on a cow and gate bottle and tried to get her to take it but even that didn't work. She couldn't suck and just slept. We tried everything; stripping her down, water on her face, bare bum, tickling her feet and cheeks, rubbing the teat on her lips - NOTHING WORKED! I remember begging the midwife to help. In 24 hours she had 10mls (1/3 of an ounce) of milk. She just wouldn't wake to be fed and I didn't know what to do. The midwives response was so upsetting "at least she's had something". Even as a new mum I knew this wasn't right, how could it be. My child wasn't feeding. How could the midwife think this was okay considering her bilirubin levels.
That evening, my Mum came to see us again during visiting hours, she gave me all kinds of suggestions to try and wake her, which didn't work. I was so upset, I handed Charlotte to my mum and asked her to try. Even with all her years of experience, she couldn't get her to feed. She asked the midwives for a feeding cup and shown me how to cup feed. She also asked for a Breastpump which was brought into my room. My mum gave me the advice the midwives should of, saying that I should pump every time she won't feed and that way I will have the milk available for her as she gets better. She told me that if Charlotte didn't feed and I didn't pump, I would eventually loose my milk and I needed one or the other to establish my milk supply.
The next day when the Midwife came in to check on us, she asked how I was using the pump. I told her I was expressing to start my milk flow before I offered Charlotte a feed and I was expressing after she finished. She told me not to do that as my breasts would get over engorged and my body would think it was feeding twins. Thinking back I don't know how, as Charlotte wasn't feeding well and the only thing establishing my milk was the pump.
Listening to the midwife, I started to express for a short time only. looking back now, I'm sorry I did as I could of established a good supply pumping alot more. Especially with Charlotte's lack of feeding as even when she was offered the breast she would only latch for a short period of time if at all. I expressed for 10 minutes before and after a each feed, offering Charlotte the breast in between. I would then feed her whatever milk I had expressed and top her up with formula, giving her 60mls in total which is what my mum calculated a baby of Charlotte's age and size needed. I had to literally force feed her as she was so exhausted and couldn't suck. Force feeding with the cup was the only way to get her to take the milk and I was determined to get her healthy as I knew to well what would happen if she didn't.
I set alarms every two hours to feed her as she didn't wake by herself. The more she fed the easier it became to arouse her as her bilirubin levels started to drop, with the help of the light and the milk, it gave her the energy she needed to stay awake for a little while.
After 3 days under phototherapy, I was finally able to take my gorgeous daughter off the light and for the first time get her dressed. When I gave birth, my Mum dressed Charlotte while I took a shower and with the phototherapy starting the day after she was born, I only got the opportunity to undress her.
Getting her dressed, I got so emotional, being told that I could finally hold my gorgeous girl for as long as I wanted, it seemed so sereal. It felt so precious to finally hold her properly and not be worried about the time she had been out of the light. She was mine and I could hold her tiny body close, smell and touch her and finally enjoy it. Sadly, it was late at night when I got this wonderful news and visiting hours had ended for Daddy. So after she was dressed we facetimed him, so he could share in this precious moment. I balled my eyes out holding her and telling him about it.
Still struggling to get Charlotte to feed, we had a visit from the Breastfeeding co'ordinator who was next to useless. She carried a knitted breast around with her, which made me feel about 10 years old, as I found it highly amusing and couldn't take her seriously.
She wanted to see Charlotte feed so she could advise me or tell me where I was going wrong as she put it. She hadn't even see me feed my baby yet and was already assuming I was doing something wrong. Seeing her asleep she offered to come back later. I told her about Charlotte's condition and that I needed to wake her anyway as she was due a feed. At this point I could already feel her eyes judging me and Charlotte's dummy being eye balled but she said nothing and continued anyway.
She was obsessed with the rugby hold position and pushed Charlotte so far under my arm, we both needed a ridiculous amount of pillows to support us. Charlotte was screaming as she hated the position and it was uncomfortable for me too. It was so frustrating as the first bit of energy she had was being wasted doing this. We could never continue this at home either, as without the support of the electric hospital bed, I would never have enough pillows even if we borrowed the neighbours. Charlotte then stopped screaming and went straight to sleep and I had missed the important opportunity to feed her. The co'ordinator told me to put her down and wait until she woke again, as feeding should apparently be at her demand. I told her that we did not have that luxury as Charlotte did not demand to be fed and hardly cried due to being so tired.
She clearly had no idea what I was talking about and kept insisting on demand feeding. Realising I wasn't going to listen to her and that I was already reaching for a bottle and pump, she tried talking me into hand expressing. She showed me the area to apply pressure to get my milk to flow and as soon as she saw a drip she left.
Trying to make an effort, I continued to try to hand express but with little to nothing coming off and concious that I was wasting precious time when Charlotte needed to feed, I jumped on the pump and continued my usual routine.
I hated the visiting hours, I felt so alone being without Ricky. I wanted to be able to talk things through with him and him to share some of the responsibilities. Having a baby is so exhausting and usually you are at home within 24 hours to have support and much needed rest but being in hospital you never rest. If you don't have to feed or change the baby, just as you are dozing off, someone will walk into the room to check on something. I think its such a stupid system that you can't have your partner with you.
After 4 days in hospital and alot of arguments with Doctors and Nurses to get information, our little princess and I were discharged to go home. We were given folic acid to help Charlotte's blood condition which she had to take each morning. We were still struggling with feeding but we had our alarms set, feeding cup in hand and was filled with pride at being able to take our gorgeous girl home. We finally got our bounty pictures taken too, while Charlotte was under the light they kept saying 'I'll come back' which was so upsetting as I felt we were loosing precious time to caption them memories of her being this small. Needless to say we bought all of the precious photos, thanks to my mum.
The next day, she was even put in her pram in natural sunlight as we were told that would help keep her levels stay reduced. We wanted to take any opportunity to keep her at home and well.
Later that morning, the midwife came to see how we were doing. Straight away the finger was pointed at me, as Charlotte hadn't regained her birth weight and even though she hadn't lost any weight, except for the initial loss that most babies loose after birth but she still wasn't happy and said that Charlotte should have gained alot more. It was so annoying that she didn't seem to take what she had been through into account. I was quizzed about how I fed her and how I needed to make sure one breast is empty before I switched her to the next, even though I had already told her that was what I was already doing, when she asked how we were getting on.
She decided that due to her colour, she wanted to take a blood sample to have her bilirubin levels checked. She eventually left, leaving me to feel like the worst mother ever and even more concerned about Charlotte. After giving Charlotte a feed and putting her in the sun again under Daddy's watchful eye. Ricky ran me a bath and told me that I needed to relax as I was no good to Charlotte being this distressed.
Begrudging leaving Charlotte, I eventually agreed to have a little soak in the bath. The next thing I remember was waking up to find Ricky coming through the bathroom door with Charlotte in one hand and phone in the other. He said that the midwife needed to speak to me about Charlotte's levels. I was so exhausted I had fell asleep in the bath but I was definitely awake now.
Speaking to the midwife, she explained that Charlotte's bilirubin levels had spiked and she was now hitting exchange levels which were extremely dangerous and Charlotte needed to return to hospital where a bed would be waiting for her. Hysterically crying down the phone, I agreed to get Charlotte ready and pack a bag. They told us not to rush in as it would take a little time to organise the bed. With tears rolling down my face I took my little princess in my arms and took her to have her first bath. Feeling like we had already lost to much time, I was determined her first bath would be at home.
The next moment the phone rang again, Ricky answered and was told that there wasn't a bed available at North Manchester and we would have to go to Oldham Hospital instead. I was hysterical again. I had a bad experience as a teenager at Oldham and I was terrified of my little girl going there. I started panicking that she would never come home. It might sound daft thinking this way but at the time, I couldn't get my experience out of my head and my precious little baby couldn't go there.
After getting back on the phone, it was arranged that we could in fact go to North Manchester. We were lucky that a bed had just become available and it was now waiting for us. With this news, I was finally able to calm down and hold my little girl again. I gave her a bath, wrapped her in a towel and held her close for a feed. I just stared at my poorly helpless baby and couldn't hold back the tears. The moments that should have been so precious and we should of been enjoying, were taken over with fear and worry.
When we got to the hospital, Charlotte's levels were checked again and they weren't as bad as they initially thought however she still needed phototheraphy. On the children's ward, Charlotte was stripped down, placed in an incubator and had an overhead light and a biliblanket (a light pad that sat underneath her). It was awful seeing her in an incubator but it was the best place for her as it kept her warm while she was having the therapy. It's only going through this that you realise how much energy your body uses to do every little task, even keeping herself warm would of taken energy that she needed to defend herself.
I found myself trying to breastfeed her less and express more. I would always give her the expressed milk first and then switch to the formula when it was gone. I still couldn't produce enough expressed breast milk to solely feed her myself. I continued to go on the pump before and after but sadly, I wasn't as lucky as I was on post-natal ward as the only pump available was a Medela Lactina pump which was old and wasn't powerful enough to pump both breasts, which meant it took even longer to express. It was so upsetting that I still had to give Charlotte formula as I hoped I would be producing enough for her by now but I had to do what was best for her. With every drop of formula that I gave her, I felt myself getting more distressed that it wasn't my milk. I so badly just wanted to put her to my breast and just feed her "normally", exclusively. I envied any mother that could. I loved holding and feeding her but I knew the bottle top ups were the best thing for her.
The next day Charlotte was taken off phototherapy and we were allowed to get her dressed and have cuddles again.
On 5th March, my birthday, at 8pm, we were told we could finally go home. After being in hospital 3 days and 24 hours of phototherapy, Charlotte's levels were once again stable enough for us to go home. It was the best birthday present I could ask for. I still felt concerned that we would have to return but I was so relieved we could finally sleep in our own beds and I would be able to have Ricky helping me.
When we got home, feeding continued to be difficult. It didn't help with the back and forth visits to the hospital, most of which were orchestrated by the midwife's. They were obsessed with her slow weight gain and skin colour. Even the hospital got annoyed and wrote them a letter asking them to back off. They clearly didn't understand Charlotte's condition or that it would take a long time for things to normalise. They were obsessed at pointing the finger and blaming me for why things were continuing. My poor little baby went through more blood tests than necessary to appease the midwife's.
After a few weeks, my nipples became so sensitive and sore and I noticed white dots appearing on Charlotte tongue. That morning when the midwife visited she confirmed we both had thrush and she advised that me to contact the doctors and arrange a prescription to be left. The doctors were useless and after a few wrongly prescribed things we finally got what we needed.
After a few days of using the gel, I still seemed to be in a lot of pain and noticed red, hard and sore lumps appearing on my breast. Charlotte's tongue was so sensitive from the oral thrush her feeding had become even more erratic than usual and because of this I developed Mastitis. It was so painful and I felt so poorly. I expressed as much as I could trying to empty my breast each time. I applied warm flannels to my breast and took regular showers applying the warm shower head directly to my breasts which massively helped ease the discomfort. I also got Charlotte to feed from me after expressing allowing her to drain every last bit of milk and ease the tenderness. Within 2 days, I was doing so much better and thankfully I didn't need antibiotics. I applied the gel religiously to my nipples after feeds and showers and give Charlotte the medication as prescribed and soon everything cleared up and we were back to normal.
Thankfully the Jaundice had resolved itself by now, however as the antibodies were still attacking her blood cells, she developed anaemia and although Charlotte was finally breastfeeding longer, she still was falling asleep at the breast and struggling to feed. I was still topping her up but she was struggling with that too and if we pushed her too far she was sick. This was even more distressing as we knew how important it was for her to feed, particularly with the midwife's on our backs over her weight.
During the night, I breastfeed and then Ricky would take over to try and get her to take a bottle while I expressed. She was now able to suckle a bit better so the bottle was more comfortable then pouring milk down her throat, however if she didn't finish the bottle we had to cup feed the rest. It was so distressing, it felt like we were hurting her. She seems so uncomfortable feeding. When I breast fed her she would only stay latched if I was over engorged. Eventually, we were able to stop using the cup and relax a little bit but she started to refuse the bottle and was sick with most feeds.
Things started to get worse when she wouldn't breastfeed either and I starting to panic as she would be on and off the breast. She would feed for less than a minute, arching her back as she fed and then stop shrilling like she was in pain. She seemed to constantly have hiccups and make a funny sound at the back of her throat.
I begged the midwife's for help but got no where except for being told to make sure she was emptying one breast first and continue as I was going. I knew something wasn't right, so after searching the internet to try and find something that would help her, I came across colic which some of her symptoms seemed to match the description of.
Armed with information, I went to the GP and we were given all sorts of medication to try, Infacol, colic drops, you name it, none of it worked. The only thing that helped a little was colief. I also started to worry about my supply and I was concerned that I stopped feeling full. Obviously, the heavy feeling had gone away now that my milk was fully in but you still get a full feeling when you hadn't fed in a little while. I wasn't getting that anymore and all Charlotte would do when she went to feed was cry. She now wouldn't take anything else and it was scary as she needed to gain more weight quicker.
We decided to try a new milk cow and gate comfort milk, in the hope that it would settle things. I continued to breastfeed but when she struggle we would offer her new milk. I also went back to the doctors and was prescribed Domperidone and bought Fenugreek capsules to help with my diminishing supply.
After 2 weeks, when Charlotte was 3 months old, I noticed a massive difference and was finally able to pump alot more milk and started to feel full once again. Although the comfort milk seemed to help at first, things continued to get worse and Charlotte was now being sick alot more and once again started to refuse her milk.
After no help from any health care professional, I took to the internet again and found something called Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) the symptoms matched Charlotte perfectly. I instantly changed her milk to cow and gate reflux milk and noticed a massive difference. I will do another blog post at a later date to talk about reflux and our experience.
It all finally made sense, she had reflux all along. I contacted her consultant and she prescribed Charlotte Gaviscon and Ranitidine. Suddenly, everything started to get a little better, she still struggled but she was back to feeding again. She did however go back to refusing the formula but thankfully I was now producing enough breastmilk to exclusively feed her by breast and bottle. She was so much comfier on my milk than anything else but we couldn't get her to drink any more than 4ozs and even that was difficult. I continued to offer her the breast first and then the expressed bottle after but it was always a battle of wills fighting between the screams to take her milk and then cleaning up the projectile vomiting afterwards. It was so frustrating that none of it was easy for any of us. I used to sit there with my head in my hands crying as I didn't know what to do.
At 4 months, Charlotte went on a milk strike a refused to feed, when she did feed she would only feed from the breast and not for very long. I was at my whitsend and was getting no help from anyone. I contacted my health visitor who told me she would send a nursery nurse round to the house the next day to see how she was feeding. This seemed ridiculous as she knew I am a trained nursery nurse. What would this woman tell me that I didn't already know. I just felt fobbed off but accepted her only offer in sheer desperation.
Two weeks later, I got a voicemail from the so called nursery nurse to find out if I still needed her. TWO WEEKS! what a joke, I didn't bother returning her call, I had struggled all this time with no help, what was the point in calling her back when she couldnt even be bothered to come round and see us as promised. The health visitor had heard my tears and desperate cries for help and this was the best they could do. What was the point? I would only be accused of doing something wrong anyway.
We had a hospital appointment later that week and I was eager to speak to the consultant as Charlotte was increasingly being sick. At the appointment, the consultant told me to continue what I was doing and agreed to prescribe domperidone to help with the sickness.
This did improve things but at 5 1/2 months I had no choice but to try and wean her, I held on for that long but after days of refusal to feed. I had to do something. The consultant upped her donperidone and we started baby rice. We went slow and steady and food seemed to be more comfortable than than milk. I continued to breastfeed throughout the day on demand and offering expressed bottles to give her medication but the food was the only reason she continued to gain weight slowly. As we got further into weaning and her medication was increased again, feeding started to become more comfortable for her. We still had bad days but life was finally better.
Charlotte is now 15 months old and although we have had our ups and downs we are still breastfeeding. In the last month, I have reduced expressing and replaced the bottled milk with cows milk. She wouldn't take this at first so we mixed it with the breastmilk slowly increasing the amounts of cows milk and reducing the breastmilk which has worked wonders.
I am now expressing once a day for 20 minutes which keeps my supply available. Charlotte feeds in the morning, naptime and before bed but she is inconsistent. For the time being, I plan to continue expressing but keep reducing the time I express slowly and to eventually to about 10 minutes. This should keep enough milk for the occasional feeds but if and when Charlotte chooses that our journey is over, I will be sad to see it go but I will stop.
I love our feeds together and it is so lovely to be able to bring her comfort and have that special bonding time together but I know that even with our struggles I have done amazingly to get Charlotte to this point. My original plan was to get her to 6 months, as I thought I would loose my milk but when we got past that and 12 months was my next goal. If I could get her any further it would be a bonus. I am proud to be a breastfeeding mum and I know I am so lucky to be able to do it. I would love to have another baby and if I am lucky enough, I plan to breastfeed them too. The problem is now that it has become so important to me to be able to breastfeed that I will probably put so much pressure on myself but only time will tell what the future will hold.
For now, I am enjoying Charlotte, our wonderful bond and our occasional feeds. I have learnt so much from feeding her and hope that this blog can be a support for anyone struggling or doubting themselves. I hope it lets you know that you can do it too. It will be hard but its definitely worth it.
If any mum out there is experiencing any of the issues raised in this blog, please contact me. I would love to hear from you and be able to share any tips I have learnt or be an ear to listen. I felt so alone going through all of this and it has been awful, please don't feel alone.
Remember you are a Superhero and a hero to your child whatever happens.