This mother, a member of my own private Facebook group for mums, has shared some of her experiences with us before (see Pregnancy After Birth Trauma). Here she discusses her experience of establishing breastfeeding after a major post-partum haemorrhage.
It was only when I trained to be a breastfeeding peer supporter and learnt more about initiating supply that I truly appreciated the actions of the hospital midwives after the birth of my first daughter nearly two and a half years ago.
Following a reasonably easy pregnancy and near text-book birth, I tried my first breastfeed in the birthing pool in an attempt to help delivery of the placenta. She latched then came off straight away but I wasn’t worried and resolved to try again once on dry land. However that first feed never happened as in delivering the placenta I suffered a major obstetric haemorrhage losing 4l of blood. Once I’d come round from the general anaesthetic and was safely installed in ICU the nurse asked if I would consent to my daughter being given formula. Naturally I gave my consent and then after ringing through to maternity she came over with another question; would I like to see my husband and daughter and if I felt up to it did I fancy giving breastfeeding a go? I can’t remember what my exact words were but it was something along the lines of ‘yeah go on, why not’ – rather nonchalant given the circumstances!
I can distinctly remember wondering why the midwife hadn’t just given my daughter formula and it was only after talking to my husband and reading through my notes that I found out my midwife had made the effort to make contact with the infant feeding specialist to find out the maximum time that they could leave my daughter without a feed before her blood sugar levels were affected. She hadn’t needed to, in my absence I am sure my husband would have consented to formula being given but by holding out she was giving me a glimmer of hope to get breastfeeding started – thank goodness I’d written it in my birth plan!
I don’t remember the exact timescales but am pretty sure we were close to the end of the feeding window when my midwife, husband and daughter arrived at my bedside. It was rather a surreal experience, hooked up to all kinds if monitors, drips and goodness knows what else I finally held my daughter properly and tried to feed. Murphy’s law inevitably happened…after waiting so long for a feed she promptly fell asleep so with the midwife’s help we stripped her down to her nappy and tickled her toes to get her to latch and have her first feed. It wasn’t a long one, she soon fell asleep again and so the midwife asked if she could hand express to give it via syringe when my daughter woke up. She was extremely encouraging (and I think genuinely surprised) that some colostrum (aka gold dust) started to drip out…I have no idea if it was a good amount or not but her words gave me faith that I could still breastfeed. In fact at that point I was still so numb to what had happened that I don’t think it even occurred to me that I might not be able to feed my daughter how I intended.
Throughout the night the midwives were fantastic; bar the one time when they were dealing with an emergency delivery of twins they would either bring up my daughter or come to hand express colostrum from me every few hours. We exchanged blankets so that my daughter could get used to the smell of my milk although of course now I know that the exchange was 2-way to try and encourage the flow of oxytocin for myself. The situation wasn’t ideal but I know that the easiest solution would have been to just give formula and have my husband feed her through the night. By making the extra effort they were giving me a chance. It’s not just the physical side of it that helped, being hugged at 2am by a midwife, told that you’re amazing and that she’s proud of you really does make a difference; at the time I didn’t really think I was doing anything amazing (in all honesty I was still in shock) but those words told me that the midwives wanted me to do this as much as I did and stopped me worrying about being too much of a pain when asking for help.
Once I was back on the maternity unit I was finally reunited with my daughter. After a short while the feeding marathon commenced. I knew that it’s normal for babies to feed frequently in order to bring your milk supply in, so perhaps I thought the incessant feeling was par for the course but my daughter once started hardly stopped feeding. I have no idea how many times I rang the call bell to ask for the latch to be checked but it was a lot – I was never met with any grumpiness or suggestion to switch to formula.
After leaving hospital I certainly needed support. The cluster feeding didn’t end in hospital and she would feed for hours and hours both in the day and even more at night and this went on for months and months. I know that cluster feeding is ‘normal’ but speaking to lactation consultants it does sound as if mine was on the upper extremes. So often we hear of women saying that they couldn’t feed due to a low milk supply and as a peer supporter I know that generally this isn’t the case; however for me, and I’ve recently reflected on this with a lactation consultant, I do genuinely believe that this was the case. And it’s not surprising, statistically I shouldn’t have been able to breastfeed and the fact that I was able to exclusively breastfeed is almost a miracle.
But I was also fortunate. There was no tongue tie, the latch was just fine (soreness was only due to the sheer number of feeds I was doing), and no thrush or mastitis. If I’d had to feed in constant pain I know that would have been the final straw. I was also fortunate that we have some really inspiring and compassionate peer supporters where I live who, when the easiest answer would have been to combi-feed, helped me believe in myself and turn a feeling of failure into a sense of achievement.
I am still breastfeeding my daughter now, nearly two and a half years after the event and am doing so alongside her newborn sister. We’ve had a hard journey at times but it’s been worth it and I honestly don’t think we’d have achieved what we have without those early interventions from the midwives. If my daughter had been given formula at the start rather than waiting would she have been hungry enough to stimulate my supply? If we’d not continued to try feeding/expressing through the night would I have given up? If the postnatal midwives had been curt and unhelpful would I have persevered? When the long nights drew on and she was going into the 9th, 10th, 11th hour of non stop feeding, I felt I owed it to those midwives (and of course the peer supporters too) to keep on going, to make their efforts worthwhile and to make that midwife ‘proud’ again.