Breastfeeding: The OUCH factor

Written by admin on January 20, 2011. Posted in Boobs & Bottles

There’s no doubt about it. Breastfeeding is one of the most beautiful but awkward feelings for some new mums. There’s a definite knack to breastfeeding successfully and if you’re lucky, your baby is a natch and finds it so simple they can do it with their eyes shut ;) But it can be a tricky thing for new mums to learn and even more challenging for mums of multiples. After giving birth to our twin girls smack in the middle of winter, breastfeeding was a challenging and chilling experience. I didn’t have the luxury of slipping one breast out and leaving all my lovely warm clothes on around my shoulders. No. In the middle of the night, every 2 hours or less, my breastfeeding experience was one where I ripped off all clothing from the waist up for simultaneous feeding on a twin feeding pillow. Which by the way is coated in a very, very, VERY cold plastic. Laugh yes, go on. It’s a funny image. Mum’s Milk Bar. Thankfully for the first 7 weeks my mother stayed with us and draped my shoulders in a blanket and helped each of our girls attach. Using a twin feeding pillow is a wonderful idea….if you’ve got 3 hands.

Breastfeeding – Get it wrong and you’ll be wearing the gash marks for weeks. My nipples looked as though they were taken to with a cheese grater and breastfeeding had me stomping my foot on the ground and gritting my teeth. (Thankfully I never developed Mastitis!). Determined to breastfeed though I pushed on sending my partner to the chemist to buy nipple shields. The midwife of course tutt tutt’ed saying no no no, that’s not a good idea and we wouldn’t recommend using those. We’re taught that learning ‘best technique’ is the remedy for nipple cracking and irritation. Looking at the pushy 25 year old ‘Lactation Consultant’ my thought was “and how many children have you had?”. Put simply, if you’re experiencing intense pain due to existing damage to your nipples the alternatives are slim. You can use nipple shields, express and bottle feed for a few days or a week until your nipples heal enough for your little milk vampire to guzzle on again or you can throw your hands up in the air and fall into the arms of formula. I decided to go with the nipple shields and our girls had absolutely no problem with them. They did look at me a little strangely the first time but they got over it very quickly when the milk started drenching through them.

Having twins I also had to decide whether to feed them formula through the nighttime as feeding two babies every 1.5-2 hours on the breast was exhausting, and slower. If they didn’t wake up at the same time to feed then it was, feed/burp…wait feed/burp, which left about 30 minutes before the first feeder woke up again. Impossible! And after my lesson learned In The Hospital (see “Sleep. There is no Substitute”) I learned not to expect to function like a superwoman on no sleep. It was simply too tiring. I breastfed exclusively the first couple of weeks but then resigned to using formula at night. I knew that if it wasn’t then it’d only be a few weeks later that I’d need to do it. My mother was with us the first 7 weeks and after she left it would be impossible to maneuver the girls onto the twin pillow by myself. I couldn’t wake my partner every 2 hours to help with this as he needed to function for work and couldn’t physically sustain feeding them one at a time. So my choices were slim.

The midwives warned that my milk flow would reduce by using the nipple shields. Where the logic is in that I’m not sure,  I still leaked excess milk like a jersey cow! However their warnings that I would slowly stop producing sufficient breastmilk by using formula at night and not breastfeeding was right. I was too tired to express every 6 hours in between feeding the girls so would wake up with a soaked shirt by early morning and if you’ve done your research, the longer you leave it to express the faster your milk dries up. This is purely because your clever little body establishes that if you aren’t using it, you aren’t needing it!

By the fourth month the girls rejected the breast through the daytime as they were just not getting the speed of flow they enjoyed from the bottle at night. It was very sad but I had to recognise that at the end of the day I didn’t have one baby, I had two and I’m not superwoman. Do I regret relying on formula? Yes. In a perfect world I would have loved the ability to exclusively breastfeed our twin girls (until their teeth came through because after that, forget it!). Our girls jumped 1 percentile in weight during that first week in hospital while receiving exclusively breastmilk. They lost the usual 10% of birthweight before regaining that and more. The midwives were very happy and impressed that our little 5.7 and 4.9 pound twins were accelerating growth so quickly. And during the next few months got bigger and bigger at a rate of knots jumping from the 3rd and 10th percentile to the 25th and 50th respectively! If we have another (single) baby it will be a no-brainer. I will breastfeed until their teeth come through, and even longer if they play nice with their new gnashers!

Before and after birth you should seek the counsel of as many mothers, midwives & lactation consultants as possible. Research the web and get all the facts (but learn to recognise ‘spin’ and who benefits most from it). In the end it’s your decision and doing what feels right for you and your baby is paramount. Take the advice that feels right for you and leave the rest in your wake. By making an informed and carefully weighed choice you will never feel guilt or regret. Now, not breastfeeding because you don’t want your boobs to drop, well that’s another story!

The topic of breastfeeding -vs- bottlefeeding is heated. With the ‘members’ of the two ‘parties’ seemingly at loggerheads. But I don’t think it’s women’s fault that the divide has come to such a heated debate. Clever and very deliberate marketing by the big formula companies have much to do with the information and ‘spin’ that’s out there. A good read is Feeding our Babies: Choice? Guilt? Anger? Regret?article written by Yvette O’Dowd, ABA Breastfeeding Counsellor in this category “Boobs & Bottles”.

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