To be a parent is to essentially be responsible for a whole other life – you know it won’t be easy all the time but that’s ok, because you’re in control. Aren’t you?
Despite that enormous responsibility, or perhaps in spite of it, there is very little you can actually control as a parent. The author of this post had every ounce of choice taken from her when it came to breastfeeding her daughter but she made a massive decision to take back the control – this is her story.
My first experience of breastfeeding started when a gunky squirmy baby was plonked quite unceremoniously on my chest. She squirmed her way down to my boob, latched on brilliantly and that became her happy place and there was very little you could do to persuade her to be anywhere else. She suffered from mild-ish reflux, fed every two hours and then puked up a lot. Thankfully, however, she has always been a healthy weight and put on weight steadily.
There were times when I hated breast feeding. I wanted my space and didn’t want this baby attached to me constantly.Especially when sticking her on the boob was often the only way to get her to stop crying even though we knew she wasn’t hungry – she was a big comfort sucker. There were also someblocked ducts and a dose of mastitis in the early weeks.
At nine months 1KB started nursery, a day and a half a week,and by this time was having a feed first thing in the morning, a bottle at morning nap, a bottle at afternoon nap, a feed at home time, she was fed to sleep and she had at least one feed during the night. By November/December time I was ready for things to change. The pressure of having to express two bottles each day was getting too much especially expressing at work. But things got in the way like a cold, teething or an eating solids strike where breastfeeding her just felt like the best and easiest option. Finally we made an agreement that once she turned a year old on 7th January 2014 she was going to be night weaned and we’d work on reducing the number of feeds during the day – especially the naptime feeds that she really wasn’t that interested in.
On the 5th of January 2014 I spent the day in hospital having suffered from an unbearable headache for two days – worse than childbirth was all I would say to the doctors when they asked me to rate the pain. I didn’t really find childbirth painful, just exhausting, so not really a fair comparison but it got people listening to me. Blood results showed I was fighting some sort of infection and they wanted to start me on antibiotics. “I’m breastfeeding” I kept saying to any doctor/nurse that would listen and I was promised that the antibiotics would be breastfeeding friendly. I fed my baby girl lying on my side in the clinical assessment unit thinking of all the unusual places I’d fed her and worrying about when I’d get home to feed her next. My husband took her home knowing that he’d need to put her to bed without my milk to soothe her to sleep but expecting me to be home that night to do a night feed.
The results of the lumbar puncture started to come in and although they were initially inconclusive I was admitted to hospital and treated for meningitis. I was to be put on IV antibiotics and steroids immediately. There would be no more breastfeeding as the steroids would transfer through the milk and effect 1KB’s adrenal system. It was as if someone had snatched my most prized possession away from me. My biggest triumph – have you seen her, have you seen how big she is, how healthy and beautiful she is, how she has grown? I did that! I did that through the power of my boobies and now you’re telling me I can’t do it anymore. For some stupid headache! The fact that I had meningitis didn’t even really register.
My breastfeeding journey started and ended in a hospital.
OH MY GOODNESS THE HORMONES!!!
The ache in my chest from being full of milk was one thing but the hormonal surges and desire to put her to my chest was unbearable.
As they hadn’t had the virology results back from the lumbar puncture – they’d had to be sent to another hospital who was upgrading their computer system that week and the blood results still showed some sort of infection. The decision was taken to start barrier nursing me in case I had the more dangerous bacterial meningitis. I was told 5 minutes before visiting time started that I could not see my daughter on her birthday. ALL THE TEARS.
I’d been pumping and dumping a couple of times a day to try and relieve the pressure in my chest. I just couldn’t get rid of the desire to feed 1KB. Could I pump and dump enough to maintain my supply in order to feed her again once the drugs were out of my system?
The biggest question was why would I bother to start again?
The decision to stop feeding had been taken from my hands but still it was a decision I was coming to for myself anyway. I just couldn’t get my head round it ending like that and sought advice from my local breast feeding group who advised that with pumping and dumping it was definitely possible to maintain my supply and after that a lot of skin to skin would help encourage the milk to return. So they’d told me it was possible they just couldn’t tell me whether to do it or not. I sought advice from my sister in law, a pharmacist,who explained that I should allow at least 24 hours from the last dose of medication before feeding again. But again she questioned why restart something that I was planning on stopping?
I guess that’ll be the hormones for you.
On my fourth day in hospital the virology results came in and suddenly everything happened very quickly. They hadconfirmed the presence of a virus and because viral meningitis is much less serious and there is no treatment for a virus I was taken off all medication and told I could leave more or less straight away once they’d written my discharge letter. I was going home, I could cuddle my daughter!
Being at home wasn’t easy. I’d felt well in the hospital on the antibiotics, steroids and IV saline. However sent home with a prescription for mere paracetamol I felt like I’d been run over by a lorry. I couldn’t stay awake for very long and doing anything was exhausting. The time away had also altered my relationship with 1KB. In our four days apart she went from being such a clingy baby to preferring to be with anyone else in the room but me. I wanted my bond with her back. I also had real concerns about how I was going to parent. I’d always parented with my boobs. They were my magic answer and get out clause. How would I calm her down and comfort her if I couldn’t just stick her on the boob?
I decided to try again.
Seven days after her last feed and thirty six hours after my last dose of any harmful medication my husband brought 1KB through to our bed when she woke in the morning. I was ready, boobs out, to see if she would show any interest and latch on for herself. I like to think I’d prepared myself for rejection – I was told that she may not be interested anymore and might just ignore me. I most definitely was not prepared.
She latched on!
She spent a very short feed looking up at me and reaching her hands up to play with the collar of my pyjamas. I spent the very short feed stroking her face and trying not to cover her in tears. I was back in control of my feeding journey.
Mid April and she is back to two feeds a day, morning and bedtime, and we’re again having conversations about when might be the right time to stop feeding her and how to go about it. I cannot imagine her ever self-weaning so we’re slowly reducing the length of the feeds and we’ll see where we go from there. I don’t regret starting again but stopping is hard and I’m really hoping that the end of this breastfeeding journey is more gradual than the last.