Thursday, July 31, 2014

Mummy guilt and the lies I've been telling myself

Before I fell pregnant, I knew I was going to breastfeed my babies. I didn't think there was any other option, that I would power through any issues we had and come out the other end successfully breastfeeding my baby. When my husband and I fell pregnant, I started researching and learning everything I could to make sure that I nailed feeding for our precious little bubba. I joined the Australian Breastfeeding Association and read their book from front to back. I signed up for their class but unfortunately couldn't make it because I got very sick towards the end of my pregnancy (due to pre-eclampsia). I was so determined to breastfeed.

But then Lilly was born prematurely at 33+6 weeks very quickly and very unexpectedly (which you can read about here). Suddenly everything I had learnt about breastfeeding went out the window. I couldn't have skin to skin with her immediately after she was born because she was rushed off to the Special Care Nursery and I wasn't awake for her birth. When I woke up from the surgery, my husband started collecting my colostrum with syringes with some assistance from my nurse. The following day, I started expressing using the hospital grade Medela pumps. I couldn't wait to start trying to breastfeed Lilly but she just wasn't strong enough yet.

Fast forward a week and we begun skin to skin. The nurses said that Lilly would find my nipple on her own but nothing happened. She just wasn't interested. I even tried putting my nipple in her mouth when she yawned and took our first fake breastfeeding photo to try and make myself feel better about our lack of breastfeeding. I told everyone we had started breastfeeding and how amazing it was and how clever Lilly was...I was such a liar!!
When Lilly was two and a half weeks old, we were finally able to get Lilly to attach and suck momentarily and things started improving. Each day she would suck just a little bit more and she would just have a top up through her feeding tube. Eventually we got one whole breastfeed and I was over the moon. I finally felt like I was a real mum! Her progress was quick and before we knew it, she was having 2 feeds a day with no top up! At the time, I felt like it was all taking too long but she really did get the hang of it pretty quickly, she just needed to build up her strength.

And then it happened. Lilly graduated from the Special Care Nursery and we were able to wheel her out into Maternity and room in together for the very first time in her four and a half weeks Earth side. I was so excited to begin our breastfeeding journey for real. But that's when it all fell apart. We got through the day no problems but by the time we got to her 5th feed of the day (she was on 3 hourly feeds) she was absolutely exhausted and wasn't latching or sucking correctly. We spent our 48 hours in maternity not sleeping and trying our best to breastfeed but with limited success. Whenever the nurses came to check, I lied to myself and the nurses when I told them what a great job she was doing. I guess I thought that if I told them I was doing great, we would do great...but I really just didn't want to lose her again...I just wanted to get her home.

Finally our 48 hours was up and the pediatrician did her release check-up...but she had lost a whole 100g in just 48 hours. They wanted us to stay but ended up letting us go home on the condition that we have her weighed again in another 48 hours and came back if there was no improvement. In hindsight, we should have stayed. We should have told them we were struggling but we didn't. We wrapped up our precious baby girl and left that hospital as fast as humanly possible. I kept telling myself it would be okay, we just needed to get away from it all.

When we got home, I relaxed a little but we were still struggling - I was so stressed that my milk almost completely dried up - I went from expressing over 200mls per 20 minute session to a terrifying 10mls. I saw my GP and started on some medication to help boost my supply (which worked practically instantly!) and I decided to give Lilly an expressed milk bottle...or two...or three. We started trying a breastfeed then topping up with my expressed milk. I felt better, Lilly went back to sleeping like an angel and life with a not-so-newborn was amazing....but I felt all this guilt. I felt like a failure for not being able to breastfeed her exclusively. I felt like after our shitty birth experience that I needed to be better and I needed to breastfeed.  I continued telling everyone what an awesome job we were doing breastfeeding and that she was a breastfed baby but I was a big fat liar. We were lucky if we did two full breastfeeds a day - that's not a breastfed baby at all!

Fast forward 5 weeks and we are still expressing and bottle feeding. I have since got my hands on some amazing Medela nipple shields and we usually try two breastfeeds a day and Lilly seriously kicks butt with them...but she takes an hour to feed which my lactation consultant says is too long for a little preemie with little energy. So at around 10am, we have one super long breastfeed and then we rock the bottle for the rest of the day. I am finally feeling at peace with our feeding and I no longer feel like a failure. When someone asks if we breastfeed, I still say yes but now I fill them in on the details. I think that lying about it just made me feel worse....I feel like everybody else either breastfeeds or they formula feed but there's a whole other breed of mummies out there just like me who express and bottle feed. 

I must say, I really love the connection Lilly and I share during a breastfeed and the way she pokes and prods at my boob to stimulate the milk..there's really no words to describe how amazing it feels and I can't wait for the day when she is much stronger and able to breastfeed exclusively....but for now I am loving the way she looks up at me when she's having a bottle...right into my eyes as if she's saying, "I know it's not what you wanted Mummy, but thank you for not giving up on the boobie milk...I love you" and that makes it all so worthwhile.


  1. I still think you're breast feeding exclusively Case, even if it's breast milk from a bottle. Good on you for putting in all that extra effort to express when you could have just given up and gone to formula!

    1. Thanks Meg!!! It's certainly not the easiest way to feed but I'm so happy that she's getting the best start to life still with my delicious boobie milk hehe

  2. I know the feeling. My bub went to the nursery too but I could only express 10-20ml. They didn't seem too interested in encouraging me to breast feed as they were giving him formula. I would try once or twice a day to get him to latch with no success. When we got home he would just cry if I tried to get him to latch. I expressed 20ml a day for two weeks before I gave up and decided that if he was happy on formula then I would have to be happy with it too. Hopefully my next baby works it out as I would love to have that experience.