Blissful Birth to Burned Out Breastfeeding
My pregnancy with Mason was relatively easy. No complications and wasn’t particularly uncomfortable for the duration except for a little heartburn! I was checked at 39 weeks and told I was already 2cm dilated and we booked on an induction, although the doctor said I would go into labour before then.
41 + 3 and I was at the hospital to get induced and felt really uneasy about it. This was because I didn’t want to start off with an intervention as it could kick off a possible cascade of interventions. After reading Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth, I wanted to keep things as natural as possible, but obviously, I was open to other things if it was required. I also wanted to labour at home where I was comfortable as long as possible and use water for pain, which I was unsure I’d be able to do in a hospital with monitoring and a drip.
I had a stretch and sweep and was given an extra couple of days to go into labour naturally. Later that afternoon, after feasting on a giant box of chips, I had cramps, but I was unsure if it was labour. I went for a walk and couldn’t walk more than a few hundred metres, so was hopeful it was the stretch and sweep getting things moving for me. As it got to nighttime, it intensified. I went on the yoga ball and kept myself upright and moving and went into the shower for a few hours with music playing and the lights low. I called the hospital a few times as I didn’t know if it was cramping from the stretch and sweep or the real deal. When it had been around 8 hours or so, the cramps intensified, so I went into the hospital to be checked. I was 6cm, so they admitted me- I was relieved thinking if that pain wasn’t even labour, I’m all for the drugs!
I laboured in the shower at the hospital with music playing and a salt lamp on. There were affirmations on the walls and I was feeling really confident. I was monitored just with the Doppler, so felt like I had a lot of freedom to move around which helped. It was really manageable and I was able to breathe through the contractions. Leaning upon the bed against the headboard helped the most. I vividly remember my waters exploding whilst in that position. I had some gas when I was transitioning but it just made me feel drunk. When I was pushing, I was getting excited as the midwife was fetching the blanket and scissors ready to deliver.
However, I ended up pushing for an hour and a half and we weren’t making much progress. Every time I moved or stopped pushing he bobbed back up which was super frustrating, as I just felt like it was going nowhere.
The midwife moved me onto the toilet to push, which helped a bit, but the pushing was the most painful part of my labour. Eventually, when the midwife was about to get a doctor in to have a look, he was starting to move down enough to touch his head, so we started to move back towards the bed. On the way to the bed, I had a contraction, so leaned over and pushed. My son Mason literally shot out of me in one push, luckily the midwife caught him! She explained later that he may have had his hand up next to his face which was affecting his descent. He was handed to me and I was so excited that he was out and I had done it!
He was covered in blood and the floor was too, it turned out his umbilical cord snapped from the force of his exit. Doctors and midwives came hurrying in. I didn’t realise that amount of blood wasn’t normal at the time! His skin was so soft and he was beautiful! He had a big head of dark hair.
The next minute, one midwife was injecting me to help get the placenta out whilst another was tugging on the cord and trying to put in a catheter to drain my bladder to help it come out. A doctor was asking me to cough with her fingers in my bum, as it turned out I had a 3b tear and she was checking if I needed surgery to repair it. Amazing what the adrenaline of birth does, I was on such a natural high that I didn’t even feel it or realise anything like that had happened. I went to surgery after to get it fixed but got to have an hour and a half of bonding with Mason before I left and he had his first breastfeed.
Breastfeeding has been the hardest experience of my life.
Mason lost too much weight initially so I was told to triple feed (breastfeed, pump, and top up with formula or expressed milk if I had any). My milk was late coming in. Eventually I managed to get him gaining weight and stopped formula top ups after a week, but after that I was paranoid. I bought scales and weighed him twice a week, obsessing over his weight was my new hobby. I sought help from a private IBCLC as I felt something wasn’t right. He was also refusing to feed, taking a long time to feed and I was feeding him in the dark a lot of the time. This was during covid lockdown in Melbourne, so I just wanted someone to watch me feed him as I couldn’t have family and friends over or go into any drop in feeding clinics. She assured me everything was fine, she said he had a minor tongue tie but he looked great and his output was good so nothing needed to be done about it.
Soon after I got mastitis on one side and had nipple damage and vasospasms when I showered so after bawling my eyes out to the ABA hotline, I decided I should see her again. Again, she said his latch was fine. It cleared up but the supply was shot, so I was pretty much feeding him off one side.
A few weeks later I got mastitis again on the other breast, and Mason couldn’t get milk out. He refused the bottle unless he was absolutely starving as he was so used to breastfeeding, he was 5 months old by this point. I saw another private IBCLC and she said he had a severe oral restrictions. We had a tongue, lip and buccal ties lasered but unfortunately it didn’t help improve his shallow latch and he was still sometimes taking an hour to feed, even a month after his procedure with body work and lactation consultant support. Eventually, it was making me so anxious and upsetting me that it was exhausting for both of us to feed that I got him used to the bottle and expressed milk for him, which was another learning curve for me. I am currently expressing milk for him and he has just reached 8 months old.
The shift to pumping was really intense for me emotionally and I really missed the closeness our breastfeeding relationship gave us and the comfort I was able to provide him.
There needs to be more information provided to new mothers on now to use a pump and be properly fitted for flanges as it is a part of so many women’s journeys, whether it be returning to work or due to latching difficulties. More understanding of tongue ties is something that also needs more awareness and education for health professionals, as chances are our journey could have been different of things were picked up earlier with further investigation rather than just putting a triple feed bandaid on top when Mason was struggling to gain weight and having 5 hour long witching hour cluster feeds initially. I would strongly recommend women wanting to breastfeed to do some prenatal breastfeeding courses.
I also have learned to trust my own instincts and do what works for me and Mason, as being a first time mum, I hung onto every word that other people told me, which didn’t feel right or align with how I want to mother my child. Mason was pretty much exclusively breastfed for 6 months and despite all the issues, nourished mainly by my milk for 8 months. I’m so proud that I managed to give him the best start to life that I could and these challenges have made me a stronger person.
Special thanks to the wonderful @melandmasey (Melissa) for sharing her story.