Originally posted on November 12th 2016
So here we are… a big topic! Something so important it deserves a post of its own. Feeding Starfish. More specifically, breastfeeding him.
While I was pregnant I discussed breastfeeding with family and friends as well as at my antenatal visits. My initial thoughts on breastfeeding were purely on a practical level. It has to be easier to just pop baby on the boob rather than faffing around with bottles and sterilisers etc etc; especially in the middle of the night, right? What could be easier? It’s the most natural thing in the world, right? The more I read and heard about it, the more I felt sure it was the right thing to do for both Starfish and I. It improves baby’s immunity, reduces the risk of coughs, colds and infections, improves their eyesight, reduces the risk of obesity in later life by teaching appetite control, reduces nappy rash…. the list of benefits are endless. For mum it speeds up post partum weight loss, reduces the risk of breast cancer, reduces the risk of osteoporosis and helps bond with baby to name just a few.
I spoke to some friends who had tried to feed their babies but for various reasons things hadn’t worked out. They warned me not to beat myself up if it wasn’t for me. I nodded and promised that of course I wouldn’t but inwardly I thought, how can it possibly not work? If I really want to do it, then of course it will work?
Starfish’s first feed in recovery was flawless, the midwife latched him on for me and he happily co operated and fed like a boss for several minutes. A number of midwives even came over to watch commenting on his fabulous latch and joked that he must have read a book on how to feed before he was born because he was so good. Ha! I thought, see? This is a piece of cake!
Oh how naive I was….
Back in the room I was given a sheet and told to document each feed over the next few days; which side Starfish fed from, for how long and how the feed went. No problem! I thought, oh silly me.
I had studiously devoured every book I could find on breastfeeding antenataly and combed through hours and hours of videos and guides. I knew all the early feeding cues that a baby displays and I was determined to offer a feed at the first hint of a cue so Starfish didn’t become even the slightest distressed. I obsessively watched him and sure enough, after a short time there was the first signs as he moved his head from side to side and opened his mouth. As hubby passed him to me (as I was still numb and unable to move a lot in bed as well as the fact that the cot was completely out of reach and I was unable to bend over it to lift him out myself) I tried to latch him on myself. I soon realised that for all I had studied and as much of a pro as Starfish himself was, I may as well have been making daisy chains for all the good it had done me. I had no idea what I was doing and I just couldn’t position Starfish properly so he could latch on and feed. Feeling, defeated, embarrassed and slightly panicked I buzzed for a midwife who calmly reassured me that it was still early days and that it would all soon be second nature to me. She gently repositioned Starfish and latched him on where he once again fed like a little pro. I tried to mentally photograph his position for future reference and tried not to beat myself up inside but I secretly felt like a complete buffoon for needing help for a second time.
Sadly my next attempt was no more successful, nor the one after that…. in fact every feed for the first 24 hours I needed to buzz for the midwife to help me and Starfish get started. On the second night I was determined to complete a feed with no help (apart from hubby as I still wasn’t able to lift Starfish out of the cot without help). Amazingly I was able to latch him on lying down as one of the most amazing midwives showed me how to position us both to feed lying down (a lifesaver) and he fed for a short time before coming off and erupting in a crying fit! I tried to soothe him and get him back on but the more I tried the harder he cried and the more of a failure I felt.
Now I’m about to dispel a breastfeeding myth. The myth that breastfed babies don’t get windy!
As Starfish screamed and bent up his little knees, getting in such a state that he was no longer able to latch on, with tears of frustration and despair in my own eyes I said to hubby “you’d almost think he had wind but that can’t be because he’s breastfed and that doesn’t happen, right?” Hubby decided he would try rubbing Starfish’s back to see what would happen as it certainly couldn’t make the situation any worse.
In the midst of all this a midwife came in and suggested that we give him some formula, I shot her a look which left her in no doubt that it was not the helpful solution she had hoped to which she raised me “How about some donor milk then?” That was like a dagger through my gut. Bad enough that I can’t pick up my baby myself and I need help to change and bath him at the moment, now I’m being told I may have to rely on another mum to feed my baby too! Could I be any more pathetic?
Somehow I managed to contain my firey, hormonal temper and I politely thanked her for the offer but explained that I knew the milk bank was a precious and limited resource for sick babies for whom there was no other choice and I couldn’t bring myself to take any of their supplies.
All the while hubby was rubbing Starfish’s back and moving him around gently. I startled as he burped like a grown man and instantly stopped crying! The midwife laughed and helped me settle him back down to continue the feed. 30 minutes later Starfish gently released me and drifted into a peaceful sleep. Another small victory for Team Starfish.
Later on the next afternoon, with some unaided feeds and some where we still needed help from a midwife but all of which were very windy (Starfish burps and is even more of a trumpet trousers than his Dad!) it was time to go home. This was a huge milestone and a very proud moment for hubby and I especially as Starfish’s grandparents were there with us for the journey home and we had photos and well wishes from total strangers all the way out to the car. While I beamed with pride, on the inside I was terrified. What if I couldn’t feed Starfish at home where there was no buzzer to summon a midwife for help? I ordered hubby to stop off at the supermarket on the way home to buy a tub of formula as a safety net for me “just in case”. He gave me a questioning look of “I thought we weren’t using formula” but when I responded with the death stare of “don’t question me” he duly trotted off to the shop returning moments later with formula.
As soon as we got home Starfish wanted a feed. I tentatively sat on the sofa complete with my v pregnancy pillow where hubby placed Starfish and we attempted to feed him. I say we because it really was a team effort, with all 3 of us playing a key role. Starfish with his wide open mouth and professional latch, me with, well, the essential equipment and sheer grit and determination and hubby for positioning and gentle encouragement and hand holding for both Starfish and I. During the first feed at home I was certain that I was doing something fundamentally wrong. The reason for this thought was because everything I had read said that “If it hurts, it’s not right”. Quite honestly, I had never experienced a feeling or sensation like this in my life. Looking back now I’m not sure if I would describe it as pain in the normal sense but it definitely is not a pleasant feeling. (This is why the hand holding was necessary) Being totally honest, had anyone other than my beautiful Starfish been causing me to feel like that I would have pushed them away or smacked them in the face but thanks to wonderful Mother Nature my instinct told me to pull Starfish closer to me and squeeze hubby’s hand harder. We got through the first night and I was proud as punch that we had managed night feeds and all 3 of us were still alive to greet the community midwife when she visited the next day.
All was not rosy in the garden however. Starfish was weighed and we were told that he had lost 1 ounce more than the recommended 10% of his birth weight. I was crushed! Everything had gone so well up to this point, “textbook” we were told, everyone had commented on how great his latch was etc but yet he had lost too much weight. I was his sole source of nourishment so it was my fault, I had failed him.
The midwife reassured me that the weight loss was not a cause for concern and that in a day or 2 when my milk was in properly Starfish would start to gain weight again. She gave me a few tips on how to encourage milk production and recommended that I feed Starfish as much as possible. I explained my discomfort so she observed a feed and explained there was nothing wrong with our positioning etc. She said I’d just have to persevere with frequent feeds and when my milk was in things would get better. She also suggested that if Starfish was still unsettled after a feed, we try a formula top up. She showed hubby how to prepare the formula and even tried to give Starfish a little feed but he was having none of it.
I doubled my resolve to push on through and feed around the clock if I had to while at the same time my heart sank every time Starfish came to me for a feed with his mouth wide open like an angry little piranha….