I always said I was going to be a breastfeeding mama. I wanted to give my little man the best from the get go, and in my mind, that meant breastfeeding.
So I stocked up on breast pads, and a few nursing bra’s, read everything I could get my hands on and bought a breastpump in case we ever needed to supplement with a bottle although I was sure that would never happen.
Things got off to an iffy start, I had a long and difficult labour and I was sick and exhausted afterwards. My partner had to hold our son to my breast to feed, although he did manage pretty well! After a while I was able to feed him myself and he latched well after some help from a midwife, and things picked up. My milk came in within a day or two and I had bountiful supply, but my let down was so fast my little guy choked quite a lot and we got used to being projectile vomited on pretty quickly. We put most of his problems down to reflux, and persevered.
That’s when the real problems started.
JJ was barely a week old before I had real concerns, but I put a lot of it down to first time mum jitters, and most people dismissed concerns about his belly aches saying things like ‘it’s impossible for him to be constipated he’s breastfed!’ or putting his vomiting down to newborn mucus from the long labour.
So we struggled on. He started fussing at the breast frequently and bringing up large amounts of curdled lumpy milk after each feed. He would screech in pain, going purple and crying, he often had sticky snotty eyes, sneezes, diarrhea, sweats and belly aches. My nipples were soon cracked and sore, I drenched them in lanolin but nothing helped. I finally gave in one night after an extremely knackering 3am cluster feed and let my partner give him a bottle.
It was like a weight off my shoulders.
I got my first nights sleep in two weeks. Which probably seems like nothing to a lot of mamas but lack of sleep takes such a toll on my mental health, I was reaching breaking point and it saved me.
I shot myself in the foot with that bottle though. It saved me at the time but it caused JJ to become terribly nipple confused, I ended up resorting to a bottle to finish up feeds as JJ would fuss so much, often pulling from my breastso violently milk would spray into his face!
I felt like I was fighting a losing battle. Something wasn’t right but I just couldn’t put my finger on it. I blamed nipple confusion from early introduction a bottle, and then ultimately blamed myself.
What kind of mother was I if I couldn’t even breastfeed?
It was so drilled into my head that breast is best I felt so guilty with every bottle I gave him, especially when he was so sick, I felt like I wasn’t giving him what he needed.
After a few weeks of struggling we were down to one or two breastfeeds in the morning or evening, relying on bottles when he was having a full feed as my milk supply dropped and I just couldn’t satisfy him. I tried everything to get my supply back up, from breastfeeding cookies to constant pumping and skin to skin. Nothing worked. I was down to a trickle and through it all my poor boy just got sicker.
I finally took him to the doctor and voiced my concerns, along side my suspicions about him having a Cows Milk Protein Allergy or reflux, and the doctors were fantastically receptive, prescribing a hydrolysed milk on the spot. I gave him that first bottle and the change was almost instant. He was so much better I couldn’t believe it, we still had issues but he came on in leaps and bounds after starting that milk, it was almost like magic.
The doctor explained to me that he would continue to react to my milk unless I completely eliminated dairy from my diet, and even that would take two weeks to work.
She reassured me that it was normal for me to feel how I did, but it was perfectly fine for JJ to be on formula, he wouldn’t be losing out on anything especially as he had been exclusively breastfed for a few weeks so I needn’t feel guilty.
That was the release I needed. I forgave myself for giving JJ bottles and finally stopped trying to make breastfeeding work for us. Once I stopped resisting I really felt like I could focus on being a mum again instead of worrying about whether people would think less of me for bottle feeding.
Breast may be best for some but for us, bottles really did save us.
You can read more about our journey with Cows Milk Protein Allergy (CMPA) here