I’ve had this post sitting in drafts for quite a while now. It’s been sitting in the ‘drafts’ section of Mrs Lighty’s brain for longer still. You see, it may be a little bit controversial: it’s about breastfeeding, or rather, my failed and hated attempt at it.
I’ve found that breastfeeding is a very emotive subject. At least it is for me, if for no one else. And whilst I am already feeling the need to apologise if I offend anyone, I should make it clear that I don’t want to start the ‘Breast vs. Bottle’ debate. I just want to tell my story.
I now call myself a failed breastfeeder, and refer to my month long attempt as having “starved Baby Lighty for the first month of his life”. I do this to try to inject some humour into proceedings, to try to deflect from the fact that, as a mother, not breastfeeding for longer has made me feel like a huge failure. And I know that the reason why I feel like this is because my failed attempt at breastfeeding is solely my fault.
When I look back at my time breastfeeding now, I should have had a very straight forward journey. Having had a relatively difficult pregnancy, I had a ridiculously easy delivery. You’ll probably all throw things at your screen if I say that towards the end of my labour, I was put on the oxytocin drip as I couldn’t feel the pain of my contractions. And even after the drip had been put in, I still couldn’t feel them and had to be told by the midwife when to push! So there should have been no obstacles to breastfeeding, as there can be after a difficult delivery. And actually, the only time that I can remember vaguely enjoying breastfeeding was the first feed after Baby Lighty’s birth, when he was put on me for some skin to skin, and he naturally found the breast for the hallowed ‘golden hour’ feed. I remember excitedly saying to Mr Lighty, “look! He’s doing it!”.
After that, things rapidly went downhill. When I attempted to latch him on later on that night, once I’d been moved to the postnatal ward, he wouldn’t latch, and everyone – midwives and relatives alike – said that he probably just wasn’t that hungry. The next morning, he screamed the ward down, and I desperately text Mr Lighty to ask him to get to the hospital as soon as visiting time started. The midwife came in to see what the commotion was about, and I burst into tears. But at no point did she say that he was probably hungry. Maybe I should have known, had some sort of in built mother’s intuition, but I didn’t realise. I was tired, starving hungry myself as the hospital hadn’t been able to provide anything gluten free for me so I hadn’t eaten since the night before I gave birth, and not really with it. Later on that night, once we’d brought Baby Lighty home, the screaming continued all night long. I was sure that our neighbours were on the verge of calling social services, and I actually went round to their house the next morning to apologise.
Looking back now, the poor tot was hungry. The only thing that calmed him down was some skin to skin with Mr Lighty and the sound of the hairdryer (Mr Lighty joked that he’d heard that sound so often in the womb it had become comforting!!). If I did skin to skin with him, he immediately wanted to feed, and I’d find myself with a tiny human being attached to me constantly. It was like he felt that if he let go, he wouldn’t be fed again, and who could blame him after hardly having been fed by me in hospital? I know that any experienced breastfeeders reading this will say that it’s entirely normal for a newborn to feed seemingly continuously, that it was probably both for comfort and to build my milk supply. But I didn’t know that.
People have also said to me since then that it was also possibly because Baby Lighty was born realatively small, at 6lbs 8.5oz, and he wanted to ‘catch up’ outside the womb. Others have said that he was probably nursing for comfort rather than feeding, but experienced friends and health professionals alike that witnessed me breastfeeding all agreed that he was definitely feeding and not just using me as a dummy.
And when, night after night, you’ve had a mini human attached to you constantly, in what I can now recognise as cluster feeding, from 5pm in the evening through to at least midday the next day, it takes its toll. Baby Lighty was a summer baby, and in the first month after his birth, after yet another night of constant feeding, the morning would dawn light, bright and summery, and I would sit in my bed, a little person still attached to me, and cry, tears rolling down my face, desperately trying to wipe them away before they hit my newborn baby’s head, and I’d sit thinking about my friends that were just getting up to get ready for work as the clock struck 6am, and there I was yet to go to sleep, still feeding from the night before.
Well meaning friends and midwives would come out with the age old adage of “sleep when the baby sleeps”, and I’d try to tell them that if he came off the breast at all, I would do just that. But he didn’t; he was constantly attached to me. “Just snatch half an hour here or there”, they’d say, but as much as I would have loved to have snatched half an hour here or there, I couldn’t because he simply didn’t come off the breast at all; there was no half an hour here or there.
And a month of nights repeatedly like this, postnatal anxiety which the midwives didn’t seem in the slightest bit bothered by, and being called apologetically by Mr Lighty because the baby wanted feeding again as I attempted to take a quick shower, or have something to eat, or use the loo, took their toll. I started to resent Baby Lighty, my poor, innocent newborn. One thought started to fill my head more and more: I hated breastfeeding. I hated the way it made me feel emotionally, the fact that I was resenting my baby; I hated the way it made me feel physically: light headed, tired, constantly hungry yet too anxious to want to eat, the pain on the initial latch; I hated how disgusting I felt on the rare occasions when I’d wake up leaking milk (and they were rare, for I now feel that my anxiety also affected my milk supply); hated how constant it was; hated that I often didn’t want to leave the house for the fear of being stuck feeding for hours in public; hated the fact that I wasn’t enjoying new motherhood. Simply put, I hated breastfeeding.
And when that then translates into you not wanting to pick up your newborn son, not wanting to hold him or cuddle him or kiss him because he’d immediately want to feed, asking someone else to comfort him when he was crying because if I did it he’d root for the breast, something isn’t right.
Yet still I continued. And the reason why? Because I could breastfeed. Baby Lighty was feeding fine, he was latching on well apparently, I wasn’t in any particular pain, and I was doing what was supposedly best for my baby. If I gave up simply because I hated it, wouldn’t I be the most selfish mother in the world? Wouldn’t that make me the worst mother ever?
Well, I’ve come to the conclusion that, no, it doesn’t. It affected my mental health to the point whereby I feel now that I didn’t bond with Baby Lighty as well as I could’ve done. I feel like it took me a long time to adapt to motherhood, something I haven’t admitted often, and maybe that would have always been the case, but I feel now that far from creating that magical bond that many breastfeeding mothers say they feel, it completely broke the bond for me. Writing this now I am welling up with tears, thinking about how sad I felt in that time, how I wanted to escape being a mother constantly. And yet I still don’t feel like I can get across to people how utterly world-shatteringly awful I felt at the time. I can quite easily see why a new mother in the throes of postnatal depression or anxiety would consider – or in worst case scenarios actually act upon – leaving their brood. And if that anxiety or depression is being caused or exacerbated by breastfeeding, then I strongly believe that it isn’t best.
The only sense that was spoken to me during that dark month was by my NCT breastfeeding teacher who took the time to visit me at home to see if she could help me in any way. When I burst into tears as she walked through the front door and I continued to cry on her shoulder for the whole of the hour’s visit, Baby Lighty camped at my breast as he always was, she could see that breastfeeding wasn’t for me, and said “as mothers, we have to do what we need to do to get through the day, and if that means giving formula, then give formula.” And I’ve taken those words of wisdom with me throughout everything I’ve done so far in my short time as a mother. Just do what you need to do to get you through the day.
In the end, the decision whether to continue breastfeeding or not was taken away from me, as my community midwives told me that Baby Lighty wasn’t putting on enough weight, and as it was so hot when he was tiny, there were also fears that he was dehydrating. It still didn’t stop me from feeling incredibly guilty when we switched Baby Lighty to formula, especially when he then developed reflux, and certain comments on forums and from strangers regarding the fact that I was ‘poisoning’ my child didn’t help at all, but I’ve had to learn to rise above them. My friends, relatives and those that know my story know that I did what I needed to do.
All in all, I breastfed for just shy of a month. And I’m kinda proud of carrying on for that long, as it was the hardest month of my life, and in a lot of respects the worst month of my life, possibly even bad enough to put me off having another baby, and I take my hat off to all of you fabulous breastfeeding mamas out there, as breastfeeding is incredibly hard work. I want to stress that I’m not anti-breastfeeding at all, it’s hard work but it’s also amazing and if you can make it work for you, then that’s fantastic. But I do feel so unbelievably sad now that I can only remember one good memory from the first month of Baby Lighty’s life; the rest of that month is a blur of tears, worry, and resentment which I can only relate to breastfeeding.
A lot of people have since said to me that with the right support I probably would have been able to continue, but I respectfully disagree with that. I did the NCT breastfeeding class, I had lots of support from my community midwives during home visits and clinic appointments and as mentioned above, my NCT teacher was kind enough to come and visit too. I also phoned the NCT helpline twice, and they were a great comfort. I have to say that I phoned another very well known breastfeeding helpline twice too, and emailed them, and not once did I receive an answer or response. But despite that, I strongly believe that no one could have taught me to enjoy breastfeeding; no one could have put aside my anxieties and fears except me. No one could have helped me to bond with my baby when I didn’t even want to pick him up. Would I try again if we did have another baby? Yes, possibly. But I also think I’d have the confidence to know when it is right to stop if breastfeeding wasn’t working for us.
If I’ve learnt anything from the breastfeeding experience, it’s that I feel that I now know my body and mind well enough to look back and know that stopping when I did was the right decision for both me and Baby Lighty. Had I continued, my mental health would have continued to deteriorate too. Baby Lighty would not have had the mother he deserved if I’d continued to breastfeed.
*Apologies for the lack of breastfeeding related photos in this post, but I simply don’t have any breastfeeding photos; looking back now, I didn’t want to document that time. A version of this post originally appeared on My Petit Canard as part of her #BreastfeedingStories series.
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