Before pregnancy and having Rex, all I really knew about breastfeeding, was what friends and family had discussed with me. I’d heard that some found it straightforward, some found it really challenging, and everything in between. Therefore, when I did become pregnant, I told myself that I’d try my best, but wouldn’t beat myself-up if I couldn’t manage it. I definitely wanted to give it a good go, but, I was adamant, that not breastfeeding my baby, wouldn’t overly-upset me.
Well, I was unable to breastfeed when Rex was born. It was due to his premature arrival, and the fact he was far too little for us to give it our best shot. However, he was able to have my breast milk; it was just through a feeding tube instead (in his nostril, that went down to his stomach). So, I was to start expressing as soon as possible. And, express I did. Every 2-3 hours, without fail, for the majority of the 10 weeks we were in NICU. I eventually managed to move onto breastfeeding Rex. And, this all sounds pretty straightforward. But, let me tell you, it was an emotional roller-coaster that I did not expect….
I felt like a cow (free range, obvs)
As soon as I popped-on those Medela suction cups (they reminded me of mini gramophones) in hospital, I felt like cattle. I was literally being milked by a machine, and measuring every bit that came-out in the bottles. I was so determined to get Rex some milk, as I just felt that it was all I could do for him on a practical level. The start was so hard because my milk didn’t come-in properly for a while, so I’d often get very little, even after half an hour of expressing each boob.
Whatever I did manage to produce, was whisked-off to NICU, to be put in the fridge for him. I was a human cow, but, way more fragile, and less inclined to roam around in the fresh air. I already knew how great breast milk is for babies, so, I sometimes resented the endless supply of posters and leaflets, that listed the benefits, scattered throughout hospital and NICU. I was like, “OKAY! I’m trying!”.
The schedule was savage
Doing anything every 2-3 hours, day after day, week after week, is hard work. Physically draining milk from your body, after major surgery, adds a new layer of exhaustion to proceedings, that I’d just never experienced before. Fortunately, the NICU nurses, ward nurses, my mom, and my husband, were all amazing. They supported me so that I could focus on Rex and expressing.
I literally couldn’t have kept it-all-up without them. I managed to shower myself every other day; however, I did not have any energy left to cook, clean, buy stuff, or go anywhere other than Intensive Care Room 1, in St Michael’s Hospital.
I became an eating machine
I had a few issues with sickness after my c-section (apparently; I really don’t remember those days). However, once I was fully in the swing of expressing up to 500ml each time, I was a new level of hungry. Even though I’m vegetarian; if you’d have stuck a steak on my plate, I’d have inhaled it. I was eating like never before, and I’ve always had a good appetite. I was insatiable. On top of my large meals, it was snack after snack.
I was eating a mix of pure, nutritional goodness, absolute shite, and any foods that fell between. Because my body was using-up the majority of that fuel (ahem), my blood glucose levels were great, sometimes, too low; therefore, it was my mission to top-up. Constantly. Jeez, I miss gorging myself daily. It was a real silver lining to the NICU cloud; I could eat all the carbs I wanted, without having to inject a staggering amount of insulin. Thank you nature, thank you universe; I lived my pappardelle dreams on the regular.
It made my heart break
Obviously, I had to leave NICU every evening so that I could go home to wash, sleep, and eat some more. The expressing didn’t stop though. We hired a fancy Medela machine for the apartment, and I kept-up with the routine each night. It was the night expressing, without Rex in my arms, or anywhere nearby, that was just horrible. I can’t think about those moments without getting tearful.
Everything about it felt wrong. It was a physical, and painful reminder, that my baby boy was covered in tubes and wires, surrounded by beeping, away from his mama. I ached to hold him and to feel his skin on mine. But, I’d be sat, alone in a dark living room, listening to the hum of the breast pump, with tears streaming down my face.
Boob size means sod all
Thank goodness, because as a humble A-cup, I was worried it’d affect my milk production, or, if I’d have enough to fill-up Rex. It didn’t. My boobs went-up a couple of cup sizes. It was glorious. I enjoyed that cleavage a lot. The milk production was pretty constant, so as it left my body, more was being made. Cup-size played no part in breastfeeding. Phew!
Getting my baby to latch was an art
When it was time to introduce Rex to the boob, I was excited. However, I had no idea just how challenging it can be to get that latch right. To be honest, if I hadn’t had the help of a breastfeeding specialist in NICU, I doubt I’d have breastfed for long at all. She really helped me.
If it’s of any help to anyone at all; wait for that wide mouth that hungry babies do, then get as much of your boob in their mouth as possible. I’d always assumed that it was just a nipple thing. It ain’t. It’s all of the surrounding area too; they need to be sucking the boob, not just the nipple. Now, I am not an expert, but, after 3 sessions with “the boob whisperer” and a lot of perseverance, we got there. However, I really mean it when I say that we wouldn’t have, if it weren’t for the help of someone who’d been helping women, do the same, for nearly 20 years. I definitely didn’t feel like a natural.
The rush of chemicals was intense
I was initially elated (and, throughout) that we’d cracked-it. But, oh my days, I was not expecting that flooding feeling. All the chemicals and hormones, literally felt like they’d pulsed through my body all at once, when he latched and started to feed. It was blissful, if, at times, a little too intense. I would cry a lot in the first few weeks of breastfeeding. I think it was a mixture of relief and my body coping with the fact that it was doing new things.
Then there’d be calm. So much calm that I’d feel the need to sleep; it was like a massive comedown, after a mass of adrenaline. Dreamy, full-on, emotional, and as primal as I’m ever going to get. Things settled a little bit after a while; but, I’ll never forget that feeling. It was totally addictive; finally I was able to do something really natural with my baby, after feeling so removed from “normal” motherhood, for so long.
I managed to trigger people
I was in my dreamy, breastfeeding, elation bubble. And, after sharing a lot of our journey online, I decided to share the fact we’d managed to successfully breastfeed, on my Instagram. Most people were, as usual, just lovely about it, excited even. But, I did receive a few messages from women, saying that an unannounced display of breastfeeding, had triggered them.
They had struggled with their feeding journey, or hadn’t been able to at all, which I completely understand is an issue for many. I felt awful. It really upset me; the thought of upsetting others with my news/situation, was too much at that time. After speaking to friends, on and off line, I felt a little better; I didn’t feel like I was in the wrong. I wasn’t trying to be smug at all; however, perhaps I was thoughtless towards those who had their own struggles with it all. It still makes me feel a bit sad.
Sometimes I felt trapped
The thing about exclusively breastfeeding on demand is, well, you have to be there, ready to pop your boobs out, at any given moment. This does take away a certain amount of freedom. I’d never begrudge Rex of his food (he’s just like me, and would get super hangry); however, sometimes, it would take me a lot of effort, as I had to find some energy that I didn’t really have. There were days when I found this really stifling, and I felt so trapped. There were, obviously, no breaks or days/nights off. This can get overwhelming at times. Then, the mom-guilt would creep in.
It was super leaky
Breast pads were my best friend (Lansinoh were my fave, they were the most absorbent). These are basically circular sanitary towels for your boobs. I had to change mine regularly, because I was leaking all the time. Between feeding and expressing, I was still getting a flow of milk; it wasn’t a drip here and there, it was a steady flow that ruined most outfits, and meant that I had to invest in a lot of spare nursing bras. Breast milk itself is free, but, for me, the process was a little pricey.
I wore a bra 24/7
I hate bras. To me, they feel like prisons for your boobs. As mentioned, I have a modest-sized chest, so I’ve never had to rely on a bra for physical support; which, I now feel extremely lucky for. Because I had to wear my breast pads each day, and, especially at night; there was no escaping the fact that I needed a bra on. All. The. Time. I disliked this bit, a lot.
Right, I have a baby boy who needs me, so, I’m going to continue this at a later date. Apologies, this wasn’t meant to be a two-parter; I just wanted to ensure that something goes up Sunday morning (I have a blog schedule that I’m doing my best to stick-to). Please, let me know if there are any questions you have, regarding my breastfeeding experience, and I’ll answer them in the next one.
Peace, love, and my chemical romance, Fay x
One thought on “Expressing and breastfeeding: the joy, the tears, the leaking….”