There's No Use Crying Over S**t Milkby Ellie Thompson
I’m sure that’s how the saying goes…
My blog about crappy milk supply deleted itself. This is the second time I’m writing this. It seems only in keeping with the struggle. So, welcome to the second bash at my boob blog.
Breast is best, so they say. Those words had been ringing in my ears like an unwavering dose of tinnitus for the first ten weeks of my daughter’s life. So then, tell me this - what are you supposed to do when your supply never fully materialises? What then?
Nobody gives you the heads up on that. Oh no. Breastfeeding is all about the mutual back-slapping of how wonderful it is to breastfeed. Or the browbeating you get if you opt not to. Or the complete wankers that berate you for doing it in a public place. Nobody seems to stops to
think about the ones who desperately just want to be able to do it.
Before I gave birth I’ll be honest, I wasn’t overly keen on the idea of breastfeeding. I knew it was the best thing I could do for my baby, so for that reason alone I resigned myself to give it a try, but secretly I made myself no promises. I had made my mind up a long time before, after seeing my sister struggle with reoccurring mastitis that if anything like that happened to me, I’d switch my baby to formula, no sweat. You do your best, and that’s all you can do.
Then you move on. Easy.
[Read more: Why I Was Forced To Stop Breastfeeding]
Fast forward to Maddie’s ten-week birthday, and I was like a dog with a mangy old bone. My supply was never in abundance, to begin with, and as the weeks passed by at breakneck speed, no matter what I did my milk continued to diminish. I didn’t know it at the time, but ten weeks in it was already permanently irrecoverable.
I realised within the first week of Maddie coming home from the hospital that my breast supply didn’t seem to satisfy her appetite. One evening after a restless three days and nights of cluster feeding and an 11% drop in her birth weight, we panicked that she was going hungry and cracked open an emergency carton of formula. It did the trick, she settled immediately after finishing it. I almost felt betrayed at the time. Silly.
Formula and bottle-feeding became a slippery slope for us; we relied on it more and more. My breasts soon became a battleground for Maddie and me. She didn’t want to work for her grub when a bottle was on offer and who can blame her with what I suspect was very little in return for her efforts. Regardless, I still put her to the breast daily, and if I were lucky, at 3am when she was at her most relaxed, she’d spend a little time at my right breast only, before pulling away and screaming the house down. Her reflux was playing a part too, and we struggled to master the upright position – she just didn’t have the patience for it.
It was only when I realised that my breastfeeding journey might actually be over I felt suddenly heartbroken. I had totally underestimated – not even that, I was completely unprepared for how much I had become attached to the bond it gave us, and for everything it signified. It had never once crossed my mind that I might not be able to breastfeed. I took it for granted I’d have the tools I needed to do the job. Not at one point EVER, in any of my NCT classes or in fact, during any conversation about pregnancy, birth, and babies I’d ever had in my entire life was this eventuality presented to me.
Failing at it, the act of breastfeeding all of a sudden came to feel like it was the defining role of a mother, being the only one (in theory) able to do this job. And I was rubbish at it. What did that say about me as a mother? I wondered.
As the days went by, and the realisation sunk in that my boobs alone were unable to sustain my baby, I started to feel angry, and in some strange way, redundant in my role as a mother. How was I different to anybody else that could hold a bottle to her mouth?
I took so much advice throughout my (albeit short) breastfeeding journey. I spoke to several private lactation experts, midwives at the local clinics, health visitors at the weigh-ins and at the house, even my good old GP.
I downed litres of water. We did hours of skin to skin. I hired a hospital-grade pump. I felt like a weirdo sniffing her baby grows while I pumped. I started taking Fenugreek and Lethicin. I’d eaten so many lactation cookies I ended up fatter than I was post-immediate-pregnancy. I spent hours watching endless lactation supply videos on YouTube. I googled and googled: nothing helped.
From week six I dedicated every spare moment to pumping around the clock. A month later, my efforts had gone largely unrewarded, although perhaps they helped sustain the little supply I did have. It’s probable that without that hard work my milk would have already been
My lovely NCT friends all had a plentiful supply of golden nectar. Their blossoming bosoms overflowed with nutritious milk for their lucky babies. I was updated daily by our Whatsapp group how much milk they’d pump off before they could even physically feed their babies, how they might dump a watery ounce (DUMP AN OUNCE!!? Ya what?!), or that halfway through a feed they could still squirt oncoming traffic in the eye at 50 paces… talk about super soakers. I was coming up so incredibly short and it hurt.
[Read more: Expressing and Storing Breast Milk]
These busy ladies were effortlessly building up supplies for their freezers. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t want them to feel as though they had to censor their efforts because of my plight, but hearing their stories, I benchmarked myself against them all and couldn’t help but feel like a complete failure.
I was one of those limescale ridden showerheads. One of those hose sets you attached to your bath taps in the ’80s in the absence of a half-decent shower. The faucet offered a promising limp spurt or two, but I mean really, it’s no way to wash your hair. To me, it seemed everybody else’s babies were basking under a rainforest shower, while my baby was sat under a biblical drought.
Through gritted teeth, I continued to fight the good fight. Despite the daily frustration, and on-going nipple pain thanks to persistent pumping, (one funnel being too big for my nipple, and the size down being surely too small…) I couldn’t bring myself to give up. “I won’t quit. I can’t quit. I don’t want to quit. If I can just pump150-200ml a day in my baby, surely that counts for something? Surely they’ll be health benefits?” – The argument on repeat in my head at the time.
I crossed the finish line at three months on the nose. All I could pump was about 30ml in total in a 24-hour period so I finally gave up. It was a really hard move to make but honestly, there was no decision to make, it had been made for me. I didn’t need to wean myself off breastfeeding. My milk supply was already gone. RIP.
In the days that passed, I felt so much better. It was a weight off my shoulders - a huge relief. I could concentrate on my baby. I wasn’t living a miserable life tied to a pump.
I vowed with my second never to pile that much pressure on myself again.
This blog post will no doubt evoke reactions such as ‘Don’t beat yourself up!’ ‘A fed baby is a happy baby!’ ‘You’ve done your best!’ ‘Time to concentrate on your baby and not be all- consumed with something that’s never going to happen’… OR, perhaps that’s just the advice I’d give to somebody in my shoes. It’s ever so easy when you haven’t been there, and when you’re not there, but I was definitely there. I was the last one to leave the party, it was just an incredibly pity my tits failed to show up at all.
Join me in my next blog to find out how I’m getting on a second time around…