This blog post isn’t sharing my crafty creations like usual, this post is about celebrating a personal milestone. Harrison was six months old on the 5th of February and this meant we had joined the 15% of Australian mothers who exclusively breastfed their baby at the 6 month mark. I’m looking forward to commencing baby led weaning once he can sit unassisted but I also wanted to take a look back at the challenges we faced prior to getting to this point. It’s a bit of a novel, sorry.
Photo by Juniper Bloom Portraiture.
Like everyone, my breastfeeding journey started well before Harrison’s birth. My mother breastfed myself and my two siblings, my brother is 5 years younger than me so I can remember watching this occur so to me this was the natural way to feed babies. Two of my close friends had babies before me and I know they had conversations about the difficulties of breastfeeding and pumping but to be honest I didn’t really pay much attention. The nurse running out antenatal class mentioned the benefits of attending a breastfeeding class prior to giving birth and I distinctly remember saying to my husband Ben ‘What kind of idiot goes to a breastfeeding class?’ I thought you’d just stick your baby on to your boob and off you go. If I can give one piece of advice to any expectant mothers it is get yourself to a breastfeeding class before you give birth!!! The Australian Breastfeeding Association runs fantastic ones, teaching you about different feeding positions, what a good latch looks like, what kind of difficulties your might face and how to overcome these (low supply, mastitis, blocked ducts etc) and so much more.
Harrison was born via emergency c-section @ 11.15am on Tuesday 5/8/14 after 19 hours of labour. He was put on my chest for skin-to-skin contact while I was in recovery however he wasn’t interested in latching and instead just went to sleep. He weighed 3.470kg (25th – 50th percentile) and was 51 cm long (50th – 75th percentile). We were in hospital for six days and had difficulty with feeding during the whole time, despite assistance from the midwives and lactation consultants. They would tell me Harrison needed to feed more often but he would sleep for 4-5 hour stretches and being a first time mum I didn’t realise I needed to wake him for feeds. His latch was horrible, resulting in him falling off often and causing me to have cracked nipples. Feeding sessions would often go for 45 minutes to an hour. We were discharged on Sunday 10/8/14 and Harrison weighed 3.333kg.
Harrison asleep in recovery, he looks so tiny looking back now.
We were so happy to be home and looking forward to getting into a routine. Alas, it was not to be. Monday afternoon I started to feel unwell with flu like symptoms. By the time Ben got home from basketball I was on the couch shaking with chills. A quick Google of symptoms revealed I probably had mastitis (which we would have known if I’d gone to a class) and after finding I had a temperate around 39C we headed back to the hospital. We spent three more days in hospital being treated with antibiotics, treating my boobs with heat packs before feeds and ice after. Harrison continued to have difficulty feeding and my nipples continued to crack and bleed. We were discharged on Tursday 14/8/14 and I said to Ben ‘Let’s try and make it longer than 36 hours at home this time’.
I should not have tempted fate. Friday night I was again having flu symptoms but luckily without the high fever this time. I had a Medcall doctor come out who said since I was still on antibiotics from the last bout they only option was to return to the hospital. I was beside myself, crying and telling Ben I couldn’t go back to hospital again as the staff would think I was a failure and a horrible mother. We agreed to go to our GP the following day instead and see if he thought hospital admission was necessary. Luckily, the GP opted to give me two MASSIVE shots of penicillin and continue with the antibiotics at home with instructions to go to hospital is symptoms worsened. He also took a blood sample to check on the infection.
A few days later I received a phone call from my GP, who assumed I had been admitted to hospital as the blood test results showed this second bout of mastitis was twice as bad as the first one. He was very surprised to hear we had stuck it out at home.
Our feeding troubles continued at home (blocked ducts, cracked nipples, poor latch) so I booked in to see a private midwife/lactation consultant on 20/8/14. At this appointment Harrison weighed 3.30kg, meaning he had lost weight since his discharge from hospital rather than gain it like he should have. We commenced a strict three hour feeding routine, in place 24/7. My life became all about watching the clock to make sure I was waking him up for these feeds. Given his feeds could take anywhere from 45 minutes to 1.5 hours I was not able to do pretty much anything else. The pain from the cracked nipples was excruciating, sometimes so much that I would cry out when Harrison latched. Ben could no longer bear to watch me feed because I was in so much obvious pain. My introduction to mummy-guilt was the fact that I dreaded having to feed my child.
My sleepy bubba at 3 weeks old (26/8/14).
At 3am on Saturday 23/8/14, in tears, I hopped on the website for International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLC) in Australia and New Zealand (here) and emailed every IBCLC on the Gold Coast to see if they could do a home consultation that day as I just couldn’t deal with the pain any longer. I was so lucky to have Shona Cassels be the first one to respond. She came to see me and spent 2 hours going over history and helping me with Harrison’s latch. Most importantly though, she gave me back a bit of confidence in my ability to feed my baby.
I continued to have appointments with the midwife and Shona for the next few weeks and Harrison was slowly putting on weight. The six-week check up with the paediatrician came around on 18/9/14 and I told him I was still taking 45 minutes to 1.5 hours per feed and having to feed every 2.5-3 hours, resulting in spending 6-7 hours every day feeding. Harrison weighed 4.48kg (25th to 50th percentile) and was 57cm long (75th percentile). The doctor could see I was exhausted from this and said he would have expected Harrison to be growing much more quickly for the amount of time I was spending feeding. He recommended I put Harrison on formula or take Motillium to boost my supply if I was set on continuing to breastfeed and consider getting a sleep consultant in to set him up in a routine. I was distraught by this advice, seeing my inability to feed Harrison as an indication I was a failure as a mother.
I went to see my GP that day to get some Motillium and he said he’d never heard of the medication being used in that manner. He also questioned whether I was sure it was a low supply problem as that seemed at odds with having multiple bouts of mastitis and blocked ducts. Nevertheless, he still provided the prescription. I am thankful that he let me consider the matter without pressure from him.
I also went to see Shona the next day and told her the advice I had received. Luckily, she thought we could manage the feeding problems without going to formula. I had previously been letting Harrison feed for as long as he wanted on one breast only each feed. Shona convinced me to start limiting Harrison to 20 minutes on each side for each feed, so it would still take the same amount of time but hopefully he would be getting more milk. This was also the first time Shona raised the possibility of a tongue tie being at play as to the reason for the poor latch and cracked nipples.
The new feeding technique was a huge success. Harrison’s weight climbed rapidly, weighing 5.14kg at 8 weeks and 5.6 kg at 9 weeks. We continued to see Shona on a regular basis for continuing tips and improvements on his latch and slowly my nipples began to heal. It was so good to no longer have pain when feeding and actually be able to appreciate this special time with my son. Shona also recommended we see an infant osteopath to see if she could assist with the tongue tie issues, so we started these sessions too.
Progress shots taken at 2, 3 and 4 months.
By three months Harrison weighed around 7kg, meaning he had jumped up to the 90th percentile. It appeared Harrison and I had learnt to feed despite the tongue tie, but Shona noticed he still compressed my nipple and was concerned is might have caused restrictions would could be a problem when we eventually progressed to solids. We made the decision to visit a dentist in Brisbane to have the tongue tie revised through laser surgery. I was so nervous about this decision, as there was the possibility Harrison could need to learn how to feed all over again once his tongue tie was released and we had just reached a point where it was comfortable. I also didn’t want to cause any unnecessary pain to my baby. However, both Shona and the osteopath thought it was the best way to proceed. At the dentist we discovered Harrison also had an upper lip tie, so this was revised at the same time. We were not in the room while the ties were cut with a laser and he was distraught when he was brought in to us however he quickly latched and started feeding straight away with plenty of skin-to-skin contact. We had been warned Harrison might need pain relief in the days following but he was a trooper and didn’t appear to suffer any ill effects. Best of all, he continued to feed well and didn’t need any changes to his technique. We had to continue to do stretching exercise in his mouth for 21 days after the surgery to prevent re-attachment. We could quite quickly see the increased range of movement of his tongue.
At the four month check Harrison weighed 9.3kg and was 69.5cm long, both of which are above the 97th percentile. I think it was around this time I really felt I had found my groove as a parent. We were into a good little weekly routine, I was used to the lack of sleep and feeding was no longer an issue.
By our six month check Harrison weighed 11.2kg (97th percentile mark for this age is 10kg so he is WAY over) and was 73cm long (97th percentile). We are excited about starting solids now and at this stage plan to continue complementary breastfeeding for another six months. While I’ve mentioned a number of professionals who assisted me in my breastfeeding journey, the one person I couldn’t have done this without is definitely my husband Ben. Whether it was his encouragement to keep going when I needed it, bringing me food and drink while I was feeding, his conversation during those hours stuck sitting in the one space or even the time he purchased formula on the way home from work when I broke down after a particularly horrendous day and then just tucked it into the pantry when I advised I’d changed my mind by the time he made it home. I know I would never have made this milestone without him and I’m so grateful to him for his assistance.
Photo by Juniper Bloom Portraiture.