15 July 2008

Breast Feeding, the taboo topic

I have started this post so many times. Will I write it....no I won't, no, I will, nah. Well now I have finally decided to do it. Breast feeding is something that, to me, was one of the most natural things in the world and is now something I feel very passionately about. I was breast fed, so was my brother. The Dad was breast fed, the only one of four. My aunt has breast fed all three of her boys. My three sisters in law breast fed all their children. So of course I was always going to breast feed. I was shocked to find out that it's just not the norm in this country. The breast feeding rate is shockingly low, approx 40%, but I believe the number of women who continue after a few weeks drops again.

The one thing that you are not told is how bloody hard it's going to be for the first few weeks. Natural my arse. Nothing this "natural" should hurt this much (this goes for child birth too by the way, maybe I should have had that epidural). And it is hard, very very very hard.

I had planned to go to a local breastfeeding group the week before Cathal was born, but he had other ideas and entered this world on the day the group was on. So that was that, I really hadn't a clue. Then he just would not take to breast feeding when he was born. I now know that it was due to his sleepy, I've just been born, and I have downs, and low muscle tone all over, poor me thing he had going. Also, the three little heart conditions didn't help in any way. He wasn't breast fed at all the first day. He was put on a drip when he got to Crumlin that night, and I think I tried the next day, but now joy. The nurse was lovely, and did try to help, but she didn't really know what she was doing either. I think that the nurses and midwives in this country only get minimal training in breastfeeding, so can't give any practical or knowledgeable advice. They do try, but nothing beats first hand experience. This seems to be why so many women give up so quickly, the lack of good advice and the lack of support. A few posters in the maternity hospital and a leaflet I just happened to spot in one area was my guide before Cathal was born. If this is any indication of the support out there, it's not surprising why the numbers are low.

Luckily, one of my sister in laws had lent me her pump (thank you so much L!!) that she had finished using. This was a life saver, I was able to get my supply going and bottle feed Cathal EBM and he also got formula. I kept on trying to latch him on over the next few days, but he was so sleepy (very common for new heart babies), he would suck away for 5mins, then go to sleep. He was getting more and more jaundiced, which just made him sleepier. So, that was three things making him sleepy, downs, heart, jaundice. It was a vicious cycle. Even though I kept trying to latch him on, we would bottle feed him too. The routine for the day was, get up, express, go to hospital, spend all day there, home at about 10pm, express before bed while boiling everything that needed to be sterilized (including the actual motor part of the pump, it still works though), alarm set for 4am, get up express while falling asleep in the kitchen.

By the time he left hospital, I was expressing enough for him. I kept this up at home for a few days (and we bought a sterilizer, well worth it for the two weeks I used it). Then I hit a solid brick wall, I just coudn't do it. He wasn't getting it, I wasn't getting it, we were both all over the place. Expressing is such hard work, firstly, you feel like you belong on a farm, so that doesn't help your confidence, secondly, I could not express enough for Cathal. He wasn't latching on, I was so exhausted from the 10 days he was in hospital, I broke down. I remember crying in the Dad's arms saying that I needed to sleep just for one night. When Cathal got home, I would have to wake him up at 4am(too sleepy to wake himself up), try to feed him, which would take about 30-40min, then express for another 30min. I went out that evening to buy a box of formula (NOOOOO.....don't do it!!!) We made up a feed (it's far too complicated, you need to boil water, then let it cool, then exact measuring and mixing and then warm it up again!?! Takes 5 hours to make up a bottle) It did not go down too well, he threw most of it back up, awful gloopy stuff. Mister Cathal was used to booby milk and pre made little packets of formula, if you don't mind.

I posted my dilemma and crazy stressed out cry for help on roller coaster, and the fantastic ladies on the breast feeding board showed me the light!! Hallelujah, people who know what to do and what I am going through. They told me I was not alone. Most breast feeding women go through this, they sent me to Kelly Mom . This is an amazing website, full of practical, step by step, picture described latching on positions and other fantastic information. I tried the techniques, and low and behold, it worked!!!! Cathal was latching on. Good buy pump (or so I thought).

The second time Cathal was in hospital, I was able to breast feed him on demand in hospital, express enough for him during the evening and morning for the night nurses. He got formula once, by accident (don't ask, I am still raging about it). While he was in ICU, he was tube fed my milk, and I truly believe that because of this, he made such a speedy recovery. He was waiting 2 weeks for the operation and during these two weeks, there was a nasty tummy bug doing the rounds on the ward. Did he catch it? Not at all, he's a strong boy.

If you can breast feed, you should. Feeding a special needs baby though is tough, small mouth, low muscle tone, tongue tie, heart problems, all contributed to Cathal's slow start. But we got there. If we can do it, any one can, you just need the motivation, the drive to keep going.

It is hard to start, and painful, but it does get easier. Breast feeding is a supply and demand thing, no matter what size you are, you will always have enough (I am a testament to this, not too big on top am I). Trust is one of the things that you also need to learn. Your baby knows how much he needs, so no need to obsess over how many ounces he's taking, trust him.

I plan to breast feed up till he is a year old, so that he can get the full benefit of my immune system while he recovers after his big operation. I would encourage all the lovely mammies to be out there to try it, that's all, just try it, and give it a chance. You do grow to love it, eventually.

Not a boob in sight


Lisamaree said...

Good woman for speaking out!
I beloieve Sonia O'sullivan touched on this when she became an aussie citizen. She said that it was so much easier to breast feed her kids in Australia and I can attest to that. Physically; even after a caesar the midwives were able to hook me up (so to speak) as they put up the bed rail on one side, and tucked bratty in to latch on while I was lying down.n She was jaundiced too and we couldnt go home until we both turned a normal color (Obs and Paed's ganging up on us) So I fed and fed and fed! And boy did my Milk come in big time on the 3rd day. (day 1 and 2 are just colustrum, very important but small in qty)
So here I am looking like Dolly parton. My breasts would greet you half way down the hall way before you even got to my room. I was in agony and Bratty was frightened to come near them. I buzzed for the midwife (caesar wards are so nice!) and low and behold, it was the only male midwife on the shift - of course!
I told him my dilemma and he disappeared to the ice machine to fill a couple of plastic bags, and told me to tuck em'in to my top. Perfect. They calmed things down and Bratty was able to latch on and do her thing.
My sister and my cousin breast fed and were very supportive and encouraging. I never had to leave the room, indeed my Dad called it "the Draught" (as opposed to bottled). And you could go to a lovely nursing room in most shopping centres. Not a toilet or change room but an actual nursing room with a t.v. and big squishy chairs. And you could feed ANYwhere you liked.
I remember we came to Ireland for a visit when Boo was just 12 months old; and I had to wean him. (not socially acceptable) I couldnt get over what a hassle those bottle feeds were. We could no longer go anywhere we liked; without making sure we had enough "feeds" with us. whereas my boobs had been ever ready.
So Yeah sister! I support you.

Cathal's Mammy said...

Thanks Hammie, I think that attitudes are slowly coming around. Not as many lovely comfie nursing rooms here though, but at least I feel I can BF in public without being starred at. And just to follow on from your "Money's too tight to mention", it is actually one of the few thigs that you can do for your baby that is free!!!!

Sesame said...

Well now Cathal's Mammy, here is a delicate topic. Fair play for taking it on.

While I absolutely have no problem with breastfeeding, it is something I chose not to do with any of my children. There were many things that factored into my decision and it's probably a combination of them all more than one particular reason that made me come to that decision.

At the ante-natal clinics the midwife was quite pushy about it, ramming it down your throat (no pun intended)so that put me off a bit. Probably because it was a taboo subject and the reactions of others to it was another reason. I, myself would have felt very awkward around a woman breastfeeding before I had children.

Back in the ward after having my first the oohs and aahs of pain not delight were not to be envied as new mothers came to grips with babies latching on. 4 of the 6 mothers in my ward were b.f.ing their babies and I was glad not to be one of them. My nether region was very sore from episiotomy so last thing I wanted was sore boobs too.

Those mothers seemed to be awake at all hours of the night feeding while I got up every 4 hours gave babs a bottle and back to sleep. So perhaps I was too selfish to breastfeed cos I like my sleep I do. Then at home hubby could take his turn feeding while I slept and I wouldn't be into the whole expressing milk thing.

As I used to work in the hospital and most my friends and some family still do, it meant I had lots of visitors at all hours of the day popping their heads around curtains and would not have been comfortable being on show for everyone.

Neither me or any of my siblings were breastfed and I mentioned in my blog about not being able to say the word Pregnant to my own ma, well breast would have been another word unused in our house. So probably psychologically it's my upbringing that is accountable for my choice.

I take my hat off to you, your persistence is to be admired. Had I decided to breastfeed I probably would have given up at the first hurdle and it looks like Cathal is thriving on it..continued success to you.

(Hammie were you ever told about putting cabbage leaves in your bra to soothe those big melons?)

Nick McGivney said...

Yeah yeah, we men get off scot free in lots of ways, and breast feeding's another. I do a bit of running, and if I get caught in a downpour early on in a long run, I just know I'm going to get raw nipples. So I fully understand the whole deal, okay? Completely. Well maybe not fully, but if my little discomfort hurts that much, you have, all of you, my sincere sympathies. Nobody seems to believe me when I say that I'm jealous of women for what they experience that us men never can, but it's true. Women make babies inside themselves! Wow! You can also feed them! Wow again! I know it ain't easy, but I can NEVER experience what that feels like, and yes, I am jealous of that fact. I better go, I've probably said too much...

Rechru said...

RC mammy here just catching up with your posts, wow Cathal's mammy you and your little fella are an inspiration - what a wonderful bf success story!

What sesame says is so true. I still say that I am feeding my baby 'myself' so that I don't have to say the word 'breast' God help me

Great blog by the way Cathal's Mammy