My pregnancy was going well apart from some morning sickness for the first 25 weeks but this was minor so I was happy. Our pēpi was due August 27th 2020 but at our 38 week midwife check up some tests came back confirming I had preeclampsia. After a week of monitoring, I was given an induction date just short of a week later. Our birth went well, really well! I was expecting worse considering this was my first pregnancy and birth. Our daughter latched right away. I was absolutely thrilled as breast feeding was always our plan. So from here I assumed the breast feeding would be straight forward. Boy, was I wrong!
Just a few hours later our daughter was hungry. Really hungry. I was exhausted but determined. I tried to latch her myself as due to our earlier feeding experience I thought it must be as easy as that. My husband tried, my midwife tried, a hospital midwife tried… and the list went on. I was told about the engorgement feeling, the pain and how your milk supply can take a few days to come through. What was reassuring was knowing how little my daughter actually needed to get by. At this time, this is what got me through. However I hadn’t even produced that little amount. After many failed attempts of latching and hand expressing all day and early evening hospital staff offered us the option of donor milk (of which we had earlier agreed too).
Day one: So at less than 24 hours old our daughter took her first bottle, had her first taste of donor milk. I felt like an absolute failure. I had never cried so much in my life. What made this situation harder, I was in the hospital on my own without any support of whānau due to the covid restrictions. Although feeling defeated I wanted to continue trying.
Day two: The hospital lactation consultant visited me on day two and said it was completely normal for my milk to take a few days due to being induced so she had me set up on a hospital pump as well as hand expressing into syringes. Something I knew nothing about, wasn’t told about or taught at any antenatal class. My husband and I spent hours hand expressing into syringes just to get 0.2ml. I literally had a drip every few hours. It was tough!
Day three: came around and I still didn’t have any milk nor was my daughter latching (due to no milk). A full day and night of trying, latching attempts (lots of failure) feeding and then pumping after every “feed”. Still no milk. My breasts were sore. Not from engorgement but from so many failed attempts with our latch. My nipples were raw, bleeding, cracked and I was in agony. I had so many moments of wanting to just quit. Due to not having my milk supply ready on tap, we were unable to go home. I thought, ok tomorrow must be the day!
Day four- still no milk! I had another visit from the lactation consultant. Pumping was increased. A nipple shield was introduced. We were even fake feeding through a tube that was placed in a bottle of donor milk and fed through the nipple shield. I remember a hospital midwife sitting with me one evening and explaining how the latch will happen once there is a reward. I was getting very emotional over it all. I felt more of a failure than ever before in my life! I could not feed our pēpi. It was day four and we were expecting to go home. But we couldn’t as my milk was not through.
Day five- we were told today we could go home. This was amazing news after everything we had been through. However I was concerned and worried as I had no way of feeding our pēpi as my milk supply still wasn’t through! However we were fortunate enough to be able to use the Canterbury Rotary Milk bank and arranged to collect donor milk on the way home. They were amazing to deal with and so understanding but were also light on supply. We were lucky enough to secure 6 bottles to take home. We were good to go, packed and ready to head home. We had whānau who I couldn’t wait to see and meet this new bundle of joy we had bought into this world! Our excitement soon come to an end. We had a hospital midwife come in to check our daughters weight. She had dropped 11.7% of her body weight in 5 days. This was absolutely heart breaking. We weren’t going home. We weren’t able to show our daughter the big wide world ahead of us.
Day six- finally! We were heading home! But guess what? Still no milk supply! However the process was to attempt the feed, top up with donor milk and then pump after every feed! Every single feed! Not just for that day but for the next week. As well as this, my midwife recommended I take milk thistle and fenugreek.
With our daughter losing so much weight we had to record her input and output after every feed, after every pump and at every change. This was our routine for several more days and finally after 10 days my supply was in. I was more determined than ever to breast feed but my supply was still so limited. At this time I thought this was it, we would be good to go from here on in! But the struggle wasn’t over. We still had to pump after every feed and record input and output for 6 weeks!
We still struggled with the latch and supply. We had completely used our donor milk supply and desperately needed more. The milk bank gave us their last bottle they had one evening before closing and weren’t going to have any more for a few days. I felt guilty, embarrassed and felt like I was depriving other pēpi but they reassured me this was not the case.
It was my midwife who got me in touch with a community lactation consultant through Te Puawaitanga. Together we checked the latch, palate and feeding style. A part of me was hoping there was a “real” reason I couldn’t do this. But there was nothing at all. It was simply a trial and error for my daughter and I. Something we would both eventually learn, something we would eventually get the hang of, well this is what everyone kept telling me…
I had such a great support network, my midwife visited more than usual, I had weekly check ins with the community lactation consultant and I had gone through 3 different styles of pumps to find what worked for me.
My daughter was 3 weeks old when I woke one morning to drenched breast pads! What a relief this was! I had marble like lumps and bumps all over my breasts! I was so happy with this feeling. It was pain I wanted to feel! I was engorged and I was happy about it! Still for weeks we had to work on the latch. Breast feeding took me eight weeks to fully establish. Even with this established I ran into severe nipple pain, cracked nipples, and an infection in one side after the eight week period. Finally when my daughter was three months old I could confidently feed without any assistance of a nipple shield, I had no pain, I had no issues.
For the first 6 months of our breast feeding journey I was pumping after every feed. I managed to pump enough for a freezer supply of milk. With that in mind I wanted to give back to the milk bank. When my daughter was six months old I started the process of this. With a few blood tests and questionnaires completed I was compatible to donate. I felt so good about this and enjoyed the process of pumping knowing my milk was going to help someone else who may be in the same situation I was! After pumping for various hours, freezing milk and then donating I received a call from the milk bank saying that some of the milk had a high bacteria count and they had to discard the breast milk. This was absolutely heart breaking. I had worked so hard to build my supply for it to go down the drain! However, this can be quite common when you first donate due to process. So I reevaluated and pumped again and donated again. 2 litres later and I felt satisfied that I had done what was right for my daughter and myself.
My daughter is nearly one, still breast fed and doesn’t look like she’s going to give it in any time soon. I absolutely love the bonding process it has had on me. I have learned so much and am grateful that it was even an option for me. I am so proud of myself. I persisted with the hardest thing of my life while my mental health really took a toll. Our breast feeding journey isn’t over just yet but I will never take it for granted.