Alice Springs Hospital is a breastfeeding hospital. It receives extra funding to ensure that all mothers leave knowing how to breastfeed and all babies leave being able to breastfeed. This is mainly because Alice Springs Hospital services all communities and towns (all with majority indigenous populations) within a 2000 square kilometre radius of Alice Springs. Many of these communities are run by generator power, if they have power at all, & so bottle feeding would be slightly problematic. In these cases it is best that the mother & baby leave hospital being able to feed. The large area that Alice Springs Hospital covers also means that the staff are experienced in numerous high risk pregnancies and deliveries.
I had always intended on trying to breastfeed but with the wisdom of my friend’s recent experiences with breastfeeding & certain midwives & lactation consultants, I knew that I wasn’t going to kill myself doing it. My mental & physical health and the baby’s mental & physical health came first.
Right after the birth (Monday 20th, two weeks early) we tried to breastfeed. It seemed to work ok, but she lost interest after a while, which is fair enough, she’d been through a fair bit in the previous hours, but it became clear over the next day (Tuesday) that she really wasn’t interested in breastfeeding. The lactation consultant had been successful in getting her to feed but she refused to stay latched on. The rewards were too few for so much work. She’d go all red & scream & the lactation consultant would force her head onto my breast. Then she’d pull off & scream more & the process would be repeated. Meanwhile it hurt like hell. They really should give you painkillers. That night the midwife used a syringe to suction off expressed milk & we fed her with that.
Wednesday morning repeated the similar pattern, red face, screaming, head forcing, pulling off, repeat. While I took a shower the lactation consultant weighed her and found that she had already lost more than 10% of her body weight. In order for her to gain back the weight before her official day three weigh in the next day, we started her on formula through a tube attached to my boob. She latched properly for this as the formula flowed free & easy. After each feeding I expressed for ten minutes with the double electric breast pump.
Thursday she had maintained her weight & although the loss was just below 10%, the doctors decided to continue with the formula boob tube & not have her admitted to the nursery & fed through her nose. That morning was also back to trying to breastfeed and it felt like that was all we did, feed & pump from 10 until 4. It was an exhausting, traumatic day. She still didn’t want to feed & screamed, with the lactation consultant shoving my breast into her mouth.
That afternoon I had a bit of a breakdown. What with constant interruptions from hospital staff & the breastfeeding, it felt like things were spinning out of control. Over the past few days our baby had gone from a fairly content baby to one who wouldn’t be put down & would rarely stop crying. That night Nick stayed up all night with her so I could get some rest. During one of the night feeds we found that she wasn’t sucking the breast, she’d worked out that the milk was coming from the tube & just sucked that instead. By the time the 5:00 feed rolled around we had decided that we were not going to continue breastfeeding.
The decision to stop felt quite liberating. No more pressure to make this work & no more hours of her screaming. It couldn’t be good for her to be getting so worked up for such long periods of time. The midwife who was with us Thursday afternoon & the one with us Thursday night were both really supportive of our decision. There was no trying to talk us out of it, they’d both seen what we’d gone through and felt we were making the right decision. At her Friday weigh in she still hadn’t put on any weight, but she hadn’t lost any either, confirming that we needed to be feeding her better.
I continued to express, as this was working and by Saturday night we were down to only one or two formula feeds a day. It was disappointing how many midwives over the weekend were not supportive of our decision, even when it was clear that she was mostly on breast milk, it was just going into her mouth from a bottle, not a breast. Who really cares how she’s fed, as long as she’s gaining weight (which by Saturday she had) and is happy? And if we were exclusively formula feeding, then so what? As long as she’s gaining weight & is happy.
Of course the lactation consultant didn’t give up with her lectures about the benefits of breastfeeding, with weak arguments like ‘it’s easier’, um for whom? Not for my baby who refuses to suck the breast properly. Not for me when it hurts like hell because she has to try latching a million times without making it work. Bottle feeding means Nick can feed her. I can’t miss night feeds because I need to express as well, but with Nick feeding her while I express, the night feed times are considerably shorter. Cleaning a few bottles & mixing formula is not hard work. Not when it means my baby is happy & healthy.
While we were still in hospital we had to keep a record of when she fed, how much and what for the hospital to prove we weren’t starving her. During this time she fed every three hours and we woke her for feeds if she was still sleeping. Now she feeds on demand during the day, which can be twice an hour or once every three or four hours. At night she wakes up every two and a half hours to be fed. We find changing her nappy then feeding her is the best way to get her back to sleep quickly. I express with an electric pump for fifteen minutes every three hours (sometimes every four but by then my boobs are getting pretty full). I’ve found that if I don’t express for fifteen minutes, my right boob isn’t properly drained and it starts to hurt. A cloth soaked in Epsom Salts helps this but it is just best to express for the fifteen minutes.
We were finally discharged a week after her birth, though she wasn’t at her birth weight. We continued to be seen by a lovely midwife (who bottle fed all three of her kids and they all somehow made it through university and speak two languages) each day until she reached past her birth weight. The midwife mentioned that the lactation consultant wanted to see me again, but I just said no. Our system works fine. I have tried breastfeeding again a few times since we’ve been home, but it’s been met with the same response, screaming, not latching, frustration. Breastfeeding just doesn’t work for all babies, especially babies who come too early.