Permission to Stop Breastfeeding

A mum share her experience

I can still remember lying in bed as an uncomfortable, large bellied 8 ½ month pregnant Mum to be, thinking about the months to come of late night/early morning feeding sessions with our precious, much anticipated bundle of joy that was due to arrive in the coming weeks.  I had always assumed I would breastfeed for the first year plus of my babies lives.  My Mum had done it, my aunties had done it, sister-in-laws, colleagues, everyone! And reading all the research about bonding, what’s best for baby and what’s best for Mum, I had it set in my mind that I would be a breastfeeding ninja!  It’s the most natural thing in the world, right?

Annie arrived, after a relatively short labour with a few complications.  She was perfect!  Mum and Dad felt very proud and awestruck by this amazing little person who was the most beautiful baby girl we had ever seen.  I remember being fascinated when our midwife placed Annie on me, and she wriggled up and latched on with a bit of assistance – Annie and I were made to be together, she knew what to do without me having to do anything.  The human body is an amazing thing!  Unfortunately she was whipped away to have cuddles with Dad as further complications meant that specialists had to intervene.  As a result of these complications I spent that night in the Delivery suite (lucky I was tired out so the noise didn’t bother me!), and the following morning was transferred upstairs to the maternity ward for a further 5 nights.

During my stay in hospital, I had a lot of trouble with cracked, bleeding nipples and blisters.  I had a lot of assistance from all the hospital midwives, nurses, lactation consultants and my midwife to help with latching Annie on correctly.  I tried many different positions, and by the time I left to come home I thought I had it sorted.  We arrived home and Annie was due for her first home breastfeed.  It didn’t go well.  I was in tears, there was blood around Annie’s mouth and it ended with both Annie and I crying wondering what was going on.

We made a frantic call to my sister-in-law, who lives around the corner, and she was round in minutes to help.  She gave the instructions for New Dad to head to the supermarket and buy a bottle for newborns. My midwife was also called and she dropped in a breast pump for me and told me to express what I could for Annie to give my nipples a break. I was lucky that I could express easily, so I was able to express and give her milk through a bottle that New Dad had ran out to buy at 11pm on our first night home.   Without the support of my sister-in-law and midwife, we would have had no idea about sterilising the bottle and other preparation needed for bottle feeding.

We ended up getting the “Close to Nature” bottles as they were meant to be more like a breast than other bottles and teats.  Because I was planning on getting back on the breastfeeding wagon we used a large pot on the stove to sterilise at first.  But after many close calls (baby brain meant that I forgot about boiling pots!), burnt hands, and in one case a melted bottle lid we got an “Avent Microwave Steriliser“.  It was so much quicker and safer!  We were able to put the breast pump, bottles etc in there as well, even though they weren’t ‘Avent’ brand.

I learnt to grit my teeth and bear the pain during feeding, the blisters came and went, some days it was ok to feed, others were terrible.  I ended up with a few infections, constantly cracked, bleeding nipples and Post Natal Depression.  I felt like such a failure as a mother.  This was meant to be the most natural thing in the world, and I couldn’t for the life of me figure it out.

Annie was a perfect baby, she slept well, and despite my issues with feeding, she was a good feeder.  I continued to have support from my family, friends, midwife, Plunket and lactation consultants.  Finally at 11 weeks my sister-in-law sat down and talked to me about how things were going.  She was great.  She had had trouble feeding her first baby as well, but had got through it.  She told me that it wasn’t meant to be this hard.  She suggested that I talk to someone at Plunket about bottle feeding options.  I had been seeing Barb, a lactation consultant at the hospital, who was amazing.  She was so helpful and eventually she asked me who I needed to get permission from to give up breastfeeding? She said that I was doing serious damage to my nipples and that it would be better to give up breastfeeding and start bottle feeding.

I’m still not sure who would have been the right person to give me the ‘permission’ that I thought I needed to give up breastfeeding.  Everyone who was around me had told me that I should give up.  They were all worried about me, as I was constantly crying, tired, and miserable.  It’s such a weird thing to look back on.  I was so unbelievably happy that I was a Mum, I loved Annie to bits but was so down and overwhelmed at the same time.  I knew that lives change once you have a baby.  I thought I was prepared for the huge differences in lifestyle after having a baby, but I wasn’t.  I don’t think you can be fully prepared for something that turns your entire world upside down in an instant.  I loved being a new Mum, but I hated that I wasn’t the ‘perfect’ Mum.  In the end, it was because of the advice and from my sister-in-laws (both of them are amazing Mums, who make the job look so easy!) that gave me the ‘permission’ that I thought I needed to stop breastfeeding and start bottle feeding.

Almost instantly, I was a different person.  I had energy again.  I was happy a lot more.  I cried a lot less and the days seemed a lot brighter.  My husband could leave for work in the mornings and sport training some evenings again without me crying and begging him to stay home with me because I didn’t feel ‘qualified’ enough to look after the most precious thing in our lives by myself.  I expressed about 5 times a day and was able to feed Annie exclusively on breast milk until she was around 14 weeks.

When I had to introduce formula to top up the breast milk I hit another wall.  What brand to use?  Gold or not? Oh, and the embarrassment of people seeing me buy formula at the supermarket brought back all those feelings of failure and inadequacy.  I researched on the net about brands and found that all the websites say the same thing “breast is best”, which I was only too aware of.  And none of them gave much advice.  I asked friends, cousins, Plunket – pretty much anyone who would listen to my questions about which brand to use and eventually settled for Karicare Gold.  It was a brand that had been around forever and the ‘Gold’ part made me feel like I was giving Annie the best.  Turns out though, that the ‘Gold” formula was too thick for her, so we switched to the plain brand, which is cheaper (yay!) and she was much happier with.

Eventually my milk ran out and Annie is now 8 months old and one of the happiest babies you could meet.  She is a healthy, happy, clever, perfect (yes, I am biased!) wee poppet who makes our world sparkle every day!  I have learnt that life with a baby is a constant world of ‘should I or shouldn’t I?”.  There are many decisions to come that I know will be hard for us to make as parents.   Hopefully there is information out there to help us through those times.  If not I know that there are other Mums and Dads out there that have been through it all and can offer advice.  It’s a huge learning curve and we are learning every day