Nicola’s Story of Feeding Stress versus Bonding

Nicola shares her story.


My breastfeeding journey started over two years ago with my first child.

When I was 37 weeks pregnant we found out my son was breech.  What had until that point been a trouble-free pregnancy, was suddenly one of trying everything possible to get him to turn.  Eventually we conceded defeat and had an elective caesarean section, as he wasn’t in a favourable breech birthing position.  My dreams of a natural delivery were gone.

My struggle with breastfeeding started approximately 45 minutes after my son was delivered.  The anaesthetic had risen to my shoulders, so someone had to latch him on to me.  I couldn’t feel anything, and didn’t realise it was a bad latch until they pulled him off and my nipple was bleeding.  So they put him on the other one, and the same thing happened.  Two cracked nipples within two hours.

I persevered with the latches despite the pain, saw lactation consultants, and got advice from practically every member of staff.  But it didn’t seem enough.  He was crying constantly (and I mean constantly).  The fourth night in hospital he had been suckling for two and a half hours, and I had been crying for about the same.  I called for help, and an hour later help arrived in the form of a midwife phoning my husband at 2am to ask for consent to give my son formula.  He took 20ml and conked out almost instantly.

On the fifth day I was discharged from hospital – my son had lost 12% of his birth weight in four days.  He was constantly crying because he was slowly starving.

My own midwife determined my milk hadn’t come in so we supplemented with formula, by siphon.  For every feed for a week, my husband would hold one end of a lactaid tube (used on neonates) in a bottle of formula and push the other end into my son’s mouth while he was feeding off me.  This was to ensure he was sucking off me but still getting the volumes he needed.

After a week we stopped this (much to my husband’s relief!) and instead I would nurse my son, top him up with formula, then express what was left to give him in the next feed.  I was up for almost two hours each feed, washing and sterilising bottles and pump parts.  Sometimes I’d barely put my head down when I had to get back up again.

A full express a week later yielded a whopping 20ml.  I was started on Domperidone, and was drinking breastfeeding teas.  The plan changed to not expressing anymore and just breastfeed him then top up with formula.  The Domperidone was increased, and after a few more weeks, a full express had increased to 50ml.  Meanwhile his formula consumption was increasing exponentially.

At two months old he became fussy and Plunket determined my milk may have finally come in – so no formula top-ups.  Three days of constant crying and ragged nerves and a hungry baby made me give him formula again and he was much happier.  It was at that point my husband and I decided to call breastfeeding quits, and over the next four weeks slowly weaned him off me and completely onto formula.

My breasts never got full, they never got ‘tingly’, I experienced no letdown, they never leaked – they just didn’t produce enough.

My second pregnancy was greeted with much joy, and the hopes it too would be trouble-free.  Imagine our disappointment in finding out this baby was also breech.  “Here we go again,” I thought.  Once again I tried everything to get baby to turn, and this time it worked!  At 38 weeks our daughter turned and stayed head down.

In order to increase my likelihood of successful breastfeeding, I had started expressing 0.5ml colostrum every day from 37 weeks, and I campaigned for a VBAC.  At 41 weeks and one day, and after a four hour labour, I gave birth vaginally with no interventions.  Hooray!

The first latch was painful as she was a voracious sucker, but my nipple didn’t crack.  Neither did the other one.  After a few minutes on me, we gave her some of my expressed colostrum just to make certain she got enough.

The next two days were fantastic – yes I had some cracked nipples, and yes I saw lactation consultants who said the latch was fine, and so yes I persevered.  I even gave her the rest of the expressed colostrum (about 5ml in total).  But then things started to go downhill.

She was feeding constantly, sucking for an hour, hour and a half, two hours at a time.  She was becoming more and more agitated, and my nipples were now on fire.  Four days in, with me in tears, my husband did a late-night dash to the supermarket to get nipple shields (which didn’t work) and a canister of formula, while I sat over a breast pump.  She drank 30ml formula, while I yielded 5ml.  She stopped crying and slept.

The next morning, another express produced 30ml.  More than I had had with my son, but along the same lines.  I gave her formula for the next 12 hours to give my nipples a break, and the expresses produced 50ml, then 40ml.  My little girl wasn’t getting enough from me.

I looked back at the 12 weeks of stress and struggle and tears with my son, and could see the same things happening again.  I didn’t actually like my son until he was five weeks old, and viewed the whole feeding thing as a chore.  I couldn’t do this again – I couldn’t do the pain and the stress and not want my daughter.  I was spending my day in tears thinking about everything that went wrong, and about repeating it all over – about the teas, the medication, the expressings…

After numerous tearful conversations, repeated endlessly with my husband, I was debating the pros and cons of breastfeeding versus formula.  I wrote them down and my husband circled “bonding” under the pro of breastfeeding and “stress” under the con.  Then he asked me which one I thought would win, and I realised that stress would kill the bonding again and again.

So the very painful decision was made to stop breastfeeding, and move exclusively to formula, when my daughter was just six days old.  My last breastfeed I cried – I cried about what I was going to be missing, what my daughter was going to miss out on, and if I was making the right decision.  I cried because I felt a failure, because I couldn’t do what was supposed to be natural, because I couldn’t provide enough to sustain her.  I cried because I had done everything I could to get breastfeeding to work, and it hadn’t.  And I also cried because I loved my little boy so much and had struggled for so long with him that I had missed out on enjoying his early weeks of life.

My daughter is now nine days old, doesn’t cry endlessly anymore, is gaining weight, and sleeps happily for two to three hours at a time.  My stress levels have gone down, I have time to play with my two-year-old son, and I can smile at my husband knowing that we have made the right decision, for our family as a whole.  People may think I didn’t give it a good enough go, but I did the first time.  Some things just don’t work out, and as my mother-in-law said “not everyone is made to be a cow”.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with formula.  My son was raised on it, and he is the loveliest wee boy – so smart and funny – how can anyone say I made the wrong decision?  And as for bonding…I look at my daughter looking at me from behind the bottle and I fall in love with her again and again, knowing I am providing her with an excellent start to life, and one that my husband, my son, and anyone else can share in when they feed her.  I can enjoy this time with her