This is hard for me to write. My breastfeeding experience is a trauma that I don’t like to relive, but is undoubtedly the biggest cause of my postnatal depression and anxiety (PNDA). But perhaps I can save someone else unnecessary pain and heartache. I know some will disagree, but hopefully my story can be a tiny cog in the wheel of feeding guideline reform.
Going into pregnancy, I knew Fed is Best. I decided I would attempt breastfeeding but if it didn’t work out, there’s always formula. Simple. Now, I’m a scientifically minded person. I respect those in the field and the scientific consensus. As I progressed through my antenatal appointments, it became clear. The general consensus is, breast is best, at all costs, with an inference that ‘formula is dangerous’. By the time my daughter was born, I had made up my mind. If other people formula fed, I wouldn’t judge, but I was going to breastfeed no matter what. I’d get all the help I needed.
That help wasn’t enough. My daughter would breastfeed for up to 3 hours at a time as the pain in her tummy would only allow a tiny bit of milk before she would either start screaming and thrashing in discomfort, or fall asleep (probably from low blood sugar). A quick feed would be around 90 minutes. Her reflux also dictated that I had to hold her upright for 30 minutes after a feed, otherwise she’d wake instantly again. I was with her all night every night, with her chewing at my nipple shield on and off, fighting with her to just take a little bit more so I could have more than 2 hours of broken sleep a night. I was beyond sleep deprived. She was only getting enough milk to survive because she was constantly feeding. She barely slept, and was either feeding or screaming, clearly in pain. Once, people came running in a car-park because they thought she must’ve been badly hurt, her screams were that pained.
I’d heard that “the only reason breastfeeding fails is a lack of support” a million times. Lack of breastfeeding ‘support’ was not the problem. The health professionals I saw reiterated that “it’s normal for babies to cry” when I was pleading and crying in their offices. I stayed 4 nights in the hospital for extra ‘breastfeeding support.’ I went to the breastfeeding drop-in clinic multiple times. I saw an IBCLC and joined a breastfeeding support Facebook group. I called the ABA helpline. I saw my GP. I saw a second GP. I consulted the child health nurses. I rang Tresillian. I sought support on several Facebook pages and subsequently had my daughter’s tongue and lip ties cut, eliminated dairy, soy and minimised salicylates, tried block feeding, bottle feeding expressed breast milk (EBM), gripe water, infants friend, Infacol, infant gaviscon, colic mix, probiotics, baby massage, bicycle legs, patting techniques, baby wearing, skin to skin, dummies and eventually prescription reflux medication.
Nothing worked. My nipples were completely ravaged and I started to visually hallucinate from lack of sleep. I feared I was going into psychosis. We even brought up the idea of adoption, because I didn’t know how I could physically go on any longer. I felt I had no attachment to this baby because she was shattering me as a human.
My husband would race home from work to try to get her to sleep for an hour in the baby carrier so I could take a nap, but I had so much anxiety that I’d just lay there and sob uncontrollably. I was severely, severely sleep deprived but my anxiety would not allow me to sleep. The knowledge that I would be up all night, yet again, just broke me every evening. The constant breastfeeding meant that she was completely dependent on my broken, exhausted self. A break was not possible.