Our combination feeding journey (part 1)- The first few days
We fell into combination/mixed feeding. I didn’t really know it was an option. My intention was to exclusively breastfeed. I can’t tell you why I particularly wanted to breastfeed. Even having gone through it now, I still can’t. I didn’t have strong feelings about the effects on my baby or the benefits for me, although I was aware of them. I just felt it was absolutely the right option for me and I planned to do it for at least 6 months. I read some books on it, I knew the basics of it but just like plenty of other first-time mums who wanted to give it a go, I bought bottles “just in case”.
The more I read about breastfeeding, the more the “all or nothing” message convinced me that one bottle of formula was going to be the beginning of the end for breastfeeding. And I must admit, this terrified me. I was asked a few times (I’m sure it would have been more outside of Cov!d restrictions!) what my feeding choices were and I was very forthcoming with my intention to breastfeed, but was advised many times to have some formula in “in case it all goes wrong”. Amongst this were warnings to “not pin my hopes on it”. These comments all dampened my spirits even more and it wasn’t what I needed. So, I put the bottles to the top of the cupboard, out of sight and out of mind. That was absolutely going to be a last resort for us so I didn’t put anything for feeding in my hospital bag.
Olivia had struggled to latch the first night. I didn’t sleep for trying to feed, settle, pump, hand express and had developed an incredibly painful infection. It was during C0vid, so I was alone during the night. I had tried again and again and again. There was no colostrum. None. It was suggested that even 0.1ml could give her the energy she needed to latch, so with the help of one of the team, I worked to hand express into a syringe and there was nothing.
The day Olivia was born was the day my grandad died. I found out the following day after being in hospital overnight having had a small haemorrhage. I was devastated. My Grandad meant so much to me and, whilst he was unwell, wasn’t expected to pass away quite so soon. On hearing the news, I sobbed my heart out. The first phone call from my mum after giving birth wasn’t about my new baby and how things were going as neither of us could speak. Just as we hung up, the infant feeding team arrived as Olivia was due her next feed. They had no idea why I was so upset, but my partner asked them to leave and I cried myself to sleep, exhausted from not having slept since my contractions started some 30 hours previously. People talk about tea and toast after birth be
ing the best thing they’ve ever eaten but I couldn’t stomach anything for a few days.
We were so lucky to have access to donor milk and our feeding team were happy to thaw this for us to keep Olivia’s energy up enough to try feeding. But after feeling the heartbreak of my grandads passing, I knew deep down in my soul, I absolutely HAD to get home to process the news and be able to feel safe enough for oxytocin (and my milk) to flow. I requested this but was told I couldn’t leave until they knew she could feed. I was confused. She COULD feed. She was taking the donor milk? But they said they had to make sure she could take formula if she wasn’t feeding from me. We couldn’t be discharged with the donor milk. This wasn’t my plan and they knew it. Donor milk was the next best thing, but even that was just a means to an end. I really felt like I had no choice and knew this was going to be a long road to my plan being back on track.
At this point, my partner brought in some ready to drink formula. She took it no problem. Then they wanted her to see she had had a poo! I was so desperate to leave and still in intense pain from the infection but no one seemed to take this seriously. I was unable to sit up and this was commented on several times but my complaints of pain just weren’t fully acknowledged, just normalised. In a desperate bid to leave, I stopped talking about it and just kept asking if we could go. I was heartbroken, exhausted, uncomfortable and knew I wasn’t going to be able to breastfeed whilst I was stuck there. Eventually, it was agreed.
At home, I was still in agony, Olivia was still purely bottle fed and I just didn’t want to give up on breastfeeding. So, we triple fed for the next few days. Pumping for 20 minutes at a time, up to 8 times a day, power pumping, wrestling a hungry and frustrated infant. The professionals who visited would peek over her shoulder while she was trying to feed and say all looked fine, just keep trying. But nothing was happening. Until day 4…