Our not so little rainbow baby is six months old already! She is a very tall girl, off the top of the charts and quite a chunk for a thirty seven weeker. This wasn’t always the case! Bunny was tiny in length when she was born and suddenly shot up at about six weeks old. She was 7lb 12oz at birth at 37+1, which is quite large. She lost 14% in her first few days after struggles with feeding, jaundice and breathing which landed us in neonatal and she came home after a week.
After the death of her big sister in her first week, it was terrifying for our rainbow to be poorly at all at that age especially. I struggled a lot with breastfeeding. I struggled a lot with formula. Looking back on our journey now, it’s something I’m proud to share.
I almost lost my mind in the hospital. It had all hit me at once that nothing was guaranteed. We still might not get to keep her physically here with us. I was terrified our rainbow would die. Every time she had a blood test (and she had 12 in a relatively small amount of time) I was terrified it would come back that she’d have something wrong that would mean there was nothing we could do. I was so so scared. That affected my ability to breastfeed.
I always joked to my friends who had never held a baby until Bunny (our rainbow) that babies can smell fear, and she could. That, coupled with a super fast let down, oversupply, and an early baby who was very dopey at latching, meant that breastfeeding did not work for us very well.
This was hard to accept. With Bear, it was instantaneous and beautiful. She latched in recovery and I adored breastfeeding her. Yes it hurt a bit but it does for the first few days. She fed great and we bonded so firmly. It was never frustrating like it was this time. I felt like there was something wrong with me.
Honestly, I don’t really feel like I was offered much in the way of support, especially given the sensitive nature of our situation. I felt backed into a corner and useless. My baby was losing weight, I couldn’t feed her by breast properly, and I daren’t formula feed, because I didn’t want to put her at higher risk of SIDS. Her sister was breastfed. I was petrified to play with risking that again in any way. They’re tiny odds, but once it’s happened to you once the irrationalities are rife.
I broke down. When her bloods came back and she needed to go back under the lights again. Her weight hadn’t gone up I felt like a massive let down to her. I felt sorry to her that she had a mummy who couldn’t do it. An amazing midwife stayed with me and spoke to me whilst I spoke about Bear and Bunny and explained my fears. She got a senior registrar from neonatal to come and talk to me about a feeding plan, and expressing. I spoke to Bear’s little snow globe photo I took in my hospital bag and she gave me a kick, she got me to stay determined.
I started pumping and got little milk. 30ml was exciting in those early days! I had goals of the amount Bunny needed per day and for weeks we wrote down every feed she had to monitor it. I actually had a notebook where I wrote down every poop, pee, nap and feed. I’m keeping it to read for when I get broody for baby number three to make sure I’m certain I’m game for a newborn again! Having numbers and something to aim for worked for us.
I had three brilliant sources of help in those early days. First, my husband. I’d just had a c section and he helped me setting up the pump to pump every two hours and sterilising the parts. I remember having a nap and waking up and he’d been reading through kellymom and LLL pages. He’d had become an expert on pumping and had equipped himself with all this info on how often to pump and how to maintain my supply.
My second support was my neighbour, she’s a breastfeeding peer supporter for Bosom Babies, a local support network. I sent a lot of super long stressed texts in those early days and she was always so encouraging and full of helpful advice. I think I’d have ended up quitting if it wasn’t for that reassurance early on! A local charitable organisation also loaned me a hospital grade pump for free until I could get my own. Without that help I wouldn’t have been able to continue my pumping journey!
Being home was exhausting. I pumped eight times a day, still tried to breastfeed her at least once a day to keep the option there as well. My pumping mamas will know the ‘MOTN’ (middle of the night) pumps are crucial in the first months, so I barely slept. I initially only made enough for the next feed. We topped up with a bottle of formula every few days to let me get ahead, however by three weeks old this stopped as it didn’t seem to sit well with her.
In late September I started to build a freezer stash. I now have about 9L of breast milk in the freezer. I’m down to two pumps per day, which feels like freedom after our beginning. Bunny has gotten the hang of breastfeeding for the most part. Bottles actually helped her learn to latch better and she happily switches between the two. When she was four months I start upping breastfeeds. We had a regression and a total breast-protest at the end of December, but after that things have gone from strength to strength. I now pump in the morning and before bed. Her first and last feeds are bottles, but the rest are comfortably breast. It took six months, but I’m finally loving breastfeeding Bunny.
Pumping is daunting, exhausting and draining. So many times I’ve just wanted to skip a pump. I feel tied to it. I feel like a cow. If my pump didn’t cost so much I’d happily go at it with a hammer some days when all of this is over. At the same time, I’m incredibly proud I’ve stuck it out. I’ve watched my little girl grow and finally, after six long months, we’ve come to love feeding together like Bear and I did. Not the same, but both incredibly fierce, strong bonds built with my girls through feeding.
I’m not bashing formula. Pumping is not a long term option for most. We used formula ourselves and have considered stopping pumping many times. I think if I didn’t have such a massive milk supply I would have considered it. With our history with SIDS and it occurring less in breastfed babies they’re odds I personally couldn’t put aside when pumping was an option. I don’t want this post to make anyone feel bad; I weighed up my options and opinions and did the best for us. I’d love for this post to show somebody as overwhelmed as I was that there is another option. Pumping isn’t just for those odd few bottles, it can be a long term solution. It is possible to breastfeed without nursing, if you want that option.
I’ll be posting links to some of my favourite pumping must haves soon, including my choice of pump.