Breastfeeding - is it always going to be this hard?
When she was born, Genevieve weighed 2.34kgs (or 5lb 2oz). A slight little babe, with an appropriately little mouth. Meanwhile, my breasts were sitting around a 14H bra size.
What this set up was a pretty straight forward mismatch - small mouth, big boobs. Now this doesn't necessarily always create a barrier, but when you chuck in a bit of jaundice too, you now have small mouth, big boobs, sleepy baby.
I was supported incredibly by the staff in the Special Care Nursery as well as the midwives on the Maternity Unit. I was educated and encouraged to express my colostrum, and later my 'transitional' milk, and feed Genevieve from a bottle first and then place her on the breast to practice latching. After a few days we switched to breast first, then bottle for top ups. I was provided with the option to use a nipple shield, and had a lactation consultant visit me two to three times during our five night stay.
I left the hospital feeling alright, armed with my nipple shields, my breasts, and my baby.
Once home, we continued with the same routine of breast first, then a top up if needed. I was expressing for five minutes each breast after each feed, and using my @haakaanz to catch let-down and build my freezer stash.
Fortunately for me I had a friend recommend a community based IBCLC quite early on, so I made arrangements to meet with her when Genevieve was about 4 weeks old - primarily to discuss the nipple shield (which I was still using) and when, and how, to wean off it.
Now this moment, I believe, was pivotal in my breastfeeding journey. After observing Genevieve with and without the nipple shield, discussing supply, looking at latch, and asking me how I was going, the LC said "does it bother you, using a nipple shield?
"It's evidently not impacting your supply, Genevieve does feed longer with it in place, and she is still quite small. Does using it bother you?" It didn't. I had no issues continuing with the shield. It was fiddly, sure, but not impossible. "Okay, well keep using it. Occasionally trial a feed without it, but if you aren't distressed by having to use it, then there is no pressure to change anything".
And I didn't feel pressure. I didn't feel pressured to stop. I didn't feel judged. I didn't feel like a failure. I didn't feel like I was doing it wrong. I felt completely supported and validated to continue using the shield - this thing that was helping my daughter and I.
So we kept using it. I trailed Genevieve without the shield a handful of times, but didn't feel in a rush to transition away from it.
And then, around 5 months of breastfeeding, Genevieve was so, so, so desperately hungry that she didn't want to wait for the shield. She was hangry, I was taking too long, and she wasn't having a bar of it. So I popped her on without the shield, and she latched. And fed.
From a rocky start initially, I truly believe it was the care I received initially, and the support to continue doing what worked best for me, that helped me to establish a healthy relationship with breastfeeding - one that continued with my daughter until she was 15 months old.
In Australia, 96% of women plan to breastfeed their child, and are successful at initiating breastfeeding at birth. Often the most common goal within this group is to breastfeed until their child reaches 12 months of age. However, by 6 months the number of these women breastfeeding has dropped to 29%. And by 12 months it has dropped to 11%.
Why does this happen? Well, likely for a multitude of reasons. However one that I am sure contributes is whether or not your feel support. Knowing, being told, believing that you aren't broken; that it is indeed hard; and receiving support and encouragement to continue trying.