Hello and welcome back to another instalment of The Baby Feeding Series, that features real stories from real parents who have experienced how hard and baffling feeding your baby can be. I want this series to be a place where parents can share their own experiences in the hopes that other parents who are struggling can feel less alone. Being a parent is the hardest job in the world but it's one of the most rewarding jobs too and so I want to share their stories.

I'm very excited to say that this week for The Baby Feeding Series we have the lovely Jennifer from Bella Mamma who has kindly offered to share her experience as a breastfeeding mama and offer advice in the hopes to help other Mama's who may be struggling. It's not the first time we have come across the lovely duo that is Bella Mamma, we have had Julia guest posting for us for The Baby Feeding Series. We have also collaborated on their recently launched Bella Mamma Tees. So with that I will hand you over to the lovely Jennifer.
A Breastfeeding Story
One of the many things you decide about in pregnancy is how you’re going to feed your baby. From the moment you get the thumbs up from the midwife that you’re pregnant, you are given dozens of information leaflets and packs on the benefits of breastfeeding – for both mother and baby. Nowadays, formula feeding isn’t really spoken about apart from the 20 seconds they give it in antenatal classes.

You don’t have to be a genius to agree that ‘breast is best’,
but here’s the thing. . .
What if you can’t?

What if all your hopes of being a breastfeeding mother are dashed because you can’t produce enough, your nipples are inverted, or your baby is tongue tied? When I found out I was pregnant I set my heart on being a breastfeeding mother. I wanted nothing more than to have the bond with my baby and to give him the very best nutrition that I could offer. I had an amazing pregnancy and my hypno birth went so well, the possibility that I wouldn’t be able to breastfeed never crossed my mind. I hadn’t bought any bottles, a steriliser or researched formula. It just wasn’t on the agenda.

The moment Luca was born he was placed on my chest for skin to skin and we tried feeding almost immediately. Everything seemed fine at first. The on-call midwife stayed a while once I made my way back to the ward; she showed me positions to feed in, how to encourage him to feed and what a good latch looked like. I was pretty proud of myself!  It wasn’t until we went home the following day that I began to suspect that there was a problem. The pain started and Luca began to cluster feed for up to 7 hours. Everything that I read told me that this was normal so I stayed with it. Lashing on Lasinoh Nipple Cream in between feeds, trying to sleep and eat well and stay hydrated.

It was when we went to register Luca’s birth and I was reading a baby magazine that I noticed an article on tongue tie and turning to Freddie said ‘I think Luca’s tongue looks like this’.
I mentioned it at my next Midwife appointment and she confirmed Luca had a tongue tie but is wasn’t a ‘bad one’. We were nearly 2 weeks into our breastfeeding journey and it was feeling more painful and exhausting than I ever thought possible.

I had 4 episodes of painful mastitis and I remember sobbing with pain in the shower. This just wasn’t how my journey was meant to be.

I just didn’t seem to be able to satisfy Luca’s feeding demands. I tried pumping and got very little. . . so the question crossed my mind, was my baby starving? I felt utterly awful. Aside for the physical demands, I found the emotional side so much harder. I was so sore, exhausted, run down and beginning to feel like a failure. I reached out to the Midwife and Health Visitor again. Neither seemed to think Luca’s tongue had anything to do with it since he latched so perfectly; so maybe it was me, maybe I wasn’t producing enough milk. But I felt that giving him formula was the worst thing I could possibly do. Another few days in and the cluster feeding had eased and things seemed a little better, if not a little less painful. Maybe we were making progress?

But then one evening as I lay Luca into his crib I slumped to the floor, a cold sweat covering my body and I started shivering uncontrollably.

My mum found me and screamed for Freddie. Bundling me into the car he drove me to A&E . . . but what about Luca?! What if he needed feeding?! My mum tucked him into his pram and walked to the local supermarket and bought premade formula reassuring me that she would look after Luca and for one night she would feed him until we figured out what was going on with my body. Back at A&E a lovely doctor gave me a full health check and confirmed I had a rather nasty infection in my milk duct which had caused the sweats and shaking. The milk was building up and not able to be released. I was given an antibiotic and a breast pump.
Sitting in the ward it was the most vulnerable, loneliest and saddest time since I started my mothering journey.

Back home 24hrs later feeling a little better but still frail, I tried feeding again. I don’t use the word ‘broken’ lightly, but the moment he latched I just fell apart. Pain scored through me and I had to ask my mum to take him. I sobbed. Afterwards, my mum took me aside and being the best mother she could be said ‘it’s ok Jenn, it’s your choice, your body, your baby’. I realised that if I didn’t decide soon I would jeopardise my health and the bond with my baby. I was constantly watching the clock and I would flinch when I heard his hunger cries. This wasn’t what I wanted for either of us. The first few times I prepared his bottles I cried – tears of failure, tears of anger at myself, and tears for my baby. However, seeing him drink hungrily, almost guzzling the bottle, I realised how hungry he was. After a day or two I noticed a huge difference in him; he was so much more alert, eyes wandering and exploring the room, engaged when we cooed over him. He seemed happy. When the Health Visitor came again, I just put my wall up. I didn’t want to discuss it. I didn’t want to feel any worse about the decision than I already felt. I didn’t need anyone else’s guilt. Over the coming months, we continued our bottle-feeding journey. Luca grew and thrived.

Every mile stone he reached I would secretly breathe a sigh of relief.

But the tongue tie was still there, and the line down the middle of his tongue was becoming more noticeable. Myself and Freddie decided that we would have him seen privately to access the situation. Our research told us that if ‘bad’ tongue ties were not resolved they could lead to complications in speech and after 9 months the procedure would have to be performed under general anaesthetic.
We found the wonderful midwife at Core Clinic in Warwick and booked the appointment. On her evaluation, she examined Luca and turning to be said; ‘I can absolutely guarantee that you’re not breast-feeding now’ Taken back I nodded, the wall went up again and I felt myself get into defence mode.

'Sure, how could you? There’s no way breast-feeding was possible with a tongue tie this tight'.

Shock and relief washed over me. I explained our breast-feeding journey and at the end she just hugged me and I cried (again). Having someone understand and who listened to me made such a difference. That appointment was almost therapy for me. She performed the cut beautifully, Luca hardly noticed and after 20minutes we were ready to go. Looking back, I wish I had listened to my intuition about the tongue tie sooner and had Luca accessed properly. But as any new mum might relate to, when you’re so run down and fragile, sleep-deprived and vulnerable you just don’t think clearly. I believe hindsight is a beautiful thing. I fully intend to revisit my breast-feeding journey on our next baby. There is so much they don’t tell you, especially as a new mum, and there’s so many assumptions that you’re meant to just ‘know’. I strongly believe that if we are to improve our breast-feeding statistics then there needs to be a more hands approach and that requires funding and support for midwives and health visitors.

No two babies are alike and every feeding journey is different.

I also feel strongly about the reintroduction of the tongue-tie check to be part of the new baby health check before they leave hospital. This small check could save mothers just like me a world of pain and heartache, and would encourage breast-feeding beyond the 2-week mark. There is a petition to have this check reintroduced and needs 100,000 signatures to be discussed in the UK Parliament. If you feel strongly about this I would urge you to sign here Breast or Bottle is a very personal choice; one which should never be judged. Every mother I’ve met has always had their baby’s best interests at heart when it has come to feeding. Ultimately I think we can all agree that the best form of feeding . . . is feeding full stop!
About Julia and Jennifer
Julia and Jennifer both make up Bella Mamma who write for wild-hearted women who are juggling the demands of motherhood and careers, helping them feel connected, supported and loved.  They both hope that their blog will be a tonic for the tired, caffeine fuelled mums (with kids who don't sleep), and those needing to feel that they belong to a tribe of women who share their beliefs that women can be nurturing feminine goddesses and kick ass in the boardroom!