UK Breastfeeding Services Failed Me Again

June 28, 2018

Did you know that UK breastfeeding rates are some of the lowest in the world? I didn’t. I only found this out when I began to feed George and joined feeding groups on Facebook. To be honest, I never understood why people wouldn’t at least try breastfeeding, or at least I didn’t until I actually started feeding George.

The second I gave birth, I was encouraged to formula feed by the nurses. I insisted that I didn’t want to make the same mistake I made with Oscar so ultimately refused. I was desperate to exclusively feed him and didn’t want him to have a drop of formula. George was early, and he was so tired when he was born. I had just had a c-section, lost a lot of blood and could barely keep my own eyes open, but he was much worse than me. I actually had to rouse him constantly just to check he was okay.

Serious Mistakes Were Made

Obviously my milk hadn’t come in at this point and I was barely getting any colostrum either. I expressed my worries which seemed to set them off on a formula feeding mission. I’m sure they were just trying to get rid of me.

When he was just three hours old, the nurse I received after the handover told me that I needed to get some milk into him. Even though he started to show interest in my boob, she went against my wishes and gave him an oz of formula. She patronisingly told me that I could not starve him, and made me feel as guilty as she possibly could. I only found out later that she thought he was 3 days old when doing this, not 3 hours. They kept telling me that he should be feeding every 2-3 hours, but he wasn’t interested again.

He was filled to the brim, of course he didn’t want anything from me.

So I began to hand express, as instructed. I did this every half hour and was filling up spoons, and then eventually I was filling up syringes. I had someone come over to my bay on the ward and watch me while I did it, and I was so embarrassed. The comments I was getting were so incredibly negative. They’d say things like “you’re just not getting a lot are you?”, “no wonder you need to top him up”.

It was a grueling process and one I will certainly not forget.

‘Breastfeeding Support’, Or Lack Of, On The Ward.

At this point I hadn’t slept for 2 whole days, and we were, yet again, stuck in a vicious top up cycle. They’d ask me to feed him, he wouldn’t latch, they’d insist I gave him formula, and repeat.

One of the ‘breastfeeding support ladies’ on the ward was so horrific with her attitude, I still consider reporting her. Bare in mind I had been awake for 48 hours desperately hand expressing and trying everything, she viciously told me to try skin on skin. I was so exhausted that I didn’t want to, just incase I fell asleep, and she snapped at me and said “Look, do you even WANT to breastfeed?“.

In the height of baby blues, I didn’t answer her and instead I just sobbed. I wanted to scream “Of course I want to breastfeed, you stupid cow”. Instead, I just gave up and said “Okay. Just give him formula then”. I didn’t want to look at her, and I didn’t want to be around her. I just wanted her to leave me alone.

Later, they told me I would have to stay in hospital for another day. They suspected that George was jaundice so needed to run a blood test on him, and they didn’t want to let me go until the knew that I had established feeding.

Fighting Back

It didn’t take me long to realise that George wasn’t interested in my boob because they were plying him with formula. However, I was so scared to say anything. Whenever they came around, they mentioned words like “starvation” and “dehydration”. When you have just given birth and your hormones are all over the place, the last thing you want is to feel like you’re putting your baby at risk.

On the other hand, I was terrified that my supply would diminish, and even though I was still hand expressing as much as possible, he hadn’t had even one successful feed in 2 whole days. The next time the nurse came with formula, I told her no.

I said that every 2 hours was far too soon to be offering him a large amount of formula. I insisted that I would be waiting until George woke up himself, and that was that. Sure enough, around the 4 hour point, he started rooting. He fed for around 30 minutes and his latch was brilliant. I was delighted. I couldn’t believe it. But yet, at the same time, I was so angry. Thanks to their continuous mistakes, my supply had taken a huge hit.

11% Weight Loss

They still suspected that George had jaundice, but the blood results came back and showed that it wasn’t getting worse, which was a good sign. Finally, after around 3-4 successful feeds through the night, they allowed me to go home.

The next day, I got a visit from my midwife who checked his weight and alerted me that he had lost more than the recommended amount. They prefer babies to lose no more than 10% of their birth weight, but George had lost 11%. Realising that it was probably due to the jaundice, they sent us straight back to hospital.

Mentally, this was really starting to affect me and I was starting to feel like my choice wasn’t the right one.

Upon arrival at hospital, they did their routine checks on George and I received a “feeding plan”. Yep, you guessed it. They wanted me to give him top ups of formula. At this point I just refused profusely. I was not willing to put our finally established breastfeeding at risk, yet again. The only other alternative I had was to express and top him up with 2oz of my own milk after every feed, so that is what I did.

Exhaustion Hit

We were almost a week in to his life, and I don’t think I got longer than 10 hours sleep in that whole time. I was feeding him myself, and then I was giving him 2oz of expressed milk. After that, I would put him down and spend another half an hour expressing, and he would then wake up again for another feed. This routine even continued through the night.

I was drained and starting to feel extremely depressed. I was incredibly anxious for the midwife to come back and re-weigh him just incase he had lost more weight. In fact, even when I had the chance to sleep I just couldn’t through worrying.

Thankfully, he had put on a large amount and we were FINALLY left alone to enjoy life with our new baby.

Cluster Feeding and Suspected Tongue Tie

George began to try and use his best efforts to increase my supply through the torture that is cluster feeding. This was definitely the part I found most difficult and mentally draining. I was reaching out to people like my health visitor, the doctor, everyone. I wanted to carry on feeding, but with Oscar to look after too, it was borderline impossible. People just kept telling me “yeah, that’s normal, just ride it out”. Again, the lack of emotional support was evident.

The thing is, unlike when you have your first child, you can’t sleep when the baby sleeps anymore. You can’t have a rest, because you’re chasing a toddler around. I was sat up in bed feeding the whole night, and then I would be stuck feeding the majority of the next day too. I’d be trying to keep my house tidy and spend time with Oscar. I was like a walking zombie.

After doing research, I realised that George clearly had a tongue tie, and a pretty significant one at that. I immediately phoned my health visitor for a referral to get it snipped and wanted to give breastfeeding one last go before giving up. I was 6 weeks in, and officially done with the constant feeding and cracked nipples. My boobs were so sore I couldn’t take it any longer, and I could feel myself spiraling into a depression.

I received the confirmation of an appointment, and I was so happy… until I realised when it was.

Bare in mind she had referred me at the beginning of May, the only appointment available for me was at the end of July, almost 7 weeks later.

Admitting Defeat

Having gone through what I had already, I decided enough was enough and that I was just going to end it for the sake of my own sanity. At 6 weeks and 1 day, I switched George to formula and I haven’t looked back since.

Some would argue that I gave it a solid try, and others may argue that I didn’t try at all. I will say that if I didn’t end it when I did, I don’t know where I would be right now, mentally.

Unfortunately, I do believe the downfall of my breastfeeding journey was due to the initial lack of support I received from the staff in hospital. George’s weight loss, my supply issues and my lack of confidence in feeding was purely down to them. The NHS continuously put out campaigns about the importance of breastfeeding, but they encouraged me to formula feed the most. It’s extremely sad that they don’t practice what they preach.

Don’t get me wrong, I love our NHS. I am so grateful for the service and couldn’t imagine being without it, but they really let me down in this instance and I will always regret not fighting back sooner. Sadly, I know quite a few people with the same experience and regrets too.

George is now a happy, healthy little boy, and I am feeling pretty good too. If that isn’t a win, I don’t know what is.

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  • Reply Nicola June 28, 2018 at 9:24 pm

    Having experienced maternity services at the hospital you had George and where the community midwives are based, I wish I could be surprised but they are awful and I agree they’ve failed you. I moved my maternity care out of the area I had such bad experiences of the midwives over there. They should have never done that and I think you should report them, not to the PCT because that is terrible as a whole but to the college of nursing/midwifery or whatever it is they have to sign up to to practice. They shouldn’t be allowed to get away with that, it’s a job to them but your life! They’ve let you down and that’s not okay.

  • Reply Gee Gardner July 2, 2018 at 8:28 am

    The current breastfeeding services are so bloody poor and failing a ridiculous amount of women. I had so much trouble with Lily’s feeding and I kept on saying I thought she had a tongue and lip tie. It wasn’t until she was 1 and seen by a dentist for something unrelated was this confirmed after several HVs and midwives checking her mouth. Something really needs to be done because breastfeeding ain’t easy and this story echoes so, so many other women who were also failed.

  • Reply SaltEmupSisters July 3, 2018 at 1:53 pm

    Thoug he was 3 days old?? Ugh this sounds so frustrating. You’re doing a great job Mama! ❤️

  • Reply Rebecca Fisher July 3, 2018 at 9:15 pm

    Sounds like you had a rough time. I had no help at all after having Cleo but luckily I pushed through myself and I am still feeding her a year on x

  • Reply Babies and Beauty July 4, 2018 at 9:37 am

    I’m so sorry you had such a crap time Fern, it’s so disappointing that so many women aren’t able to do what they want with their baby because the system is failing them!!

  • Reply Leah Munden August 4, 2018 at 9:03 am

    I too was sent to hospital with my first when our baby had lost 15%. We spend 11 hours in the hospital when he was just 4 days old. Thinking about it now, it was awful. They just stuck us in a side room without even a cot for him to sleep in. I didn’t get the support I needed in the beginning and there was no hope of being successful with breastfeeding. It’s hard to “give up” when you’ve tried so hard, but mums mental health is equally as important.

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