Tonight's chat is all about breastfeeding (BF) and mental health, and is hosted by the equally wonderful Jenny from "Birth ROCKS London".
I have the sneaking suspicion that I won't be able to fully convey my thoughts and experiences of BF in a succession of 140 characters. So here is a blog post (mind dump!) to which I can refer anyone to read, should they wish.
I especially do not want to offend anyone who has managed to successfully BF (hurrah!) or for anyone to get the impression I am against BF.
Allow me to set the scene...
During my pregnancy (the blissful ignorance phase of motherhood, for me!) I was certain that I would BF my baby. I had paid attention in the NCT's special BF class, and we had armed ourselves with everything a BFing mother and baby could ever need: breast pads, nipple creams, nursing bras, nursing tops, a series of beautiful modesty scarves, and even a gorgeous new armchair set up in the nursery. I imagined many a blissful hour spent happily in that chair, nourishing and comforting my newborn son.
I had devoted approximately two minutes to preparing for the possibility of having to formula feed (FF). We had bought on impulse (it was only 50p!) a second hand sterilising unit from a nearly new sale. And I had also bought a starter pack of bottles, as well as a breast pump. No actual formula, because of course my baby would only ever drink expressed milk from a bottle. I hadn't even learned how to properly work the steriliser, let alone anything around how to prepare a feed.
Fast forward to the birth aftermath (you may have read "A Letter to My Midwife" which basically tells our birth story). Despite being 5 days sleep deprived, seriously anaemic (70% blood loss) and shell-shocked from a near-fatal C-section I was still determined to have that precious first skin-to-skin and to begin our BF journey.
The birth may have gone all kinds of wrong, but we were both alive and surely we could now put it all behind us and start BF as we meant to go on?
Sadly, no. Not quite.
Not one health care professional warned me, but it was highly unlikely I was going to successfully BF after such a physical trauma. I tried, and tried, and tried. I became neurotic about my baby's lack of nourishment. And, sure enough, the hungrier the poor boy became the harder it was for him to feed.
Even after my first psychotic episode, I still insisted upon BF and would stay up all night, every night, in the postnatal ward wishing in vain for my milk supply to come in properly. Not one midwife suggested that perhaps my sleep was more important (a huge trigger for psychosis, as anyone with any basic mental health training is taught). Not one person offered to feed my baby while I tried to sleep, or eat a proper meal, or get some fresh air. I'm not saying that this could have avoided the full-blown postpartum psychosis that followed a few more days later. But it might have helped.
A specialist mental health midwife, intervening during those desperate postpartum days, might just have been able to overrule the relentless drive to promote BF in the maternity wards. She may have been able to explain to my concerned family (while my own mind was increasingly confused and agitated) that what mattered more for The Boy and me was for mummy to get some precious rest.
But no, we were eventually discharged home. Still desperately trying to BF. And on a collision course for A&E and psychiatric inpatients.
Fast forward a couple more days, to the Mother & Baby Unit...
Specially trained psychiatrists immediately put paid to my BF hopes and dreams. They even advised my family not to allow me to express my milk, in order to reinstate BF later. Nope. It was important for me to be quickly medicated, and not to have any more stressors (such as pumping milk every two hours). I was too psychotic to know what was going on, but I know now that this was exactly the right decision.
My little baby thrived on FF - first by the different staff in the MBU, and then by me (as my psychosis receded). He fed and slept beautifully and was sleeping through the night from about six weeks.
I am full of regrets, but I am thankful for the professionals who took the hard decisions for me. My mental health had to be prioritised over my wish to BF.
And, it is possible to have a lovely FF experience. I have only ever fed my son in my arms, cradled against my chest, me holding the bottle. It is very much a BF substitute.
And we have had many a blissful hour spent happily in that chair, nourishing and comforting my (now not-so-newborn) son.