This weeks episode is a really personal one for me. This week’s episode I am delving deep and opening up to breastfeeding grief and trauma. Here is your trigger warning, if you aren’t in a space where you feel you are able to consume this please protect your space.
When I was pregnant with my first child, my daughter, I thought I was prepared. In fact, I would go as far as saying I had prepped myself as much as I felt I could. My daughter has just turned 3, but breastfeeding trauma doesn’t just go away, for many it plagues them for years, if not their entire lives, long after their children have stopped needing to be fed via milk. It’s a really important topic that affects so many women and I would be doing myself a disservice if I didn’t share that here.
When I was pregnant with my daughter I made it my business to make sure I was prepared as I could be for her arrival. We took an extensive NCT class and part of that included a breastfeeding workshop. At the time I felt the workshop was really in-depth and I learned a lot about breastfeeding. I really wanted to try breastfeeding but at the same time, I felt very open to the idea that I would formula feed if necessary. My intention was that we would start breastfeeding and just see how it went.
My pregnancy had been easy, that was until 39+6, when I developed pre-eclampsia. It happened very quickly before my blood pressure reached dangerous levels. I immediately went to the hospital where it was quickly decided that I would be induced. I wasn’t that keen on having an induced birth but I knew with pre-eclampsia I was in slightly more dangerous territory than a straightforward pregnancy and I was happy to take advice from the professionals. My induction seemed very straightforward and my birth was less so, as I believe is often the case with induced births. Induced labour is often considered more painful because there is a lack of oxytocin and contractions go from 0-100, with no natural build up. This led to me very quickly feeling out of control, despite my hypnobirthing practice, which led to an epidural, which led to me losing the feeling in my legs, which led to me birthing on my back. This was all less than ideal. I ended up with a long, arduous 18 hour labour, which ended in an assisted forceps delivery, an episiotomy and a postpartum hemorrhage.
I initiated breastfeeding straight after birth and at first, it felt like I was doing really well. I felt like it was ok and I was doing it. When I got home things quickly went south, I was sore and I now know it was because of an undiagnosed tongue tie and poor latch. The support at home didn’t really help me and because she had jaundice, was losing weight very quickly, I felt very pushed down the formula route. I tried to continue breastfeeding, I pumped, I tried to get my supply up but formula had sabotaged my hope of breastfeeding. Little by little, bit by bit my breast feeding experience was eroded away by formula. Nobody wanted to protect my right to breastfeed, instead they too watched on as it slowly seeped away from me.
So formula took over.
It wasn’t until months later did I truly feel the heartache of it all. By 6 weeks old my daughter was fully formula fed. I was absolutely gutted and I didn’t even realise how much I wanted to breastfeed her.
I would see the health visitors and I would always bring up, I would express how sad I was that I couldn’t breastfeed her. There wasn’t any support though. I was told that she was doing great, she was thriving, she was healthly. They would tell me I did my best and thats all that mattered. But nobody cared, nobody cared about me, nobody cared how I was feeling, nobody cared that my breastfeeding goals were diminshed.
A healthy baby – that’s all we want right? What about a healthy mum though? My brain didn’t feel very healthy.
The support just wasn’t enough.
I still think about what went wrong and it’s taken a long time to be able to talk about it.
It was several months later that I came acorss the phrase breastfeeding trauma and suddenly everything made sense. Why was I still feeling so bad about feeding her? Why did I feel so devastated? When I opened up to my husband about the way I felt I could barely get the words out, and you know what, even now sometimes it can still be hard. I remember the girl who couldn’t speak out and I feel so sad for her.
I now know that it wasn’t my fault and that I did everything within my power to feed my child. What happened to me wasn’t me failing, I was failed by a system that puts breastfeeding on a pedastal antenatally and the doesn’t or can’t support it postnatally.
The problem is that this is common. When I first found the courage to speak out about it on Instagram my inbox and comments were filled with other mothers who felt the same, who finally felt seen for everything they had been through. Mothers who felt like they had failed their child because they weren’t able to breastfeed them when they desperately wanted to.
These were new mums, second time mums, older mums, younger mums, mum’s whose children had grown up. Mum’s who carry the trauma of how they feed their children for their entire lives. We are doing women such a disservice by not supporting them. There are women with grown up children who still carry the guilt of the way they were unable to feed their children in the way that they so desperately wanted to.
Fed isn’t best. Fed is the bare minimum. All of our babies need to be fed but mother’s need to be supported in how they want to feed their babies, so they don’t end up carrying that trauma for their entire lives.
We’ve all seen the joke that “nobody knows who was breastfed by the time babies reach school. It’s not funny. I don’t find it funny, because I know, and I know the devastation I felt and still feel.
This all came to a head when I got pregnant with my son in 2020 and I had to face the inevitable. Feeding. I found Professor Amy Browns book “Why Breastfeeding grief and trauma matters” and I will recommend it to everyone who has been through this experience too. Suddenly everything made sense and it single handedly changed my mindset. It enabled me to be ready to embark on breastfeeding again.
And now here we are, the present day. I have been exclusively breastfeeding my son. It didn’t come easy though, the same problems cropped up and the same support just wasn’t there. If it wasn’t for my wonderful IBCLC I wouldn’t be where I am today. I emailed her desperately in the middly of the night asking for a consultation. She responded (during a much more sociable hour) and we arranged a consultation the next day and she came to my home and for 90 minutes she helped me in every which way. She supported me for weeks after. She supports me to this day. Now she cheers me on whenever I send her a photo of how far we have come. If it wasn’t for her I wouldn’t be breastfeeding. It was the most important thing to me in the whole world and I will never forget what she did for me.
It’s not about diminishing formula feeding, it is about respecting womens choices and honouring those when it comes to feeding their babies. It’s about honouring their goals, so whenever their feeding experience is over, however they fed their baby, that they feel happy with it and don’t have to carry that hurt for their entire lives.
Feeding trauma hurts, it hurts so deeply and so strongly.
Things mentioned in this episode:
Why Breastfeeding grief & trauma matters – By Professor Amy Brown
Our IBCLC Heidi @ Breastfeeding Herts