Skip to Content

Our Difficult Breastfeeding Journey

Share this post with your friends!

When I was pregnant there was absolutely no doubt in my mind that I would breastfeed my baby. I knew that breastmilk contained all the vitamins and minerals that baby would need and understood that research suggested that breastfed babies were more intelligent, were less likely to suffer from obesity and less likely to suffer from illnesses such as asthma.

I joined a breastfeeding support Facebook group and my desire to breastfeed only got stronger. I started to believe that formula was evil and would poison and hurt my baby and that breastfeeding was the only option -people who didn’t do it didn’t try hard enough or were bad mothers. I got completely and utterly brainwashed by this group of women who believe that formula should only be available on prescription and even small amounts of formula will harm your baby.

I decided that my labour would be completely natural without the help of pain relief. I read that epidurals and diamorphine could make the baby sleepy and less likely to be able to latch naturally after birth. I wanted my baby to be placed on my chest after birth where he would do the breast crawl up to my nipple and latch on as nature intended. Did it work like this in reality? In a word: no.

If you’ve read my birth story you will know that I did manage to give birth to Dexter without the help of pain relief. I was in the pushing phase for around two hours before I needed assistance from the doctor in the form of a ventouse delivery. This form of delivery can distress the baby a little and also the fact that I was in labour for a very long time (23 hours from start to finish) meant Dexter was extremely sleepy when he arrived into my arms.

Dexter at a few weeks old in his moses basket
During the first few hours after Dexter was born we enjoyed skin to skin and I waited for him to make his way to the nipple. However, the babe just wanted to sleep. Midwives would pop in every ten minutes or so and ask, ‘Has he fed yet?’ and I started to feel completely on edge like I was starving my baby. A health care assistant was sent in to help get Dexter to latch. I can still smell the bleach on her fingers now as I remember her trying to force his mouth on to my nipple by applying pressure on his neck. I lay there helpless watching her grotty fingers manipulate my nipple and push on his head. She had no success in getting him to latch.

I was transferred to the ward and continued with skin to skin. I’d had no sleep and it was now 10am, Dexter had been with us for seven hours and had still not fed. A breastfeeding support volunteer was sent in to see us; she brought with her a knitted breast and showed me how to hand express. I was sleep deprived and couldn’t understand what I needed to do so she did it for me and captured some colostrum in a syringe and fed it to him. She had a look at our feeding position and said ‘Oh yes he doesn’t want to latch does he?’ She also remarked that the fact I had been in a birthing pool can mean baby becomes too sleepy to latch. I felt like the worst mum ever for choosing the pool to help with my pain. She made some notes and left.

Later, another health care assistant was sent in to help me. She asked me to massage my breasts to get the colostrum flowing which I did and she laughed at me. I asked her if I was doing it wrong and she said yes. I had to stop myself from crying. She tried to express some colostrum and I will admit I was wincing in pain as it’s not the most comfortable of things. She declared that she didn’t want to hurt me and left. While she had been in the room she had spent more time on her phone than talking to me.

That evening there was a shift change and the ward sister came in to see me and saw how much we were struggling. Again, another health care assistant was brought in and finally I was treated with some dignity and respect. She expressed two syringes full of colostrum from my breasts and helped me to feed my baby. At 3am she returned to do it again and said in the morning I would need to do it myself and left me a cup.

The next day, I tried to get Dexter to latch multiple times. He did succeed once but it wasn’t for long and I was so unsure of how much milk he had actually got. I expressed into a cup and got a good amount and a midwife came in to give it to him. I was starting to climb the walls, I just wanted to go home and be with my family but I wasn’t allowed to leave until breastfeeding was established. That evening I started to lie. Whenever somebody came in to check on me I would say he had fed from me but in reality I had got him to latch maybe once and it wasn’t for long at all.

Nicola sat on the couch with Dexter at a few weeks old
Finally, on the third day we were discharged. When we got home I pumped with a manual pump and was able to get 4-5oz at a time. A breastfeeding support volunteer came to the house and saw that I’d fed him through a bottle with my expressed milk and declared no wonder he wouldn’t latch, he was nipple confused. My midwife came round and said she would help me then asked me to show her what I was doing. She looked at him screaming and said, ‘I would just give him the bottle now, he’s too hungry.’

After a couple of days of expressing, I was no longer able to give Dexter what he needed. I started to top up with readymade formula. During this time I was feeding Dexter every three hours then pumping for half an hour before sterilising and cleaning the instruments and bottles, it left no time for sleep at any point during the day. Another midwife came to see me and when I told her I was exclusively pumping she said that it was not a long term option. Then, my manual breast pump broke so I duly ordered a new electric one off the Internet but it meant 24 hours of using mainly formula. By the end of the week I had sent Neil out to the supermarket to buy a big tub of formula and decided to stop pumping.

I struggled massively to deal with the fact that I had failed as a breast feeder and as a mum. The words of the women from the group swam around my head. I worried I was poisoning my poor baby. I feared he would be obese. I couldn’t believe I had given up so easily, I had let everybody down.

My health visitor came the following week and I explained what had happened, breaking down in tears. Her immediate reaction was amazing. She told me that Dexter had drunk all of my colostrum and had been fed for a week on my milk and now that he was on formula: that was that. I was not to let it get me down, I had done the best for my son and he was clearly happy and thriving. The same was said to me by my doctor at my six week check-up. After having really bad support at the hospital, I couldn’t have asked for better support from my HV and GP. I cannot thank these two women enough because they saved me from being on the edge of depression. I cannot explain how awful it was to feel the guilt every time I had to give Dexter a bottle and quite often I would try and give him to somebody else to feed so I wouldn’t have to do it.

Nicola and Dexter smiling into the camera

I am still upset that I couldn’t breast feed but not to the extent I was in the first few weeks after birth. I understand now that I did not fail as a mum. I have a lot of friends who breastfeed and I am often jealous of the lovely bond they have with their babies and the fact that they can feed wherever and whenever without having to worry about sterilising and making up bottles. However on the other hand I know I have an amazing bond with my son without the help of breastfeeding and I have never had to worry about mastitis or cracked nipples. It has been great that my husband has been able to help with night feeds and I’ve been able to get some sleep. I would try and breast feed if I have another baby but would also be open to the fact that it is not as easy as it is made out to be. I understand that the NHS doesn’t want to tell us that breastfeeding is hard because it will put women off before they’ve even started, but the one thing I wish for is that I had known from the start how difficult it would be. Perhaps then I wouldn’t have put myself under so much unnecessary pressure.

Share this post with your friends!


Sunday 29th of January 2017

I don't know why I haven't seen this before. I feel your pain, 3 weeks expressing, 3 referrals to hospital and thrown a cup by a breast feeding support worker told he'd sip it like a cat was my experience. You feel like such a failure as a mum at the time. 7/8 months on and you see how OK they are, you know the next time what will be will be and we can sometimes be too hard on ourselves. The most natural thing in the world, it aint!


Friday 28th of October 2016

I am so pleased you have posted this. I have also got something so similar on my blog. I exclusively breast fed for 8 weeks but I felt so guilty when I gave up, I was crying almost every day and I couldn't cope any longer. One day I just decided to stop and not look back and I am so glad I did. I latched successfully after days of trying - I actually managed to get him to latch at home, whereas the midwives in the hospital couldn't and tried to get me to use formula instead. They weren't bothered about establishing the feeding, which is quite a shock really. Instead, I was exhausted from not sleeping because he would wake up every half an hour for a feed, and he wouldn't sleep after a bottle so Anthony couldn't help me during the night without doing an all-nighter himself. It was a nightmare. As much as breast milk IS actually the best milk for the baby, a fed baby is all that matters. I am so glad you are okay. It sounds like you give up at just the right time. A week is still a week! X

Rebecca W

Sunday 23rd of October 2016

Nicola, I just read this blog and I'm lying here crying now. I was same as you absolutely adamant I was going to BF and that 'breast was best'. I have relatively flat nipples and was worried before giving birth so I had lactation specialists round my house with that stupid woolly nipple. They all said 'oh you'll be fine baby will crawl up to you'. Well no that's not how it happened at all. I was rushed to surgery straight after my birth so skin to skin was with daddy for the first 3 hours of her life! Upon returning from theatre I too had various different women squeezing my nipples and forcing Izzys head onto my breasts! It was an awful experience and both myself and Izzy were so stressed each time. I eventually asked for formula, hating myself the whole time, but my poor baby was screaming and starving and needed filling quick! After leaving hospital at each feed I'd put her on my nipple with very little success and a lot of pain! I bought a Medela Swing electric pump and instantly pumped 4oz from each breast in 20mins (I know this is very lucky). I continued to pump for 7 weeks exclusively as I was still adamant that breast was best. When exclusively pumping I was doing so every 3 hours - even during the night. Hubby was very supportive and helped with feeding while I expressed, nappy changes etc and on the surface it looked like we had cracked it! However now I look back (i only stopped exclusively expressing on Tuesday just gone) I was constantly stressed, couldn't enjoy going out, when I did go out I was always thinking about where I could go to pump (spent a fortune in Costa recently and had many strange looks as the pump is quite possibly louder than a nuclear explosion!) When my hubby returned to work I found it so difficult to balance caring for a crying baby who needed attention vs pumping. Sometimes I had my priorities in the wrong order and I would literally pump from each breast while vigorously rocking the Moses basket my crying baby was lying in just so I could get her next feed. I attended a BF group every Monday and last Monday when I told them I was planning on stopping they were all very supportive. However, I don't want to hear that she has had 7 weeks of my 'goodness' - she has had 7 weeks with a stressed, tired, possibly slightly depressed mummy! Well I've stopped now. I am expressing twice a day at the minute once on a morning and once in the evening however my supply is dropping - and you know what I'm thankful! Now I can spend quality time with my baby and my husband and the best thing is she is happy, content, sleeping well, feeding well and so am I! If we have another baby I will be open to BF but I will not put myself under this pressure ever again! Thank you for writing about your experience and triggering other mums to respond. I feel I've had a weight lifted off my shoulders knowing I'm not the only one xxxxxxxx


Sunday 23rd of October 2016

Thank you so much for sharing your experience Rebecca. I am so glad you feel better for reading his and other mums responses. I was overwhelmed at the response I got on Instagram and so glad I shared this post after being a little apprehensive at first. Your daughter is beautiful and you should be so proud that you did all of that for seven weeks. People don't realise how long it actually takes to pump including all the necessary cleaning and before you know it on a 3hr schedule it's time to feed again. I hope you now get to have some sleep and you become slightly less stressed. People scoff at the term happy mum, happy baby but our babies read so much from our faces and look to us to know how to react and if they see a stressed out mummy, how is it possible that they too won't feel that stress? Thank you again for your comment and I am so glad I could help you feel better xxxxxx


Sunday 23rd of October 2016

Such an important post to write and share. So many people shy away from sharing how hard breastfeeding is and as a consequence wrongly everyone thinks it's a doddle. The help and support when you need it most is often not there and as a result many sadly loose being able to breastfeed as their milk dries up and they are robbed of the opportunity.

You did what was best for your son.

I really wish that more people shared that breastfeeding is hard, this would help those ready to give birth that the reality is you have to work at it, it's not easy and for some it doesn't work out despite all your best efforts. Lucy


Sunday 23rd of October 2016

Thank you for your feedback Lucy.