We speak to Lisa about her breastfeeding journey including her diagnosis of severe mastitis and the steps she took to overcome it. Lisa lives in the UK with her partner and their little girl Penelope.
Tell us about your first latch or the latching experience in the first few days?
After Penelope was born (I ended up having a forceps delivery in surgery) we were moved to the recovery ward and our amazing midwife knew I was keen to give it a go and asked if I was ready. I was, and felt quite relaxed about it, so she placed Penny on my chest, and she latched almost instantly with very little effort. It felt very natural and easy in the first few days, although very tiring as she was such a hungry little baby and fed constantly, or so it felt like, but I was just happy to have lots of cuddles and the adrenaline got me through the first few sleepless nights.
Did you have any complications breastfeeding?
Personally, I feel my first few days of breastfeeding lured me into a false sense of security as it all felt so easy, and didn't hurt at all and I didn't even think about the latch, she just seemed to naturally know what to do.
When my milk came in on about the third day, things changed a bit. I'd read up loads on it, spoke to friends, visited blogs and forums so knew it was meant to hurt a little, but it hurt a lot. Cracked nipples, engorgement and suddenly so aware of the latch that had felt so natural, effortless and easy in those first few days. My community midwife helped me with each visit to try and find a position that was comfortable and how to correctly position the nipple etc, and we kept thinking we'd cracked it, and then I would struggle again. I felt like I'd forgotten everything she had told me and felt so awkward trying to hold Penny the right way when she was still so little and fragile and it was all new to me. Was it working? I was so worried about whether she was getting enough milk constantly (she lost weight at her first few weigh ins so I felt the pressure was on to get it right). It got to the point one day, when Penny was two weeks old, that it was so sore when I went to feed her that I burst into tears and my right breast was so swollen and engorged that I knew something wasn't right. That night I was so unwell and had a really bad fever and despite it being the height of summer, I was freezing and couldn't get warm, even my bones felt cold! I phoned my community midwife first thing the next morning and she told me to go straight to the hospital and she had told them to expect me. I was diagnosed with severe mastitis and prescribed antibiotics. I was in so much pain, and so miserable I was ready to stop breastfeeding that day.
Luckily, the Lactation Specialist who saw me was incredible and helped me so much! She loaned me a pump to help with the engorgement, and we really focused on the latch. The antibiotics kicked in more-or-less straight away and I felt like a different person when I saw her again the next day.
She made appointments for me to see her regularly so she could check in with how everything was going, and with her help, everything changed. When I had my final appointment with her, when Penny was six weeks’ old, it was so emotional, and I felt like a different woman and she commented on how I was a superstar for sticking with it. I felt so proud of myself and so glad I did, as after a rocky start, I grew to absolutely love breastfeeding.
Did you express milk? And how was that experience?
I started to express from the day I got sent home from the hospital with mastitis. It was something I'd planned to do anyway, but this just brought it forward a bit. I found the expressing experience to be a good one. Comfortable and really quite a relief as often I was engorged so it helped me to keep on top of supply, prevent painful breasts or lessen any soreness.
How did your partner support you while breastfeeding?
James was incredible throughout. We were both exhausted those first few weeks, especially during the sleepless nights but he was incredibly hands on and I felt so loved and supported. He would do all the nappy changes which really helped as I was still recovering from the episiotomy and gave me a moment to chill and make myself comfy before feeding her. He made me numerous cups of tea and coffee, all the meals, would feed me my meals while I was breastfeeding and was just amazing. He also bought lots of thoughtful things to help, including cotton reusable breast pads which were so comfy and a flask for my midnight coffees and made sure there was always a sweet treat on my bedside table to give me energy. When we introduced a bottle (we only used bottles to begin with when I physically couldn't be there) I was so nervous and a bit emotional about it all, so he took the lead and did the first bottle feed.
How did you feel breastfeeding in front of others or in public?
I felt nervous to begin with, even in front of family members, more so because I didn't want them to feel uncomfortable, which looking back was just silly really. I also realise now that a lot of my early anxiety was related to the fact that I couldn't quite get the latch right in those early days, so even just getting her on my boob was a bit of a mission and there was no way to do it discreetly so I would leave the room and go upstairs. Once I got more confident that we had nailed the technique, I also got more confident doing it in front of people, the two went hand in hand. I would still cover my boob with a muslin in public as I felt more comfortable that way.
Looking back what would you tell yourself at the start of your breastfeeding journey?
It's different for everyone, some of my friends have sailed through the process and some like me had a bit of a struggle to begin with and at times, throughout. I guess in my situation I would say it might get worse before it gets better, but once you get there and it's comfortable, lovely and amazing, it really is one of the best feelings in the world, so stick with it if you can. There is help out there, so speak to your community midwife or health visitor if you are struggling and take all the help you can get. Without my community midwife and the Lactation Specialist, my journey probably would have been very different. I became such a fan of breastfeeding, it was our time and after a tough start, a challenge I felt we overcome, together. It made me proud of us both and silly as it sounds, ready to take on whatever the world may throw at us.