National Breast Feeding week- My Breast Feeding journey

Today is the final day of breast feeding week so I thought I’d share a little bit about my breast feeding journey. 

With Dahli and India being born at 27 weeks and in NICU and SCU, for a very long time I was not able to try and breastfeed them. They were not strong enough and not ready, plus their CPAP would have gotten in the way anyway! 

It was an hour after the girls birth that my midwife came and offered to help me hand express some milk. I was surprised that I was doing this so quickly. And even more surprised that she managed to help me get enough milk out for my girls first feed! (They were fed through a nasal gastric tube). I think it was about 1ml in total. From this lesson on, every three hours, day and night I would express. At first just with my hands, then with the expressing machine as a stimulator before hand expressing, and then solely on the expressing machine. I would set my alarm for every three hours and expressed day and night. At times I did it next to one of the girls in their humidicrib, sometimes downstairs in my hospital room and then at home when I was finally discharged. When I was allowed to hold the girls I would hold one of them for ‘breast cuddles’ to encourage my milk supply and then I would sit there next to them and express afterwards. At home I would flick through the millions of photos and videos of my baby girls to help me make lots of milk. And I made a hell of a lot. It’s amazing what our bodies can do! I was expressing so much milk, litres a day. The hospital had to freeze some and I got to freeze some at home when they couldn’t fit anymore in their freezer. 

expressing at indias bedside
Expressing next to India’s humidicrib

The girls first breast feeding practice was sucking my milk off a cotton tip. Soooo cute and fascinating. And then at around 31 weeks (1 month old), India was off the CPAP and had her first proper breast feeding practice. She was 1377g this day and it was quite remarkable that she managed a little feed at this stage. I still remember how excited and proud I was. She got quite the surprise with how much milk came out, I remember she threw up on me and herself a few times! 🤣 For a long time we would continue this breast feeding practice as the nurse tube fed her my EBM. 

Dahli didn’t get to start practicing breastfeeding until a little while longer (almost 35 weeks) because she she still needed the breathing support. But finally while on high flow, she got her first practice. Dahli latched straight away and then screwed her face up. She was either shocked or unsure of the taste and then she fell asleep on me as I stared at her beautiful face that after almost three months, I could finally see properly.  Now both girls were off CPAP and able to practise sucking I was able to start tandem feeding. This was super exciting and a huge moment for me. When I learnt I was having twins this was one of the first things I thought about. The twin feeding pillow was no longer just for cuddles, but for actually feeding my babies!

The tandem feeding journey was filled with joy and anxiety, proud and happy tears and sad, disappointed tears. It had far more unsuccessful experiences than successful and it was heartbreaking. Once the girls were in SCU the focus became on getting them to full feeds so that they could finally graduate and go home. I was determined to breast feed. I would breastfeed them and then top them up with my EBM. It was an intense juggling act made easier when my husband was there. It also brought up lots of feelings of incompetency as nurses had to help feed because tandem was not working and they were on the same schedule. I longed to get them home and focus on breastfeeding in the comfort of our own home. But in hospital I was only allowed to practice with them every alternate feed. And then when we could see that the bottle was the fastest route home, that’s what mattered most. 

When we finally got home the juggling act continued but with much less anxiety and stress. On and on for months. I eventually decided to just do breast feeds for bonding and supply purposes because they just couldn’t get a full feed. So I learnt a way to express while bottle feeding them simultaneously. And if one bubba wanted a little settling or mummy time, I’d offer them my breast. One of my fondest memories of this time was having them both on me in the bathtub and them both fighting over the same nipple 🤣 

feeding station
My breast feeding station-twin credible, lap, warmed bottles of EBM, water bottle, TV remote, expressing machine, and of course India and Dahli

 

Eventually the girls weren’t really interested in my breast. They wanted the bottle of EBM and eventually formula top ups when my supply started to run low and not be enough for the girls. A combination of their growing appetite and less time to express. 

I expressed until the girls were 9 months old. My machine wasn’t really cutting it any more, my girls were now on solids and my spare time was spent making them solid food! If I tried expressing as I bottle fed them, they would pull out the tubing! And if I tried expressing as they played, their attention span would dwindle…along with my supply. So I weaned my boobies and put the expressing machine in storage….and I burnt my god damn expressing bras! 🤣 From then on the girls were on homemade, delicious solids and organic formula. I was happy that I had gotten them to this stage, although mummy guilt was also very much present.

 

So that’s my breastfeeding journey! I hoped Reuben to be a more successful breastfeeding story. My supply did actually come in and I was back to expressing again. This colostrum/milk was a gift to the girls from Reuben (which came at a good time as they were very sick). This was an extremely hard and emotional thing to do. I tried to just zone out and not think about what I was doing and why I had to do it. In the end I ended up needing help to make my supply go away and after a few weeks, I got tablets to help stop it. 

Everyone’s breastfeeding journey is different and I believe that all mummy’s make the decision that is best for them and their babies. I have moved on from the sadness and guilt I felt from my unexpected breastfeeding experience. I now know that I was a NICU mummy rockstar and I did absolutely everything I could do to get my bubba’s their mummy’s milk (including the multiple batches of lactation cookies, nighttime googling of lactation foods (hello oats!), many cups of lactation tea and finally motilium to help boost supply!).

Thanks for reading!

Love Terri

Mummy Guilt

I preface this post by saying that I had planned to write a lighthearted dig at Mummy Guilt. But then I started at the beginning of my experience with Mummy Guilt and well, suddenly I just started to go to town, resulting in more of a self indulgent post. So if you are expecting a funny, tongue in cheek post about the guilt that is Mummy Guilt…sorry but this isn’t it!

Mummy guilt is relentless. She is an evil enemy who poses as a friend and doesn’t care for your feelings or about the people you love. Mummy Guilt is a vicious, repetitive monster that is so very hard to leave behind. She is always there, lurking in the shadows. No matter how hard you try or how much love you shower your children with, Mummy Guilt somehow creeps in. And if you are not careful, she can steal from you what should be the most precious, important time in your life. 

I met Mummy Guilt before my babies were even earth side, which I am sure is the case for other mummies too. At first it was just little glimpses like, “hi, hello- are you sure you should eat that?” Or “You really should be reading those baby books, all good mums read the baby books”…But boy oh boy, did she ramp it up when I was hospitalised with severe bleeding, a ruptured membrane and a dilated cervix, at 26+5 weeks. Was it that exercise I did? Was it the heat I exposed myself to at the beach? Was it the travelling in the car over Christmas? Was it the rearranging of furniture as I began to nest? Was it that I didn’t question my doctor when I should have? Was it the food I ate? Was it Karma for something I have done in the past? Was it that I have no business being a mother?….. the list went on and on and on. And I hadn’t even met my precious little warrior princesses yet. 

On the magical (and traumatic) morning when my gorgeous girls greeted me, fortunately Mummy Guilt didn’t show her face. I was able to enjoy the moment, although it was quite different to anything I ever expected it to be. No matter how tiny and fragile my girls were, at the time all I felt was love and pride for what my husband and I had created. Hearing their cries as they entered the world filled my heart in a way that it has never been filled. 

colostrum! Woo!
Colostrum that I spent hours overnight expressing. I was feeling super proud.

It wasn’t until 2 or 3 days into the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) journey, that Mummy Guilt surfaced again. She mostly wanted to judge me for the time I couldn’t be with my girls. For the time I spent away from them. To begin with, I spent this time being closely monitored with an infection and round the clock antibiotics fed through my drip.  I also expressed every three hours religiously, in my hospital bed. Oh and even more time away from them- at night, where I selfishly slept and tried to recuperate from the traumatic birth that I had experienced. Mummy Guilt expected me to be by my baby’s bedside twenty-four seven.

 

 

discharged
Being wheeled out of the hospital. Minutes before I completely broke down.

When I was finally discharged after 12 days, Mummy Guilt was one chunk of the reason why I cried hysterically the whole car ride home.  For the first time, I really did leave my girls; I had to go home. I went home and left two parts of me at hospital. What a horrible, selfish thing to do. Even though Mummy Guilt knew that I had no choice in the matter, she still slept next to me at night. After being discharged, whenever I was a home, I tried to be zen for my own health. Yes I did practice Yoga everyday as the sensible, rational me knew that I needed this so that I did not go insane. Mummy Guilt, on the other hand thought that it was completely unnecessary and selfish. She also told me that the nurses judged me for the time that I was not at the hospital.

twin cuddle
First Daddy cuddle. First Twin cuddle.

Then there was the time when a lovely, sweet nurse could see that I was not coping and that I had family visiting, so she suggested I spend an afternoon at home with them. I listened and I did just this, even though Mummy Guilt was yelling in my ear that I should always be with my babies. Well, Mummy Guilt won this one. Staying at home for my own mental health meant that I missed out on Daddy’s first cuddle and not just that, but also the first twin cuddle. This was something that broke me completely and required lots of help and time to work through the awful guilt and disappointment. 

 

 

Mummy Guilt was already so present in my life and I had not yet even had the experience of taking my babies home. For the 91 days that my babies spent in hospital, she always had plenty more material to drown me in guilt: morning, day and night. I did not however let her ruin my time with my babies. I was fortunately able to cast her aside most of the time and focus on my precious baby girls.

breast cuddle
Breast cuddles while expressed breast milk is fed through nasal gastric tube.

And now comes the reason why I decided to write this post. I tried my absolute hardest to breastfeed my twins. I was there at the hospital, every day, giving my babies breast feeding practice every alternate feed, as they received my expressed breast milk through their nasal gastric tubes. Then when they were moved to special care and the focus was on gaining weight, it became a cycle of learning the bottle, having tube feeds and practising on the breast. They needed to be confident on the bottle and no longer need tube feeds to come home. So once they could feed without a tube and weighed over 3kg, we were allowed to take our little miracles home.

breast feeding in NICU
breastfeeding whilst the nurses tube fed the girls through their nasal gastric tubes.

 

 

“Your twins will, no they must be exclusively breast fed within the first couple of weeks they are home”, Mummy Guilt told me. Well..sorry to disappoint, but this didn’t happen. My girls were never able to get a full feed from the breast. It is only recently I gave up (although we do still do some ‘breast feeds’ just for bonding). Mummy Guilt had me lose lots of sleep over this. Even though I spend hours expressing litres of milk, Mummy Guilt expected me to breast feed my babies until they turned one. But I have been able to let this go and move on with the new plan. I now always express whilst simultaneously feeding the twins my milk from a bottle. 

 

And this brings me to today and the current argument I am having with Mummy Guilt.  My bubs are now almost 8 months old and so she has me questioning, for how long do I continue this exhausting task that is expressing? My supply dropped with mastitis (this was hell) and I have had to supplement with some formula, which I know people judge and Mummy guilt makes sure I know this. It is her job to listen to the nonsense that people tell me about breast being best, and how I really should see another lactation consultant, and that formula can cause cancer (hello! I was formula fed, and I happen to think I turned out quite wonderfully!). Mummy Guilt doesn’t listen to the kind, positive things that people say, she only cares about the negative. She has absolutely no idea and no place in our lives and yet, here she is clouding my decision making and just filling me with sadness for even thinking about ceasing my milk making days.

expressing & bottles
Expressing as I bottle feed my gorgeous girls. They don’t quite fit so well on my lap now AND they pull the tubes out!

Reading over this post, I hadn’t realised how present Mummy Guilt has been in my parenting journey so far. I was so focused on the tough decision that I have to make about feeding my babies that I had forgotten all the unkind things Mummy Guilt has already said to me in the past. I didn’t realise that I could dig up so much dirt on Mummy Guilt, but gosh has it helped me feel better!

As I reflect, I can see clearly that I don’t have time for Mummy Guilt; Mummy Guilt doesn’t know best. In fact, she doesn’t have a clue what she is talking about. Everybody’s parenting journey is different and the choices we make don’t need judgement. My introduction into motherhood was not ideal and I know that the most important thing I can do, is to give my babies love.

I believe that one day when I tell my gorgeous warrior princesses the story of their first year of their lives, they will be so proud and grateful that I was chosen to be their mummy. 

So I choose to cast Mummy Guilt aside. I know I can do this, because I have done it before. I will do my absolute best to keep her away as I continue to enjoy the special moments with my baby girls every day. I don’t need to make any decisions immediately, but when I do decide to stop expressing (or make any other motherhood decisions, for that matter) it won’t be Mummy Guilt that makes the decision for me. She has no place in my life and nor should she. 

Love to all mummies and may you have the strength tame your Mummy Guilt too! Because, You are amazing.

Love Terri