A breastfeeding nightmare: Experiencing a understaffed NHS

November 9, 2011 at 5:43 pm Leave a comment

So I am now a parent and I want to share some of how I experienced the very first days as a mother as I am sure so many others must have been in the same place. It is also to show my own, personal, encounter with an understaffed NHS service where one can easily be overlooked and personal consierations can not be prioritised.

Source: NHS

I was determined and looking forward to breastfeed my newborn as this is what I was used to in my family and where I come from. They big day arrived, I had a good birth and we were ready for the first feed. The baby wouldn’t latch on. From this first moment staff looked at me with a worried face and nearly doomed my ability to breastfeed. I was still exhausted after giving birth and didn’t really understand or had the ability to cope with a breastfeeding troubleshoot, it just hadn’t crossed my mind that I could have a difficulty with it, was it just not something that would happen naturally? Apparently not.

Later on that day a midwife came to check on feeding and we hadn’t really fed as the baby had been sleeping almost continuously since birth. The midwife said the baby would get low bloodsugar levels and that I had to wake her up and feed her. She asked how the feeding went earlier and I explained she had trouble latching on. The midwife looked worried and said we would have to feed her formula top-up if she wouldn’t feed properly and that the baby’s tiredness was probably due to low blood sugar. I said I didn’t want to use formula as it had been advised against on the antenatal class. The midwife then asked me why they had advised against that. The course was held at the same hospital, by a midwife, and it felt awful to be asked as if she was in disbelief of what I had been taught. I was still exhausted and tired and wasn’t able to remember the details nor explain myself. At this stage it was also made clear that the sooner the baby fed properly we would be able to leave the hospital.
We tried breastfeeding again but with little success. When another midwife visited later and I said we had tried to breastfeed but failed what she did was to grab my breast, squeeze it and put it into the baby’s mouth. I felt powerless and run over by these people who were supposed to be professionals. I am sure they are but they didn’t have time to act like it. I was overwhelmed by the experience. However, I was taught how to express the colostrum and at least managed to feed these valuable drops to the baby.

I just wanted to leave the hospital. I knew if I persisted to keep on trying with the breastfeeding the baby would be hungry and I would not be dismissed. I gave in. The midwife introduced formula and cup-feeding. I asked if they had organic formula (that would at least make me feel less councious) but they didn’t have that. In think I was desperately trying to find ways of justyfying using formula at this stage. The baby was hungry and drank fast. I was happy for her and happy to know I could go home soon. I kept expressing still and fed however much I was able to get out in addition to the formula.
My hospital stay was a huge disappointment. The midwives who were at the ward had little time to help and showed little sensitivity towards the fact that I was a first-time mum. They had no time to sit down and take their time to help and some of them were quite short and unfriendly. At the end of my stay I spoke to one of the friendlier midwives (just a little bit of chit chat meant a lot and I almost feel silly saying that now) and learned that they, the midwifes, were exhausted and understaffed. They had two midwives on and 18 bed ward. That’s NHS for you.
I understood why I had received so little support but I became even more upset that these valuable first hours with my child had been dominated and affected by this.

Source: Sciencephoto

Back home we brought formula with us and the first night went well. The following day a midwife visited. I explained how we had solved the breastfeeding issue which she was not very encouraging about. She asked: “Did you not go to any antenatal or breastfeeding classes?” Yes I did. “But did they not tell you that you should not mix formula and breastmilk?” Yes…. (the two creates in-balance of the stomach culture and makes it harder to digest so the baby is likely to get wind, constipation and tummy aches). Again, I was receiving completely different advise from health professionals and it was very upsetting. The midwife did not have time to stay very long (she explained thisnfirst thing when she entered the room) but said that we should try to breastfeed only for another couple of days and that quality was better than quantity since the colostrum is very rich.
But, two days later I was crying and the baby was crying. I had blisters on my nipples. I needed help or I would give up the whole thing entirely. I did a google search and found Let’s Breastfeed run by Geraldine Miskin, a breastfeeding specialist. I called her at 9am and she was at my door 10.45am the same day. She sat down and listened to me. She was gentle and warm. Without going into detail Geraldine had a quick look at the baby and me and identified what had gone wrong. I was introduced to nipple shields and we have now been successfully breastfeeding since-pain free! This consultation was expensive and way over my budget but it was worth it.

Source: Medela

Breastfeeding is promoted through the NHS and their leaflets and guides shows how you simply position the baby nose to nipple so that the baby can grasp breast tissue and not just nipple. I received little info or preparation at antenatal care about what to do when this doesn’t go as smoothly. What they should have said in the antenatal course and written in the leaflets is that this idea about breastfeeding being easy and natural is a myth. I guess they don’t want to scare anyone off breastfeeding, but I personally would have liked to be prepared. I know there is info available, also on the NHS web-pages, but talking to family and friends and reading comments in various forums online I realised how common it is to have trouble breastfeeding. I guess because it portrayed as a natural and simple task I nevder thought it would be an issue and therefore didn’t do my research.
Most women who have breastfed will know what it is to have sore, cracked and bleeding nipples. It is not supposed to be like that and these are signs that the baby is not latching on properly. Ironically, as I experienced, they don’t have the resources to give you proper support and there must be so many women who just give up. I was actually told by midwives that many do give up, sadly. My breastfeeding experience became a true nightmare, it was even worse and more painful than giving birth. Not to mention how frustrating and maybe distressing it was for the baby, being born is in itself a big trauma for the baby. I truly hope the understaffed maternity wards will see a better future (unsure how likely that is in times of financial crisis) and until then I recommend for any first time mum to hire a doula or speak to someone professional, who have got time, if anything doesn’t go as planned. Or to do the research in advance and be as prepared as one can be. The emotional state after birth is hard to predict. I felt weak and unable to stand up for my self. The staff who was supposed to be there to support me ended up walking over me and it was not pleasant.

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Depressing future prospects – money is the clue (???) My green sins

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