Opposite Sides of The Coin: A Personal Breastfeeding Story

Alison Howley natural birth and parenting advocate shares her personal breastfeeding story and how her experience with syntocinon resulted in two different journeys.

My First Journey

The moment had arrived. The head midwife scolded me, but struggling to push, lying on the hospital bed against my instincts and wishes, I leaned over the side of the bed and grabbed my partner's hands anyway, and gripped with every ounce of strength I could manifest - we were bringing our daughter into the world together.

One final push, and there she was. Her eyes breathtakingly clear and sparkling as she looked right into mine; so alert - she was beautiful and she was perfect. She settled in on my chest, and I was filled with a myriad of emotions, trying to wrap my head around the enormity and beauty of it all.

Then, before I could even register what had happened, my thigh was jabbed with Syntocinon (or Pitocin) - without consent, and against my openly expressed, repeatedly reiterated birth plan for a physiological third stage and delayed cord clamping. No, there was no medical indication for this to be justified, and given the studies that have been doneand like this one believe that the Syntocinon affected my milk supply in a hugely detrimental way.

In a world of my own and my daughter's, my partner, already the intuitive and aware father, said, "Is she rooting?" One of the other midwives smiled and said, "Yes, she is," and gently guided my daughter and I for our first ever feed - it felt surreal, just so beautiful, instinctual and natural. However, after this irreplaceable moment, due to a sheer influx of women birthing their babies, it would be another 12 hours or so before we next saw a midwife.

As new, unaware, overwhelmed parents, we knew no better. In this time, our little girl slept for about 8 hours. I figured she was as exhausted as I was, and that she needed the sleep. The next time I fed her, I was in a different position sitting up - my little one was not latched properly, but at the time did not know that. A new midwife came in. She peered over at my daughter and I feeding from across the room, asked if everything was OK, (I assumed it was as it had been previously) and left. A few hours later, we were discharged and at home - 16 hours after the birth.

Excitedly, we had invited family around to meet us, and our precious new bundle, there - that, in hindsight was a mistake for me! My maternal fires were roaring! Everyone seemed to be too loud, to be 'hogging' my baby, taking flash photography and it was all too much (each to their own, do what feels right for you.) As I'd never have done before becoming a mother, stood up and announced that it was time for everyone to leave - then, there we were. The three of us.

Our little girl was unsettled so I fed her. At this stage though, it was a three-ring circus! Get comfortable; get some pillows to prop up the baby and my arms. OK, she's on - but now she's falling asleep! Talk to her, tickle her feet, sing to her - that worked, no, she's falling asleep again! Try a nappy change, then the other breast - nope, now she's just upset. Try to calm her down, and then try again!

The next day, a midwife arrived at the house to see how our little girl and I were doing. She was hungry, and I prepared to feed her. The midwife watched me awkwardly fumble as I tried to position my baby and I, and I was feeling inadequate, like this is something I should "know," but didn't. She stepped in and positioned us both, suggesting a different feeding position - it didn't feel right, but I went with it.

The next day, a new midwife, a new opinion - more confusion, more stress for me. By the fifth day postpartum, it all got seriously distressing, as the midwife 'of the day' curtly announced my little girl was hungry and not getting what she needed. That if I did not get her weight up by the next day, she would have no choice but to admit my precious little girl to hospital, and the paediatricians would, "Just take over!" As I recall this even now, my heart is racing. My partner was forced out of the door to go and buy some formula - and so it began - the 'top-up trap.'

It's important to note something here. There were discrepancies in my daughter's actual weight as she was weighed in different places by the different midwives - some weighed her on the scales on the carpet, some weighed her with a nappy, some weighed her naked. There was no 'constant' when weighing her to gauge an accurate reading. Had my partner and I not have been so exhausted, we both would have realised this and corrected it, but sleep deprivation does not for a clear head make! If you're going to be having postpartum midwifery care, do take note of this scenario - it could save you a lot of heartache.

Three months later - we're finally there. As well as the formula top-ups, I was expressing around the clock to boost my supply, every inch of me determined to make breastfeeding work for us. I tapered off the formula, and all of a sudden, was exclusively breastfeeding - all that stress and worry a thing of the past - it was wonderful!

14 months on, our breastfeeding journey came to an end. For a time, I grieved it, missing the closeness, the oxytocin rushes, and the relationship that my little girl and I had established through breastfeeding. But came to realise, as with any relationship, some will flourish, and some will just end because it's the right time - I could respect the intelligence and grace of that.

My Second Journey

In the final weeks of my second pregnancy, I became increasingly anxious about my next breastfeeding journey - would I have the stress of low supply, and all that that entailed, all over again?

Our second little girl was here. Our midwife told me to get ready to catch her, but in the calm of the birthing pool, in the sanctuary of our lounge room, she came into the world swimming; paddling her little feet towards her Daddy!

He gently scooped her out of the water and passed her to me - we were blessed with another perfect and beautiful little girl, and she too was alert and 'ready to rock!'

Cradling her in my arms, gazing into her eyes, she started looking for her first feed. She latched on, and somehow it felt different. Easier and that it was just working.

As the days unfolded (we had a breastfeeding journey of 17 months together), my milk was flowing, and we were feeding harmoniously. There were days where all I did was eat to sustain my energy, and feed, and that was OK. I knew at those times my little one was 'cluster feeding' due to a growth spurt - not because it was a sign my supply was diminishing!

My partner and I did things more instinctively this time around, and I was feeding on demand, as opposed to the 3 hourly schedule we were instructed to follow by the hospital midwives. We safely co-slept, and it really worked for us. My little girl rolling in for a feed as she needed it, and I could get some sleep, too. It all felt so right, and our daughter was content. Emotionally, I was so much more stable, and 'bounced back' so much quicker than my first postpartum experience.

What do I attribute these factors to? A lack of stress and a lack of Syntocinon inhibiting what my body seemed to be able to produce perfectly! I guess it could be argued that a different pregnancy won't determine the outcome for breastmilk production, but again, in light of the research that has been done, I feel it's fair to assume that the Syntocinon was my undoing.

Do your own research into Syntocinon and when it's likely to be administered. If it is a drug you do not want, it's not enough to outline it in your birth plan, have your birth partner or doula on board and ready to be your advocate; so you can focus on you and your baby and working together, and having the best possible start as you embark on your own journey.

I wrote this to share with you, the things that worked for me, and the things that didn't. Stepping into motherhood can be overwhelming, and any little pieces of information, or sometimes more importantly, experiences shared, can have a lasting impact as you lay your foundations and pave your own path. I wish you a happy breastfeeding journey, and may motherhood bring you joy and enlightenment!

About the Author

Written for Nourish Baby by Alison Howley

Alison Howley is a mother of two and natural birth and parenting advocate. Following the planned home water birth of her second child, she felt compelled and empowered to support women through their pregnancy, birth and parenting journeys. Alison’s community – From the Womb to the World is an informative and supportive haven to read, share and record positive and inspiring pregnancy to birth stories.

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