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Breastfeeding a baby with slow weight gain – Jenny


I had my first baby in 2012 at term plus 12 after an induction. I was given diamorphine during labour and baby was very tired when she arrived. She latched on fairly immediately but didn't “do anything” just lay with my nipple in her mouth. I was allowed to leave hospital after two days on the maternity ward after every single midwife in the ward helped me to breastfeed. I was the only one of six on the ward who even attempted breastfeeding, I was pretty gobsmacked at that to be honest. I had only seen my sister-in-law breastfeed before on a couple of occasions and had no other contact with any other breastfeeders so didn't have a clue what to do or what to expect.

By day four my little girl, Jess, had jaundice and had lost a lot of weight, she was on me (feeding) what felt like ALL the time. We were admitted to children's ward for three days for phototherapy (where the baby is supposed to politely lie asleep in a glowing UV box). Jess was having none of it. She wanted to be out of there and in my arms or on my chest to be more correct. I was made to feel like she was being awkward and not normal and that all other babies just sat under the light and took it. She was feeding too often the doctors and nurses said, I needed to keep her under the light more. I was given a pump to express to feed her but I wasn't really shown how to use it apart from the mechanical side of things (here's the on and off switch and this make its suck harder) so it didn't really work! After a horrid few days we were allowed home with still fairly high levels of bilirubin (sill jaundiced) but I think they had enough of us by that point and we were desperate to leave.

To shorten this story a lot by week four we were still exclusively breastfeeding but Jess still hadn't returned to her birthweight and was re-admitted to hospital. I had lost all sense of modesty by now as I was continuously being observed breastfeeding and told that I seemed to be doing everything correctly. A female doctor told me that for Jess to be feeding continuously for up to 5 hours straight in the evening was normal and this was called cluster feeding. I had a person who was a peer supporter (I think!) and nurse come and observe me feeding and she said everything looked ok. That was pretty much all I got from her. I had to keep a diary of every poo, wee and feed Jess had. I was told by a nurse that she should only need to feed for 20 minutes every 3 hours and she forbade me from feeding her for any longer. Even with my lack of breastfeeding knowledge this seemed totally counter-intuitive to me so I lied on the sheets about the length of time feeding and how often. They weighed my baby every single day (even on special care baby units it's only once a week!) and in the end they said I had to top up with formula until she put weight on.


By week five Jess had regained her birthweight and was having an ounce or two at the end of every feed. I did this for 16 months until Jess self weaned when I was pregnant with my second child. In hindsight I think Jess was a particularly lazy eater and she just fell asleep at the breast all the time. Even at 2½ years old she is still a lazy eater and can take 40 minutes to eat a plate of food! She has returned to breastfeeding since the birth of my son and we have a lovely relationship because of it.

Anyway next Rowan came along, all 11lb 2½ oz of him! I had a natural birth and no drugs to try and help our breastfeeding journey, but the same thing happened again. Big loss of weight and constant weighing and advice from well meaning midwives. I was sent to hospital with low weight problem again and I told my midwife before I went that I knew the likely outcome was for the doctor to say I had to top up with formula to put the weight on as they are only interested in a quick fix. I also told her that I wasn't going to do that. I discussed it with my husband first and he was happy with my decision too.

So off to hospital again and a male doctor this time asked me how long he fed for etc and gave me a very raised eyebrow when I said how often Rowan fed: once an hour. I was expressing to increase supply. I was offered no help or advice at all with my breastfeeding whilst I was in hospital. Looking back I can't believe they didn't offer any help at all to keep me breastfeeding. The doctor just told me to top him up with formula so I lied said I would top him up to get out of there. I didn't top him up and he took eight weeks to regain his birthweight. But he is now 10 months and still breastfeeding and on the 75th centile on the growth charts!

I'm very lucky I have a supportive husband who was with me every step of the way as my success with Rowan was because the two of us worked together at it, not from any health professional advice

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