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Back to the Breast

Ivy Ngeow Davis
SW London, GB
From: New Beginnings, Vol. 29 No. 5-6, 2009, pp. 28-30

From the moment I saw the two blue lines on the pregnancy test, I wanted to breastfeed. Unfortunately, complications developed on my delivery day: I had pre-eclampsia, a 17-hour labor, and an emergency cesarean section. Despite having six line-ins and line-outs from both my arms, and despite never having picked up a baby in my life, I was looking forward to spending the first night with my baby son and breastfeeding him. When I was placed in the recovery room with my three drip stands, blood pressure monitors, and catheter, I realized that I was not at all mobile.

The obstetrician came in and said, "Do you want to rest tonight and we'll take the baby and feed him formula?" I actually wanted to swear at him, but I said, "Thanks. I know you mean well but I fully intend to breastfeed."

For five days I breastfed while we were in hospital; then for six days at home, too. I was on a ton of medication for hypertension and was taking strong painkillers following the c-section. Then I developed an infection and another secondary infection and was put on two courses of antibiotics. One night I had a high temperature and was very light headed, sweating, and shivering profusely. I have foggy memories of my mom and husband putting ice in towels on my head and neck.

My mom suggested that we give my son formula so that she and my husband could look after him and "do" the nights. I was ill and weak so I thought, "Why not?" It meant I could sleep all night and all day. The hypertension medication was making me very sleepy. I actually fell down stairs once because of the drowsiness. I still tried to breastfeed but it wasn't working because I was asleep too much of the time.

One bottle led to two, which led to four and so on. This happened very quickly. After only two days of bottle feeding, I already noticed that my baby turned his head away and cried when I tried to breastfeed. I thought that obviously he preferred the taste of formula, preferred a silicon teat, and that I did not have enough milk.

When my mom's stay was over, my son was four weeks old and fed from the breast only three times a day, when he was calm or sleepy. When he was hysterical, only the bottle would do. I carried on with the bottle, even through the night, because I thought it would fill him up but he still woke up all the time. I didn't appreciate that bottle feeding at night was reducing my milk supply still further.

One fine day, at about nine weeks, my baby totally refused the breast and he became completely formula fed. This was heartbreaking for me. Something had to be done. He had already started smiling at me! He had lots and lots of smiles for me and I realized that he was not just any baby -- he was my baby. I had breastfed him and I wanted to continue to do so. When I nursed him I would smell his hair and look at the side of his face for a long time as he closed his eyes. I would never tire of the smell or the sight. With formula feeding his eyes were open and looking up. It was the way he faced when he was fed by bottle.

Many mothers I know give up breastfeeding because they are quite happy to formula feed; but I couldn't. I have a very strong urge to breastfeed. To me, it is integral to motherhood. When I am breastfeeding I am filled with happiness and every time I mixed the formula I felt a terrible wave of sadness and pain. I looked through all sorts of books for information on whether I should give up breastfeeding because my baby was thriving and happy to be drinking formula. Not one book cites that as a reason to give up breastfeeding. I was not ready to wean him and I may only ever have the one child. I wanted the very best for him, whether or not he was my only child. Was there still time? My son was only ten weeks old.

I found La Leche League's number and I still have it pinned up above my desk. I called and was very fortunate to speak to Anne Jobling. My first words to her were "I really, really want to breastfeed." Anne generously gave me her time and support. I told her that I had had a very easy first 11 days and no problems with breastfeeding. I didn't suffer cracked or sore nipples, mastitis, latching on problems, or any of the setbacks that other moms commonly experience. I had been lucky but I had lost it. I was not breastfeeding any more and my urge to do so was really strong. I didn't eat so well throughout my pregnancy and after the birth only to give my son food from a can. It did not seem right. I don't detest formula and it is not poison. Tomorrow and the day after, there will always be formula if all else fails.

Anne warned me that it would take a lot of hard work and that success also depended on my baby. I knew I could only do my best. I started my back-to-breast regime following only Anne's suggestions. I trusted her. I put off every person or activity that would be distracting to my efforts. I stayed in for at least three days. I avoided doing anything else. My husband stood by me as well because I wasn't going to be doing any cooking, washing, or cleaning during this time.

I ordered a herbal supplement, and took it four times a day. I ate oatmeal porridge in the morning, and drank a lot more water. I started by offering the breast every two hours, whether or not my son was hungry. We nursed in a dimly lit room, and we wore few clothes to maximize skin-to-skin contact. I was trying to overcome the moderate breast refusal in a gradual way. Sometimes my baby took the breast, sometimes he screamed. If he took the breast, I swayed and rocked him or else he would spit out the nipple after a few sucks. Often he would cry, strain, and arch his back to turn further away from the breast, such was his revulsion to breastfeeding. It seemed crazy since he had breastfed well initially.

When he did not take the breast and let-down had begun, I dripped milk everywhere, on my jeans, on my baby's clothes and yet, ironically, I would stand there at his "drinks trolley" making up the bottle feed. But there was still hope. If he breastfed sometimes, then one day he would feed all the time. When he breastfed I still had to top up with formula because my milk supply was low. If he did not feed, then I had to express the milk by pump after I had given him the bottle. I spent a lot of money on an electric double pump, which I could re-sell to recoup some of the money when the time came.* The expressed milk was given to him in the bottle as well so that he would get used to the taste of breastmilk all the time.

The first aim was to feed or pump ten to twelve times in 24 hours. I logged the time and feeding method in my notebook (which I am still doing, out of habit). I wrote down how many ounces of formula, both top-off amounts as well as full amounts. The second aim was to gradually decrease the formula without my baby noticing and still have six to eight wet diapers in 24 hours. I reduced the formula by about half an ounce a day.

After three days I was elated that the formula had halved. This suggested that the breastmilk had doubled. I thought that was quite remarkable, since I was not only relactating, I was rectifying the breast refusal problem. I kept going with the formula reduction for another five days. I rang to tell Anne the promising news. As usual, she was very encouraging and thought I had done very well.

When I thought I had cracked it, another severe bout of breast refusal returned. It went on for eight days this time. My baby had a blocked nose and it drove me nearly crazy. He screamed and screamed when I tried to feed him as though I were giving him poison. Milk sprayed everywhere and made a terrible mess. I had more milk and therefore I had to pump even more frequently.

After five days, he was still refusing to breastfeed, despite all the rocking and swaying, skin to skin, standing up, trying when he was not hungry, in the middle of the night -- it was all futile. He simply refused. I called Anne again. I did not get through so I called a health care practitioner. She said to comfort him again and again until he takes the breast. "Just stop giving him the bottle." I said I didn't want to starve him. But when I told her he weighed a stone (14 pounds), she laughed and said, "You won't starve him." I let him cry while I cried too. I came and comforted him and offered the breast again. If he refused, I went away and let him calm down. It went on and on for three days. By the end of the third day, I was breastfeeding again with the formula top-offs tapering off.

Five days later, after breastfeeding, my son looked up and smiled at me. I was startled. Usually, I was greeted with annoyance, fussing, and then I had to make the formula feed, but he was full. He didn't want any more. I couldn't believe it. He was full on breastmilk. There was no more need to make formula. I had wanted this so much. I got breastfeeding back, and fully. I feed him seven or eight times a day now, and each time he finishes his meal, he looks up into my eyes and smiles his big smile. It is the best feeling in the world. I can breastfeed anywhere now, even in a public place, confidently and easily, which I could never have considered before.

Every time I breastfeed I think that each meal is a miracle -- I am making food for someone, using just my own body. Those who have never (or cannot) breastfeed will not understand its magic.

I am so pleased I put all my heart and soul into relactation. It was so worth it. To be fair, it takes more than two to make the effort -- not only baby and mommy but family and, of course, LLL. I didn't do it alone. My mother and my husband are both very proud of me and are moved by my efforts to give my son the best start in life. Not a day goes by when I don't think of Anne's help and feedback to me. I am so grateful that someone understood what breastfeeding means to me.


*Your health care provider or LLL Leader can give you information on renting electric breast pumps.


Hormann, E. Breastfeeding an Adopted Baby and Relactation. La Leche League International, 2007. Available from

My Baby Won't Breastfeed. LLLGB, No. 2805, June 2008 available from

The Australian Breastfeeding Association Relactation and Adoptive Breastfeeding. Strategies for relactating and for producing milk for an adopted baby. The information on pumping, using a nursing supplementer, and encouraging the baby to take the breast is also useful for mothers who are having difficulties with latching on. Available from

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