Mum’s heartbreak: I had no idea I was starving my baby

When her baby became dangerously ill, Charlene was shocked breastfeeding was the reason why.

I’m sorry, you can’t have IVF,’ the doctor told me and my partner Bryce, 39.

After two years of trying for a baby, we’d come to a clinic to see if we could make our dream of being parents come true.

Having polycystic ovarian syndrome, I’d known since I was 16 that I might have fertility issues. Now, we’d hoped IVF was the answer.

‘Why not?’ I asked.

‘Because, you’re already five weeks’ pregnant,’ he said.

‘I can’t believe it,’ I grinned, feeling ecstatic.

As our bub grew, there was one thing on my mind. I’d had chronic pain in my ovaries since a teenager. Sometimes, I’d collapsed in agony and been rushed to hospital. It meant I took codeine daily for the pain.

The doctor reassured me it wouldn’t harm our girl, but there was a chance she might crave codeine for a few days after birth. Weighing things up, we decided it was best for my bub if I wasn’t in constant pain or at risk of collapsing. So, I decided to take the drug when I really needed it while I was pregnant, then bottle feed my bub after she arrived so she wouldn’t get codeine from my breast milk. 

When our girl Kylie was born, she had a shock of dark hair and weighed 3.2 kilos.

‘Isn’t she beautiful?’ I wept, feeling a rush of love.

‘She’s gorgeous,’ said Bryce.

Bryce and I were so happy to be expecting
Bryce and I were so happy to be expecting (Credit: Supplied)

When a midwife at Waikato Hospital put her to my breast, I pulled away.

‘I don’t want to breastfeed her,’ I said. ‘She could take in codeine. Can she have a bottle instead?’

‘We don’t have formula here,’ she replied. ‘Anyway, breast is best.’

Reluctantly letting Kylie suckle, I fretted my milk could be harming her. But I also couldn’t bear the thought of her being hungry. For the next few days, Kylie was monitored to be sure she wasn’t suffering codeine withdrawal symptoms. Still unhappy about breastfeeding, I asked again if she could have a bottle. Again, it was refused.

To make matters worse, Kylie cried night and day. Thankfully, the doctor gave her a clean bill of health. Normally new mums went to the nearby birthing centre to learn how to feed and look after their bub, but as we’d been in hospital for three days, we were sent home. Settling on the couch, I tried feeding Kylie but my nipples were really sore and I didn’t seem to have much milk. As she struggled to latch on, I was beside myself. What should have been a bonding experience was fraught with stress.

Using a breast pump, I hoped she could take the milk from a bottle, but I was shocked when blood came out.

‘I don’t want Kylie getting that,’ I said to Bryce, upset.

By now, she was growing lethargic.

Taking codeine for my pain, I’d decided to bottle feed
Taking codeine for my pain, I’d decided to bottle feed (Credit: Supplied)

‘Do you think she’s all right?’ I worried.

A first-time mum, I didn’t know what was normal.

‘I don’t know,’ Bryce said, just as concerned.

That morning, the midwife visited and weighed Kylie. She was only 2.9 kilos.

‘She’s lost weight,’ I said, shocked.

‘That’s not unusual,’ she said. ‘But she looks yellow. She could be jaundiced.’

She told us to take her to the medical centre for blood tests. We went immediately. Back home, my phone rang.

‘Take her straight back to hospital,’ my midwife said. ‘She isn’t jaundiced – she’s dehydrated! 

‘What?’ I said. ‘Wasn’t she drinking my milk?’ ‘Apparently not,’ she replied. At hospital, our tiny bub was taken to the NICU and put on a drip.

‘I feel like such a bad mother,’ I sobbed to Bryce.

I’d been starving my baby without knowing it.

‘It’s not your fault,’ he said, holding me as I wept.

Thankfully, Kylie soon began looking rosier, and a day later she was taken off the drip. Finally giving her a bottle, she gobbled down the milk.

‘Poor thing,’ I said. ‘It’s the rst time she’s eaten properly!’

After that, Kylie was a different baby. Happy and content, she stopped crying.

‘She loves the bottle,’ I said to Bryce as I fed her.

‘She should’ve had that from the beginning,’ he said.

(Credit: Supplied)

We shuddered to think about what could have happened if she hadn’t been tested for jaundice.

Could she have died from dehydration? It didn’t bear thinking about. Now eight months on, Kylie has put on weight and is such a happy little thing. Her smiles melt our heart. We had a meeting with the hospital to raise our concerns. I know breast is best for many babies, but it wasn’t for Kylie and me.

We’re telling our story because we don’t want new mums to feel forced into breastfeeding, or made to feel bad about bottles. And we want more checks to make sure bubs are latching on properly. Luckily, our girl was saved in time, but other families might not be so fortunate.

Read more in this week’s issue of that’s life, on sale now.

(Credit: Supplied)

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