The very word breastfeeding stirs up a wide range of emotions in women from; frustration, contentment, pain, joy, disappointment, a sense of achievement, guilt,pride anger, peacefulness. Some are passionate advocates while others feel that it is just not for them.
I have had both positive and negatives experiences of breastfeeding and have went through every possible spectrum of emotions regarding it…
Breastfeeding My First Baby
For me breastfeeding was the norm, as my own mum breastfed all nine of us children and we all saw her feeding. I genuinely just took for granted that all mothers fed their newborns this way. It was only after the birth of my eldest child Cora that I realised that here in Northern Ireland bottle feeding is the more popular choice.
I was surprised as the midwife smiled in surprise yet encouragingly at me when I said I wanted to breastfeed (especially as my new baby had just pooed all over her nice clean uniform!)
With Cora I managed to breastfeed for the first three weeks of her life. I remember it was my solace during a very tough period in my life – I would take my precious baby off to the calm of my bedroom and sit gazing at her as she fed (a mixture of shock, being in a love bubble with pain killers taking the edge off it all.)
I was proud that I did it and was a bit sad when I had to give her the first few bottles of formula, but I had the last few months of my A-level exams to complete and that meant going back to school full time, so I didn’t dwell on it too much. I was happy with what I had achieved and I was dying for a night out too! My lovely patient inspirational mum was always on hand to give me advice and support (and still is!)
My Second Attempt
Seven years later when my next baby came along I was adamant that I would breastfeed her for longer this time, as I had completed university and was not working, so I had more time to devote to her.
But after giving birth this baby proved to be a super sucker, latching onto anything she could get her lips around and sucking for dear life. A well meaning midwife suggested I give her a dummy to ‘stop her using me as a dummy’, which I did, not realising that this was the wrong advice when trying to establish breastfeeding as it causes nipple confusion and can lead to the baby missing out on a feed as they suck the dummy instead.
By the time I was discharged from hospital my nipples were in an awful state – I really didn’t have a clue how to help my baby latch properly, she seemed to be ravenously hungry so when she latched I didn’t correct her positioning no matter how much it hurt – it was hard enough to get her on in the first place and I was afraid if I took her off she would suck my nipple twice as hard.
I knew that breastfeeding would be painful for the first few days so I stuck it out for twelve of the longest most gruellingly painful days of my life. Due to the many bad latches my nipple suffered quite a bit of trauma, my breast was not getting emptied of the milk properly, and my baby wasn’t getting enough food, which made us both very upset. I also had an over supply of milk which only added to an already bad situation.
On my final day breastfeeding little Eve I was in a lot of pain and I had got to the point that I absolutely dreaded every feed. The slightest sound from little Eve and I was hiding in the bathroom from her, fearful of the dreaded call to feed her.
It was the first time I was properly alone in the house with Eve. When she began to whimper I busied myself getting ‘organised’ (stalling for time) to feed her. I was in agony, my breasts were engorged with milk and my nipples were bruised and cracked – I didn’t want anyone to touch me and I couldn’t bear for anyone to watch. I had to work myself into the ‘right’ frame of mind to get her latched on as quickly as possible.
My Godmother came to visit and tried to help me but Eve and I were so worked up that I just couldn’t do it!
I was so angry with myself, feeling like a failure. Two and a half hours later I finally managed to get baby Eve latched on and fed.
Out of sheer desperation my partner phoned the midwives asking for an urgent appointment as the situation just couldn’t go on.
Two midwives came and examined my breasts and delivered the devastating news I had a severe case of infected mastitis and advised that I stop breastfeeding as it was clearly causing everyone so much distress. They sent for strong antibiotics and gave my partner instructions on how to help me and how to make up the formula and bottles.
I was heartbroken that I hadn’t succeeded for as long as I wished and the first few bottle feeds were very emotional for me, lots of tears were shed.
However the sense of relief that I felt knowing that I no longer had to endure the pain is indescribable. I had put so much pressure on myself but I just wasn’t enjoying the experience like I longed to and everyone was suffering as a result.
It was the best decision for the family at the time. After a few weeks of grieving I realised I had to stop beating myself up about it and start enjoying my baby.
Success At Last, But It Wasn’t Smooth Sailing.
Five years later and little Luca came along in 2014. Undeterred by my previous traumatic experience I was more determined than ever to make breastfeeding work. Surrounded by strong female role models such as my mother, my big sister, my sister in laws and a number of friends I was reassured and very willing to give it a real go.
This time I researched it as much as possible talking to other mums about their experiences.
I asked if I could stay on longer in hospital for a few days after I gave birth so I could get all the support I needed. I found this help invaluable. The midwives were more than willing to help with positioning and latching, helping until I was comfortable doing it myself. I was so nervous of developing mastitis that I wasn’t taking any chances!
The policy and education around breastfeeding had changed dramatically since my first experience with Cora and even Eve. Before being discharged I was given a leaflet with phone numbers of peer supporters who could give me phone support if I needed it or come to my home if I had difficulties. There was also lots of information on local breastfeeding support groups – which I attended and found very helpful, making some really nice friendships along the way.
There seemed to be so much more knowledge and awareness around breastfeeding and it seemed to have become increasingly more normalised.
I also joined a local Facebook breastfeeding support group (Breastfeeding in Northern Ireland), which is a priceless tool in helping with all manner of feeding problems and solutions 24/7. The shared knowledge and support is amazing, women encouraging, supporting and championing one another. The sense of community and sisterhood is very inspiring.
Engorgement & Over Supply Issues
Although the support was much better I still did have sore and cracked nipples when I left hospital, but I felt like I was in a much better position to deal with it all.
After the first ten days when I was settled back at home my breasts were still rock hard, painful and engorged with milk. I felt very low at this point as I was still in such discomfort and my partner’s paternity leave was up so he wouldn’t be around to help me. I knew I had to do something as I was on the verge of giving up, yet I longed to continue.
I got in touch with a school friend and now mum of four, who was a real breastfeeding advocate having breastfed all four of her children(and is still feeding two of them), overcoming her own struggles, beating all odds even breastfeeding her daughter born without a nose! She went above and beyond to help me sort it all out. She urged me not be afraid of my breasts and tips on how to spot the early warning signs of mastitis with simple, easy steps on how to avoid it . She gave me the breastfeeding Bible, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding and a sling which was brilliant. Most of all she instilled a confidence and sense of calm within me that I didn’t have before. (Read her story here https://bornextraordinary.wordpress.com/)
One of my lovely sisters came to my house and stayed with me for that first week without my partner. Even sleeping beside me she was by my side each time I fed Luca, gently encouraging me.
The engorgement wasn’t easing so I made an appointment to see a Lactation Consultant at the hospital. She finally came up with a solution, nipple shields, block feeding and introducing the dummy. I had over supply issues which meant that I was producing much more milk than the baby needed, so my breasts were not getting the chance to drain properly and the baby was getting too much milk, which was making him unsettled too.
The nipple shield slowed the flow of milk, which meant my breasts were no longer being over stimulated to make more. Nearly immediately all the pain I had been feeling stopped, the nipple shields were a saviour to our breastfeeding journey. My milk began to regulate too and soon my breasts got the message, only producing enough milk for my baby as opposed to a set of triplets!
FINALLY I was able to have the beautiful breastfeeding experience that I had for so longed for. Each feed was magic and little Luca was a real boob monster! He loved his milk and I was addicted to having him so close to me, I loved the feeling of having him so close and he was so content. I finally felt like I was getting it right and I was proud that I had kept it up after all the pain and the disappointment (in myself) at not being able to enjoy feeding Eve.
Ditching The Nipple Shields
After using the shields for four months I was able to wean Luca – and myself off them – I was terrified that I would be in lots of pain again, but after two weeks I was able to go it alone, which I was really proud of. Making it to my six month goal, which at times had seemed so far off. Neither of us were ready to stop anytime soon, we were in our stride, feeling confident I wasn’t afraid to nurse him in public if he needed fed.
Cows Milk Protein Allergy and Going Dairy Free
Luca was diagnosed with a cows milk protein allergy CMPA at nine months of age. He was still breastfeeding so I had to cut all dairy out of my diet as well, which was very tough at the beginning, but worth it when I saw the vast improvement that it made to Luca’s skin and breathing. Breastfeeding was his big comfort and I couldn’t get him to drink from a bottle anyway, so we stuck it out. I will write more about this in another post.
One Journey Ends And Another Begins
Shortly after Luca turned one I discovered I was pregnant again! I was happy to keep nursing him – I decided I would follow his lead – preparing myself for tandem feeding as he was a relentless feeder.
That was until one day when I was six months pregnant, Luca told me my milk was ‘yuck’ and refused to take any more milk, never feeding again. I spent the next few days trying to make sure it was what he wanted – following him around wagging my boob at him – but he was adamant. I was sad, but again relieved as it was his choice and by that stage I was getting nursing aversion – so we were both ready for our journey to end.
Starting All Over Again
When I had Max just three months after breastfeeding Luca I thought I would be a pro – having fed Luca for 16 months. But it turned out that I again felt like I didn’t have a clue what I was doing! I felt like I was back to square one. I had the same sensitive nipples, cracked and bruised for the first two weeks as all the other times. I had to relearn how to position Max, as each new baby is different.
This time I called on the help of a breastfeeding counsellor when I was discharged from hospital. She was brilliant and spotted where I was going wrong immediately and helped with better positioning. I had to end up using nipple shields again for the first sixteen weeks to ease the over supply issues I had before.
Seven months on and Max and I are still breastfeeding strong. At the six month mark we had issues with fussiness and my supply took a big dip, coupled with beginning to wean on to solids and the return of my period, it was a very scary time for me. Thankfully we have sorted it out now and our journey still continues.
I plan on following his lead and keep going for as long as it suits us both. With Max I feel much more relaxed about it all and I think this has shown with how much more smoothly it has went for us this time.
If only I had had access to the information and support back with Eve as I do now I feel that we could have succeeded, but it was that ‘failure’ that made me so determined to stick it out with my boys.
To All New Mums…
For all the new mums out there starting out on their own breastfeeding journey or considering it, know that the first few weeks can be very difficult – for some lucky mamas its easy – but those are few and far between. For most new mums it is hard at the start, but with the right support and educating yourself, those early day niggles are long forgotten (just like the pain of childbirth) and when it works it is the most lovely feeling.
For those that it doesn’t work out for, for whatever reasons, please don’t beat yourselves up over it. You tried, you did you best for your baby by giving it a go, be happy that you tried. It can work another time. Educating yourself and finding good support is key. Be kind to yourself and hold your baby close.