That’s right, mummies and daddies (and other avid readers), it’s time for the big one, the biggest debate fodder out there, (though frig knows why, honestly) BREASTFEEDING. Don’t worry though, this post isn’t meant for heated debate, but firstly to give you a run through of the ups and downs I’ve experienced during my journey and secondly (coming up in Part 2) to furnish you with tips, advice and hopefully humour to make the whole thing a bit less painful (sometimes literally).
Even if you don’t have boobs (or if you do, but are still of the male variety, I don’t discriminate) you will most likely have experienced breastfeeding in your life in some form, whether your partner is the one feeding an infant, you’ve had relatives who have fed an infant, or were even the one being fed!
Unfortunately, there is a huge resistance to breastfeeding out there, and so many mummies experience objections or negative attention for doing the most normal and natural of things, and for those who are already doubting themselves or their ability, a few judgy comments could really do some damage.
I am luckily rather stubborn, and while I’m glad I never had anybody tell me I shouldn’t breastfeed (although I have been told to my face that they thought breastfeeding past 12 months was “just wrong”, when I’d already made it clear I would be doing exactly that, whatevs) I know that if anybody had dared tell me to find somewhere more “appropriate” to feed or that I wasn’t allowed to feed where I had chosen, I’d be more than happy to tell them to shove it up their arse and continue with Sophie’s lunch.
Despite my inner shouty rage and “these are my boobs, get over it” confidence I quickly found, it didn’t come straight away. I’m here to tell you that breastfeeding can be HARD. Like, ridiculously, painfully, depressingly hard. But worth it, oh my god, so worth it. I, like many many others out there had a hard struggle, but I couldn’t give up, I wouldn’t let myself. I came close to unravelling a few times, I cried more times than I like to remember, Sophie was even admitted to hospital. In the hopes that my experience will resonate with anybody struggling right now, even a tiny part of it, let’s go back to the start.
The first time I fed Sophie it all went quite well, a member of the breastfeeding helpers (Miffers, I believe) came round and beamed at me, she was happy with my positioning, Sophie’s mouth moving just so, it felt great. In fact, every feed she had in the hospital was fantastic, so of course I knew that I’d cracked it, and everything would continue swimmingly at home. HA.
At home, she fed well for the first day and night and then started getting a bit fussy, then started getting a bit distressed, and then all of a sudden it was 3am on Saturday morning and I was sobbing on the phone to the 24hr midwife “hotline”, telling them I couldn’t remember the last time she’d latched on properly and she would. not. stop. screaming. They suggested lots of lovely skin to skin, letting her calm down, maybe feeding her drops of milk from a spoon. Do note that in the first few days you’ll only have a tiny bit of colostrum as that’s all they need to kick start their teeny stomachs, and from there the more they latch on to you, the more your boobs get the message to ramp up supply. In the next few days I didn’t get many chances to latch her on and I really struggled after she was discharged, but there was so much amazing help out there, I don’t know what I’d have done without it. More on that later!
A midwife was sent round on Saturday morning to check Sophie over. At 3 days old she had lost almost 11% of her weight, and while they give a margin for weight loss in newborns, Sophie was just over it, wasn’t feeding and had gone quiet and floppy (scary as f**k) so we were admitted straight away. In the months after Sophie’s birth I spoke to a lot of seasoned breastfeeders, read a lot of articles online and joined a breastfeeding facebook group, where I learned a lot more about breastfeeding techniques, helpful tips and ways of dealing with bumps in the road. None of which I knew about at the time that she was admitted, and, with the baby blues firmly established meaning I was basically in bits 24/7 and the fear that Sophie wouldn’t survive without it, when the nurses told me it’d be ‘best’ to give her formula frequently, I reluctantly agreed.
I want to point out here that I’m not against people formula-feeding. I just didn’t want it for my baby, my heart and soul were 100% into giving her the perfect milk I knew I could make, and I was more than a little bit heartbroken when I felt it slipping away in the children’s ward. I knew that with every formula feed, my body wasn’t getting the message to make more, and I spoke with the Miffers at every chance I could. Despite the risk of facing an oversupply (which actually, for me, will probably never be an issue, the ‘ladies’ seem to run quite a tight ship) I asked to use the hospital’s breast pump (although there was only one, and I had to take turns with another mummy, and unfortunately the nurses weren’t much help when I struggled to use it, as they weren’t trained specifically on how to use one). I tried tirelessly for seriously upsetting amounts of milk (5-10ml for 30 minutes work, devastating stuff) to give her before finishing the feed with formula. I continued to try and latch her on, even if she only fed for a few moments, I would keep trying, (and crying, I must have been so dehydrated) determined to make it work.
When Sophie had put on a good amount of weight and her blood tests came back tickety boo, my Dad came to take us all home, via Sainsbury’s, where I cried as I picked up bottles of ready-made formula as we had been advised to give her a little top up of formula after each feed. More devastation, but I trusted the doctors and did as I was told. During the day Sophie was starting to get the hang of feeding so we decided that we would keep the top ups to after her night feeds, and gradually drop one top up at a time over the next few weeks. And drop we did. I felt such a relief and such happiness each time we cut a bottle out, and by five weeks she was off formula altogether, By about 6 weeks it felt as if I’d always been able to breastfeed and could hardly see why I struggled.
I talked to so many people about breastfeeding. I asked to see the Miffers a lot during Sophie’s stay, I requested health visitors round at my house more frequently to make sure I was keeping on top of things, I went to La Leche League meetings, called the NCT Breastfeeding Helpline, and called my sister-in-law so many times in tears as I often felt like a failure and that Sophie deserved better than me. Yeah. Frigging hormones.
The most relevant piece of advice I had been given during the breastfeeding workshop I went to was that the first 6 weeks are the hardest. I can vouch that they definitely were. If I were you, set your expectations for it to be harder than you can imagine, prepare for that, and either you’ll be lucky and find breastfeeding comes naturally and it all goes well, or you’ll have some struggles but you’ll be prepared for it and can hopefully ride the storm and come through the other side with a baby on your boob.
I know there is a small percentage of women out there who, due to certain medical conditions, just cannot feed, (and I’m so grateful I’m not one of them) but there are so many more who believe they can’t do it, whether that be from deeply implanted advertising by formula companies, pressure from surrounding family or friends, or simply lack of confidence in themselves or their own bodies’ natural abilities. Considering how enthusiastic and informed about breastfeeding I am now I’m embarrassed about how little I knew before I got pregnant. I had simply never thought much about it and genuinely assumed people only breastfed for 6 months and then that’s what follow-on milks were for. Because of advertising. I also didn’t know that follow-on milks aren’t even needed, that they were created to get around advertising laws (due to it being illegal to advertise first milks) and that first milks are all your baby needs until a year old, as they can then drink other milks. The point I’m winding towards is that knowledge is important. The more you know about breastfeeding, the more likely you are to succeed, if that’s what you really want. There are so many people out there who want to help, and I implore you to pick up the phone or go along to a meeting (details at the end of the post) if you are having trouble or just feel like you need some reassurance that you’re doing the awesomest of jobs.
Unfortunately my breastfeeding journey came to an end a lot earlier than I would have hoped, as at 9 months to the day, Sophie fed from me that evening and from that moment on would not come near me again. I still have no idea what changed, I don’t know why a baby under one year would choose to self-wean when everything I had read about before suggested that it was incredibly unlikely for babies to wean under 12 months. I understand that babies are individual personalities, they aren’t digital clocks, and they don’t “read the books” but biologically it is extremely unlikely and I just didn’t expect it, especially so suddenly. I’m still a little sore, emotionally, after the initial shock and feeling of ‘not being needed’ by her any more, and finally came to terms with this being one aspect of our relationship, remembering that I have so much more to offer her and breastfeeding was but one, albeit huge, initial part of our journey as mummy and daughter.
National Breastfeeding Helpline – 0300 100 0212
NCT Breastfeeding Line – 0300 330 0771