I am honoured to have my breastfeeding story featured on My Petit Canard, as part of their #breastfeedingstories series – there have been some great stories so far, please do check it out!
I always knew I wanted to breastfeed my baby, but if you are to believe the many myths that seem to surround breastfeeding, I shouldn’t have been able to.
Firstly, if you’ve read my birth story, you would know he was born by emergency caesarean after a failed induction. It is commonly thought that by having a caesarean, breastfeeding is much harder – you are pumped with drugs which can make you and baby sleepy; your milk can take longer to come in; you may not be able to have skin to skin contact immediately; you will be in pain from the operation and therefore positioning is difficult. Whilst all of this is true, it doesn’t make breastfeeding impossible.
Secondly, I had a BIG baby. Alfie was 11 days overdue and born 10lb 3 oz. A lot of people say it is harder to breastfeed a big baby because you can’t produce enough milk for them. I am pleased to say this is not true.
I know I have been extremely lucky with my breastfeeding journey. I know a lot of mums struggle to establish breastfeeding or to continue past a certain point, so I am extremely grateful that our feeding journey has been so amazing.
Our breastfeeding journey began about an hour after Alfie was born, in the recovery room after my emergency caesarean. I couldn’t move yet, so the recovery nurse lay him next to me and he latched on straight away. Being completely exhausted at the time, I failed to realise how amazing that was! He fed for about 30 minutes, there was no pain, although it was an odd sensation, but he had a perfect latch and as first feeding sessions go, it was pretty great!
Unfortunately after that initial perfect first feed, we did struggle a bit over the next 24 hours. We had problems with him latching on and sadly, the support in the hospital wasn’t brilliant and I had formula suggested to me on a number of occasions. When I look back now, this was not the way to treat an unexperienced new mother who desperately wanted to breastfeed. I wasn’t offered any support to try and breastfeed, just told to give the baby formula, even though I made it clear I was determined to breastfeed.
Once we were home though, things improved greatly! My milk arrived on day 3, and I was so pleased to feel my heavy, engorged breasts – it meant I was producing milk! However, I then went through a rough week at week 2. I woke up one night at 3am, crying in pain. Bearing in mind I was still recovering from a major operation, I’d honestly never felt pain like it. I had a blocked duct. Cue a warm bath at 4am in the morning, hand expressing, expressing with a pump, massaging of the breast to try and get the milk flowing, latching baby on to feed, and a LOT of tears, I eventually got through it. It wasn’t a pleasant experience, but I’m pleased to say it was just a temporary one. I was over it by the next afternoon and only experienced it twice more (which I later discovered was due to ill fitting bras – make sure you are properly measured for your nursing bras ladies!!).
Once we got over our initial hurdles, we took to breastfeeding like a duck to water! My family and friends were incredibly supportive. My friends asked lots of questions but quickly got used to the fact when they’d visit, I’d definitely have my boobs out at some point! Alfie fed roughly every two hours, which is totally normal for a newborn, and we experienced cluster feeding in the evening, where he’d often feed from around 8pm to 1pm non-stop – again, completely normal, but very tough! It doesn’t last forever, but it’s an import part of the breastfeeding process to increase your supply and for your baby to let your body know how much milk to produce.
The next hurdle to face was feeding in public. Initially, I was terrified at the thought of it, but I think this is completely understandable. When I was pregnant, there were a lot of stories in the media about women who had been shamed and singled out for breastfeeding – either being asked to cover up or even leave a place because they were breastfeeding. I find these stories difficult to read, because it is actually quite rare to experience this. I fed in public for the first time a week after Alfie was born and despite being nervous, no-one batted an eyelid as I fed Alfie while I ate my own lunch. No one looked at me, and I didn’t feel like I had to move or go and sit in the toilet and feed. It was a great experience. Since then, I’ve fed anywhere and everywhere Alfie’s needed it – I was a bridesmaid when he was just 3 weeks old, so I fed at the wedding, I fed at his christening in church, I’ve fed whilst standing up talking to the vicar, I’ve fed on the train, I’ve fed whilst sitting in a shopping centre, I’ve fed in baby group, I’ve fed at parties! If Alfie needs feeding, the boobs come out! It has got easier as time has gone on, and I’m pleased to say I’ve never once been made to feel uncomfortable or been asked to feed elsewhere.
A lot of people can feel like the dad will be left out when the mum exclusively breastfeeds and this is what puts them off. I find this quite sad, as there are so many things dad can do with baby to experience that bond. My husband does bath time with Alfie every night – that is their playtime, their bonding time and they both love it! I also encourage my husband to do as many nappy changes as possible and I feel this is an excellent time for them to bond – and it’s got nothing to do with the fact I hate nappy changes, honest!
I also occasionally express milk. Initially I started pumping because I had a wedding to attend when Alfie was 6 weeks and I would be leaving him with my mum for a few hours. But it also gives my husband a chance to experience the feeding side of things and gives me a bit of a break. I have a fantastic Medela Swing pump, which helps me to express quickly whenever I want to. I haven’t left Alfie often, but this gives me freedom to if I need to.
When people used to ask me how long I was going to breastfeed for, I would always answer the same “I don’t know, I’m just going to see how it goes”. In my head, I thought 6 months and couldn’t see me going past that. Any amount of time you manage to breastfeed for is an achievement, whether it be 4 weeks or 4 years, so I wasn’t going to put pressure on myself if it wasn’t working for us, as long as I knew I had tried my best and done all I could for my baby. Now, we’re 7 months in and I can’t imagine stopping. I’m lucky that I’m having a year off work for maternity leave, and my plan is to continue until Alfie is at least a year old. Before I had him, I never imagined I’d feed for that long. Now, I’m looking into the logistics of continuing to feed when I return to work.
I wanted to share my story today to show that you can have a positive breastfeeding journey. Whilst it is good to do your research, and know the facts of breastfeeding, this can mean you come across a lot of horror stories! But that doesn’t have to be your story. Plenty of women have a wonderful time breastfeeding. I believe as long as you have a realistic approach, and are aware of what’s normal and what’s not, many women can go on to have a successful breastfeeding story – the key is support. Find out if you have a local support group, or if there are local peer support counsellors who can come and visit you if you need it. Go and visit your local breastfeeding group if you have one. Join Facebook or other online forums to talk to others who are going through the same experiences as you. In my area we are extremely lucky to have a fantastic volunteer run support group. I’ve been lucky that I haven’t needed them often, but it’s been a great support knowing they’re there if I do.
So, we’re 7 months in, and I’m so proud of myself for getting here. Whilst I’ve put in a lot of effort to ensure I do the best I can for my baby, I wouldn’t have got here without the support of my family or friends, and most importantly, my husband. Here’s to many more months of breastfeeding my beautiful baby boy.