Breastfeeding – easy peasy or a learned skill?

From the moment I found out I was pregnant with Little Bean I instinctively knew that I would breastfeed her, obviously I had never done it before, I hadn’t been around anyone who had breastfed their child but still I knew that was what I wanted.  Come on, how difficult could it be?  I have breasts, I would have a baby – surely it would just be a case of sticking her mouth to the boob, she would suck away as a baby does on a bottle and hey presto, the milk would flow leaving a happy, satisfied baby!  Er no, actually, not quite as simple as that!

Whilst in the delivery room being stitched up, the Midwife asked me if I wanted to attempt feeding her myself and did I want her to show me how it was done?  I didn’t want to offend her so I humoured her and said “yes please”.  As she started telling me to massage my breast with the flat of my hand towards the nipple, my mind started to realise that perhaps there was more to this than meets the eye?  Next she’s telling me to hold Little Bean to me, “skin to skin”, “mummy to tummy” and “nose to nipple” – eh?  I’m not sticking it up her nose am I?  No, apparently by putting baby’s nose to the nipple means (a) she will smell the milk and (b) she will be in the correct position to “latch on”.  “The nipple needs to be aimed upwards into baby’s mouth so that it hits the soft pallet at the back” she said.  Already I was feeling confused but I listened.  Luckily for me Little Bean got it right first time and fed for about 15 minutes.

Later on, whilst back on the ward, I tried to remember all that I had been told and attempted it again but it just didn’t work.  Little Bean’s head kept bobbing on and off my breast, painfully sucking the skin around the outside, totally missing the nipple – quickly she became stressed and as a result me too!  What followed over the next 24 hours was a succession of Midwives eager to keep me on the breastfeeding path.  Some of them were really nice and understanding, others I’m sorry to say treated me rather like a piece of meat, pulling my breast and ramming Little Bean’s head onto it, not what I found to be the best approach, I felt stressed out and Little Bean just cried and cried.  When Hubby came to see me during visiting hours I begged him in tears not to leave me there, I was dreading a night alone in hospital with an upset baby and an army of Midwives.  We discussed whether or not I should continue with trying to breastfeed or to just give up and do formula instead but this just didn’t feel right to me.  I’m stubborn, I don’t give in easily so I decided to forge ahead with it for another day or so.  As our second night in hospital began, I was approached by a lovely Midwife (I think she was my Fairy Godmother) she was so calm and understanding, a slightly older lady, she felt more like an old friend and she just sat down with me, talked and made both me and Little Bean feel really relaxed.  She didn’t rush, grab or shove and this approach worked, with her patience at about 1.45am Little Bean latched on well and fed for 45 minutes!!!  I was so happy, I cried and through the tears managed to send a text to Hubby to tell him the good news.  He said that he felt relieved too as he felt so bad leaving me in hospital in that state.  Throughout the night we continued to feed well with Little Bean latching on right each time. 

When we returned home, we took a slight backwards turn as we both struggled with latching on again but I took myself off to Little Bean’s nursery, closed the door – stripped her off, took my top off and went right back to “skin to skin”.  For a little while we just cuddled together until slowly she found her way to the breast and latched on perfectly. 

I’d like to say that is how it continued from there but it didn’t.  The day after my milk came in, I woke up feeling truly awful.  My breasts were bigger than Little Bean’s head and one of them was bright red, lumpy and hot to the touch.  I was freezing cold, hurting all over and sweating buckets.  As it turned out I had mastitis, which is an infection of the milk ducts – not surprising considering how sore and cracked my nipples had become after the first few days of feeding (a normal part of breastfeeding which does get better!).  I spoke to my Auntie who had four children herself, all of whom she breastfed.  She had suffered with mastitis too.  She recommended that I lay in a bath of hot water and massage the breast, expressing off some of the milk to relieve the pressure.  It was almost as painful as childbirth but once the pressure had eased it felt much better.  I went to the Doctor who prescribed me a course of antibiotics which were safe to use whilst breastfeeding and sent me on my way.  Luckily for me, I woke up the next day feeling like a different person, but I do know of mothers who had suffered for weeks.

At 6 weeks I began expressing milk so that Hubby could join in the fun of feeding (and give me a break) by giving Little Bean her bedtime bottle.  Little Bean took to the bottle like a duck to water and we never looked back – until we reached weaning, but that’s a whole other story!!  My aim was to breastfeed Little Bean until 6 months, I managed 5 months so I was pretty pleased with myself.  At 5 months I felt that my milk had dried up but looking back, I think Little Bean had probably just hit a growth spurt and I misread the signs.

During a baby’s growth spurt, they will want to feed more often to increase Mum’s milk supply, what a Mum feels during this time is that she has no milk left to give because baby is feeding so frequently.  I remember Little Bean being so unsettled and crying each time she went to the breast, so I thought I had run out of milk.  I went out straight away and bought formula, beginning the transition from breast to bottle.  Each week I dropped a feed until eventually she had no breast milk at all – and then I cried – then I felt like I had failed her.

With Beanie Boy I’m breastfeeding again.  The initial feed in the delivery room went well and all feeds after that.  We only needed to stay in hospital for one night and since coming home everything has gone well.  I had the initial few days of sore, cracked nipples again until they had toughened up a bit but lanolin cream saw me through the worst of it, with a couple of feeds using nipple shields.  Once they were better I took away the shields and now we are feeding “as nature intended” and all is good.  Unfortunately, Beanie Boy isn’t taking to an expressed bottle feed in the same manner as his big sister did so we are going to stop for a week or so and then try again when he is a bit bigger.

I am now 6 weeks into a training course with La Leche League to become a Breastfeeding Peer Counsellor, to help other Mums struggling with breastfeeding.  Last week after my course, I found Hubby sat reading my course handouts on breastfeeding and asked him what he thought to it all.  He said that he couldn’t believe just how much there was to think about with breastfeeding, despite my initial feeding troubles with Little Bean he still thought it was a case of just sticking baby to the breast and letting them get on with it.  He didn’t realise all the things that we need to master and consider.  He said that he could totally understand why some people do find it so hard and in many cases, give up.

My Mum breastfed me for 2 weeks – she said that she just couldn’t stand the pain anymore.  The reality is, she most likely didn’t have me latched on correctly and had she had access to a Midwife, Health Visitor or Breastfeeding Counsellor, they could probably have assisted her in correcting the latch on to make it less painful and to enable her to continue with breastfeeding.

One of my Mummy friends was as determined as me that she was going to breastfeed.  Before her daughter’s birth she hadn’t purchased any feeding bottles as she didn’t think she would need them.  Unfortunately for her, breastfeeding just didn’t happen despite her best efforts and so Hubby was sent out to buy bottles ready for their return home.  I know that this is something she has always struggled with, thanks to the Midwives and Health Visitors who so keenly push breastfeeding, she felt that she had failed as a Mother.  This is not something that any new Mum needs to feel at a time when your emotions are all over the place anyway.

Another of my Mummy friends was able to breastfeed for four days but just couldn’t keep up with her baby’s demands and so she too turned to formula and this worked well for them. 

Each family has their own individual circumstances and tales to tell.  For some it works perfectly, for some it’s a struggle and others just simply do not want to breastfeed full stop.  And that is each family’s decision to make, we should all be given the respect we deserve for making our individual decisions.  Not made to feel that one is a better parent than another, or that one parent has failed before they have begun. 

As a Breastfeeding Counsellor, I hope that I will be able to help a nursing Mum to overcome any problems she may be having, to sit back and relax and enjoy the closeness as I have done in the past and am enjoying again now.  There are so many aspects to consider and that’s without all the other things that are happening in your life with a new baby, sometimes we just need people to understand.

I have set up a separate page on my blog dedicated to breastfeeding, at the moment it just contains my breastfeeding diary with Beanie Boy but in the future I am hoping to add further information on the topic.  I hope that it will help other parents to make an informed decision on breastfeeding and provide help to those who are struggling.  Please drop by and recommend it to anyone who you think might need some help.

Thank you x

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4 Comments

  1. Alison
    November 16, 2010 / 7:06 pm

    Hi Sabrina,
    Can we meet up and chat. Would love you to come to the centre and talk about breastfeeding support. Perhaps also a feeding support group, including bottle. Let me know when you are free xx

    • mummymatters
      November 16, 2010 / 11:03 pm

      Hi Alison, I would be more than happy to come and do that for you. Have left you a message on FB xx

  2. Whimsical Wife
    November 16, 2010 / 8:12 pm

    Oh its fabulous you’ve been able to breastfeed – I definitely do not find it a natural skill and would place myself in the absolute rubbish at it category… I’m so hoping to be able to do it this time around – I have friends who do it, who I’m hoping will be of support and I shall be asking a zillion questions of anyone who mentions the word breast!!

    • mummymatters
      November 16, 2010 / 11:02 pm

      If I can help you at all, then you only have to ask. It is an amazing feeling to be able to do something so special for your baby but it can be a tough journey, particularly so in the beginning. I shall keep my fingers crossed for you xx

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