From the moment I found out I was pregnant with Lillie, 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 it 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! 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 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 breastfeeding than meets the eye?
Next, she’s telling me to hold Lillie to me, “skin to skin”, “mummy to tummy”, and “nose to nipple” – eh? I’m not sticking it up her nose, am I? No, but putting the 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, Lillie cottoned on to this much quicker than me and nailed it the first time. She fed for about 15 minutes.
Back on the ward, I tried to remember all that I had been told and attempted it again, but it just didn’t work. Lillie’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!
The worst 24 hours
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 Lillie’s head onto it. This was not a helpful approach, I felt stressed out, and Lillie just cried and cried.
Not giving in
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 the hospital with an upset baby and an army of Midwives. We discussed whether or not I should continue trying to breastfeed or give up and do formula instead, but this 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.
A different approach
As our second night in the hospital began, I was approached by a lovely Midwife (I think she was my Fairy Godmother). She was calm and understanding, a slightly older lady; she felt more like an old friend. This lady sat down with me, talked and made both me and Lillie feel at ease.
She didn’t rush, grab or shove, and this approach worked; with her patience, at about 1.45 am, 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. We continued to feed well throughout the night, with Little Bean latching on the right each time.
One step backwards
When we returned home, we took a slight backwards turn as we both struggled with latching on again, but I took myself off to Lillie’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 want 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 Lillie’s head, and one of them was bright red, lumpy and hot to the touch. I was 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 from mastitis too.
She recommended that I lay in a bath of hot water and massage the breast, expressing some of the milk to relieve the pressure. It was almost as painful as childbirth, but it felt much better once the pressure had eased. I went to the Doctor, who prescribed me a course of antibiotics that were safe to use whilst breastfeeding and sent me on my way. I woke up the next day feeling like a different person, but I know of mothers who 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 Lillie her bedtime bottle. Lillie took to the bottle like a duck to water, going happily between the breast and the bottle. We never looked back – until we reached weaning, but that’s a whole other story!!
5 months of breastfeeding
I aimed to breastfeed Lillie 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 Lillie had probably just hit a growth spurt, and I misread the signs.
Breast to Formula
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 the baby is feeding so frequently. I remember Lillie 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 formula. Each week I dropped a feed until eventually, she had no breast milk at all – and then I cried – when I felt like I had failed her.
Ollie’s Breastfeeding Journey – a different story
With Ollie, I breastfed again. The initial feed in the delivery room went well, and every feed after that. We only needed to stay in the hospital for one night and continued well when we went home.
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 fed them “as nature intended”. Unfortunately, Ollie didn’t take to expressed feeding in the same manner as his big sister did, so we had to keep stopping and trying. He was over 6 months old before he accepted a bottle.
La Leche League Breastfeeding Peer Counsellor
During my time with Ollie, I trained with La Leche League to become a Breastfeeding Peer Counsellor to help other Mums struggling with breastfeeding. One evening I found Hubby sat reading my course handouts on breastfeeding and asked him what he thought of it all. He said that he couldn’t believe just how much there was to think about breastfeeding.
Despite my initial feeding troubles with Lillie, he still thought it was a case of just sticking the 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, gave up. There’s no shame in it; fed is best whichever way they get it.
Breastfeeding isn’t for everyone
My Mum breastfed me for 2 weeks – she said that she couldn’t stand the pain anymore. The reality is that she most likely didn’t have me latched on correctly and 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 enable her to continue with breastfeeding. I turned out absolutely fine though, I have grown up to be a strong and healthy woman regardless of how I was fed as a baby.
Don’t be bullied
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 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 when your emotions are all over the place anyway.
Everyone is different
Another of my Mummy friends was able to breastfeed for four days but couldn’t keep up with her baby’s demands, and so she too turned to formula, which worked well for them.
Each family has their own individual circumstances and tales to tell. For some, it works perfectly; it’s a struggle, and others 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.