I wanted to share my story of breastfeeding my daughter, because as I joined the club of breastfeeding mothers the only information I’d really had was what I was taught in antenatal classes and read in books. This didn’t fully prepare me for the roller coaster experience I was about to have.
Books, midwives and antenatal classes will offer you a brief account of what it’s like to breastfeed, one with rose tinted glasses. I was told that it wouldn’t really hurt, just “10 seconds of a toe curl” when I first started at each feed and then I’d be fine. My baby would gaze into my eyes as we bond over this special moment that no one else could share, and of course I’d be boosting her immune system to equate that of superman. (He never gets a cold does he?)
Whilst I enjoyed breastfeeding (so much easier to get out the house than faff with bottles and formula, what do I need? The two Bs – baby and boobs) and I was proud that I made it to 10 months with April, the initial journey wasn’t quite as easy as I had hoped.
The first 48 hours.
Let’s start with the initial doubts. When breastfeeding you haven’t got a bloody clue how much milk your baby is getting. You have to hope that it carries on until its little tummy is full and hopefully a few hours will pass until the next feed. I spent the first afternoon and night in hospital constantly asking the midwives to check if she was feeding okay, doubting myself and panicking that this tiny little baby was going to starve. She didn’t. If this is you, relax. Your baby will cry if it’s hungry, that’s what they’re good at.
Secondly the pain. Okay it wasn’t equivalent to labour but my God having such a sensitive area in almost constant use for the first few days did some damage. Get some Lansinoh cream and apply after EVERY feed! If you want to know what it’s like, imagine the first few seconds like hundreds of little needles stabbing into your nipple, and when that pain is over think of it being rubbed with sandpaper for the duration of the feed.
Two words: nipple shields. The NHS and midwives frown upon them but without them I would have given up. I used them for the first few seconds of the feed (the most painful part) and then quickly slipped them off. This avoided the concern of “nipple confusion” (a baby wanting a teat like a bottle instead of the real stuff) and the risk of mastitis, potentially caused by the baby not feeding enough because nipple shields make a feed less efficient apparently.
Oh night 2…how I remember you! Top tip: get snacks out and movies ready. You won’t sleep tonight. I’m serious.
(If you get to night 2 and this hasn’t happened, expect it on night 3 or 4. It’s the night your milk comes in).
The milk has arrived…
Once your baby pulls through your milk you will wake up in the morning with rock hard boobs probably about four cup sizes bigger than pre pregnancy. Think this sounds good? It’s not. It fucking hurts. They leak everywhere. It’s like someone forgot to turn the tap off. Get breast pads stat!
Friends and family
I was always adamant I wouldn’t be one of those people who hides away whilst feeding their baby. Why should I? It’s a natural thing and I feel that one of the reasons the breastfeeding rate is so low in this country is because we don’t see people doing it often enough. You can buy lots of clothes and scarves that will cover you up and once you and baby have the hang of latching on you won’t have to worry about the odd nip slip. It will be second nature and no one sees anything. Promise.
That said, in the early days you end up so obsessed with trying to make your baby latch properly that every Tom, Dick and Harry gets and eyeful of your boobs. Don’t worry. You’ll get over it, as will they.
Most of my friends and family were fine around me feeding. There were the odd few who felt uncomfortable, my 19 year old nephew was adamant he’d seen my boobs and was scarred for life, I know full well he hadn’t. My sister’s husband also took time to get used to it, whilst on holiday with them I had to feed April at the table when he was sitting opposite me, at the first sign of her needing to be fed he would physically turn sideways and lock his eyes on my sister. Luckily this didn’t bother me. I knew he wasn’t being rude, he just didn’t know what else to do.
Feeding in public
In my 10 months of breastfeeding April I never once had anyone come up to me and make a negative comment. If you don’t look out for it and get paranoid that everyone who looks your way is staring at you in shock and disgust then you’ll be fine. Be paranoid and you’ll misinterpret people’s actions.
As April got older and more interested in her surroundings feeding became harder. As a newborn they can barely even see your face, let alone look around the room whilst feeding. Once April started to take an interest in everything around her it became harder and harder to feed on the go. I found myself heading to her nursery to feed in quiet so that she wouldn’t whip her head off every 2 minutes to check what was going on! I think this stage required the most patience for me and was the start of our breastfeeding journey coming to an end.
Going back to work
This was the other factor that contributed to me stopping feeding. When April was 10 months old I went back to work four days a week. I worked in central London, this meant 12 hours away from home. I went to work armed with my breast pump and cool bag to pump my missed feeds and store the milk. However pumping is hard work. It’s not as efficient as feeding directly and sometimes you can sit there for 20 minutes to only get 2oz of milk. My manager was incredibly understanding and let me go off to pump as and when I needed to, but I couldn’t shake that nagging feeling that everyone would think I was just skiving off and sitting in the medical room by myself.
Not to mention how boring it was! No mobile phone signal, no one to talk to, just me, my pump and the 4 walls. ZzZzz.
The final goodbye
So after 10 and a half months of breastfeeding we had both come to a natural end. April no longer demanded the feeds she used to have, my supply gradually declined and we made the transition to formula.
I made sure that I knew when our last feed was going to be so I could remember it, and I still do. It wasn’t anything special, just a normal feed time but it gave me closure.
I won’t lie, I cried the first time we gave her formula. I hated the thought of feeding her something that was designed in a lab somewhere by strangers. Until then she had only ever eaten natural things. This was alien to me and it made me feel incredibly uncomfortable.
Of course I know now that formula wasn’t going to poison her, she didn’t seem to know a difference and it was given to thousands of babies in the UK so who am I to say it’s not good enough for my child? It was probably insecurity more than anything, I hated feeling as though I had been replaced. She had it for two or three months and then made the transition to cows milk. Now I’ve been replaced by a farm animal instead of a lab – awesome.
Oh and if you get told that formula will help your baby sleep it’s a lie. April’s sleep stayed just as shit on formula as it did on breast milk. It’s a myth. So if/when you make that transition don’t expect a miracle!
As a fairly anxious mother who always panics that she’s not doing the best for her daughter and always questions her parenting it’s safe to say that breastfeeding is one of the things I feel really proud of doing. I stuck with it when I felt like giving up and for the first six months of my daughter’s life outside the womb I was the only thing that kept get growing. That’s a pretty awesome feeling.