I’m not going to lie, breastfeeding was not easy for me to get started with and it has been problematic at times even as an old hand! After just a couple of days with my first baby my nipples felt (and looked) like they might be about to drop off, I later got mastitis and was so ill I just didn’t think I could carry on, then I had to express for hours on end…
It was a fight but one which I won and one which I am so pleased I had the gumption to enter into – even though at times I have cursed it and wished just for a second that I didn’t have to do it. For me, my long and extended breastfeeding journey is one of the best things I have ever done! I have been breastfeeding for nearly four and a half years with no breaks, have tandem fed and only stopped feeding my eldest child Florence when she self weaned at 3 years and 8 months. My 2 year old son Jimmy is showing no signs of giving it up yet either!
So… This is my breastfeeding tale…
I hadn’t been certain I would breastfeed, I wanted to and was going to try but I thought I might give up if it was tricky. However… I am the sort of person who when faced with something I ‘can’t’ do will get all the determination I need from that fact. Thank goodness finally for my stubborn head!
If I had wavered during those first few days when feeding felt like someone digging knives into me (and I definitely did) then being told by the breastfeeding councillors to give my nips a rest and finger feed for a day or two or perhaps give in and try formula, was all I needed to know, without doubt, that I was going to breastfeed come hell or high water! My three day old baby may have butchered my nipples with her tiny delicate mouth (how?) but she was more important and I was going to do it! I just was!
She fed straight away but didn’t latch properly and my joy at her doing it at an hour old (pictured left) made me anxious, worried and in pain by the time I brought her home the next day (pictured right, Florence and I on the sofa just after we brought her home from the hospital)!
I did need to heal so for two and a half weeks, as it eventually turned out to be, my life was a constant round of expressing and feeding the milk I made to Florence via a tube. It attached at one end to my finger (with Cellotape) and the other end was dipped into the pot of milk. She would then suck on my finger to get her feed – it was a full time job!
Expressing is hard work; you don’t even manage to get much milk in the early days and pumping isn’t nearly as efficient as a baby sucking. But… I didn’t want her to have anything that wasn’t breast milk, formula was like a dirty word to me back then, so I worked hard and made sure we had enough. Sometimes Jonny would be on finger feeding duty while I pumped and as quick as it came it was gone – looking back I’m not sure how we did it!
I didn’t give her a bottle, which might have made it all easier, as I didn’t want her to get nipple confusion and thankfully it worked. Florence was fed and my nipples got hardier! My milk properly came in during that time too making the expressing easier but also I got quite engorged as a result which promoted our next hurdle…
The time came to give it another go. Jonny and I were exhausted with the routine we had carved out and I needed her to feed properly because I’d also started to feel like I was getting flu. So how do you know what is ‘properly’ when you’ve never fed a baby before? It’s all very well saying the baby’s mouth needs to look like ‘this’ or the nipple needs to be ‘so’ far in. If you haven’t done it before and got it ‘properly’ yourself then you just can’t. Until you experience it, you just don’t know and you just have to ask for help.
I was lucky and had a lot of help offered and given without much asking – I know that’s not always the case. My midwife, who had assisted with getting me seen by the breastfeeding councillor in the first place had come round for a visit and decided to stay and help me. I told her how unwell I was feeling and showed her how my nipples were better but my boobs were hard, red and sore to the touch…
Mastitis had kicked in. I was crying on the sofa saying I didn’t want to take antibiotics but I just couldn’t get her to feed without it hurting. My boobs were hard, red and swollen but my midwife knew what to do. I’d seen the pharmacist and explained my symptoms earlier and been told I probably had a virus! Well, she wasn’t very well trained was she! First my midwife Suzan arranged for a Doctor to write me a prescription and then she just stayed and helped. She made me lunch and when everything seemed clearer from food and rest she helped me get Florence latched. Properly. It was excruciating with the mastitis but exactly what the infection needed to help it on its way out.
Suzan was amazing, I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again and I owe my being able to breastfeed largely to her. We are still in contact, she delivered Jimmy in my living room and we remain friends.
From that day on I never looked back and once you ‘get it’, it’s all so easy! No sterilising, no running out… I’m such a pro these days that I’d feed anywhere and the reaction from most people is well done! I’ve had two unpleasant moments with people not liking me feeding in public but so many more people saying how lovely it is to see a baby being fed! I’ve fed on the tube, walking round the super market with a baby in a sling… Even in my wedding dress (pictured left, on the tube feeding under a feeding shawl that I only ever bother with for reviews and right at my wedding reception)!
Has breastfeeding all been plain sailing? Well, not all but largely yes. I have fed long past the initial stages when the milk is so important for their little immune systems and it has served us all very well. I co-sleep so I’ve never had to get up in the night to make a bottle and my babies just roll over and feed. It’s been wonderful for that. It’s also been amazing for getting them to sleep, soothing them after a bump and the gold dust that breast milk is has been used on rashes and sticky eyes to fabulous effect.
The downsides have been Florence refusing a bottle ever so never being able to have a break and at times I have been frustrated and tired with their refusal to stop. I believe in self weaning and no crying so always being there to feed in the night takes its toll on my emotions when I’m exhausted but I wouldn’t change it for the world. Even breastfeeding through pregnancy and tandem feeding was fine. Hard work but worth it.
Pregnant feeding then Tandem feeding was fine! They were happy and so was I!
At 3 years and 8 months Florence decided one night on holiday that she didn’t want ‘milk milk’ anymore and she’s never looked back. There were times when I wondered if it would ever happen and had tried to help her wean a few times but she did it when the time was right for her. As a result I am much more laid back with Jimmy (it’s the same with everything second time around I suppose) and I don’t try and wean him at all.
He nearly stopped when he had hand foot and mouth as his ulcers were so sore in his mouth that he couldn’t feed. I wouldn’t have minded if he’d stopped of his own accord but the choice seemed like it wasn’t his and he was distressed. I’d long since given up expressing for him as he was 18 months old and if I went out he had cow’s milk or formula (unlike his sister he always accepted a bottle and even had a bit of formula at 4 months when we went on holiday to give me a break in the evenings – I’d have laid down in front of a bus before I would have done that first time round) but I got the pump out and expressed for him again then. I knew the milk would help heal his mouth ulcers, it did and he thankfully started feeding again. He’s 2 years old and 1 month now and still going strong… He’ll stop when he’s ready, he wasn’t ready then.
I never in a million thought I’d be the sort of person who breast fed for this long but it turns out I am. It just worked out that way, it wasn’t a plan but I’m so glad that this is me. I’m not weird and I’m not embarrassed but neither do I care how anyone else feeds their baby (there was a time in the beginning when I went a bit militant – hormones I guess)! I would just say give it a go if you can because it’s so beautiful and the bond it gives you is second to none.
Medela have done some amazing research into breast feeding and what’s normal! It shows that everybody has a unique breastfeeding journey and I found it very interesting. Take a look at this infographic!
I have not been paid to write this post.