This week it is National Breastfeeding Week and it is a subject very close to my heart so I am going to slightly detour from my normal type of post and instead write about my breast feeding journey.
I never intended to breastfeed. I decided I wanted to give it a go when I was pregnant with Mads, but I wasn't too concerned if I didn't crack it or not and was quite happy to switch to formula if I needed too having been bottle fed myself.
Mads was born by elective c-section and I first fed her in recovery. She had a few sucks and that was it. I wasn't shown particularly what to do, but I figured she was sucking and that was what she was meant to do. Then the next day it started to hurt each time she latched on, I was tired, sore from the operation and I didn't have a clue what I was doing, so I expressed some colostrum and the midwives helped me feed it to her in a little cup.
We were discharged from hospital and this was where it started to go wrong. Every time she latched on I would get to the point where I was literally screaming in pain- it was toe curling, excruciating pain and that is not even an exaggeration. I made Mr E go and get formula from the shop and it was on standby as I didn't think I could possibly continue to feed her.
Then when Mads was just over a week, we went to wake her from her nap and she wouldn't wake up. She was floppy and unresponsive so we panicked and rushed her to A and E as we were only a few minutes drive from the hospital. It wasn't that she wasn't breathing, just that she wouldn't wake up and it was the scariest moment of my life so far. We stayed in for a few days, and they did lots of tests, but they never found out what was wrong with her, which in a way was harder to deal with than if they found an infection as I was so scared it would happen again.
It was then that I decided I would persevere with the feeding. Looking back I think I was a little delirious from what had happened, the tiredness and the fact I was a new Mum, but psycholgically I had persuaded myself that I had to do it. It didn't really get any easier in the beginning. I got such a severe mastitis infection that I had to be re-admitted to hospital and for some reason from that point on Mads totally refused to feed from my left side.
For six months I pumped constantly on the left hand side, and fed Mads from the right. It was a pain, I got mastitis another four times because I never fully drained the breast enough, and it was tiring having to keep expressing after every feed.
Eventually at six months for some reason, unknown to me, she suddenly decided to take the left hand side. It was then my breastfeeding experience became a lot nicer and I loved feeding her. We continued until she was eleven months old and I loved the bond and the closeness I had with her. I was sad when our feeding journey came to an end.
Therefore to say I was nervous when it came to feeding LL is an understatement. I wanted to have a nice experience from the start this time round, and because I had breastfed Mads I felt I should do it for her too.
Again I had another c-section and didn't get to feed LL until I was in recovery. Weirdly I was so nervous and felt like I had completely forgotten what to do so I duly shoved her on me when she was about an hour old. She took a few sucks but hardly showed any interest at all and the midwives told me to leave it at that.
This time around in the hospital I hardly got any breastfeeding help. It was almost like they thought if you were a second time Mum you knew what you were doing, and that couldn't have been further from the truth- I needed help and unfortunately I didn't get it, bar from one really kind care assistant.
I was discharged from hospital and again that familiar pain began. It was yet again excruciating when LL latched on and I sobbed each time she began to suck.
Yet this time I had the benefit of hindsight on my side and I knew that if I just persevered the pain would be gone in a couple of weeks. I also felt more confident as a mother so I got help early, from a fantastic breast feeding supporter who was also a midwife. She came to my house on her day off and sat with me for well over an hour, watching me feed and explaining to me what I was doing wrong. I cannot thank her enough for helping me, she really was so passionate and dedicated to her job.
It took LL a little longer to take to feeding than Mads, and it took a little longer for the pain to ease off, in fact she made my nipples bleed. But slowly the toe curling pain got better as we both learnt how to feed efficiently.
And now? The second time around?
Well now I love feeding my four month old LL. She isn't a particularly hungry baby and she rarely cries for milk, but I love those moments when we snuggle together on the sofa and have a feed. I am even enjoying the night feeds and I am making the most of these baby days as I know how fleeting they are. Mads is a good girl and knows LL needs milk so she sits and snuggles next to me while I do it.
I have no idea how long I will continue for, but I know I would like to do it at least as long as I fed Mads for. Breastfeeding isn't for everyone, and I do not think there is anything wrong with bottle feeding in the slightest. We are made to feel guilty enough sometimes for our choices as mother's and I can't stand it when people say that bottle feeding means you don't bond with your baby or other suitably ridiculous statements. In fact I think it is great to help partner's bond with the new baby- as we also fed Mads expressed breast milk it helped Mr E bond with her a little earlier than he did with LL in my opinion.
However for people that want to breast feed, I think if I could offer one bit of advice it would be this...
I have yet to find one person who says it doesn't hurt in the beginning. It may be 'natural' but it is also a skill, one that requires time, patience and a lot of learning, from both yourself and your baby in order to get it right. Apparently most women who stop give up in the first few weeks and while I am no expert, I can imagine this is one of the reasons why. It does take time to fully establish it.
I am so pleased and proud I have managed to feed my babies. It isn't for everyone, but it certainly has bought me some really happy moments in my journey as a mother, and some beautiful memories which I will treasure.