Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Breastfeeding - my experience

Those that know me know that I am still feeding my almost three year old daughter and those that don't know this about me, may be surprised to know this. I feel passionate about breastfeeding and I know a lot about breastfeeding, positive and negative. Anyway I felt it was time to talk a little bit about my experiences, my opinions and my expectations; and I will say now that some of what I say may surprise you.

My Experience

When I fell pregnant with my first daughter and thought about how I planned to feed her, I merely thought "well I'll give breastfeeding a go but if it doesn't work out then I'm not going to beat myself up over it"....and I don't think that's a rare way to feel at all. I went to my antenatal class about feeding and noticed that there was a distinct drop in numbers attending. I listened dutifully to all the benefits to me and the baby and felt no real difference, and certainly no more prepared. I don't recall them discussing problems at all, though it is possible they did.

When my daughter was born, we did have skin-to-skin but in the immediate time following the birth there was no mention of feeding her. I certainly didn't have a clue what to do, or whether I should be trying to feed her or not. Anyway eventually someone did come to try and help me to breastfeed, I have no idea whether or not she was a midwife or maternity support worker. She certainly did her best, but my boobs would challenge most I think, as they are on the large side. Anyway she did manage to get her latched on but she didn't feed for long, and just wanted to sleep. Overnight she was very unsettled and I did my best to feed her but had no idea whether or not I was doing it right and come the morning I asked the midwives for some support. They did their best but she just didn't want to feed at the time they were able to help me, and when she did feed it was only for about 5 minutes. The midwives in the morning wanted me to stay a bit longer and get some more support with feeding, the afternoon midwives discharged me home. Did I feel confident? No, but having said that, I wanted to go home because I didn't feel that I was getting the support I needed whilst I was there anyway.

Over the next few days I gradually got sorer and my nipples cracked and were bleeding. I dreaded every single feed. However if someone suggested I switch to formula, I was like a stubborn child, I dug my heels in and was determined that it wasn't going to beat me. It was at this time, I actually discovered how much being able to breastfeed, mattered to me. I couldn't tell you why it mattered all I know is that it did. At that moment I certainly didn't give a monkey's about the health benefits, and I certainly wasn't thinking that formula was evil; I just knew that I wanted to breastfeed. Even now I can remember how determined I was whilst at the same time, I sobbed through every feed, and curled my toes.

Before I scare anyone who hasn't had children off breastfeeding for life....I would like to add that it changed very quickly - once I got the right support. I've actually already mentioned the inspirational midwife Annie who corrected my positioning and helped me on the road to pain free feeding. I saw Annie at home on day 5, and attended the breastfeeding group the same day. By the time I returned to the group a week later, the pain was gone. With my eldest daughter I went on to be pain free for the remainder of our breastfeeding journey which was ended by her when she was 13 months 1 week old. I attended the breastfeeding support group every week.....ok I wasn't experiencing pain but I did feel like I needed support. I made a lot of friends at that group, some of whom I consider amongst my closest friends now, one of which is in fact my second daughter's godmother. Having friends that had experienced the growth spurts, the distracted nursing child, the sleepless nights was essential.  Of course some of things are nothing to do with breastfeeding, but neither were the conversations about our husbands or families! The point was, someone had always had the same or similar experience and it meant you didn't feel quite as alone. At the time I was grieving the loss of my brother, who had died when my eldest was 10 weeks old; and whilst many of them may not have known that, they helped me more than they could ever know.

With my second daughter, I didn't anticipate any problems - after all, I had attended the group for well over a year, I'd already breastfed one child, I knew about all the problems to look out for...what could go wrong? Well...my daughter hadn't done all those things and she needed to learn how to feed, even if I didn't. There were no major problems, but boy did she have a strong suck on her and I experienced a couple of days of soreness as a result. When she was weighed on day 5, she'd already gained 13 ounces, so there was nothing wrong with her latch.

Over the coming months we experienced reflux , breast refusal, biting, mastitis and even a fairly long period of time where she would only feed from one side. I still have no idea why she only fed from one side; there seemed to be no real reason to it. She'd refuse to feed completely when she was teething but we invested in an amber teething necklace which seemed to do the trick. I was once a sceptic when it came to these alternative methods but the one and only other time she refused to feed, my husband had forgotten to put her necklace back on after her bath. The group helped support me, in that I knew it was quite common for babies to refuse to feed when they were teething, and that it was normal for different babies to react in different ways. With my first daughter, we'd never known she was teething, we'd just suddenly realise she had a new tooth.

When people found out that I had breastfed babies with teeth, they would always ask me about biting and doesn't it hurt. I have been bitten, and in all honesty, my second daughter once bit me so hard it drew blood. Not once did it occur to me, to stop breastfeeding because of it. I dealt with it in the same way I dealt with it any time she did something naughty. I told her very firmly no, and put her on the floor. She'd yell and cry, and I'd pick her up, tell her firmly not to bite and we'd continue. I'd like to say I only had to tell her once but it wouldn't be true. However I also learnt the signals for when she was considering biting, and the continued consistent reaction from me, ensured that it was soon a thing of the past; and she certainly never once bit me as hard again.

The couple of times I had mastitis, I was lucky in that I knew the signals and I was able to beat it becoming a more serious issue by feeding, feeding and feeding some more. I'd use a variety of positions to ensure that all the ducts were emptied properly. Again I am grateful to my attendance at the group, for knowing just how to handle it.

If you've learnt anything from this blog post, you should have worked out just how much I value the breastfeeding support group; it should therefore come as no surprise that I went on to become a breastfeeding mother helper and along with a friend, facilitated the group. I was awaiting training to become a peer supporter but I actually got my place at University before that happened. I did however attend the monthly training meetings with other mother helpers and peer supporters so I gained a wealth of knowledge about how to support women.

You might think from this blog post that I believe every woman should breastfeed...well you'd be wrong but I shall save telling you all about my opinion for my next blog post......


  1. My journey was similar... I did attend the BF class - just one for half an hour but I felt so ill I had to run out the room so I missed it (head down the toilet) but my H was there and told me all about it. I did it because my mum did.
    I had a hard time in the hospital - one night I was left all night with A on me, resulted in sore breast as he kept feeding all night.... I wanted to go home as they would latch him on, he would come off and noone would come again so better to be home.
    I got thrush - a dr said I couldnt have ...erm can you see the link I have on it ( he refused to read it)
    I got mastitis too.
    It hurt for over 3 months but I still battled on - don't ask me why -maybe I am stubborn.
    At 8 weeks A was failing to thrive so we mix fed (after hospitalisation) and I would give him all the BF and then top up if necessary. we carried on until he was 11.5 months.

    Excellent post and realistic as to what someone 'may' expect to go through although some (my mum) sail through it and others have it even harder


  2. really enjoyed reading this Stephanie x

  3. Another great post. I read it whilst feeding Mabel. :)

    I was very determined to BF and I am very stubborn. I was very lucky that my community midwife was also a BF counsellor. She was amazing and so helpful.

  4. I wish you had been around when I had James.I was very determined to breastfeed, however due to my circumstances surrounding James' birth, my health and incredibly poor advice and support post section, I was doomed to fail despite being stubborn, feeding and expressing for about 20ish hours of the day. I sought better advice post discharge by which time it was too late my supply was virtually non existent and James was being fully topped with artificial milk. Something that will stick with me and something I feel very bitter about. I wanted to breastfeed so much as we all know the benefits, the care I received in hospital was useless and I will be following this up once I feel a bit better.

  5. Rachel - I'm sorry you didn't have good advice but well done you for trying to make a change to that. You should feel proud xxx