I never really gave much thought to how I would feed my baby. I mean I knew that I would need to figure something out, but I wasn’t focused or obsessed or to be very honest, at all interested. I was so focused on having a calm and relaxed birth and preparing my body and mind for birthing my baby, and finding who my baby was, that I didn’t really have the mental space for much else. I attended NHS antenatal classes and the second and final session was mainly about breastfeeding, this was the only information and research I did. Somewhere along my journey I made a decision to breastfeed, that I would give it a go.
I remember being asked how I planned to feed my baby, and I know I responded with statements about wanting to try breastfeeding, and breastfeeding if I could. I had so many friends who had such a bad experience and never got beyond the first few weeks, that I didn’t want the pressure from other people to not meet any expectations that I was setting out at the start. But whenever my husband, Dan, and I discussed feeding or what else we needed for the baby, the topic of formula would come up. I was adamant that I didn’t want to have an easy out. I didn’t want formula or bottles in the house. We live close enough to a 24 hour supermarket that if needed, he could run out to get supplies. But having formula in the house made me feel like if times got tough that I would possibly take an easy road, rather than persevere.
When Roman was born I remember having zero clue of how to feed him but I had great support from my midwives. I had an epic wobble when I mistook cluster feeding for him not being satisfied and me not being enough, but was supported by my community midwives. I still stand by my decision to not do lots of research and reading before I had my babies, but I wish the antenatal classes had prepared me better.
Roman fed well and gained weight beautifully. I had moments of massive self doubt, of ‘can I do this’. I was exhausted and very aware that my husband just had to let me get on with it, all of the night feeds, all of it. When he was 9 months old, I returned to work 5 days a week, and he went into full time childcare. Long days of us being apart, taking expressed milk everyday. So I found myself in another exhausting cycle of working, feeding, pumping, feeding (6,627 times a night), pumping, working, pumping at work. When Roman turned 1 year his feeds dropped, and he was no longer taking milk in the daytime at childcare. He quickly dropped all day feeds and was just feeding in the morning, at bedtime and all the milk in the night. I mean, who needs sleep?!?!? When Roman turned 18 months, he started to sleep though. It was perfect timing. I had just fallen pregnant with my second baby. I continued to feed at bedtime and in the morning and on the rare night time wake up, I continued to feed throughout my pregnancy, I continued to feed as I grew my new baby, and managed the guilt I carried of the prospect of becoming a mum of 2.
Benedict was born and despite the massively embarrassing moment of forgetting how to feed a newborn, because they are VERY different to a toddler, he latched brilliantly. He had a significant tongue tie, and we were lucky to have it divided on day 3. He was gaining weight, but working hard. Adjusting to tandem feeding was a massive emotional adjustment. Benedict was my priority, but Roman was making me know that his world had been turned upside down. I was being told that he was jealous, which of course he was. He was used to having us to himself, and he was used to be able to feed whenever he wanted, but now he had to wait and share. He wanted more feeds, I suppose a way to confirm his connection with me. And I was okay with that. He needed to know he was loved. Because breastfeeding is more than just a means to get milk. It is pain relief, it is closeness, it is comfort, is it reassurance.
With both boys I had a great supply, and potentially over supply, so when I had Benedict I contacted Precious Drops Milk Bank at Southmead Hospital in Bristol and registered to be a milk donor. I pumped milk for the premature babies, the poorly babies and for the babies who couldn’t be breastfed by their mummies due to cancer treatment. I expressed for a friend so she could give my goddaughter milk as she battled the challenges of pumping and getting some rest. I expressed milk for a friend who was struggling with milk supply. I expressed milk for a stranger who was desperate for her baby to not be readmitted to hospital due to weight loss and wanted to avoid formula. I don’t know how many babies my milk has nourished and helped gain strength but I know I would do it again and again. I have expressed for my own baby through 3 hospital admissions onto high dependancy wards, and a rather testing stay in intensive care when he was sedated and put onto a ventilator.
I know that my journey is not the same as many women, but it is something I am proud of. It is something I have worked hard at, and it is something I wish that so many more people I have come into contact could have experienced. I have held the hands of many friends as they struggled with decisions about their feeding journeys, I have held their hands as they have cried about how bloody difficult it is, about how bloody unfair it is that breastfeeding was not working for them, how unfair it is that they just did not have enough milk. I have taken their emotion and carried it with me, and where possible I have wanted to lighten the load by giving them my milk. On a daily basis I reel at the lack of support and evidence based knowledge that pregnant women receive, and it has been a driving force for me to retrain so I can support expectant parents prepare for feeding their infants.
So I am now 3 years and 5 months into my breastfeeding journey, 14 months of which have been tandem feeding. It has been a challenge at times. At times I am sure that I would have reached for the formula as an easy out as I tried to wade through the treacle of cluster feeds and sleepless nights, but I also know that I would have regretted it. I have allow my boys to lead in all things. When they were ready to start solid food and not rush them, when they were ready to move to their own room, when they needed to sleep in my bed. When they are ready, they will stop feeding from me. I will not rush them, I will not stop them. I know that I am not fully supported in my decisions and that noses are often turned up in disgust. But this is ours, our journey, our bond and I will let the comments, looks and all the other bullshit wash away. Breastmilk continues to have benefits to my boys, and breastfeeding continues to have benefits for me. I do often wonder when they will stop, and I often wonder what people really think when they discover that I breastfeed both of my children, I wonder if people think that I should stop, but above all of that wondering I know that this is best for them.