Before I had my little girl (now almost 2), I had never really had an opinion on breast-feeding, all I knew was that I really wanted to do it ‘if I could’. I did NCT and NHS Antenatal classes – both of which just talked about keeping cabbage leaves in the fridge to help with engorgement, using nipple cream and videos of how the baby would crawl up to the breast of its own accord.
Breastfeeding in reality for me was like being hit by a bus (after birth which also felt like this). Over the first couple of weeks I had an enormous over supply (which lasted until around 5 months when it finally settled down into her supply/demand) so my boobs were like rocks; we’d got the latch ok in hospital but once I got home she just could not latch on to these rock hard boulders so was screaming her little heart out at 4am on night 1 home from hospital despite my milk pretty much pouring out (which probably didn’t help) so my husband suggested we pump and give her a bottle. I remember watching this and crying silently as I felt like this was my breastfeeding journey over, I’d never be able to do it and I remember texting my mum saying I felt like a piece of me died every time she had to have a bottle. If only I had known that just because she had a few bottles, she would still breastfeeding – but I was devastated and felt like a failure.
Over the next few weeks I eventually saw a lactation consultant who retaught me all I had learnt from the midwives – I had the latch totally wrong, but by then the damage had been done by using nipple shields and feeding constantly on cracked nipples, so she would pull away with threads of blood in her mouth and I would be sobbing whilst biting on a muslin throughout every feed, I was in so much pain. Many people thought I was totally insane to try to continue breastfeed when it was such agony, but I was simply desperate to keep going as it meant so much to me to be able to give her my milk and have that bond – when the feeds would occasionally go well and be pain free it was absolute bliss, I loved looking down at her and being able to naturally provide for her so much.
I went to breastfeeding support groups, a specialist at the hospital and saw my health visitor frequently, but due to my over supply (I would go to bed wearing 2 breast pads in each cup, a quarter folded muslin in each side, a sleep bra, nightie and towel on the bed, and would still wake up soaked), a very late tongue tie diagnosis, damage to my nipples and she was also diagnosed with reflux and colic so was on Ranitidine for about 4 months. My health visitor referred me to a PND charity because I seemed to be in tears every time she visited as it was just so bloody hard and relentless. This hit me like a bus and in hindsight I am infuriated by the awful stigma PND has (and any mental illness in fact) but I was thoroughly ashamed that I might have it and felt it made me an awful mother and that I didn’t love her enough as a result. Having come out the other side I can see this simply isn’t true; I think every single new mum has a degree of PND or ‘baby blues’ or whatever you want to call it – it’s bloody hideous for the first few months, and everyone struggles in different ways – your life changes and you do a complete 360 overnight.
For me, somehow it eventually got better, and her reflux symptoms went after about 6 months (the GP promised 4, then 5…) and my milk supply eventually settled down so I wasn’t pouring milk as soon as I opened my bra. That didn’t help my confidence in breastfeeding in public – people’s faces of disgust literally made me cry over spilt milk. I would say it was ‘easy’ and I enjoyed it from about 5 months onwards, and it is and will forever be my proudest achievement that I carried on through it all to the point where I was exclusively breastfeeding until she started on solids, and I finally weaned her off, a month after her 1st birthday.
I am now so passionate about breastfeeding and hope I can support all my friends and family when their time comes. However I know that it is such a personal choice and everyone is different. Perhaps I would have enjoyed the first 5 months more and been a bit happier had I given up and gone to the bottle sooner, but for me that just wasn’t an option. I will never ever judge anyone for the decisions they make with regard to feeding their baby, but I think everyone ought to at least try it and give their baby what is naturally available to them if they possibly can, for as long as they possibly can. If this story can help even one Mum fight through the pain and tears and hell to continue for a little while longer then I will be over the moon!