I didn't set out to breastfeed. In fact, the tremendous amount of pressure put on new mums to feed a certain way, made me extremely confused. When I was pregnant, I did not know which way to turn. There is so much to think about & prepare for, that all I could focus on was getting through the birth. The subject of breast or bottle caused anxiety & ultimately led to me shutting all conversations down. At first it begins as one simple question, how are you going to feed your baby? Quickly followed by a lot of unwanted opinions. Breast is best, fed is best, the bond with your baby will be stronger if you breastfeed, your baby will only sleep through the night if you bottle feed - the list goes on. In all honesty I thought I would try breastfeeding & give up after a week or so, moving onto formula. Therefore, I geared up for bottle feeding - I bought the prep machine, the steriliser, the bottles. The last thing I thought about was buying a breast pump. I just did not want to be pressurised.
That quickly changed when my eldest son was born, which brings me onto my breastfeeding journey with Leo…
At 36 weeks, my waters broke. I was induced 24 hours later, as I did not go into spontaneous labour. The birth itself was straightforward & a positive experience but because my waters had ruptured 52 hours prior, the risk of infection meant he had to be put on precautionary antibiotics, until his blood result came back. When I held my baby in my arms for the first time no one could prepare me for the overwhelming love & bond I had with my son. In that moment, my maternal instincts kicked in & I wanted to do everything I physically could to help him in case there was an infection. I knew the benefits about breast milk that it would provide him with the perfect nutrients & antibodies to help protect against infection. I wanted to give breastfeeding my best shot, suddenly formula feeding was not an option. The midwives who looked after us during our 3 night stay on the postnatal ward were amazing. I could not have breastfed without them. Leo had trouble latching on but with their help & advice we found the right technique. I cannot stress how much this helped us get through the early struggles & got us off to a good start. If I had returned straight home, I do not think I would have persevered, I would have worried he was not getting enough milk & ultimately given up. My advice to new mums is ALWAYS ask for help because breastfeeding technique can be tricky at first. When we returned home, I felt confident & relaxed, at least from that aspect. He settled into a nice routine on his own & was feeding every 3 hours.
One great thing about breastfeeding is you cut out the preparation of bottles & milk is instant. This is a god send during night feeds & when you are popping out for the day. But it is not always glamourous. From personal experience, I have had occasions when I have forgotten to do up my blouse after feeding in public, had the odd leak or two & it can restrict your wardrobe somewhat. But in consideration, for me it took a lot of pressure off during the early days & it was a lovely bonding experience. Expressing milk via a breast pump was extremely useful. It meant I could have the odd break when I needed to & enjoy an odd evening out with my husband or friends knowing he would be happy when parents or in laws were babysitting. Might seem an added expense but manual expressing is difficult. I continued to feed morning & night after Leo was weaned until he was just over a year old. I never anticipated that I would do this for as long as I did & enjoy it so much to the point - I was sad when I finally did stop.
During my second pregnancy I was unconcerned about the breastfeeding aspect. My main worries were how Leo would adapt to having a younger sibling. Would he be jealous? Would he play up while I was feeding the new baby? Little did I know how different my feeding experience would be. Arlo was born in January this year before the lockdown and the early days were very painful and he had a strong suck reflex. Cluster feeding meant that I had sore and bleeding nipples and I was physical and mentally drained. He fed on demand and was an extremely hungry baby. Leo was not jealous of his sibling and adapted very well to the new routine. He surprised us how loving and gentle he was and always concerned for his baby brother. After approximately 3 weeks the cluster feeding stopped and the soreness subsided. My advice to any new mothers would be to try to persevere and see beyond the initial weeks and it will certainly get easier. Since then he has never fallen into a typical timed routine, it has been completely different to my experience with Leo, but we are still enjoying every moment together.
When I was feeding Leo, I had heard that you could donate to the milk bank at the premature baby unit at the hospital. This milk is used for the babies born prematurely and are poorly, when their mothers are unable to feed. This was something I really wanted to do during my breastfeeding journey with Leo but never got round to it. I thought it was important to try to make a difference if I could, to help a family & the most important reason – to help save a little life. I cannot imagine how difficult it must be for those families who are in this position. Whilst I was pregnant with Arlo, I decided I would like to donate some milk, providing is did not disrupt Arlo’s feeding. I did my research & found a lovely company – Hearts Milk Bank. The process was simple & very well organised. The bottles were provided by the company so providing you already have a breast pump, this does not cost anything, just a little bit of your time. With this company there is no age cut off, they continue to take the milk after you baby is weaned on solids. This has been one of the most rewarding things I have ever done & although you never know who or how many babies & families you have helped – you know it is one of the best causes in the world! I have been surprised that so many mums have been unaware that you can donate milk, I will always continue to try & spread awareness even after my breastfeeding journey finishes.
* Hearts Milk Bank are a charity and part of the Human Milk Foundation – not for profit. https://heartsmilkbank.org
Deciding how to feed your child
To mothers faced with the decision on how to feed – it is up to you, there is no right or wrong way. A lot will come down to your own circumstances. As long as you are happy, your baby will be too. Please do not let others influence your decision. There may be times when people make hurtful comments but continue to follow your gut & try your best to ignore it. You may feel particularly vulnerable during the first few months as you adapt & get to grips with motherhood, so you do not need the added pressure from others. If you begin breastfeeding & it does not work out for whatever reason, please do not to beat yourself up. This is quite common; it is not always a straightforward road.
Breastfeeding may be the most natural thing in the world, but this does not mean it will always come naturally. There can be struggles & times when things do not go as smoothly as you would like but when it does – it’s magical!
My breastfeeding journey summed up - challenging, beautiful, loving & worth every minute!