- I love it because of that physical closeness with my babies
- I love that they enjoy it so much
- I love it because it's so convenient
- I love it because it means less washing up
- I love it because it gives me a chance to sit down for five minutes
- I love it because it's a damn fine excuse to sit and cuddle when I really should be getting on with other things!!
Having said all that, my breastfeeding journey did not start out an easy one, by any stretch of the imagination. What's more, I don't think the experience of having a difficult start to breastfeeding is at all unusual. That's why I think the very rosy, 'it's all so easy and simple' picture of breastfeeding that some of the literature and publicity gives, can be really unhelpful. Don't get me wrong, I understand the "make it sound great and everyone will do it" logic. The problem is that for the vast number of women for whom it's not like that - me included - being faced with those kind of images and ideas can be really disheartening. More often than not, this can make women who are struggling with feeding feel bad about themselves, because they think it must be something they're doing wrong - and lets face it, the last thing a new mum needs is anymore insecurities. From what I read and hear, it seems that many women give up because of this feeling - often long before they really want to or planned to.
I think this is a real shame - I'd like women to be able to have a genuine choice, to be able get the support they need to feed for as long as they want to. I think to have that genuine choice they should be getting some realistic messages about breastfeeding. Here's mine:
Breastfeeding is fabulous, but it can take a few months of getting used to it before it's fabulous.
Oh yes, I said a few months - not days, not weeks, but - in my experience, and many others - it can take three or four months before it gets easy. That may sound like a horrendously long time if you're a mum-to-be, but actually it's not, I promise you, when you're looking at it from the other side. More importantly, if you're fully aware of that in advance, then you're not going to feel like a failure if you're two weeks in and it's not going great for you.
My initial forays into breastfeeding were not pleasant to say the least. DS1 was a Ventouse delivery and there were a lot of drugs involved, so the poor kid must have had one hell of a headache his first day in this world and understandably did not want to feed. With complete insensitivity to this, a selection of idiotic hospital midwives spent that first day grabbing the back of his head and trying to force it onto my breast. Had anyone even attempted to do this with DS2 I would've punched them - seriously - but with DS1 I was a first time mum and I trusted that these people knew what they were doing. They didn't.
I was desperate to get my baby feeding so they would let me home, so they insisted I give him bottle milk. He wasn't that interested in that either and it certainly didn't encourage him to feed. After that first day of being traumatised by idiots, he would yell for 45 minutes before he'd even attempt the breast - clearly still associating it with pain - then the hunger would overcome him and he'd attempt it, but by then he was so hungry he got frustrated and yelled before the milk had even let down. It still makes me cry to think of how awful those first days in the world must've been for him.
The hospital insisted on keeping me in until this was sorted and DS1 had gained some weight, which I now realise was completely ridiculous. Again, with hindsight I'd have told them to sod off and left - that environment was causing me stress and DS1 stress - feeding was never going to go well. In addition to the shock of being a new mum, the situation was only worsened by the fact that I could only eat the crappy hospital food they provided and my only support was DS1's dad who had been threatening to leave me from when I was five months pregnant until the second I went into labour - literally - so his presence was actually worse than no support at all.
When things were calmer at night (dad not there, staff leaving us alone) DS1 did seem to manage to feed a little better, at least getting something - but then inevitably I'd be disturbed by some stupid consultant that I'd never met, turning up at 2am and telling me the breastfeeding wasn't going well so I had to give him a bottle - completely counter advice to what I'd agreed with the one sensible midwife I'd managed to pin down in the day. Communication is a joyous thing.
Eventually after five days that felt like an eternity, the hospital let me take my baby home. I got through the door and sat down to feed him for the first time in my own home, in the breastfeeding chair I'd chosen. For the first time it felt like he had a proper feed. He must have felt me relax. I remember being so relieved. I remember thinking: 'It will get much easier from now on.'
It didn't, of course. His dad was insistent on me expressing straight away, so that he could do at least one feed a day - as far as he was concerned the only thing that mattered was DS1's bond with him, no matter what the impact on me, or DS1 for that matter. (An attitude which he has pretty much held to ever since).
Trying to express every day, before feeding was properly established, was stressful, tiring, actually didn't produce that much milk anyway and completely messed up my milk supply for the feeds I was doing. I never seemed to have enough milk for my baby, the poor kid was always hungry - I could see how much he loved it when he slept through a feed and suddenly there'd be loads of milk for his next one. My big plea to any dads reading this is please don't do this to your kid, don't put your own desires over your child's needs - be like this amazing dad, the definition of how a man can really support breastfeeding!
Anyway, this constant struggle with feeding went on until DS1 was about 16 weeks old. It was pretty horrible and I felt totally inadequate, but I was determined to carry on. I knew in my heart it was a 'good thing' and I sort of clung on to it as my relationship with DS1's dad just got worse and worse. Breastfeeding felt like the one thing I could do for my baby in the midst of all this madness.
At 16 weeks old two things happened.
- I had an appointment with a dietician about weaning. (Routine for all new mums registered with my GP's practice at the time). She said I could start giving DS1 some baby rice if he seemed hungry, so I did.
- DS1's dad finally made the decision to leave - no more hanging about to see if I could change his mind (because I clearly didn't have enough to keep me occupied!), he was actually going.
So after that traumatic start, everything just got so much better. I carried on feeding DS1 until just after his second birthday. It was brilliant. His dad left, but breastfeeding meant I'd have to visit or he'd bring him back every few hours for a feed, so it didn't disrupt DS1's attachment to me as much as it could've done, and I'm sure he's more secure than he might have been as a result. It also gave us a lovely way of re-bonding when he came back from his dad's - it was more than just food, it was his security, it was our connection. On top of that there was the practical side of being a single parent - with no one to help with making up, washing and sterilising bottles, breastfeeding was definitely the easier and less time consuming option.
Fast forward a couple of years to DS2 and as you can imagine I thought I'd got it sussed and would have no problem feeding at all this time. Err, wrong. Would that lazy arse feed when he was first born? Would he hell!
Fortunately, having had a home birth, dealing with it all was much easier this time. The midwives who visited were brilliant - one even gently reminded me that I was remembering feeding a 2 year old and feeding a newborn was a very different thing!
For the first couple of days I sat on the sofa with DS2 lying next to me, me expressing away and then feeding it to him in a cup. It was like he was saying,
"Oh I can't be arsed, mummy, just pour it down my throat."
About day four, I decided this was not happening any more - I did not have the time, energy, or inclination to do anymore expressing, washing up or sterilising! So, I just sat on the sofa with him for a couple of days constantly offering the breast, but not expressing anything more than a drip, until eventually he got the message that that was where the milk came from and he was going to have to work for it! After that little stand off he got the idea and all was fine. At 22months he still feeds before naps and bedtime, and is showing no signs of letting up! A much, much easier journey second time around, I think you'll agree.
So, these are my two messages to mums-to-be:
- Breastfeeding is fabulous, and if you want to do it you absolutely should. If it doesn't go right to begin with stick with it because it may take a couple of months or so for you both to get the hang of it - but it will be worth it, I promise you.
- Get as much good support as you can - you can spot good support because it makes you feel good about yourself and what you're doing. Bad support will make you feel like you're inadequate for not doing it right - and even the most well meaning people/information can have that effect, so politely ditch the person/bin the leaflet and move on until you find something that works for you!
Good luck out there people and Happy Feeding!!