I actually don't like the word 'journey' to describe my experience with breastfeeding. I think it makes it sound like I've had a difficult time that has improved as we've gone along when in truth it has all been an incredibly positive experience and something I want to share to show that it isn't all bleeding nipples, blocked milk ducts and public shaming.
I suppose it is worth me mentioning that I know not everyone has the same experience and for some their story is a lot different but for me it has been relatively easy. Also it goes without saying that if you are unable to breastfeed you will find no judgement here, you keep being an amazing mum and just keep that baby fed.
I was unsure if I wanted to breastfeed at first. I had lots of conversations with my close friends about a problem that was bothering me and I'm going to mention it here just in case you also worry about the same thing.
I was worried that I wouldn't be able to separate out breasts as a sexual entity to a feeding one. Wouldn't it be strange to see a baby sucking on a nipple, would it make me feel uncomfortable? This in itself is one of the reason that it's so important to normalize breastfeeding. If a mother herself can't help but think this way how could someone who isn't a mother also be expected to look at a woman feeding and not automatically cringe away from it.
I thought I'd at least try to give it a go though because of the benefits to baby and also to myself (think weight loss and Oxycontin).
So the story all really starts with a breast pump.
Because I had Gestational Diabetes they advise that you express colostrum and collect this in syringes just in case the baby needs extra. I dutifully set about collecting and storing this using my manual breast pump and I suppose this helped me ready myself for the sensation of feeding. It felt strange but not painful.
As you will know, if you are a regular reader, I delivered Rosalind by C Section. This meant that we didn't try to feed for a good 40 minutes after she'd been lifted from me. I was lying on the surgery table desperate to try and get her to latch as I'd heard the first few moments were crucial but unable to do anything.
We were wheeled through to recovery and there I finally got to try. Like the little love she is she latched on straight away, Leigh burst into tears because he was so happy she was feeding and the midwife commented that it was one of the best first latches she'd ever seen. I felt smug and secure in my feeding abilities not to mention incredibly relieved because my early worries were unwarranted.
There was nothing sexual or weird about it at all. It really was just a mother feeding her child.
Once on the ward I was able to get her to feed another four times, with a continued good latch. We were absolutely exhausted though from being on a shared ward and that's when it all started to go wrong
Rosie just stopped feeding and nothing I could do would get her to latch. I desperately tried waking her, getting more and more frustrated and increasingly worried as it had now been 7 hours since she had fed last. When the Doctor finally come round I was almost in tears and she said she'd return once she'd finish her rounds and we'd look at getting her some formula.
I just remember feeling crushed that I wasn't able to feed her despite earlier feelings that I might not even want to breastfeed. It turned out that actually it really did matter to me.
Another couple of hours passed and the Dr hadn't returned but another lady popped her head in and I have no idea who she was, i think she just came in to check my blood pressure and I mentioned my worries to her. She was a godsend and gave me the best advice, you sleep, let her sleep and when you wake up try again. I was worried about going to sleep as by this point it had been 9 hours since she had fed but I did what the lady suggested.
When I woke I hand expressed some colostrum into her mouth and she latched on straight away. From that moment to now I've never had another problem with getting her to feed. Sometimes you just need to take a step back and try again later.
When the Dr FINALLY came back around hours later I was able to tell her that it was all ok, that I wouldn't be needing any bottles or formula.
We went back home and I set about waiting for my milk to come in, and for the blues to start at the same time. I didn't feel either happen. Three or four days in I woke up with a very soggy top but I never felt my milk coming in and I never got the blues. It is still very rare for me to feel a let down although I do still leak on the first morning feed I don't wear nipple pads anymore.
I've heard feeding being described as having your nipples sliced off which absolutely baffles me! I can honestly say that apart from some discomfort in the early days it hasn't hurt at all. A tip I picked up from the hospital, always make sure their lip is full when they are drinking. For the first few days whenever she latched on and I'd wince a little I'd get Leigh to come and pull her lip from pinched to full and the relief was instant.
Don't get me wrong I don't have nipples of steel, there was definitely some mild discomfort in the early days but nothing a few coats of Lanolin didn't fix.
I've always fed her the same way too, my friend described it as 'feeding them a burger.' In other words, making a 'C' shape around the breast to help guide. I still do this now especially as the midwife told me from the start that I'd have to be careful not to smother her as I'm not a flat chested girl.
Rosie is exclusively breastfed although we did introduce an expressed milk bottle when she was four weeks old just so she got used to them. I wanted the option of Leigh feeding her, or leaving her for a little while and her still being able to feed. This was important for my sanity and also good practice for her to gain some independence.
I remember the first time I breastfed in public, it was at a friend's birthday and she was only a week old. I spent ages trying to cover myself with a muslin, unhook my feeding bra, get her to latch. It was all a huge effort and I said to Leigh on the way home, why am I bothering? Am I not then setting the precedent and saying, 'This isn't natural, I need to hide this?
I then met up with a new mum friend who's baby is five weeks older and she didn't mess around, she just discreetly started feeding with no cover and I looked in awe at her confidence.
So the next time I saw my friends I just got on with it, without hiding. To begin with a couple of friends said, 'I'm so sorry I can't stop staring' but after the third and fourth time nobody commented and now nobody says anything at all. When you make it the norm, people react accordingly.
Perhaps I have been fortunate, maybe I'm not noticing people's reactions, perhaps it's the area I live in but I am lucky enough that I've never felt uncomfortable. It doesn't matter if I'm feeding with a group of mums or on my own I have always felt secure enough to get on with the process of feeding my daughter.
I know this isn't the case everywhere. Even today, talking to my friend she said that two older women were giving her dirty looks as she tried to feed her baby in a supermarket cafe. If women aren't willing to support each other in looking after their baby then how can we expect men to follow suit? How do we stop sexualising breasts and instead promote them for what they are. A food source.
I plan on feeding Rosie until she is one, and am thankful that I'm able to do so. The World Health Organisation recommends to the age of two but for personal reasons I think feeding until the age of one will be sufficient and a good stopping point.
You might be able to see now why I am reluctant to call it a journey. Instead it is a story with a happy ending.
I am able to give my daughter the nourishment that she needs to grow and I have been able to do this wirhout hinderance. So many mums arent as lucky but I dont want the fear to put you off because watching her grow and saying, 'We did this together' is one of the most rewarding aspects of parenthood so far.