To celebrate World Breastfeeding Week, I thought I would share a bit about my own breastfeeding journey. Breastfeeding is often put forward as 'natural' but, whilst that may be true, it can often be anything but easy. And it certainly never came naturally to me - even the second time round. Both times I have been shocked by how hard I found it, and how long it took to feel 'normal', and I wanted to honour that here.
I gave birth to my first baby in late December 2013. I was adamant I was going to breastfeed him. I had done so much reading around it, learnt all about cluster feeding and different positions to try and had confidently not bought any kind of bottle feeding equipment.
I planned, and succeeded, at having a drug free, vaginal birth in my local midwife led unit, as I had read so much about how this was one of the best places to start out with feeding. However, the midwife on shift when Henry was born was really unsupportive and Henry really struggled to latch. After six hours of him not feeding, she threatened to send us to hospital and made me feel as though he would starve if I didn't let her give him formula.
She took him away to syringe feed him - never offering to help me hand express so he could have my colostrum. When she brought him back, he was covered in milk and she told me he was 'terrible at feeding'. She explained that, in her professional opinion, there would be no way I could successfully breastfeed him and continuing to try would only mean I missed Christmas with my family.
I have always been incredibly stubborn and, as I'm sure many friends and family will agree, someone telling me I can't do something is a sure fire way of getting me to do it. Thankfully, the midwives that came on shift after her were lovely. They explained that Henry had a bubble pallet and his sucking reflex was really high up in his mouth, they gave me nipple shields and this helped him to realise he needed to latch on.
We were in the MLU for two days trying to feed. In the end, I was so emotional, upset and stuck that I just discharged myself. I needed to be out of those same four walls. Once home, things felt a lot easier. My milk came in on Christmas Day, and I couldn't feed him. We made do with hand expressing onto a sterilised metal spoon.
It was hard.
I attended a breastfeeding group every single Thursday, ran by a lovely NCT breastfeeding councillor, who regularly came out to my home to try and help me with the issues we were having. The next few months were brutal. He fed almost non-stop every single day and night. My nipples were purple, with a sore red ring around the outside and I was constantly getting mastitis and blocked ducts. I was exhausted, a complete shell of myself.
At four months, his weight started to drop down the charts and the health visitors wanted me to get him weighed every week. After months of constant feeding, this was the thing that broke me. What was the point in all of that if he wasn't thriving?! I went back to my breastfeeding councillor and just broke down and cried. We were both at a loss as to what the issue was and she forwarded me to places that might be able to help.
This was where I found Amanda. Amanda is an IBCLC and a wonder woman. In 2014 she was a La Leche League Leader but she now runs her own private practice at Milk & Mums, I could not recommend her enough and she completely saved my life (and my breasts). So many people had looked in his mouth but Amanda was the first to feel it. She explained Henry had a posterior tongue tie and this was the cause of all our problems.
Two days before he turned 6 months, we were seen by the tongue tie specialist. Initially they dismissed us and wouldn't properly check him. I was so desperate for help that I cried and refused to leave until they helped. Thankfully they listened but, by this point, Henry was very upset and they were only able to partially cut his tie.
I fed Henry until he was four. I have some incredibly magical memories of that time, particularly as we became a family of just the two of us when he was 16 months old. The closeness we had was (and still is) beautiful. There is also nothing better for an exhausted single mother than a toddler who will happily sit and feed for half an hour. And I never had to fight him to go to bed!
But feeding Henry was also never totally pain free. And at times, it was incredibly difficult and challenging. Whilst I know that I made the best decisions for myself and for Henry, I would never demonise anyone for choosing to bottle feed. What a baby needs most is a mother who is mentally and physically well and able to care for their needs - if breastfeeding will get in the way of this (and you can't change this with accessing support) then you should 100% bottle feed with no guilt or pressure from anyone. We need to be empowered to make the choices that are best for us and our family.
I also passionately believe that we need more funding, better educated HCPs and more access to help and support so that more women are supported to breastfeed their babies. Ultimately, a lack of breastfeeding support gave me 6 months of pain and stress and impacted us for four years. Thankfully, education around tongue ties is getting better and there are some wonderful people out there spreading the word.
If you are currently struggling to establish feeding then I definitely recommend reaching out to your local IBCLC (they're cheaper than formula feeding!). And, as always, feel free to reach out over Instagram @postpartum_matters or via email at email@example.com. I have breastfed for almost 6 years now and counting! Something I am quite proud of!