Breastfeeding: your stories

Here is Rebecca’s breastfeeding story. You can find her over at Growing a Girl Against the Grain:

Almost every night, at around 11.30pm, it’s the same. I hear the cries over the monitor, I go through to my daughter’s bedroom, pick her up and breastfeed her back to sleep. It’s part of my routine now.

It’s only when I really think about it that it occurs to me that, two years ago, I could never have imagined that I would be doing this.

My breastfeeding journey got off to a rocky start. I knew I wanted to breastfeed and assumed it would be easy – after all, it’s natural, so why would it be hard? I’d watched promotional DVDs showing minutes-old babies crawling to the breast and latching on. Easy peasy. All I needed was that golden first hour of skin-to-skin and it would all go swimmingly from there.

Except I didn’t get the golden hour. I got taken to theatre for stitches less than 20 minutes after Eleanor was born, too soon for her to have her first feed. She was syringe-fed colostrum for the first 24 hours of her life. I struggled to get her to latch, and felt embarrassed about having to call for a midwife every time she was hungry because I just couldn’t get her to feed on my own. After three days in hospital, I went home, having fed my daughter without the assistance of a midwife only twice.

At home, the struggles continued. For weeks. I looked for all those initial signs of hunger – rooting, fist-sucking, etc – but they just weren’t there. Eleanor would go from fast asleep to screaming in seconds. She would be too upset to latch on properly and it would take at least 20 minutes to get her feeding – at which point she would slide off and start screaming again! When she did finally manage to feed, she would invariably bring the whole feed up again so I’d be back to square one. It was in these fraught times that I set my first target; I would breastfeed for 4 weeks, then see if things were any better.

Four weeks came. Things weren’t much better. Eleanor, stronger now, would simultaneously scream for milk and push herself away from the breast. She still brought up considerable amounts of milk too. My Health Visitor suggested it could be reflux and this diagnosis was confirmed by a GP who prescribed her with meds. At this point I thought that it was a short-term problem, and everyone kept saying breastfeeding got easier at 6 weeks, so even though I was still finding it hard, I moved my target back a fortnight.

By 6 weeks, I’d realised reflux was anything but short-term – it usually lasts around a year. The medication Eleanor was on is designed to be mixed in with formula so I had to make it up into a gloopy mixture with water before every feed then attempt to syringe it into my daughter’s mouth while she screamed with pain and hunger. She would still be sick at least 20 times a day and we both stank of milk all the time. I felt pretty demoralised but I’d come this far, so the target was moved yet again, to 8 weeks.

And that was the turning point. Yes, the medication was still a nightmare to use. Yes, I still spent my days (and nights) drenched in baby sick. But latching was finally getting easier, and I was actually starting to enjoy breastfeeding, when before I had simply endured it. I still remember Eleanor’s sleepy little face, the little pout she gave when she was done, the way she would stroke my side as she fed. Finally I felt I could do this for more than just weeks. So my target made a giant leap, to six months. Because that’s what the leaflets said.

At around four months, things were going fine. The reflux was still making life pretty hard but I could manage it. Then came talk of weaning and I realised, for the first time, that the standard 6-month mark was for exclusive breastfeeding, and that Eleanor would still need breastmilk or formula until she was one. I didn’t really see the point in stopping and moving onto formula, especially as Eleanor refused to drink out of a bottle anyway, so I set myself a new target – one year.

Fast forward to a night out with some mum friends, about a month before Eleanor’s first birthday. One friend said to me, “So you’ll be stopping breastfeeding at one, will you?” I took a deep breath and said, “No.” By then, I’d read up a bit on extended breastfeeding and discovered that the WHO recommends breastfeeding for at least two years. I was still happy to feed Eleanor and she was clearly happy to keep feeding, so why stop? The target had been moved a long way – my new aim was to keep breastfeeding until Eleanor turned two, unless she wanted to stop sooner.

And so here we are. Eleanor turned two in December and I’ve gone past every target I set for myself. I have no goals now – we will feed for as long as we are both happy to, plain and simple. There are still times when I feel like quitting, but these are generally the times when Eleanor needs the comfort of breastmilk the most, when she’s ill or teething, and feeding becomes very frequent or uncomfortable. I reason with myself that it would be unfair to take her main source of comfort away when she’s struggling, and then once she’s over it I’m back to loving breastfeeding again.

I remember when my Health Visitor came to discuss weaning at around four months, Eleanor was pulling at my top for milk. I made some flippant remark about how she knows where to go for it now and my Health Visitor said, “Wait till she’s two!” I gave her a funny look. Two? Did she really expect me to still be feeding at TWO??! No chance! And yet here I am, with a two-year-old daughter who still asks for ‘mummymut’ throughout the day (and night!). In those awful early weeks, when every feed meant pain, stress and frustration for both of us, I could never have imagined that in two years’ time I would still be lifting my gorgeous girl out of bed and feeding her in the darkness.

Reminding myself of this makes every feed, even the ones in the middle of the night, feel like a blessing.


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