Here is Beth’s breastfeeding story. You can find her over at Betty and the Bumps
This has been a post that I’ve been thinking about writing for a while. Not that I suppose anybody particularly cares about my breastfeeding experience – and I’m certainly not unique in sharing it on the internet – but with a blog called Betty and the Bumps, it seems kind of reasonable that I might address it at some point in detail.
I think it’s fair to say that breastfeeding didn’t go the way I had thought it would. All of my life I have associated babies with boobs. It had never occurred to me that I would do anything other than breastfeed my child. That’s what breasts are for after all. When I was pregnant I didn’t buy any bottles, formula, dummies (I didn’t even buy a breast pump) because I wasn’t going to need them, so what was the point.
I also think it’s important to say that I am certainly not one of these staunch “breast is best” people. It makes no difference to me how people feed their babies. I was breastfed for six weeks and formula fed after that. I have combination fed Gwenn since day two. Just because I fought tooth and nail to breastfeed her, doesn’t mean that I think it is the only way. I wanted to breastfeed because I am head over heels in love with the idea. How amazing to think that women can feed their babies without needing anything other than their boobs?! It sounds ridiculous but it’s fairly incredible when you think about it. I do think that it can be over-romanticised though and, for a lot of people who I have spoken to, it is not always a totally enjoyable experience.
As soon as Gwenn was born, she was placed on my chest and I waited for her to do her fantastic instinctual rooting and latch on for a feed. But it didn’t happen. My mam tried to help. The midwife tried to help. The midwife suggested I try nipple shields for a little while to see if that would help. It didn’t. For three days I spent my time either attached to a horrible breast pump on wheels which really hurt, or trying to feed Gwenn myself, helped by a continual stream of midwives, all of whom had different opinions on what was best. I cried. I was devastated. I had failed. The midwife who delivered Gwenn suggested a top up of formula and asked what brand we wanted. I stared at her blankly. I didn’t know what the formula brands were. Why would I know that? I remembered seeing an advert for Aptimil on TV so I said that. We asked what the difference was between the brands and the midwife said she wasn’t allowed to recommend one over the other, as if it was a dirty secret, which made me feel ten times worse. I did some Googling from my bed and every formula site came with a disclaimer saying that formula milk should only be given on the advice of a healthcare professional. I felt absolutely terrible. It might as well have said “Why not feed your baby Domestos, you awful mother”.
On my second day in hospital, the infant feeding co-ordinator came to see me. She was the nicest person I have ever met. Everything about her said “calm”. She told me to take off my top, put Gwenn on my chest, and wait. Gwenn wriggled down. She wriggled to the left. She found my nipple, she latched on, she fed. It was the best experience of my life. It was the most natural, wonderful thing that had ever happened. Unfortunately, as soon as the lactation consultant left the room, so did this new-found feeling of one-ness with my baby. She screamed blue murder when I tried to feed her next. I dreaded her waking up because I knew I was going to have to try feeding her again. We came home. My husband went out and bought some formula, bottles, a steriliser and a breast pump. I spent a whole summer inside sitting on the sofa, feeding Gwenn, too embarrassed to go out because I could only feed her using nipple shields and I felt like people were staring at me if we gave her formula (so either way I couldn’t win). Many times I thought it would be easier to exclusively pump rather than struggle with the shields, but hats off to anybody who does that, because that is a commitment and a half. I couldn’t get a nursing bra to fit me (see my post here) so for a long time when I had to feed, I had to find somewhere private and totally strip off. To cut a long story short, I made my own life a misery and the whole thing affected my relationship with Gwenn.
Just before six months old, Gwenn decided that she didn’t need the shields anymore. I felt as if I was starting again. So this is what breastfeeding is supposed to be like. At the point when a lot of people might feel like moving on, I felt as if I was back at day one. Although I couldn’t help but dwell a tiny bit on how much better things could have been if I had never used them in the first place, I was obviously over the moon that I didn’t need any artificial aids when feeding. Nearly nine months on, we are still doing three feeds a day, plus two formula feeds and two solid meals. I genuinely can’t believe that I am still breastfeeding.
If I ever have another baby, I will definitely want to breastfeed again, hopefully for as long as I have this time. Everybody says that it’s easier the second time around but even so I still think that breastfeeding involves a big sacrifice on mum’s part. Granted, in the dead of night, it’s a lot less faff to whip out a boob in bed than staggering around the kitchen making up a bottle, but it also means that – in the early days especially – you are almost glued to your baby (or the baby is glued to you more like), meaning that the concept of free time goes out of the window. The first time I left Gwenn for more than three hours was when she was 24 weeks when we went to a wedding, and even then I missed the very fancy drinks reception because I was sitting in a hotel room expressing. There have been a lot of times that I’ve had the opportunity to go somewhere but the thought of having to express in a weird place (very often in the car) puts me off so I’d rather just not bother and stay at home with Gwenn.
I’ve read a lot of articles and testimonials over the last nine months that suggest that because health professionals aren’t really supposed to discuss formula feeding with expectant mothers, those mums who choose to – or end up doing so – don’t get all of the information about it that they need. I did wonder, when I was in hospital after having Gwenn, how I would have been treated if I hadn’t wanted to breastfeed. I was very pro-breastfeeding and even I felt pressured by most of the midwives to do it, so God knows how it would have felt if I had explained I was going to bottle feed. Breastfeeding has a lot of health benefits for mum and baby, but it is not the be all and end all that some people would have you think.
So, that rambling essay pretty much sums up my breastfeeding story. I’d love to think that somebody out there who is in the early stages and having a hard time might read this and know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. If nothing else, it has been a cathartic exercise for yours truly!