As Parents There Is Nothing More Powerful Than The Stories We Share..
Welcome back to the #BreastfeedingStories guest post series, an opportunity to bring together stories from other mums who have breastfeeding experiences that they would like to share.
This weeks guest post features Lucy from Lucy At Home whose story shows that even with all the reading and preparation in the world, successful breastfeeding comes down to having the right people around you to support you, and how that might not always be from the midwives and health visitors.
I have to confess that I both love and fear My Petit Canard’s ‘breastfeeding stories’. I read it peering through my fingers, with that odd curiosity you get when there has been an accident on the motorway; your stomach is in knots but for some reason, you still want to look. I’m proud that I breastfed, and I’m sad that it stopped. I’m glad that we persevered, but I wish we’d had help. I didn’t realise until I started flicking through the stories just how much turmoil and heartache I still carry around with me from those first few tentative steps.
On Your Marks, Get Set…Aargh It’s Not Working!
I was desperate to breastfeed. I read all the literature about how to get a good latch, I bought a breast pump so I could express, and I ordered myself a feeding cushion. I was set.
But the problem is, it’s just not that easy. Breastfeeding is a skill that you need to master.
Unfortunately for us, the hospital weren’t set up to support breastfeeding mums. The midwives kept spouting the instructions (which I already knew by heart); put baby’s nose in line with the nipple, brush baby’s top lip against it, make sure baby has a good mouthful…yada yada yada! I knew all the theory, but in practise, it wasn’t working. It didn’t feel how I expected it to. It was painful. It felt cumbersome and strained. Jenny didn’t open her mouth as widely as I’d anticipated.
I also got the impression that none of the midwives had actually breastfed themselves.
The Dreaded Third Day
There was definitely milk there (I’d been producing it since I was 16 weeks pregnant!), but rather than encouraging me to persevere, I was taught hand expression. And by the end of Day 2, they had wheeled in a hospital-grade breast pump. I felt defeated and helpless. I was too weak from the birth and too overwhelmed from the hormones to stand up for myself. I felt beaten.
The midwife told me to pump for 10mins on each side. But, of course, day three is when your milk ‘comes in’ and I had just told my body that Jenny was drinking hundreds of millilitres of milk (because yes that’s how much I managed in 20mins on the pump!).
I woke in the night and my boobs were rock solid. I have big boobs anyway, but I’m not exaggerating when I say they were each the size of a small football! I was also dripping wet and in agonizing pain. I crept out of bed and down the dimly-lit corridor to the nurse’s station. I explained the situation and asked if they had any spare night clothes I could change into. They didn’t. They changed my sheets and I crawled back into bed with my wet clothes and my supersized, throbbing chest, to wait it out. Ouch! It was awful!
Super-Mum To The Rescue
This is not how the books had depicted it – I had imagined us curled up on the settee, Jenny gently drifting into sleep, me softly stroking her delicate hair. That soggy hospital bed couldn’t have been further from my dream.
I was miserable and poured out my heart to our next set of visitors, who happened to be my husband’s parents. Without hesitation, my mother-in-law stood up, plucked Jenny from the cot and placed her in my arms. With a quick glance in my direction to check it was OK, she grabbed my breast and pressed it into Jenny’s mouth.
Oh my goodness – it was working! I was actually breastfeeding! Jenny was latched on and sucking and it wasn’t hurting and it felt wonderful and amazing and, and…and I started to cry!
And that was it! That was all it took – somebody who had done it before to lead the way!
I wish I could say it was plain-sailing from there, but it really wasn’t. I suffered terribly with cracked and bleeding nipples (Lanolin is your best friend!).
In the end, I’m not really sure why it stopped hurting. I think Jenny and I just gradually became more in tune with each other and with what worked. I realised pretty early on that the traditional hold where the baby rests in the crux of your arm, wasn’t going to work for us – having large breasts meant I needed to hold the one she was feeding from as it was too heavy to stay in her mouth otherwise. Jenny struggled to feed from the left breast so we adopted a rugby-ball hold for that side so that she could lie the same way as she did for the right. It was trial and error – we were both learning a new skill. But somehow, we got there.
And I finally got it – my dream of cuddling up together and feeding her gently into a milk-drunk state, became a reality. We had persevered, and adapted, and learned together, and made adjustments for each other, and now we were reaping the rewards. We were a feeding team for 18 blissful, happy months. I didn’t worry when she caught colds because I knew I was supplying her with antibodies. She was a happy, contented baby, despite numerous developmental complications. And now she is a vibrant, confident 5 year old!
Strive For Your Happy Ending
So I guess my message is: keep trying! It’s tough when you’re physically and mentally exhausted, to keep going. But it won’t always be that way. Find someone who actually knows what it’s like to breastfeed (don’t assume that the midwives and health visitors do!) – it will make the world of difference.
And actually, it’s been quite therapeutic to get some of my story out into the open. So if you don’t mind, I’m just going to dump this emotional baggage here, and not carry it around with me anymore!
If you’ve got a breastfeeding story you would like to share as part of the series please get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter. I’d love to help you share your #BreastfeedingStories.