I always knew I wanted to give breastfeeding a go, not because of the ‘Breast Is Best’ rhetoric but because if I’m honest it seemed liked the easiest option. I mean you just whip out a boob and voila right? Ha, how naive I was. Freddie was born two weeks early after a rather long induction but a rather easy birth (as easy as any birth can be… Which isn’t easy at all really!). He had been estimated to be a bit on the small side so when he arrived as a rather small six pounds four ounces we weren’t surprised. What did surprise me though was the size of my boobs. Within a day or so after the birth they had doubled in size and Freddie was just so tiny in comparison. Lots of breastfeeding information/advice that I had read, had suggested that big boobs shouldn’t cause any feeding issues but that wasn’t my experience at all.
As soon as Freddie was born we had skin-to-skin contact and soon after I had my first awkward attempt at feeding. The books I had read had led me to believe my baby would intuitively know what to do but that just wasn’t the case. After a couple of hours of putting him to the breast pretty unsuccessfully, the Midwives told me that I would need to hand express and syringe feed him. I was upset and a bit surprised at this because I had been told that a Newborn’s tummy was tiny and he would only need a very small amount of milk. I went along with it though because I trusted the midwives and I felt so out of my depth. During the 24 hours after Freddie’s birth I lost count of the number of times my husband pressed the buzzer for me to request help with latching and positioning. The midwives were lovely and very supportive but they each gave different advice, which left me feeling totally confused.
When we arrived home the following day, I don’t think I was prepared for the intensity of the responsibility I felt to make sure Freddie was fed and putting on weight. Cluster feeding came as a big shock to me and I worried about whether he was getting enough milk. The KellyMom website was a huge help during those early weeks and I referred to it as my breastfeeding bible. Our latch was still an issue at four weeks old when, after seeing multiple midwives and health visitors, we decided to pay to see a lactation consultant. Although her advice was helpful, actually all we needed was time, time for him to grow and catch up with my boobs! At around six weeks feeding stopped being as painful and apart from the occasional episode of thrush/blocked ducts/cracked nipples (such fun!) it’s remained pain free ever since. I do think more women would continue breastfeeding if health professionals and breastfeeding advocates were more honest about the fact that it may hurt or be uncomfortable during those early days/weeks for some women. All of the information I had read suggested it shouldn’t really hurt at all but that really wasn’t the case for me or the other new Mama’s that I know.
There have been a handful of times since those tough early days where I have considered switching to formula. Freddie has been a bit of a snacker since birth really and at six months he still feeds every hour and a half to two hours during the day, which is intense. At times I have wished someone else could feed him so I can have a break especially during night time cluster feeds where I have been desperate for some uninterrupted sleep. And I’ve wondered if formula would help Freddie’s silent reflux- I was assured by my pediatrician it probably wouldn’t and I didn’t want to take away his main source of comfort when he was clearly in pain. For all of the times I’ve wanted to stop, there have been many more times where I have felt so proud of what my body has done and continues to do. By ten weeks Freddie had doubled his birth weight and that gave me such a boost to continue. During his last feed before bed when we are sat cuddled in the dark just the two of us, I feel so content. Sometimes he looks up at me while feeding and grabs my hand or strokes my arm and it makes my heart feel so full.
I don’t believe there is a best way to feed a baby, but breastfeeding has been the best way for us despite the many difficulties we’ve had. I do think it’s a shame that the U.K has such low breastfeeding rates. I feel that if there was more honesty around the realities of breastfeeding more women may continue. Although I’m also very aware that for some women it’s not a choice, they are just unable to for a variety of reasons. For me, the advantages of breastfeeding are that it is quick, free and convenient when we are in public and Freddie has a meltdown. I hope to continue until Freddie is a year old although I’d like to work on Freddie taking a bottle for those times when I want or need a bit of a break. If we don’t make it until one year that’s okay too but I would like to give it a try.