The title is pretty self explanatory; this is about breastfeeding and my experiences of it. It’s a very personal (and long, sorry!) post that I’m a bit nervous about sharing. There have been two things stopping me writing this post before now. Firstly, I don’t want to jinx myself and suddenly come down with mastitis or get blocked ducts after writing this as I am hoping to feed TM until he is at least one. Secondly, I suppose I don’t want people to think I’m being smug. Most of the blog posts that I have read about breastfeeding have been about the difficulties people have faced or why they have chosen not to breastfeed. My story is really not like that…
While I was pregnant I did quite a lot of reading, because that’s what I do, and spoke to lots of people about breastfeeding. All of the females in mine and B’s (immediate) family breastfed for at least a few weeks with their babies and most for a lot longer than that. None of them had any major issues with it. In contrast, some of my friends who had really wanted to breastfeed found they just weren’t able to and were truly devastated by that. B and I discussed it and our attitude towards it was fairly typical of our attitude towards most things – I’ll give it a go, but if it isn’t working out I’m not going to beat myself up about it. That’s easy to say and I do wonder if in reality I would have felt that blasé when the situation actually arose. Regardless, I knew that I would have B’s support whatever I decided to do. Neither of us were concerned that he wouldn’t bond with the baby if he wasn’t able to feed him – I think that’s a load of crap. There are a million ways to bond with a baby and feeding is just one.
Anyway, breastfeeding was discussed in our antenatal class and I went to an extra breastfeeding session too. That was very helpful for dispelling some of the myths around feeding and explaining things like cluster feeding. This reassured me not to worry if I had a baby who seemed to feed constantly in the evenings (or whenever) – it’s not because I wasn’t making enough milk, it’s a totally normal part of the process. That was invaluable advice and I can easily see how you’d assume you weren’t producing enough milk if you had a little milk monster like I did.
And then, he was born. The first few days I found my nipples were a little sore and I couldn’t always get the latch right but other than that I didn’t have much of a problem. Once my milk came in (on day three? Or day four? I can’t remember) TM and I were away and we haven’t looked back. The soreness went although we still had a few dodgy latches here and there – normally through laziness. Whenever the latch was a bit wrong I got my lanolin cream back out and made sure to get the positioning right for the next feed (sometimes this meant lying down and changing position – I believe it’s sometimes called laid back breastfeeding) and it would all be fine again.
So far (and this is where I cross my fingers and HOPE I don’t jinx myself) I’ve never had blocked ducts or mastitis. As I say, I’ve occasionally had sore nipples but very mildly – it’s only ever been uncomfortable, never painful. TM has been through phases where he seemed to feed all the time, or would fall asleep on my boob and stay attached for an entire nap. He often goes to sleep on me (and no, I don’t believe that’s a bad habit so please don’t give me your opinion if you do) and when he was smaller he would cluster feed for hours. I was lucky though as these cluster feeds were usually in the afternoons or evenings; he’s been ok at sleeping at night since quite a young age, he just has a late bedtime. He would feed a lot during the day, sometimes hourly or every two hours and woke every three hours at night to start with (which I didn’t think was too bad) and it gradually got a bit longer between feeds. When he’s teething or we are at home alone without much to do he seems to feed more, but it varies. I’ve never tried to schedule it or avoided feeding him when he’s hungry – it’s definitely been baby-led. (A friend lent me this wonderful book on baby-led breastfeeding, it’s a great read).
I am lucky that I don’t have to go back to a job where I would need to pump milk while I’m at work as I don’t seem to be very good at expressing milk! It’s a lot of effort to get everything sterilised and sorted and then seems to take ages without actually producing much. Luckily I only ever need to do it if I want to go out on my own for a bit, which isn’t very often. I don’t know how the people who bottle feed all the way through cope though as I can’t think of anything worse than having to sort out a bottle in the middle of the night!
I suppose the worst bit of our ‘breastfeeding journey’ (ha, wanky phrase alert) was when he was getting some of his teeth through and bit me a few times. There were a couple of days he seemed to bite most feeds and that was horrible, but I got some great advice from a fab friend who happens to be a breastfeeding peer supporter and it soon passed. I am aware it may happen again because of his teeth but I feel a little more equipped to deal with it if he does decide to start biting again.
I found public feeding difficult to start with. Even now I don’t like to feed just anywhere, I tend to pick places I feel comfortable for one reason or another. I think it’s ridiculous that so many women worry about feeding in public, even though I am one of them. How absurd that all these boobs we see in magazines and on adverts are ok but as soon as a woman is feeding her baby everybody is highly uncomfortable with seeing that little bit of flesh. I think our society has a long way to go before it is entirely tolerant and accepting of breastfeeding and I hope it becomes more normalised. (This short film of a Hollie McNish poem is amazing about feeding in public and people’s attitudes).
It makes me sad how divisive breastfeeding is. I sometimes feel guilty for saying I breastfeed as it is implied that anybody who talks about breastfeeding is shaming those who can’t or didn’t (see the Olivia Wilde situation). I have read so much about it and I really do feel that, if given the right support, some women may have been able to feed for longer (if that’s what they wanted to do). When Jamie Oliver publicly said he wanted to improve breastfeeding rates he was slated – and while I appreciate his phrasing was a little off as he called it ‘easy’ and, yes, he’s a man so it’s another bloke telling women what to do with their bodies BUT I believe the sentiment was a positive one. There needs to be better support and education so that those who choose to breastfeed are fully equipped to do so and are helped with that journey for as long as necessary.
I think, as parents, we all do our best and work out what suits our family and for us that has meant me breastfeeding. There are lot of things I love about breastfeeding. The feeling when he was first born that I was able to give him everything he needs was a great boost and it was the perfect leverage for making B change all the nappies ‘I am taking care of the feeding so you can do all the bum changing!’ Sometimes he pulls off my boob just to look up at me and grin and it melts my heart. It cracks me up when he’s like a little truffle pig snuffling around for milk. I like the convenience of it; I don’t have to remember bottles or formula or worry about sterilisation. I like that it’s free! I don’t know how much he is having but I always know it will be enough and never too much. When he was really small he was piling weight on very quickly and I was panicked that he would be ‘overweight’; so I was delighted to hear from my health visitor that you can’t really overfeed a breastfed baby! I love how it always calms and soothes him when he is upset or tired.
If I’m being honest, though, I feel a little bad that I’ve had such an easy ride. I’ve read countless blog posts and spoken to some of my amazing mum friends about their struggles with breastfeeding and how they felt about it. I have seen the heartache it’s caused. But I didn’t experience any of that. It’s just luck but I feel guilty for being the recipient of that luck. I do feel very grateful, though, and I have loved being able to breastfeed TM.