Breastfeeding is not easy!
Before I even got pregnant I knew I wanted to breastfeed. I didn’t really know much about it and I didn’t really see formula as an option, and if I’m honest I didn’t see why others wouldn’t breastfeed when “it’s so easy and convenient”. Or so I thought...
I was guilty of passing judgement before ever having been in the situation myself.
I did go on to breastfeed both of my boys, but it was far from “easy and convenient”. I struggled, I cried, my nipples cracked and bled, I used nipple shields and I even got blocked ducts at one point. My biggest challenge was both boys having 100% tongue tie and therefore their latch being shallow and not at all compatible with successful or easy breastfeeding. I dreaded every feed and I hated myself for feeling that way. I cried and so did my babies, who were struggling to get enough milk and feeding off my raging anxiety.
I preserved though because it was important to me to breastfeed.
I hate to look back on these difficult times and admit the thoughts and feelings I had about nursing, but I have to admit them so you can understand my journey, and so others who face the same challenges know they are not alone.
There are many things about pregnancy, birth and motherhood that we just don’t share for fear of being judged or having to admit our struggles. But when it comes to breastfeeding I think a lot of people can assume those who do breastfeed have an easy journey, when that is often not the case.
I started my breastfeeding journey at the hospital. My firstborn son refused to feed for a while. It wasn’t helped by the midwife who manhandled him and tried to force him to latch on when he wasn’t ready. I’ll never forget the way she handled my son and I felt unable to intervene because I didn’t know what should’ve been happening or if this was “normal” or not. But none the less he didn’t want to feed and he definitely didn’t want to be forced to feed. He was distraught and so was I. We’d had a fairly complicated birth and how quickly breastfeeding is established is often linked with the type of birth experience, so it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that he did not feed initially. Unfortunately I didn’t know this then, but they should have.
Eventually he did latch on, some hours after birth, and feeding got off to a great start. It felt weird to start with as my body got used to the breastfeeding process but he fed little and often and I was comfortable. My hormones raged and I was a hot sweaty mess (attractive I know) and rather than being thirsty every time he nursed like lost people are, I was always desperate for a wee every time we settled down for a feed. We got discharged from the hospital 3 days after birth happy that feeding was going well.
But within a week it all changed.....
Something clearly wasn’t right. I was in such horrendous pain every time he fed that made leaving the house difficult and emotional. I’d struggle to get him to latch without fully exposing myself to whoever we were with or I’d hide myself away so I could concentrate on feeding without distraction or feeling self-conscious. I’d find myself on Facebook support groups in the middle of the night or calling a 24 hour breastfeeding hotline desperate for help or for anything to make it easier. My baby needed comfort from me and I needed comfort from people, anyone, that could help me through each painful feed. We were both crying out for help!
I turned up at every breastfeeding drop in centre like a crazed, unwashed, hormonal zombie, desperate for either sleep or to nurse without pain, or both!! I often called my health visitor out of hours desperate for help and bless her heart she often came over of an evening or a weekend to tend to my cries of desperation. Although there was not much she could do, she was there and I felt less alone and somehow that helped me through that feed.
But I needed help!
I needed a light at the end of the tunnel!
After several specialists looking at the latch and giving me tips to improve it he was finally diagnosed with 100% tongue tie! The relief was immense. It wasn’t just me doing it wrong, there was an actual issue, just like I thought there had been. I was referred to the NHS tongue tie division team on a Thursday and on the Monday we went it to have his tongue tie corrected. By this point I’d put up with 5 weeks of breastfeeding hell!!
The correction was done and his latch instantly improved and we spent a week or two both learning how to re-latch him on now he had more control of his tongue movement. We had 11 months of breastfeeding heaven after so it was the best thing I ever did. I loved the closeness and bond that breastfeeding gave us. I loved that I could soothe his aches and pains through breastfeeding. And if I’m honest I loved that this was something only he and I could do - together. Nobody else could feed him but me. Once we had established breastfeeding properly, and without pain, it even made the sleepless nights easier. I loved the feeling of the world being quiet during a night feed, like it was just tow two of us.
But then just 3 months after we finished our breastfeeding journey I feel pregnant with my second son and soon started to dread experiencing the same issues all over again.
I wrote in my birth plan that I wanted my next sons tongue tie assessed before we even left the hospital. I was relieved after birth when I was told he had “an insignificant tongue tie” and it wouldn’t affect nursing. Thank god!
Of course nothing is EVER that straightforward!
Just a few days after birth I could see the same issues happening again. This time I refused to go through weeks of begging for help or suffering so much pain and called an independent lactation consultant to come to my house and at 5 days old we had my second sons tongue tie corrected; who by the way was also diagnosed with 100% tongue tie, so not quite the “insignificant” diagnosis we had received at birth.
He is now 20 months old and our breastfeeding journey hasn’t yet ended. I have just put him to bed having nursed him to sleep (frowned upon I know, but hey it works!)
Yes breastfeeding did eventually become easy and convenient with both boys but it took work, dedication, blood and tears (literally).
For me I was adamant that I wanted to breastfeed. It was important to me that I did. But now I’ve been through my journey I don’t judge people for using formula. I can see now how easily people can give up on breastfeeding or why people chose not to do it at all.
Everybody’s journey, aspirations, wants and needs are so different. What I care about now is that everyone has the support they need to feed in the way that they want or need to. That support is out there, but the hardest part is the fact you have to find the support, it’s not always obvious who you can turn to next or where you can go, and no matter what you chose to do you get judged!
We always get told how natural breastfeeding is and yes as a physical process breastfeeding is. But the journey you go on is hard. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done mentally, physically and emotionally - harder than birth itself. It takes time, patience, perseverance until you both learn how to do it.....should you decide to stick it out it is the most amazing thing you’ll ever do...and if you don’t that’s ok too! You have to do what’s right for you and your baby!
Ask for the support you need. In fact don’t just ask, bloody well demand it!!
All mums are amazing. Let’s face it we are just winging it every single day and trying our best. If you breastfeed I applaud you. If you formula feed I applaud you! If you combination feed I applaud you. It’s not flipping easy. None of it!!
What have your experiences with breastfeeding been?
To find out more about me and my journey click here.
If you do choose to breastfeed here are some support services you can access:
Association of Breastfeeding Mothers - https://abm.me.uk
Breastfeeding Network - https://www.breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk
La Leche League - https://www.laleche.org.uk
Breastfeeding Support & Information UK - https://www.facebook.com/groups/breastfeedinguk/?ref=share