This week (19th June to 26th June) is breast feeding awareness week and all across the country proud mothers are taking to the streets, the shopping centers, the parks, and showing that breast feeding is natural, it’s normal, it’s nothing to be scared of, or embarrassed about, and it’s proven to be the best start for our babies.
Everyone who’s had a baby and given breastfeeding a go has a breastfeeding story – well this is mine.
I come from a pretty liberal family so grew up with quite an open attitude towards my body. However, the changes it went through when I was pregnant sort of freaked me out. I struggled to look at myself in the mirror, or rather my growing belly, and where my breasts aren’t exactly small, I was quite embarrassed at how large they grew over 9 months. I loved the feel of my baby inside me, moving around, I just felt a little weird about my body becoming something else, having a different, very visible, purpose. Even though I assumed I would always breast feed my babies (I remember as a young child trying to breast feed my dolls after my mother had my little brother), I couldn’t think about the reality of it. My boobs were my boobs, and I couldn’t imagine them in the mouth of a little baby. Thankfully, the beauty of pregnancy hormones is they sort of stop you from thinking about the reality of childbirth and after, too much, so managed to bury my head on the whole breast feeding thing.
And then, after a 48 hour labour and an emergency C-section, out came my beautiful, if rather large, little girl, and it was the most natural thing to do to place her on my breast. I didn’t even think about it, I just did it, with my whole family standing round. I think about it now and actually, if I hadn’t been rather high on whatever it is they give you for the surgery, I may have felt a little awkward in front of my dad and brother particularly – just that first time, when I didn’t really know what I was doing.
Anyway, with a big baby comes a very hungry baby, and my little one had a huge appetite and a very strong suck. Within 24 hours my nipples were agony. Various midwives had checked my technique and her latch and all was good, but my god it hurt. By the time I was home every time she latched on my toes curled in on themselves and tears came to my eyes. Everyone said “when your milk comes in properly it will be better” – well by the time my milk came in my nipples where bleeding and I was crying every time I fed. Everyone I spoke to, midwives, helplines, or read, said – if it hurts they’re not latched on properly. But the latch was fine. Then a wonderful midwife came by, about a week in, told me to get an expressing machine and give my boobs a 24 hour rest, gave me some amazing cream (Lansinoh nipple cream) and said it was all to do with my babies suck, it was so strong she was taking my nipple to the rough part of her pallet right at the back causing terrible chaffing. Expressing did help (although still painful but much less than the actual breast feeding) and with the words of my ante-natal teacher in my head (”give it two weeks and you’ll see, it will be fine”), I broke through to day 15 and there was no pain, no chaffing, no blood, just sheer joy every-time I settled down for a feed with my gorgeous girl. And I never looked back. She was a very greedy baby so I got her into a 3 hour routine pretty quickly, and at around 4 months I did give her a bottle of formula in the evenings to help the sleep problems but I didn’t feel guilty about it or anything – why would I?
Guilt; that’s such an awful word and should be banned from the heads of any mother. I was lucky in the sense I had plenty of really rich, good milk to give, some mothers don’t have that and they shouldn’t be made to feel guilty because they give up and move to bottle feeding. There’s nothing wrong with bottle feeding if it’s what works for you and your life and family then fine. I can understand why the thought of breast feeding might make people feel weird. I can understand the embarrassment over breast feeding in public – some people react in such a prudish, anal way to breast feeding mothers and we should ignore them but it’s hard to, especially if you’re not very comfortable exposing yourself. I just wish more women who can, give it a try. Not write it off before the baby is even born, just try it once or twice and then make their decision. And for those who are struggling with pain, try the expressing, nipple cream routine and get those 2 weeks out of the way. It gets so much better and once established it so easy, and so satisfying. I miss the breast feeding days when they finish. I couldn’t wait to breast feed my second child and had no problems at all the second time around. And if I have a third I will look forward to those peaceful, blissful moments, that only women who have breastfed will understand.