When I was pregnant I wrote about my previous experience of breastfeeding and how it had left me terrified to try again. I had a huge response to that post with so many women telling me they felt the exact same way, which was in equal parts comforting (to know I’m not alone) and depressing (to realise so many of us had had such similar, difficult experiences).
I was always going to try again, yet I was determined to put less pressure on myself this time. Turns out that lack of pressure was exactly what we both needed to find our feet with this feeding malarky.
From pretty much the second he was born all this chunk wanted to do was have something in his mouth. First his hand, then, immediately after, my nipple.
Our first week was almost identical to my feeding journey with Ava. Latch was checked by the midwives and deemed perfect, then we got home and it for some reason totally stopped working. This in turn led to horrendously cracked nipples (one pretty much entirely in two) and a lot of crying in pain.
My milk came in super fast and I was leaking all over the shop 48 hours in. Again, as with Ava, my left boob worked like a charm, latch was easier and the milk flowed better. My right boob? My right boob is an arsehole. Latch was impossible, the nipple was basically hanging on by a thread and it was clogged, red, rock solid, and swiftly rushing towards mastitis.
Day five hit and I was sat in bed, sobbing in pain with every latch, starting to feel a bit feverish, dreading the next feed which always comes to soon and completely unable to understand how anybody can find breastfeeding an enjoyable experience. It was fucking awful to put it bluntly.
This is where my relaxation around feeding came in handy. I had been recommended a silicon hand pump to relieve the blocked ducts and so I gave him some expressed milk from a bottle. After seven days of feeding him just from the boob we gave him some bottles of formula.
I didn’t feel guilty. I didn’t beat myself up for giving him milk scientifically designed for his tiny stomach. I didn’t sit on the kitchen floor crying about it this time. I didn’t avoid telling the midwives. Because I know that my mental health is a damn site more important.
I took two days off feeding him from the boob. Giving him a combination of expressed milk and formula. My nipples healed, I got a bit more sleep, and I felt a whole lot better about everything. Then I reintroduced breastfeeding, he latched better (possibly because I wasn’t wincing away in pain every time), and it was (honestly) the completely opposite experience. I’m aware I’m lucky here, and that some babies can experience nipple confusion (the midwives repeatedly told me that after I explained how much it had helped).
Now I’ve found myself at the other side, and one of those people who actually enjoys breastfeeding, something I never thought possible. I’m pumping a couple of times a day, breastfeeding for what feels like 70% of my time, and giving him one or two bottles of formula. It works for us. We’re enjoying it and he’s gaining weight like a legend (11lbs for Christ sake!).
We’re still currently battling thrush, oral for him that he’s given me in. my. boobs! But compared to the pain of the first week it’s nothing! (Cream for me, gel for him, easy peasy).
I’m not sharing this as advice to follow, or to claim to be an expert. But simply to hopefully let some of the women who were in the same boat as me before to know that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and it doesn’t have to be hell again. Also to hopefully reach a few mamas in their first journey into motherhood and let them know that they’re not alone with struggling and hating it, and that they don’t have to beat themselves up.
You’re not failing. You’re actually in the majority.
I love the NHS and I completely understand why they push breastfeeding (because it is better for baby), but I think the way the educate pregnant women and new mothers really needs to change, because you just have to look at the statistics of women who breastfeed to see it isn’t working.
It’s all well and good taking a ‘breast is best’ stance, but for fuck sake be honest about how shit it can be. Let women know it hurts so when it does they don’t automatically assume they’re doing everything wrong. Let women know it’s ok to struggle, it’s ok to cry, it’s ok to supplement some feeds, and it’s ok to give up!
However you feed your baby, both of you being happy, both mentally and physically, is what’s important.
I’m chuffed to be mostly breastfeeding (predominantly because sterilising is a ballache) but I’m no better than anybody else. Those of you who shared my fear of breastfeeding…it doesn’t have to be terrifying!
(Oh! And fun fact, I sat and fed him both with the boob and with a bottle in Exeter services the other week, got an equal amount of dirty looks for both – we can’t fucking win!)
I will be discussing the difficulties of feeding with a big bust, because there are definitely a whole host of unique struggles involved.