Family · Mental health

Boobies are brilliant*

* Whether you use them to feed or not

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First feed in recovery ward

It’s national/world or something or other breast feeding week so I thought I’d write about my own experience with breastfeeding. I’m very much of the make the most informed and best choice for yourself camp. I’m proud that I was able to a) get breastfeeding established and b) keep going for just under 13 months when the odds were stacked against me.

I want to be able to say that I’m proud of my achievement without fear or shame – I find it odd that breastfeeding is one of the things that is immediately met with “oh you shouldn’t say that because others don’t” or variations on that theme. We wouldn’t do this to someone being proud of working really hard and achieving a 2:1 at university (which I did; although I definitely should’ve started working on my dissertations a lot earlier than I did – way too distracted by my boyfriend at the time and having fun!) or training and completing a half marathon (again I did; but I was utterly hopeless; never again!)

This boob v bottle and fed is best (which it is) online comment tiffs do nothing for our mental health which is why I’m very much of the take on board the information (and hard science facts about breastfeeding) and make the best decision for you camp. Then we can really own our decisions and feel confident that we made the decision that was right for us and not need to pile on with the “oh but I couldn’t so you shouldn’t be proud” comments. Besides, the formula industry has a vested interest in keeping the tiff going.

Breastfeeding was certainly not all rainbows, unicorns and sparkles for me and it certainly didn’t come naturally to me. I decided that I was going to try to breastfeed when I was pregnant with Alexandra. My Mum breastfed me and I knew that nutritionally and health wise that the evidence was there that it was “best”. However, if for any reason that I needed to either combination feed or bottle feed then so be it. If I had given it my all and it didn’t work out then that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

I’d read some parenting book when I was pregnant with Alexandra and there were 2 things that I could remember from it: one; that it was all for bed sharing – this really isn’t my bag and I was adamant that this was a road I just didn’t want to go down and two; that if you were going to breastfeed clear your diary and try for 6 weeks – that was the priority and everything else could wait. The 6 week thing really stuck in my mind and that was my first aim.

Obviously, breastfeeding Alexandra was not an option. I took the drugs to stop my milk coming in as I thought I had donated enough that week (being her heart valves and tissue) I couldn’t bring myself donate my milk as well.

Ophelia was a whole different ball game. She was fetched out at 38 weeks and after her checks were done she latched on and fed for 90 minutes! I thought I’d been given a break and off we were going; we got this down. Oh no no ma Cherie! Nope, she promptly stopped latching correctly, got jaundice and really started struggling. In total she 10.8% of her body weight and we were put on a feeding plan.

As she had jaundice she was under the sun bed for 2 ½ days and we were in hospital for 6 days. She was still slightly jaundiced when we were discharged. In Leeds, you’re not discharged until the staff feel fairly confident of your latch if you’re breastfeeding. I lost count of how many different people valiantly tried to support and help with latching. At one point it was suggested that my nipples were too big (oh the shame!) and due to Ophelia being technically 2 weeks early and due to the jaundice she was just finding everything really hard. Don’t forget I was trying to learn what to do as well and trying to sit up after C-section in itself was difficult! Add in the whole grief baggage and feelings of having the wrong baby it was basically a recipe for PND.

Once my milk had kicked in, I was a massive over supplier and had to pump (ended up filling up the fridge on the ward). I was warned that she might not go back on the boob because bottles are easier to latch onto but I needed to get my breastmilk into her somehow. We bought some readymade formula as a backup and we hired the hospital grade pump as we had no idea how we were going to feed this child.

The midwife who did the home visit basically put the fear of god into us that we weren’t feeding her enough and so we had to embark on feeding her, expressing and changing her nappy every 3 hours around the clock. I was ready to drop. I was kept under the care of the community midwife team for a lot longer than normal to give me extra support. I remember being sat in my midwife’s office with engorged boobs that were overflowing at my wits end with breastfeeding. I just wanted to walk out of everything; it was too hard.

I’ll admit it now but I did need Andrew to give me that extra push. We decided to give it 3 more weeks and if she still hadn’t got it we were canning it. One of the support workers spotted that Ophelia may have had a posterior tongue tie. We were referred to the LGI and the doctor there said it would be 50/50 if it would work. Ophelia had been getting the hang of left boob but not right and after her little snip she completely cracked it and we didn’t look back. Once Ophelia was back to birth weight we could feed on demand and away we went.

Once established, breastfeeding was the ultimate lazy Mum hack: I could never forget my boobs, I didn’t have to spend oodles of money on formula and didn’t have to spend ages sterilising bottles anymore. I got a mama smoosh scarf to help with my confidence at first and it was great for me.

I did have issues with my mental health and feeding (who wouldn’t with what we had been through?!) but the local breastfeeding counsellor was £40 an hour plus she had the same name as my first midwife so that was too much for me to handle.

Sometimes Andrew would join us for a cuddle when I was feeding and that helped with bonding for us both. Andrew also bonded by changing nappies, baths and reading stories. For us feeding wasn’t the only way to bond.

During my breastfeeding tenure I had 2 bouts of mastitis – one when pumping as my boobs hadn’t got the levels right and another when again when boobs were catching up with demand during weaning. Very painful; get the antibiotics and feed through!

In the end Ophelia dropped her feeds herself in the main. I went to a breastfeeding group when I wanted support regarding this and it didn’t go particularly well. My Health Visitor (the one who had given grief to my midwife about doing extra weigh ins in the early days) seemed horrified at how much O was dropping; erm she’s doing this and I’m following her lead actually! She suggested giving her a multi vitamin which I dutifully did although these days I forget!

I stopped the morning feed in preparation for returning to work and she didn’t even notice! I was quite prepared to carry on with the evening feed as part of our bedtime routine but it got the point where she just messing around biting and chewing which was not fun. She wasn’t feeding for food, thirst or comfort so we stopped and again she took it in her stride.

So at just under 13 months we stopped. I achieved my Golden Boobies badge and that was our experience. I’m glad I did it and I’m also extremely proud of my achievement when I really had to dig my heels in (with Andrew’s encouragement) because whenever I was struggling I was immediately given reassurance that giving her a bottle (formula) was ok. Well I knew that but I wanted/needed more support in the home. As mentioned above the cost was a restrictive factor me but I’d also had a C-section how on earth could I drive or lift a car seat in and out of a taxi?! And I also wanted the security and getting support at home with someone who knew about Alexandra not an endless revolving door of staff which meant explaining over and over again about our loss. All of that costs money and given the current climate extra funding doesn’t seem likely (despite the misleading headlines).

So that’s just my experience.

And I definitely should’ve taken more photos of me feeding!

Boobies are great; whether you use them to feed or not.

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Boobies so big that it was just too much effort to get my top back on! Sheets to the rescue!

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