I hadn't even fully comprehended the task of breastfeeding when I was pregnant. I was fairly young, the first of our group of friends to start a family and I had my fair share of anxious moments in pregnancy to deal with first from hideous morning (all day) sickness until I was 20 weeks pregnant then blood pressure that would shoot up and down, I measured far bigger than expected and had the beginnings of pre eclampsia. With baby's pulse weakening during monitoring, I was induced at two weeks overdue resulting in a 72 active labour and an emergency c section when baby's head got titled back and firmly stuck. Needless to say, breastfeeding was not on the top of my agenda other than assuming I would give it a go as my mum did with me. I went to the NCT breastfeeding course & foolishly assumed it would just come naturally so when my daughter was thrust onto me to feed as I was coming round post op, I just got on with it.
I thought it started well and baby was latched on correctly but I soon discovered that the latch was causing me pain and it was largely due to my lack of mobility from the c section. I couldn't sit up or lie down without the help of the electric hospital bed or get myself into a comfortable position for feeding. I wish the midwives had told me buzz them during that first night in order for them to pass me baby and put her back in her plastic crib after feeds. Instead I struggled, my head dropping off to sleep now and then whilst always clutching my precious wee bundle. The latch dragged and - though prepared with nipple cream - I had no idea I could slather it on between feeds without it poisoning baby at the next feed! Although I fed on demand whenever baby showed her hunger signs, my milk didn't come through properly for a couple of days. No wonder she cried but we persevered and soon enough my body responded to meet the demand and supply the right amount of milk. At 9bs 11oz, she was a big and hungry baby! Twice the size in fact of the twin babies opposite me on the ward!!
Fast forward to a few days later when I became more mobile and was discharged home. I was so pleased to be in my own bed and a cooler house (it was so hot and noisy in hospital!) but the latch still wasn't perfect and I was even less able to get comfortable, especially in bed. I couldn't lie down from sitting or sit up again unassisted without some considerable effort - and I needed to be up and down to feed baby through the night.
But I had a good midwife and because I was in such a mess with my tummy post op and also developed an infection in the incision, I was left assigned to her care for a couple of weeks and what a relief that was! She was brilliant.
As my daughter appeared to be feeding well and gaining weight, we knew she was getting milk but I was still experiencing pain and bleeding cracked nipples. The midwife helped me find a comfy position to sit in an armchair and watched me latch baby on - after watching, she advised I change the breastfeeding hold to a Rugby ball hold which would be better for my recovery and a managing a larger, heavier baby plus she noted that my nipples pointed slightly outwards so I needed to ensure baby's mouth was more to the side than in front.
She then addressed how I slept. Given my physical birth trauma and my utter exhaustion from such a long labour without sleep followed by more uncomfortable sleepless nights, the midwife decided that I should feed lying down. Now I wasn't comfortable with the idea of co sleeping so my husband would pass the baby to me and put her back in the crib after her feed. The midwife showed me how to lie down without the use of my stomach muscles (which were nonexistent and didn't feel like they were connected to my lower half anymore) and she showed me how to breastfeed lying down. What a revelation that was!! Sweet relief. Baby fed well, latch was good and I could relax, rest and recuperate.
Now the story doesn't end there. Like many mums I had bouts of thrush that needed medication and mastitis that needed antibiotics. I was engorged some days and pressing hot flannels and cool cabbages leaves to my breasts and others I felt like I had to feed non stop to build my supply back up. All of this is normal. None of it was so unpleasant that I considered stopping. But I experienced it all. And I fed my little girl right up until she was 14 months old when I had been aiming for 6 months - she refused a bottle but that's another story!! I don't regret a minute and once I relaxed into the role of being on demand for my daughter and having to sit still for 40 mins at a time to feed (possibly my hardest challenge given I'm so active), I enjoyed it more. I stopped worrying that I had to nurse her to sleep and took pleasure in the fact she slept in her own crib most of the night from 3 months old! As I overcame challenges and became more experienced, I took pleasure in feeding. Breastfeeding came to a natural conclusion and that suited us all.
Now with my second child, I knew what to expect and went into the process with my eyes open and a wealth of experience to face the challenges - an another child to tend to too. With my much smaller baby of 7lbs 13 oz, I found breastfeeding second time round much easier, especially as I had a VBAC. I still had an episiotomy infection, mastitis, thrush and engorgement and needed medication for some of it but I didn't carry the anxieties from first time round. My boy was a voracious feeder - every 1hour and a half for 20 mins day and night but with a 3 1/2 year old daughter to contend with, we just got on with it. I was far more mobile and physically capable so I would breastfeed anywhere - be it at the kitchen table spoon feeding my daughter breakfast or by the river where we played! I did still need help though but when I had any concerns, I would seek advice from my local online breastfeeding support group who were absolutely brilliant. Thankfully I didn't have to worry about tongue tie or reflux but I know of many who did.
So if you are entering motherhood for the first time, this story is not meant to scare you. My pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding story was one filled with many challenges that not everyone faces - I'm probably one of the minority in that respect. I hear of so many wonderful stories from a multitude of women describing a more relaxed, easygoing and pleasant experience! You never know what hand you'll be dealt but please take away this one message : breastfeeding support is out there for you to access and if you first don't get the right person or support you need, try again and try someone else. It's very rare that a mother can't breastfeed so if you're experiencing problems or need support emotionally or practically, find someone who can offer the right advice. Statistics show that without the right support, new mothers stop breastfeeding sooner than they hoped. Please don't fall into that category - use these links to find your local support network - whether that's online or over the phone, a local breastfeeding support group or one-one help.
Here are some links for breastfeeding support plus you'll find plenty more helpful breastfeeding guides on our blog.
And if you just want to concentrate on feeding baby, may I suggest you consider treating yourself to some nursingwear? They are such a no brainer to grab from the wardrobe in the morning, they look equally great paired with ripped jeans and converse or sandals with a pair of super comfy genie trousers or skirt! Even better, the breastfeeding sleepwear range is just lush and so so practical. I can't tell you how much easier they made my life! As they are so flattering to the mum tum (and any other weight gain) I felt confident and able to enjoy myself, letting the baby weight drop naturally. They're also super comfy and so easy to breastfeed in wherever & whenever! And don't you deserve it after all that work bringing new life into this world?!?!