There are plenty of things I wish I had known about having a baby, before I actually had one (like how the little flaps at the top of vests are to widen the neck hole so that it can slide over the body whenever poonamis strike!).
But, without a shadow of a doubt, the thing I feel I wish I had know much more about and felt more prepared for is breastfeeding!
As first time parents, we read all the books, attended (most of) the NCT antenatal classes, I was obsessed with reading about what was happening each week- how big Emily should be and how she should be developing, we sat down and carefully wrote our birthplan (which I may as well have thrown out the window), carefully packed everything we could possibly need into the hospital bag(s), decorated the nursery perfectly, read everything I possibly could about birth and genuinely thought I was really prepared!
Throughout my pregnancy there was no doubt in my mind that I would breastfeed my baby! And why wouldn’t I? I’d heard throughout pregnancy how it was the most natural thing in the world, I’d been shown videos in classes I’d attended and told stories of babies that after they were placed on their mothers just wriggled around and crawled up their mothers chest until they found food and just fed on their own! Easy right!?
I had been informed by my midwife whilst I was pregnant about breastfeeding classes at the hospital. But they clashed with work, and although I was interested, I didn’t really understand why I had to take time off work to learn about something that was so easy and natural! So I didn’t.
So along came Emily in Jan 2015, exactly 4 weeks earlier than her due date. We were made up. They placed her on my chest and I was so happy! No-one can prepare you for that moment, and it’s not one I will ever forget. It was shortly after that the midwife suggested I give Emily her first feed. And I literally had no idea what I was doing! Whilst it felt natural for me to want to feed her, I didn’t instinctively know what to do. Obviously I knew where to put her but what then? She didn’t seem interested in the slightest and whilst a midwife or two moved her around to try and get her to feed it was very short lived and instead we were given a bottle of formula. I’m not against formula at all (and this certainly isn’t written to spark any debate!), but in my head, I was going to breastfeed and I felt that things should have been happening differently.
When she woke in the night, I wanted to feed her but had no confidence that I would be able to. I called the midwifes each time and I tried to breastfeed. The fact of the matter though was that Emily was 4 weeks early and was not at all interested in feeding for the first day or two- whether it was from me, a bottle or a cup! For the next 24 hours, I expressed what I could and midwives would come in every 3 hours to wake Emily up and cup feed her tiny amounts of my milk!
On the evening of day 2 I met with the lactation consultant. I’m sure if you’re in Shrewsbury and have older children you would remember Linda. She was awesome! I felt like we had a chance, and we had a few successful feeds over the next week whilst Linda was supporting me. But it wasn’t plain sailing and it was a case of trying and trying and trying. Emily was struggling to latch. We tried nipple shields, expressing first, every position going and still things weren’t going how I had been so convinced that they would. The night feeds gave us more time to try and master feeding, but as the days went on, Emily was losing weight and it became more and more important that we knew how much she was having. We made a note of every feed (a bit obsessively in hindsight) and I felt more comfortable giving her a bottle for this reason. We moved wards as I wanted more help with feeding and whilst I was having some help things just weren’t happening for us and after about 5 days I had decided that bottle feeding expressed milk was the best thing for both of us.
It was hard! I beat myself up about it massively and this wasn’t healthy for either of us. My health visitor was adamant that I should keep trying but I was finding it too stressful and Emily was still having my milk afterall, which is what I had wanted. My supply was plenty and expressing was doing to job just fine. Emily had expressed milk for 3 months before I couldn’t maintain it anymore. Getting up in the middle of the night was getting more and more difficult. Emily was sleeping through but I needed to keep expressing for comfort and to keep up my supply. I also had mastitis more times than I care to remember which left me unable to do anything, with awful fevers and the most incredible pain! The final straw was when mastitis left me lying on the sofa, freezing cold but sweating buckets, unable to even pick up my daughter because I felt so ill. I literally went cold turkey with the expressing and just rode it out until things calmed down.
Would things have been different if I had been to the classes? Maybe. I may have persevered a bit longer if I had had more confidence in what I was doing, but things worked out just fine for us in the end. All I wish is that I had been made aware of the problems that you may face when trying to breastfeed, that sometimes it’s not as easy as it is made out to be.
Obviously this is just my experience. I speak to so many new mums, some who find the whole thing incredibly easy and straight forward for both them and baby. And others who have struggled or are struggling but making progress. Every baby is completely different and there are so many uncontrollable factors that I believe contribute to the whole experience.
And I have perfect examples of that! My second baby, Edward was due in April 2017. This time around I went to the classes, read up about breastfeeding and made sure I knew exactly what I should be doing. But I always had in my mind that it might not happen, Edward may be early and the story may play out exactly the same way as it had first time around. This time I promised myself that I was not going to put pressure on myself! What will be will be!
Edward was 1 week early and born in March 2017. He was placed on my chest and started looking for food almost immediately! I fed him straight away first time, no problems at all. I was confident with how to hold Edward, how to encourage a good latch, how to spot a good latch, what signs to look for to make sure he was feeding well and I couldn’t believe how easy it was in different circumstances. And then I fed him for what felt like another 100 times that night and the next day because he wouldn’t stop eating for the first 36 hours! It was exactly how I thought it would be the first time! Of course, it helped that Edward was born term, that he was clearly thriving from breastmilk and hardly lost any weight. He was well past his birth weight at 7 days! The staff at the MLU in shrewsbury were also amazing (again), and, despite me asking approx. 1 million times if he was latched on ok, they checked, supported and helped me hugely. They allowed me to stay in hospital for an additional night to keep receiving the support and they really couldn’t do enough.
For the first week my nipples hurt (a lot!!) and my toes curled each time Edward wanted to feed. It wasn’t easy, but I felt prepared for that second time around! It’s also pretty incredible and I wouldn’t have traded the time I spent feeding Edward for anything. I fed him until he was 1 year old which seemed to be a natural stopping point for both of us. It helped us bond when times were pretty crazy and I also had a 2 year old running around. It was also so much easier in the middle of the night when I could just reach over and get him out of his crib without having to even get out of bed myself!
The main difference I truly believe, between my two experiences, is confidence in myself that I knew what I was doing. With Emily I felt like, because it didn’t just happen on it’s own, I couldn’t do it. It sounds so stupid but I genuinely didn’t realise there would be so much to learn for both me and my baby about breastfeeding! I was so prepared with Edward. I had researched so much and a lot of what I had been taught when I was trying to feed Emily helped me hugely. When it came to feeding Edward I knew what to do straight away which filled me with confidence and made the whole thing so much easier!
I guess the point of my writing this (other than to get it all off my chest) is to help new mums. Looking after your own baby is a huge job, especially with your first and I really do believe that, however you choose to do things, mummies everywhere do an incredible job! I know if I had known about all the support that is out there then things may have been easier with Emily, and if I had needed them with Edward or in the future, it’s nice to know that there are groups around to support you through your breastfeeding journey.
I’m sure there are more, but from searching the internet and social media groups I have listed a number of support networks, meet ups and people that can help you if you need some extra support or just a good chat with new mums in the same position:
In Shropshire, BURPS (Breastfeeding Understanding and Reassurance Project) in Shrewsbury runs two walk-in clinics, one at the Meole Brace Children’s Centre Area Base, Meole Primary School, on Tuesdays from 9:30 to 10:35 and one at Honeysuckle Lodge, Martin Wilson School, New Park Road, Castlefields, Shrewsbury on Thursdays from 10:30 to 12:00.
Useful videos and information for those thinking about breastfeeding their baby:
Breastfeeding Oswestry facebook group:
And then Oswestry breastfeeding group- meet ups are arranged here:
Shrewsbury breastfeeding support group (I have used this page a few times and it’s full of wonderful information and some very helpful mummies):
Information for the NCT Breastfeeding support counsellor in Shrewsbury:
Information about the Baby Buddy App which offers support from Bump to Baby
Information about the hospital run breastfeeding workshops in Shrewsbury and Telford:
When Victoria isn’t running around after her children, she is a newborn photographer based in Shrewsbury. Find out more about a newborn photoshoot here.