I can’t say I paid much attention to my boobs before pregnancy. Since there was not much to them I didn’t spend much time thinking about them; especially not about the purpose of them. Over the past year I have watched them change so much in their appearance: shape, size and colour (nipples…yep). I’ve had to learn new skills of boob management: how to deal with leaky boobs, hard boobs, sore boobs. Most importantly I learnt how to feed my child with them, we learnt how to work together, and I have grown to love my boobs for what they have achieved: giving my boy those chubby thighs. They have not only been there to feed my son but also to provide comfort for him. I love that he can get himself into a state of tears from the smallest thing but can always be soothed by being on my breast. I love that he naturally suckled his way to me and how he knew they were for him from the start. I love that they can make him so comforted that he falls asleep on me. Then of course there is the amazing way how my breasts first produced colostrum before the milk came in; providing all the nutrients my baby needed: proteins, fats, antibodies, and vitamins, changing accordingly to his requirements and with the amount produced on a supply and demand basis. I will forever be amazed at how my body adapted and changed for my baby and his needs and I’m proud to be a woman and having these super abilities!
Achieving ‘successful breastfeeding’ has now been added to my (very short) list of ‘greatest accomplishments’ but it did not start pretty. Here is a brief rundown on how my journey went:
- I was one of those silly, silly people that did zero research (on anything really!) beforehand and found out the hard way how difficult the whole thing can be. Although to be fair, nothing really could have prepared me too much…
- I don’t remember the first feed, all I know was he found his way and was not on my breast for very long. I don’t even remember which breast. I was too happy about being able to breathe properly again without heart burn! And that Oscar was safe and healthy of course!
- I actually hated breastfeeding for the longest time, and I remember how much I hated the pain but yet something inside me wanted to keep trying.
- I had bloody and ripped up nips on both sides as a result of Oscar’s bad latch after just one day (a lot of feeding takes place in one day though!) Every midwife who saw me was shocked that I had continued in such pain for so long before asking for any help. The thing was I had no idea I was doing it wrong until the blood and pus wouldn’t stop coming…
- I felt like I could never be healed because I had to feed Oscar every 2 hours. Each feed varied from 10 minutes to over an hour, leaving not a lot of recovery time. It was relentless. I felt I was in a horrible cycle of endless pain and I didn’t understand how all of this could have been done for thousands of years by gazillions of women before me!? How can something so natural feel so unnatural. It felt like a baby shark gnawing at me, or that I was being worked on in a vice.
- I was offered a heavy-duty double pump to use in hospital and gave expressed milk to Oscar using first a syringe and then a cup. I felt detached from him, although glad daddy could have a go at feeding him.
- When I did try to feed him, I used a shield for a while but no matter how much Lansinoh I used, it was still excruciating to the point I was trying not to scream with pain sometimes… ways to block out the pain was to dig my fingernails into my skin, and I had so many marks from that. I sometimes even screamed into a pillow with tears running down my face… let’s not forget the heavy cramping in those first few days too from the uterus contracting… all fun and games.
- A brilliant Breastfeeding Specialist informed us that Oscar was tongue-tied. I suddenly felt that it wasn’t all just me doing it all wrong. The tongue-tie along with his small mouth was not helping matters with our feeds. She helped push for Oscar to get his frenulum snipped while we were at the hospital. She told me that it was normally a long wait and that it would not be guaranteed because doctors do not generally agree that a tongue-tie can affect the latch of a baby and so could deny it if they wished. I know some people who went to pay for the procedure privately. I was lucky to be able to go ahead to have Oscar’s frenulum snipped before we left the hospital. I was so nervous about his first little ‘operation’ but he didn’t make a sound and it took one second. I do think it helped a lot but it definitely wasn’t plain sailing straight away.
- When I got back from the hospital, I just wanted to heal and so I pumped and gave expressed milk through a bottle. After day 10 I was getting worried about his weight (he dropped 9% that first week), and decided I would give formula until I felt confident to try again. I was lucky because that day a brilliant health visitor came by and gave me lots of positive encouragement and so I kept trying harder after that. I was only having Oscar on me for about 10 minutes total a day at that point (and that felt too much), but after that talk I tried every hour pretty much. I am still grateful today for the support she gave me as I may have given up otherwise. I ended up only giving formula a handful of times. He always slurped it too fast and would be sick everywhere.
- I also started watching YouTube videos of womens’ experiences, which really helped me to know it was not only me who was struggling. In fact I realised then it was such a common problem. I had no idea! I had never thought to search it before and I guess I just wanted to see real women talk about it because I didn’t really have anyone to talk to about it in real life, and for me it helped push me to persevere.
- It took a long time for me and baby to work well together. I suppose for the first month it felt like a chore, as in I knew I needed to do it but I didn’t like it one bit. Then I remember a change came after that where I felt relief when he was feeding, as he would help with my discomfort when I was engorged. It was then I realised how much we were actually in tune and working with each other. Then after about 3 months a day came where I realised my boobs were not hurting (goodbye nipple balm) and I no longer needed to wear nipple pads (it had become too sore to be in close contact with my bra). I had never felt so happy knowing that I had overcome the tough times and it was now so enjoyable.
- I remember I asked so many midwives how long a feed should last and I remember being quite upset that noone would tell me a ‘normal length of time’, but of course I know now that every baby is different. Each feed was anywhere between 15 minutes to an hour or hour and a half on each breast at the beginning. I had an app to clock up the hours. One day my highest ‘score’ was 9 hours of feeding in a day when Oscar was cluster feeding, needless to say I was exhausted and so hungry that day!
- Which reminds me, breastfeeding makes me SO SO hungry. They say it helps you to burn calories but I’m sure I ate double back… most of those calories in chocolate form.
- Being stress-free is key. I was pretty stressed out having my mum around who had good intentions of checking on me during my feeds but not realising I was in a lot of pain and needed to ‘focus’ on it. It sounds bizarre I had to concentrate on it so much, but I did. It hurt and you need to channel your pain somewhere, focusing on one feed at a time, and trying to muster up good and lovely thoughts to spur the oxytocin on in turn helping with your let down reflex. It took a lot of energy to not just dwell on the fact my baby was destroying my boobs.
- My first breastfeed outdoors was in the ‘safety’ of our car, as I wasn’t quite brave enough yet to be outside outside. I felt exhilarated… until I realised the car opposite facing us had a dash cam…!
- I became such a breastfeeding lover by the end of it (I say end, but I am still going 13 months on! EDIT: I ended up breastfeeding Oscar for 27 months, with 3 weeks ‘break’ before Felix came!), I was so happy to be chosen to take part in a video shoot for Medela, the world’s leading breast pump brand, when Oscar was 6 months old. I was so happy to have Oscar with me on our first photoshoot together! It was a lovely day of getting made up and pretending I was an actress in a gorgeous London house… some shots are below!
- Good luck to all the breastfeeding mummies out there. It’s not easy at the start but it really is worth all the rewards you get at the end.