This week is World Breastfeeding Week and I wanted to write about my breastfeeding story.
I always planned to breastfeed, but I told myself that I would just see how it went – I didn’t want to put too much pressure on myself in case there was some reason I couldn’t. It’s drilled into you that ‘breast is best’ when you’re having a baby, and while I understand that from a medical point of view, sometimes it isn’t always possible, and ultimately the most important thing is that your baby is healthy, fed and putting on weight.
I was lucky. Dougie needed absolutely no instruction, and within minutes of being born, he was feeding away. I remember his first night, we stayed in hospital and no-one told me what I was supposed to be doing, I didn’t know if I was feeding him properly, I didn’t know how often I was meant to feed him, I kind of just trusted my instinct and tried to feed him every time he cried. At the beginning it was incredibly painful, and considering how much my body hurt after giving birth, it was a struggle.
(Four hours old and we were left alone for the first time – apologies for the low quality photo, hospital lighting really isn’t flattering!)
It takes a couple of days for your body to start actually making milk, at the beginning you produce something called colostrum which is like thick yellow milk that is really high in nutrients and full of good antibodies for your baby, but this gradually changes into mature milk. When your milk ‘comes in’ it usually ties in with the baby blues, which are a very, very real thing. I’ve never felt so sad and anxious before. While recovering from giving birth, I was waking every two hours during the night to feed Dougie, each feed lasting 45 minutes or so, and in the evenings, Dougie was cluster feeding, which is normal, but it means he literally fed non-stop. I would just sit on the sofa swapping him from side to side for maybe 4 – 5 hours at a time, and I just felt so exhausted and drained – literally! I worried I wasn’t giving him enough milk, or that I should be doing better. It’s also very painful when your milk comes in, your boobs are like rock solid weights hanging off your chest – for future reference, cabbage leaves as compresses REALLY helps for some reason!
However, after 2-3 weeks, I was starting to feel almost human again. I had debated using formula to top up Dougie’s feeds before bedtime as I was worried he wasn’t getting enough from me, but he was gaining weight, and I’ll be honest, I didn’t know where to start with sterilising and everything else!
(Two days old)
I carried on breastfeeding exclusively. After the first few weeks, I stopped caring about where I fed Dougie, and I’ve luckily never had a bad experience, if anything, people have always been really positive. I was feeding him in a café one time while I had a cup of tea, and a lady leaned over and said: “Good for you, that’s lovely to see!” My thinking was if I’m having a drink, why shouldn’t he?! Some places have designated ‘feeding areas’ – John Lewis for example is handy, I personally didn’t mind where I was but it’s nice when you can find a quiet space!
I had planned to breastfeed until Dougie was six months old, but that milestone came and went and I was still breastfeeding. He started weaning onto solid foods, and so the amount of milk he needed from me dropped. Each time I dropped a feed, I’d have to deal with a couple of days of pain while my body adjusted to the amount of milk needed, as well as a delightful batch of hormones that made me especially weepy – I felt like I was losing a bit of our bond each time. For me, the bond is the main reason I’ve kept going for so long – and the fact that I know how much it soothes him.
The time for me to go back to work was rapidly approaching. I only go into office one day a week, but in order to keep up my supply and not be in ridiculous amounts of pain meant I would have to pump at work. This wasn’t always easy and I found it difficult and stressful, and so I chose to introduce formula during the day. I slowly switched the day feeds to formula from around the time he was eight months old, but I was still doing his morning and bedtime feed. It also meant that Sam could do more of the feeds and gave me a little more freedom.
We have some weddings and things coming up in the next few weeks which mean I’ll be away from Dougie overnight, and so I made the decision just last week to stop doing his morning feed. This means that I’m now just doing his bedtime feed, so will have to express when we’re away overnight, but I genuinely still enjoy doing that feed, it’s cosy and comforting – except when he gets overenthusiastic and decides to bite me. Moments like that, I want to just stop it altogether, and I know my supply has dropped so much that it’s really just a comfort thing, so I know my breastfeeding journey is nearly over. I feel really sad about it, but I’m happy I’ve done it for so long, even when I wanted to just give up, and he’s doing SO well, and I’m so proud of that.