The truth about breastfeeding

The truth about pregnancy

It was so much easier than I was expecting. After attending a breastfeeding workshop before my son was born, I was prepared for a long hard battle but the truth was, 10 minutes after he was born I put him to my breast and he latched on. (Yes, I do realise how lucky we were!).

Once it’s established, it’s quite difficult to give up. I always said I’d stop at 6 months but my son is now 7 months and I’m still breastfeeding as it so much more convenient.  I can’t find the motivation to go and make up a bottle when the alternative is to simply lift up my top.  My stingy side also comes out when I’m in Sainsbury’s about to pick up a can of formula, ‘Six pounds!?!? But breastmilk is free!’  Someone please give me a nudge if you see me feeding through the school gates…

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To be honest, I expected breastfeeding to be simple and straight-forward and for me it was, apart from some pain because of poor positioning from about 3 to 6 weeks.  I found it a lovely time of bonding with my babies and so easy to do.

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Apart from at the birth, I forgot to even try to breastfeed my baby in the hospital, until about nine hours after she was born and no midwife came and suggested it to me. Also, I had never heard of having to feed your newborn every hour, sometimes more frequently, which is what my daughter then required for the first couple of weeks. I heard it was going to be difficult and painful, which it was, but no-one talked specifically about what a sweaty wrestle each feed would be, trying to get comfortable with a mountain of cushions, how thirsty you will be, the flash of depression you get with the let-down reflex, and the soaked bed sheets and nightwear. I was also terrified of going out, not knowing when my daughter would want to feed, and not wanting to breastfeed in public. However, for me, these problems lasted only for the first three months, and then something clicked, and I completely and utterly loved it, and carried on until my daughter was fourteen months. I am now expecting another child, and will definitely be aiming to repeat this.

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While I appreciated the fact that there were midwives on hand in the hospital to help us out with breastfeeding, I didn’t realise that it would be a literally ‘hands-on’ experience! We were in hospital for five days (following a C-section) and we had difficulty establishing breastfeeding so, by the time we left, it felt like every midwife in North Hertfordshire had manhandled my breasts.

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I wanted to try breastfeeding my baby, having received great encouragement at one of the breastfeeding workshops. When I was told I’d have to have a Caesarean delivery at 38 weeks because the baby was in breech position, I was really concerned that I wouldn’t be able to because my body wouldn’t be “ready” to produce the necessary colostrum and milk.8

However, I needn’t have worried – after a quick and straight-forward operation, we were taken to the recovery room, I had some tea and toast, and then the midwife showed me how to hold the baby for feeding and helped her to latch on. It was amazing – my daughter seemed to know exactly what to do. I just sat there and let her carry on!! I couldn’t believe how strong her sucking was too!! She sucked away contentedly for about half an hour, she must have been really hungry.

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The first time I left my breastfed baby for an evening, I wasn’t prepared for how full my breasts would become and how uncomfortable. I ended up in the ladies’ toilet of a posh London restaurant, hand-expressing milk into the loo, just to get some relief!

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When I was pregnant both times, I had no milk leakage at all and I was worried that this meant I wasn’t producing milk. However, each time I fed successfully with no problems – the first time around for 2 years, and this time around for 4 months and counting….. I found feeding difficult and painful at first with both girls, though the pain didn’t last as long with my second, only a couple of weeks. It quickly became second nature and so easy, so I was very glad I persevered each time. Also, never rely on sleeping on a towel as a way of soaking up excess milk when you’re in bed – this is all very well until you lie on your back in your sleep and your boobs end up saturating your duvet instead!

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I had no problems with either of the girls, except some minor discomfort at the beginning with my first daughter. I wasn’t sure what to expect but both babies got the hang of latching on straight away, and to be honest, nothing could have been easier. The biggest surprise was how different Lola was to Lily – her feeds were always over within 10 minutes whereas Lily would stay as long as you let her. I worried at first that she couldn’t possibly be getting enough hindmilk, but her growth proved she was.

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At antenatal classes and after the birth the focus is on the mother producing enough milk for her baby.  No one warned me you could make too much!  It was squirting out everywhere! There’s nothing like waking up with rock-solid breasts!  It felt like someone had given me a concrete implant overnight!

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We went through a phase when baby was perhaps 3 months old of suddenly experiencing quite bad pain on let-down, it lasted maybe 30 seconds at the beginning of every feed and was very uncomfortable, fortunately after a couple of weeks it stopped. When baby was 4-5 months old, he would sleep through the night from 8.00 or 9.00pm, which was lovely, but I’d often wake up with very engorged leaky breasts any time between 3.00am and 7.00am which somewhat diminished the ‘baby sleeping through the night’ joy. Expressing milk is not fun especially at 4am and I sometimes resorted to waking him up to feed, which fortunately he never minded. This excess-milk-at-night problem has improved a lot with weaning.

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I was amazed at just how big my boobs would get!!!!

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I had problems with a poor milk supply and had to use an electric breast pump for several weeks to build up my supply. That is a weird experience! Not physically uncomfortable but I now have a certain empathy with cows in milking parlours!

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I breastfed my two children for quite a long time, ten months for the first (and we only stopped then because I was pregnant again and my milk dried up) and fifteen months for the second. I was surprised at the way people’s attitudes changed. Up to six months, everyone was very encouraging and made me feel like I was doing a great thing for my babies but the longer I breastfed, the more frequently I’d hear comments about giving up. Certainly after one year, there was definite disapproval from some quarters. My advice? Ignore everyone and breastfeed for as long as you and your baby want it.

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I was VERY shocked the first time I used a breast pump & discovered that milk doesn’t just come from one hole!!!

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I’ve had two children by C-sections and struggled each time with breastfeeding. I wanted both my children to be breastfed, but both have been mostly bottle fed.

My first born was nasal gastric tube fed in an incubator for the first 7 weeks, therefore, I couldn’t breastfeed and had to express. Those pictures you see in the adverts of women wearing expressing bras and attachments, expressing whilst playing with their baby, holding a conversation on the ‘phone and grinning like they’re in a Colgate advert are lying. In reality, I found it to be nothing remotely like this. I was plugged into the hospital machine, in a windowless room the size of a broom cupboard and smelling of drains, desperately trying to get more than a few drops. I’d be really pleased walking out with an inch worth in a bottle only to be disappointed by a nurse taking it from me with a face as if to say ‘is that it?’ The solution given to me by the hospital breastfeeding counsellor was to express at 5 am in the morning. 5 am!! Were they mad? I tried this a few times, but it tired me out as I was spending 8 am – 11 pm at the hospital, so needed all the sleep I could get. I expressed for 10 weeks before I conceded defeat.

With my son, I breastfed straight away, and although found it far more difficult than I’d read, I was determined to keep going. Two weeks after birth, I got an infection in my section wound that would re-occur for the next four weeks. I was put on strong antibiotics which I was told would be present in my breast milk [albeit safe for the baby]. However, the infection pain and the effect of the medicine forced me to give up.

The Health Visitor in each case was lovely and said that I should congratulate myself on getting that far, whereas my Mum said that it ‘was a shame that I’d given up’ – I was devastated by that comment. I’ve learnt a big lesson on what to say and what not to say to a woman who has tried but couldn’t continue.

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I was shocked at the start that every time I dried myself after a shower – I poured with milk!

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From speaking with my friends, I have found there to be many women who agree breastfeeding is best, but have for one reason or another not been able to. If you are unable to breastfeed, the social stigma can be crushing. I felt embarrassed for not being able to breastfeed and guilty at letting my children down. I felt I got little support and, in my opinion, those who feel strongly about breastfeeding are always critical of those who aren’t, regardless of the situation.

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What surprised me was how much easier it was the second time around. I knew how to attach my baby and didn’t suffer at all with painful nipples as I had with the first – practice makes perfect!

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I was surprised at how much more quickly my new daughter feeds compared to how my older daughter fed when she was a baby – 10-15mins and she’s done – with great weight gain!!

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I couldn’t believe how much my let down reflex hurt or how well my very small boobs fed my 8lb 12oz baby.

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I was also shocked at how much I had to re-learn as I thought it would all come naturally second time around. Instead, I had to call in the NCT breastfeeding counsellor on several occasions to get things established,

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The first time around I suffered from intense pain as a result of the engorgement, so I decided to pump out the excess (which, as I now know, was completely the wrong thing to do, as it just prolonged the cycle!). This time around I only suffered from a mildly painful 2 days of engorgement, as I resisted the urge to use a pump.

I’m also far more relaxed about feeding in public now. With my first daughter, I would make a great palaver of buying those special breastfeeding tops (which look awful), and did my best to disguise my boob when feeding her. This time around, I’m not bothering with those feeding tops (so I’m able to wear nice tops again!), and use a scarf or muslin to disguise my boob. Being calmer about the whole thing has really paid off, and I’m not so panicky about it anymore!

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I was quite shocked at how the midwives just got hold of my nipples and thrust them into Thomas’ mouth! But then after childbirth – I’d lost all dignity anyway!

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I was surprised at how easy it was to breastfeed in public. I was unsure how I would feel about it and after the first few weeks (when I was usually out with other breastfeeding mothers too), I was confident enough to do it anywhere! People would even come up to me and stroke my son, not realising I was feeding! A friend of my husband took a photo of me feeding my son on a park bench and was mortified when a few minutes later he discovered that I’d been feeding him!

I was also surprised that once I had perfected the technique, I could do it in the dark and Thomas just ‘knew’ what to do!

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I wasn’t prepared for how much I would enjoy it and how hard it was to eventually give up.

Do you have any breastfeeding/bottle-feeding home truths you’d like to share?

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Brigid Bassindale (2 Posts)