The following blog may be TRIGGERING **
Never judge a mother until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.
This isn’t a blog containing information that is either for or against breast, pumping or formula feeding. It’s a blog post where I wanted to share my experiences and most importantly where to find the support and help that’s often always needed as well as share a few stories that women have decided to share with me.
I have asked my close friends to share some tips on bottle feeding because they too felt there wasn’t any information for them. They learnt from asking friends, sisters and trial and error. Little to nothing was shared with them knowledge wise once they had their babies.
You will also read a story from a mother who exclusively expressed breast milk for 1 year. And a mother who suffered postnatal depression and switched to formula for her mental well-being.
I’ll start with my journeys first.
Daisy born 2017
When I first decided to breastfeed I was pregnant and when I shared my wishes I was met with comments such as, it’s hard, your nipples crack and bleed, you won’t be able to do it and make sure you buy a milk prep machine. And I thought holy shit! I was met with comments about how our breasts are sexual which I do agree with but not when I’m feeding my baby they aren’t and that you’d get saggy ‘tits’ and how they never did it because they didn’t want to feel like a cow. Because of the utter horror that I was shown when I made my decision, I started to research. I even found a breastfeeding group in my local town where you could go, I remember visiting when I was pregnant to suss the place out.
I’m either a slap dash kind of girl or an almost obsessively researching type! No in between so guess what I decided to do? I decided to research. I read stories of women’s triumphs and difficult stories of tongue tie. I asked the friends who had the bad opinions, which by the way, I never judged. I gained knowledge and for me it’s power and that’s why I decided to write this blog to support others.
So, baby arrived and I was tired, of course, I’d just had my first baby. I’d had pethidine which had made my baby a little tired and due to me having gestational diabetes I was asked to feed my baby almost straight away. With my second baby, 3 years later this wasn’t the case, I was given time. We and I say we as breastfeeding is a new skill for both baby and Mum, we couldn’t breastfeed and she was given a bottle of formula given to her by my Mother which I’ll forever cherish while I was laid on the bed bleeding after loosing a little too much blood, just being honest.
After this, I walked my baby, feeling incredibly proud back to the ward. Her blood sugar wasn’t ‘good enough’ (language professionals use is important) so I was asked to top up each breastfeed with 5ml of formula. I know now that I could have refused but I was happy with this and it was only for the day until her bloody sugar had risen. Formula assisted our first day of feeding and I’m grateful.
For the whole day I was going between having a great latch and not. I’d breastfeed well and then forget and it would hurt. I have to say as well, I do have large breasts and I found it hard because to be honest, my breast was considerably bigger than her head! I was allowed home the two days later where I continued to breastfeed on demand. I became obsessive and kept a diary, for the first few weeks it seemed I was feeding her on and off for hour hours upon hours, noting her every wee and every poo. I used to have to strip her naked, rub her back and make sure she fed and stopped falling asleep. This was entirely normal to feed often and I knew this but had I not I would have stopped as it was exhausting and hard work. Looking back my obsessive nature wasn’t healthy but I think it’s common for all new mothers to behave this way occasionally. Looking back it seems a little bizarre, it went on for months. I’ll share some notes here from her first week, my milk was in when I wrote these notes.
I remember having such a nice midwife visit me at home and offered, without me prompting, to come and weigh baby again for peace of mind. I feel like this helped because if I did have any concerns about if she was growing well enough or if I had enough milk then these were soon squashed.
From there on it was a constant battle but one thing I did was ask for help. Every single time a professional visited my home I’d ask them to check my latch, I’d ask Facebook groups and friends what was normal and what was not.
Breastfeeding hurt, I had cracked nipples which bled, I had milk leak from my breasts. I had engorged breasts which were swollen and painful if she slept too long. I had weeks and weeks of toe curling excruciating pain every time she latched. I would curl my toes and dig them into the ground and breath through the pain. I remember saying, oh shit she needs feeding now and the feeling of dread because it hurt and the the feeling of relief when the pain went away. I remember texting the one friend I knew who breastfed and asking her advice again and again. She reassured me and It kept me going.
I had the knowledge that breastfeeding shouldn’t be painful and there must be something incorrect with the way I was feeling. I learned new positions and really had to try hard to make sure she had a deep latch and wasn’t nipple sucking, from memory. This helped. I was shown time and time again and I was not for a second embarrassed to ask even if I felt I was failing or struggling. I know this is incredibly hard for some people though but please reach out.
I had in my head it takes 6 weeks to establish breastfeeding so I desperately tried to get to this point and I tell you what, by 5 weeks we had it cracked! We always fed on demand and there were times when baby wanted to up my supply so would feed feed feed but in my head I was thinking about supply and demand. Babies, briefly, breastfeed to make sure they have enough milk for the next day. This is why they often cluster feed a lot in the night too, all normal and it doesn’t last, they’re cleverly getting their supply in. They may also use your breast as a comfort but you can always take the baby off the breast if this isn’t what you want. I would often have to watch Daisys jaw to see if she was actually swallowing instead of doing tiny little sucks for comfort. I’d give her little ear a tickle to encourage her to feed and take her off once she fell asleep. Sometimes she would feed for comfort and I was completely happy for this to happen. I absolutely hate the phrase, she’s using you like a dummy, I never once felt like a dummy but to fit in, I would myself use this phrase. I’d say, I know she uses me as a dummy as kind of a defence mechanism so no one could hurt my feelings.
Daisy was quite a sicky baby and would often throw up after I had fed her. They say you can’t over feed a breastfed baby but I disagree. People would always tell me she was starving like my milk wasn’t enough, every time she would cry. Being a little shy, not like me, I’d feed her and then she’d puke! Daisy suffered with wind too and looking back I was terrible at winding!
I went back to work at 11 months, I worked 7 days a month 14 hour days but I could only manage to express about 4 oz which she wouldn’t drink anyway. Instead she waited for me and we’d have a lovely big feed before bedtime and she’d wake in the night for milk too.
I went on to exclusively breast feed Daisy for 13 months. She wasn’t clingy or grabbing my boobs or top in public. Having a ‘clingy’ baby has nothing to do with breastfeeding in my opinion. I think this is why we decided to breastfeed until 1 years old because it was so convenient, she was happy and I was happy. It really was never a ‘thing’. All my friends, by this point were bottle feeding but we were never any different and I hand on heart never had any bad experiences when I was out. I seriously used to think when people looked that they were giving me approval. I don’t know if they were but I felt so proud of our achievement. Writing it down sounds like it wasn’t tough but believe you me, it was hard for those first 5 weeks.
I gradually stopped feeding Daisy using the distraction technique. Each time she would go for some milk, I’d grab a toy. After 3 weeks or so she was fully off the breast during the day and then she never woke up in the night ever again! So she self weaned at the same time.
Once we stopped breastfeeding which was my choice, I did have a brief period where I was depressed. I didn’t really realise at first until I started telling my friends and my partner how I felt. I had no control over my emotions but I felt very down and very sad. It was uncontrollable and I didn’t know how to pull myself back but I did. That feeling lasted a few weeks and I guess it was hormones but it’s not spoken about.
Marlie age 6 months
Things were different with Marlie and we did have that dream moment when she was born. She was born at exactly midnight and once the midwife left the room I popped her on the breast and she latched. I could not believe it. It didn’t need to be taught to Marlie. It seemed to come naturally to her and I was very confident.
After a few days I did loose her latch slightly and it became shallow and she was nipple sucking so I was pretty sore. Luckily I knew what to do and how to get back on track and ever since then I can say it’s been a breeze.
Cluster feeding is always a bit tough. For the first 3 months she would feed for hours every evening. We also had a period where my let down which is when the milk is ‘ejected’ after the babies been sucking, would come out super fast and it would make Marlie gag and choke. She would pull off crying and annoyed coughing and spitting milk and my milk would be shooting out. I’d have to lay down to feed to help the milk come out slower or once my let down had begun I would then hand squeeze some into a muslin before putting her back on the breast.
Marlie, now 6 months is very much a feed when she’s hungry and she will stop when she’s had enough. She will almost get annoyed at the thought of the breast and pull away for a cuddle. She rarely stays on the breast to comfort herself. She prefers to be cuddled or her chest patted.
Weirdly I’ve never really winded Marlie although you should. But I would sit her up and 5 minutes later she would burp on her own. She’s always been this way. It surprises me because Daisy never burped, ever and I used to feel like I did something wrong but a health visitor once told me not all babies burp.
I do feed her every time she wakes in the night for comfort, I know she’s not hungry. She will feed for a few minutes and I’ll pop her back down semi awake. I am happy with this and to be honest even if she wakes 3 times a night, I’m awake for less than 5-10 mins each time so for me it’s easy.
I plan on feeding Marlie for 1 year like I did with Daisy and then switch her to cows milk.
My Breastfeeding Truths
Your body is clever and it remembers your babies routine. If Marlie skips night feeds I will wake up and my breasts will be engorged with milk. They will be sore, lumpy and leak milk. It can actually be quite painful and you wish your baby would wake up! My body will make the milk that she demanded the day before and it takes a few days to fit around babies new routine. But my body will remember and then stop producing it.
Your periods may return if baby stops breastfeeding at night. I learnt this recently. Marlie started sleeping through 12 hours for over a week and my period came back.
She’s started walking again now but I read an article about breastfeeding at night produces a certain hormone to stop periods.
Babies aren’t as poorly. So, I can only speak for myself but when I was feeding Daisy I was poorly on numerous occasions. I also had a very bad sickness bug, I was in absolute agony. I would wake up in the night breastfeed her and have to put her down and run to the toilet. The cramps and vomiting were absolutely horrendous. I fed through all of this, night sweats, S&D and she wasn’t poorly despite me giving it my partner. The bug spread amongst all my friends who I’d seen in the days prior. Daisy didn’t get her first cold or sickness until around 2 years old. So I truly believe it gave her a cracking immune system.
Breastfeeding doesn’t make your boobs saggy! I think you’ll find pregnancy can make your breasts droop slightly not breastfeeding.
You don't need to buy nursing clothes. I didn't purchase anything special.
You can’t just express milk! There’s been so many times people have said, “why don’t you just express”. It’s not simple like that, there’s lots more to expressing than you think. When I went back to work I tired to express and due to stress I couldn’t. Nothing would come out. I tried all sorts. But I did have milk, it wasn’t a reflection on my supply. I did have enough for my baby but I just couldn’t get it out.
Exclusively expressing is breastfeeding.
I am lucky enough to have a platform of almost 7,000 parents and a lady reached out with the above statement. Naively I hadn’t even considered mother’s who exclusively express breast milk to feed their baby. Over the last few months I’ve realised it’s very common and I have to say I’m blown away, I think it’s absolutely incredible and I was incredibly inspired by the stories I’ve been told.
One lady was happy to share some top tips for you all.
Pamela - Jane was too poorly to breastfeed so exclusively pumped breast milk for 12 months while being back at work full time when baby was 6 months old.
My tips would be:
1. If you can afford it, go hospital grade pump. Itll shave loads of time off and allow you go hands free to get other stuff done. I had no idea about the world of pumps so thought my single electric tommee tippee was all I needed. Man do I wish I got the good stuff but also, if you cant afford it, the basics do work!
2. Don't get obsessed with the numbers. Pump as often as baby feeds. Some sessions you might get 10ml, other times you might get 180ml. It all helps. It's all good stuff. If you have to top up, do it, if you create a freezer stash, great, enjoy it. Try not to become obsessed.
3. NEVER SKIP YOUR DURING THE NIGHT PUMP. This is your golden hour. Between 1am and 4am. If you can, get partner to do the night feed whilst you pump, 2 birds, 1 stone.
4. Find a pump that is battery operated as well. Out and about pumping is as normal and necessary as breastfeeding out and about.
5. Don't let anyone tell you you're wasting time doing it. My experience is that health visitors don't know an awful lot of expressing for main source of feed, they see it as a top up to natural feeding. And some will tell you that formula would be a better option and allow you more time to sleep or be with baby.
6. However you feed, know you're doing right for your baby. If you, like me, want to breastfeed and just cant, know there is another option before reaching for the formula. Give it a go, even if you can only manage one bottle a day. Every little bit helps.