Breastfeeding is a sensitive issue for new mums, both physically and emotionally. The text books and midwives stress that breast is best, but is it always? I talked to a number of mothers to find out what breastfeeding is really like, and the experiences were as varied as the babies themselves. So grab yourself a cup of tea and read on...
Philippa, mum of two, 4yrs and 1yr: "Get it all out and practice"
I breastfed both of mine (now 4 and 1). It was one of the things I was determined to do and was lucky that it all went smoothly – no pain, latched on well etc. I would have been gutted if it hadn't worked out and I know through friends and family it can be difficult even with determination. But if it doesn't work out the last thing you should feel is guilt.
I have to say I'm ashamed of breastfeeding not being the 'norm' in our culture, as it is in other European and African countries. I always felt happy to feed in public and never had any negative looks or comments. I think its better to get comfy with feeding in public as the little rooms the shops and cafés provide are not very friendly, and also I feel we need to make it a more 'normal' everyday thing to see.
You will get different advice as you do on everything to do with babies and everyone thinks their way is the best/right one. Some families will say "oh, you're feeding him again are you?" or "you're spoiling him", which is all rubbish. You really cannot overfeed a breastfed baby. It is your tool to use for comfort or just to shut them up if you need! You do it when and how you like.Generally, I find breastfed babies are slower to gain weight than those bottle-fed, and this can make you feel like you have a weedy baby. But don't worry, with hindsight you will see they turn out good and strong (especially if weaned with good food.)
My advice when getting started is just to get you and baby at home in a quiet room where you can get it all out and practice. You will learn together how to get comfy and get your technique right. I find midwives and health visitors like to tell/show you but they all have a different way, so best just to try and work it out for you and baby.
I did try to express a few times but found it difficult – lots of work for a tiny amount of milk. I was happy just to keep baby with me. I fed both until 1 year then both went straight to cows' milk out of a cup. I never used bottles at all. I've had friends who have expressed from early on and have had more freedom to go out for the day to leave Dad doing the feeding so it is worth a go, but do it from the start if you can.
The feeds just seem to drop naturally as they start weaning and by 9 months mine were just having a morning and bedtime feed. I know other friends that are still feeding in the day at 10 or 11 months – it doesn't matter.
One thing, though, is it generally seems that breast fed babies take longer to sleep through the night. Mine were 9 and 12 months. This can be a pain but then some bottle-fed babies are a nightmare at sleeping! I didn't mind too much as you know they will get it eventually. From about 10 or 11 months with my second, I stopped feeding if she woke in the night as she was just using it for comfort. You are in charge and can decide if you are going to offer it – this did seem to help her get the idea there was no point waking up.
Ruth, mum of one, 3 months: "It's been hell, worse than labour"
Oh my, don't get me started on this one. Breastfeeding for me has been hell – worse than labour – as it just goes on and on and dominates your waking life.
I know others have an easier ride with it, but I think most mums would say that they were surprised at how hard it is, how something so natural can be so tricky, painful and that even once you think you have it sorted it can go wrong again.
Although I went to the NCT breastfeeding workshop it did not prepare me for it at all. Breastfeeding supporters have a tendency to say that if it hurts you aren't doing it right, but I sincerely believe this is not true. I've had five midwives and four breastfeeding "experts" look at my positioning and latch, and though all have said that I'm doing it fine, it still hurts.
Most of the breastfeeding advisors I've come across lacked formal medical training and tended to suggest random reasons for the pain without thorough probing. This has led me to have a course of unnecessary drugs for thrush, although this doesn't seem to have been the problem.
Other friends have had similar problems and I think that for many women there is perhaps a bit of a misfit with their shape and the baby's mouth. It seems that as the baby grows this is not such a problem and the pain can reduce by about 8 weeks, so it's worth persevering.
In the beginning I couldn't breastfeed at all, ended up tube feeding for three days, then had about seven weeks of agony where I was told I had thrush, that Poppy had a domed mouth, that I had long nipples, small nipples, and that poppy needed to see a cranial osteopath.
As a result of the ongoing issues, Poppy was slow to regain her birth weight, my supply did not get properly established and I have had to top her up with formula for the last four weeks as I now don't have enough milk for her.
The irony of the whole thing is that in the NCT group it was suggested that a motivation for breastfeeding was saving money – £500 per year. However, I now have three breast pumps and 10 bras in different sizes, I've had a private consultant come to visit after too much contradictory advice from the NHS team (£150), I've bought ebooks over the web and herbs to increase supply, plus all the formula to top up her feeds anyway – well in excess of the £500.
My breastfeeding is driven by hormones rather than common sense – otherwise I would have given up weeks ago. Oh and it takes blooming ages. I spend about 7 hours a day breastfeeding and she is still hungry.
Suzanne, single mum of two, 5yrs and 11 months: "Not so easy on my own"
Breastfeeding was a dream first time around and a nightmare the second. It just goes to show that every baby is different.
With Joe I fed him exclusively until his first birthday and I really enjoyed it. He fed well from birth and as a first born had the luxury of having me all to himself for very long feeds day and night. I had no qualms about breastfeeding pretty much anywhere (Lewes is very mum-friendly). Breastfeeding is very tiring, so I found I had to keep eating and drinking to keep my energy levels up as the baby takes every ounce of goodness from you. But I liked the closeness that it brought and it seemed easy compared with the faff of sterilising bottles. Joe went straight onto cows' milk at 1yr old with no need for formula at all. My only problem was expressing with the breast pump, which I hated, and thankfully only used rarely.
Tom on the other hand started off being breastfed but was weaned onto formula at 5 months. I think this was largely due to my being on my own with two kids and not having anyone to look after me. I became unwell and developed several bouts of thrush on my breasts (ouch!) and then mastitis (double ouch!) and eventually lost my milk. I continued to feed throughout these excruciatingly painful infections, but in the end bit the bullet and gave up. Tom however thrived on formula (HIPP organic) and looking back at his growth charts it is now easy to see with hindsight that he hadn't been doing so well on the breast milk.
I think breastfeeding is the ideal but you need a lot of support and encouragement to persevere with it. And someone bringing you tea and cake while your baby is latched on doesn't go amiss!
Sarah, mum of triplets, 3 yrs: "Difficult to do three, but I managed some"
I wanted to breastfeed and didn't want it to be a given that, due to my having three babies in one hit, I wouldn't want to pursue this.
As the triplets were delivered at 34 weeks their sucking reflex had not kicked in and so were initially fed by tube. In addition to this the girls were taken to a different hospital for the first four days as there was not enough room in our SCBU for all three, therefore I was unable to start breastfeeding immediately, which I believe would have been best for all.
Although I received wonderful care and encouragement from our SCBU, the maternity ward was a complete shambles. Having requested a pump for a couple days, one was eventually wheeled round to me and dumped by my bed. When I asked for assistance as I had no idea how to use it (it was a large metal, electric machine, quite industrial looking and therefore quite intimidating), I was told that they didn't have time and I could work it out for myself! My lovely husband proceeded to purchase a handheld pump, which I found much easier to use and stopped me feeling like a diary cow.
I provided milk for my babies via the pump until they could suckle but only Dylan and Eve could manage it. Lola never mastered it and mostly nibbled and licked. I also found that the time involved in breastfeeding meant that all my attention went on that one baby and was mostly impractical when I was feeding alone, so it never became the main feeding method.
However, I continued to feed them my breast milk via a pump and bottle for about three months, along with special premature baby milk provided by the NHS, which was generously provided for six months. This meant that they all got some of my milk and that anyone could feed them, which really helped them and me. Because of it, they all got cuddles, I had help with feeding time, and later I could pass the midnight feed to my husband who works evenings and found it suited him perfectly – more preferable than morning feeds!
I would have liked to breastfeed solely, it felt the natural thing to do, and on those occasions when I could indulge in feeding just one, I was filled with such an amazing abundance of love and strong emotion, a complete connection, that it does sadden me I was unable to provide this to all of them. However, I know that I am so lucky that they were all healthy, and ate and slept well, that this was a small thing compared to the joy they give me.
Tammy, mum of one, 11 months: "It flowed completely naturally, with the right support"
This is one of those topics on which there is a ton of information, but it's such a personal experience that it's difficult to know what it's like or how to prepare for it until you start (a bit like childbirth!).
I would advise any mum-to-be who's keen to breastfeed to get in touch with a friendly local breastfeeding counsellor before the baby is born. I've heard so many sad stories about women giving up breastfeeding before they wanted to or being very confused, because they were unsupported or given bad and insensitive advice by midwives, health visitors and GPs. At the very least, keep a list of numbers for local breastfeeding counsellors nearby for immediately after the birth. Put it in your hospital bag if you are going to hospital.
I was lucky, I had an easy home birth and Jake latched on without needing any help from me and without any problems. Even so, it took me about six weeks to start feeling confident about breastfeeding (which is understandable as you are getting to know each other), and longer before I felt strong enough to breastfeed in public. I did make a couple of calls to a breastfeeding counsellor when I had some worries and also attended a fantastic, friendly and supportive breastfeeding group for a while, mainly to meet other breastfeeding mums as spending hours indoors breastfeeding can be a lonely experience.
I really enjoy breastfeeding, and intend to go on with it, theoretically until Jake is ready to stop, but hopefully that means he will be ready to stop by the time he is 18 months to 2-years-old. I had no idea when I was pregnant that my boobs would be able to adapt to only feeding mornings and evenings which is what I aim to do by the time I am back at work. Our breasts are amazing things really - and until you become a breastfeeding mum it's a shock to realise that's what they are there for!
Other tips – get lots of cushions, a comfy chair and practice lots of positions to make sure you're comfortable. One of the biggest shocks for me was how much time I spend breastfeeding, and being uncomfortable can take it's toll on your body. All babies are different, but for the first 6 months, I felt as if Jake was permanently attached to me.
You will no doubt get lots of conflicting advice about how to breastfeed, whether to allow your baby to fall asleep on the breast, how long to let your baby feed on each breast, etc. Whether you decide to listen to that advice depends on your parenting style and what feels right to you. Some people are very uncomfortable about the idea of a baby feeding for comfort as well as for food, but I'm not. I personally think it's a wonderful thing.
When I was pregnant I thought I'd be able to pump and give Jake my milk in a bottle so that I'd have more freedom. Ha! Jake wouldn't take a bottle and pumping was difficult – I got so little for so much effort so I gave up on that. And I have no regrets about it. I also let him nurse for as long as he wants and fall asleep on the boob. I have no regrets about that either. During the daytime, he sleeps on me after a feed. Instead of fighting it or thinking I ought to be doing better things with my time, I let him be and use that time to read or watch TV or just watch him and enjoy the silence.
It can feel like hard work at times, but it's an amazing experience and I feel very privileged and happy that I am still able to breastfeed.
If you want even more tips – here's a fantastic website: www.kellymom.com. Very informative, but also very reassuring especially if you've been upset by insensitive health visitors. It is an American site, but it's great.
And my favourite book on the topic (and I've read four): "So that's what they're for" by Janet Tamaro
It's an American book but her approach is great - informative as well as friendly, and very funny. The NCT and La Leche League books are a bit dry and textbook-like.
Finally, breastfeeding a baby with teeth is not the horror that it's made out to be! Jake doesn't bite and even when he is in pain and grimacing and wriggling through a feed, he does not bite. The teeth are a bit sharp when they first come out, so you will go through a few days of wincing, but it passes.
Sarah, mum of two, 4yrs and 1yr: "Don't feel guilty for giving up"
What can I say? Hated it, hated it hated it! Did it with both my two and lasted for about eight weeks with number one and 11 weeks with number two, at which point I gave up – what a relief!
With the first baby it just didn't work – he just wasn't any good at it and despite help from my fab midwife, it was a complete nightmare from start to finish. I had to use nipple shields just to be able to bear the pain and developed mastitis at one point.
I attended a breastfeeding clinic in an attempt to be a so-called 'good' mother and was really battered by them verbally in terms of having to keep going when all I wanted was for someone to say, "It's okay, you can give up you know and don't feel guilty". But no. The Breastfeeding Police were always there at every turn making you feel bad if you even thought about switching to bottles.
I cried with relief when I did give up, and felt like my old self again. Most importantly I felt closer to my baby as he was no longer this 'source' of pain eight times a day.
It wasn't half as bad with my second as he was a natural straight away. However, it still really hurt every time I did it and I felt a lot less guilty (and pressured as I stopped asking for advice or help this time) when I did give it up.
The final point is that I hated breastfeeding in public. I have big boobs and I don't care what anyone says, it is impossible to do it discreetly away from home. Therefore breastfeeding restricted me from where and when I went out because I couldn't face doing it in front of anyone.
Please do share your experience of breastfeeding in our comments section. We'd love to hear from you too.
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