I'd always hoped to breastfeed, but I was open minded. I thought that if it didn't work, I'd happily switch to bottles.
But when my son Harry was born I struggled with latching him on. Whenever he was due a feed, I'd have to call for help and a midwife would come and latch him on for me. I wanted them to help me learn to do it myself, but they didn't have time.
At home, I don't think there was a single feed that didn't end with the two of us crying.
It was so hard - not at all how I'd envisaged the early days with my baby. When I told my health visitor that I was giving up, she suggested I try a lactation consultant and, because we were struggling and Harry was a bit jaundiced, she also suggested I hire an electric pump so I could express.
The lactation consultant brusquely advised me that every mother can breastfeed, it's just a matter of perseverance. She said she'd come back every morning and evening until Harry was feeding "properly".
After she left, I cried. I'd hoped for reassurance and perhaps encouragement, instead I felt judged and pressured. I decided enough was enough. I phoned and lied: there was no need for her to come back, Harry was suddenly feeding well by himself.
I felt so guilty. I'd been told over and over that breast milk would give Harry the best possible start, how could I even consider giving up? I already felt like I'd let him down by not being able to breastfeed, I didn't want to deprive him of the benefits of breast milk too. So I expressed. It meant that when Harry slept, I had to hook myself up to the "milking machine" and attempt to extract as much milk as I could before he woke again.
Before long, I found I was resenting Harry for drinking the milk I'd taken such pains to get for him. I would spend hours pumping it and he would drink it in minutes. I'd imagined breastfeeding to be a nurturing, bonding experience, but instead it was a constant battle that left me feeling exhausted, abused and irrationally angry at him. It had to stop. After more tears and more soul searching, I sent the pump back and switched to formula exclusively when Harry was six weeks old. Immediately, we were both much happier.
I'm certainly not alone in feeling the pressure. Susan Walters, 38, said, "After Ben was born I was in hospital for four days as he was an emergency c-section. I wanted to breastfeed but after 48 hours we were getting nowhere. At one point I was lying on my side sobbing when a midwife walked in and said 'well that's not going to help anyone is it' and walked out."
Michelle Cardozo, 28, also struggled with breastfeeding, but didn't want to give up: "Finally, in tears, I informed the midwife that I wouldn't be carrying on and instead of being sympathetic to my emotional state, she said, 'Well, if you don't want what's best for your baby...'."
While I was pregnant with my second son, Joe, now two, I vowed I wouldn't let myself be bullied again. I'd try to breastfeed, but if it didn't work, I would stop. No discussion, no argument. Joe latched on by himself and had a good feed within minutes of his birth and I was thrilled. I still had some problems - and the midwives still had no time to help me - but, unlike Harry, Joe was keen to feed.
Unfortunately, by the second day, his sucking felt like a needle drilling in and out of my nipple. My entire body was clenched with the pain. The hospital's breastfeeding consultant came to see me. She told me it was important that I was happy with the feeding too. And then she said almost all women find breastfeeding painful to begin with and I should "push through" the pain and wait for my nipples to "toughen up". Considering one of them had completely scabbed over, I would have thought they were tough enough.
After yet another excruciating feed, I told a nurse I was going to stop feeding once I'd left hospital. "You might as well stop now then," she snapped and I burst into tears. I'd been so determined that this time it would be different, but the guilt was overwhelming. Later, she apologised. "If it's making you so unhappy, you should just stop," she said, "but don't tell anyone I said so or I'll get the sack."
When I spoke to Janet Fyle, professional policy adviser to The Royal College of Midwives, she said: "All women, regardless of their circumstances, want what's best for their baby. So if the feeding method is causing consternation or impacting adversely on the mother's enjoyment of the baby, the midwife should support her in whatever she chooses to do. Even if her choice is in contravention of the medical advice."
Something, perhaps, more medical professionals need to remember.
What was your experience?
Did you feel pressurised to breast feed?
Could midwives give you time and attention?
Or did you have a happier experience?
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