I was 18 when I fell pregnant with my first baby. He was very much planned and I thought I knew everything there was to know about pregnancy and babies. It turns out, I really didn't. There was so much to learn and remember! One thing I was sure of though was that I wanted to breastfeed. I was nearly 10 when my mum had my sister. She breastfed her until she was past 2 and I remember thinking, even at that age, that I wanted to do that when I became a mum. Fast forward 8 years and I was still determined.
My first baby was delivered by emergency caesarean. I'd been induced and I was in active labour for 11 hours. After 30 minutes of pushing, they decided he wasn't coming and wheeled me off to theatre. Recovery from childbirth isn't easy but recovering from major abdominal surgery is even harder. I remember being horrified when they told my partner to go home that night. I was a first-time mum and I needed all the help I could get because I could barely move! I think this was the beginning of the end and I hadn't even started!
He didn't sleep very well in a hospital cot. By the second night, I was beyond exhausted. A midwife came in and offered to take him from me. I asked what would happen if he needed feeding and she gently suggested that formula would be given. I was that tired, I agreed. Before I went home, I was visited by an amazing breastfeeding counsellor called Penny. She showed me different positions to feed him in so I wasn't in pain with my section wound. I never saw her again.
Once home, he still didn't latch well. I couldn't get the position right on the right boob. The Perfect Prep machine, bottles and formula that we'd been told we'd need after having him were too enticing. I started combination feeding. I contacted my health visitor who put me in touch with a support worker from the La Leche League. She came out and saw me a couple of times, gave me nipple shields and went away again. They wouldn't come out once my baby was past 6 weeks so if I hadn't got the hang of it then, I wasn't going to. Feeling defeated and unsupported, I stopped giving him breast milk at nine weeks. He was fully formula fed at two months.
After this experience, when I fell pregnant with our second son, I was even more determined to make this time a success. I did so much research during my pregnancy and made sure I knew the kinds of support that were around me. I found my local breastfeeding support café and jotted down the numbers of the clinics and the support workers. Not one box of formula was bought and the Perfect Prep stayed locked away in the garage. We did buy one box of bottles but with the intention of me expressing and my partner feeding him. Formula feeding just wasn't in the equation this time, possibly because I feel some guilt over my first son.
Our second baby was 10 days early. I didn't see a breastfeeding support worker in hospital but the midwives were there if I needed them. I called on them a lot, to check his latch and to make sure he was managing to get the milk out. I left the hospital feeling confident I could do this.
For the first month, all I felt was pain. It felt like broken glass was being sucked through my nipples and I got awful stabbing pains in my boob. My midwife and health visitor both told me that was normal. I persevered, praying my nipples would toughen up and the pain would go. It didn't. I joined breastfeeding groups on Facebook, searching for an answer as to why I was still in so much pain. They suggested I made an appointment to see a doctor which I did. She examined me and said nothing was wrong and the pain would soon stop. Two days later, I was in tears with every feed. I knew this wasn't normal. I noticed a white film on his tongue before he latched on that evening and instantly knew what the problem was. Thrush.
I went to the pharmacy to get over the counter medication for us both. I explained the issue to the pharmacist and she gave me some cream and I went home, hoping this was the end. But when I got home, she'd given me oral medication which was fine for my baby's oral thrush but it wouldn't penetrate my skin deep enough to get rid of the nipple thrush. I remember sitting on the sofa, crying. All I wanted to do was breastfeed my son, why was it so difficult?
I gathered myself and went to my doctor's. I begged. I begged the receptionist to let me see a doctor. This was 5pm on a Friday evening. I knew that if I didn't get medication then, I wouldn't last the weekend. Luckily, they understood my pain. A doctor saw me and I got the correct medication. He even gave me two tubes so I wouldn't need to go through that again. I could have hugged him!
My son is now 11 months old and we're still breastfeeding. In one month, I'll get my golden boobies award. I'd like to say I had help and support through it but I didn't. I did it myself. As a young mum, I feel there is even less support accessible. I would love to train as a breastfeeding counsellor but I haven't got childcare at the moment. One day, I will. I want to be out there, helping to raise the UK's breastfeeding success rates. It's the most magical feeling and I'm so glad I get to experience it.