I have younger brothers and sisters, and I remember my mum breastfeeding all of them – so I had always planned to do the same when I had my own child…
What had never occurred to me was that breastfeeding might not be something you just ‘know’ how to do. I thought that my baby would be born, I’d feed her and life would be peachy.
It didn’t turn out like that… Turns out there are lots of things about pregnancy and babies that the TV soaps and big screen movies just don’t show, and the truth about breastfeeding is pretty close to the top of that list.
My beautiful daughter was born 5 weeks premature. As a result, my milk wasn’t “in” because she wasn’t supposed to need it yet. That was a moot point any way, since she was also born with no suck or swallow response – something a lot of premature babies have.
The midwives fed her formula through a tube up her nose while I sat helplessly on my hospital bed and felt like I was failing as a mum already.
Nurses brought an electric breast pump to my bed, and told me that I should use it every three hours, even while there was no milk there, to get my body to understand there was a baby needing milk and react by producing.
And it was noisy.
And all around me the other mums were just feeding their babies, either with bottles or boobs. It was depressing.
Eventually my milk came in, and I managed to express some to give my daughter via her feeding tube, while the midwives supported me in trying to teach her how to breastfeed.
That’s right! Babies don’t come out just knowing how to do that – another thing nobody tells you!
I always thought it was just this wonderfully natural thing that mums and babies both know how to do; I thought there was something wrong with me because I didn’t know where to start.
Luckily, the Neonatal Intensive Care ward had more than one absolute gem on its staff. They visited us every three hours, day and night, to help my daughter and I learn how to breastfeed together. We tried different positions, pillows, and even at one point nipple shields.
Yes, nipple shields. Something I once thought were some weird invention made up by someone trying to cash in on new mothers – but actually, somehow, these were the things that saved the day for me – or rather, for my daughter.
She learned how to breastfeed with the help of a nipple shield. I still remember that first-time feeling of seeing my baby, milk-drunk and snoozing after her first proper feed from me. I still felt completely lost at sea, but at least my baby had a full belly. Success at last!
Eventually we did away with the nipple shields, but our breastfeeding journey was far from over.
I remember going through a long stage where every time my daughter latched on I would cry out in pain. At home, a midwife and then a health visitor helped me to find a better way to breastfeed – it involved several pillows, and I went through a tube of Lansinoh very quickly, but we persevered.
Then came the cluster feeding: for two days, she fed so often that I barely had time to go to the loo or grab a drink in between feeds.
It was another thing nobody had told me about, and the health visitor’s sage nod when I asked her about it was not much help; at times I felt like I was in it on my own!
But like so many things with parenting everyone’s experience is different. Once I resigned myself to just doing it, and let go of my ideas of how my new mummy day ‘should’ look, and my desire to go out and do things, it felt easier. I think many new mums put themselves under too much pressure. I certainly did.
Steadily, we both learned how to breastfeed and slowly but surely we got into a rhythm until it felt more natural.
I was so glad we’d stuck at it. No mixing formula; no sterilising; no forgetting bottles (I’m very forgetful and often went out without even a clean nappy about my person in the early days). I used a sling and eventually I even learned how to feed her while she was in the sling.
Suddenly felt like we were free and could go places and do things! I remember the day someone told me that breastfeeding in public places is protected by anti-discrimination laws; I saw that as an invitation to feed my baby whenever and wherever she felt hungry, without bothering to worry what other people thought.
One good thing that nobody tells you about breastfeeding is that – in the early days at least – it is a cast iron excuse to sit down and do nothing. If you’re feeding a tiny baby, you have to sit down for half an hour or more at a time. I treated myself to several box sets, and fully embraced this relaxed side of breastfeeding.
I breastfed my daughter until she was around 16 months old. By that point I was really only giving her one feed before work in the morning, and another before bed at night – I never got the hang of any of the breast pumps I tried so didn’t express milk for her to have at nursery.
She got a terrible cold at the same time as teething, and our usual routine of feeding to sleep was interrupted by rocking her to sleep in the pushchair while she watched an awful cartoon – the only thing that worked for over a week. After a week of no feeding, she didn’t ask for it again… and so we stopped much more easily than we had started.
I feel that breastfeeding – whilst difficult to get the hang of – really is worth trying. I believe that it helped my daughter and I to form a very strong bond that continues to this day.
Vicky is a freelance blogger and copywriter, as well as a single mother. Having had a nervous breakdown in 2010, she found herself in 2012 a single mother and survivor of an abusive relationship.
She set up SingleMotherAhoy.com as a place to air her views, order her thoughts and help others. Since then she has taken up writing full time, helping others to promote their businesses online. She does as little housework as possible, and eats a lot of ice cream.