Breastfeeding opened up a whole new world and made me a better person

As soon as I found out I was pregnant I knew I wanted to breastfeed. It was just a very strong feeling within in me – so much so I did all I could to learn about breastfeeding. My research proved invaluable, especially when it came to standing up for myself once my son was born and feeding became painful very early on.

Right from the outset, I knew I wanted to breastfeed

From the moment I got my first positive pregnancy test, I knew I’d be breastfeeding my baby. For me it wasn’t optional, it’s something I felt so strongly about and I was 100% committed to doing everything in my power to ensure my baby received my breastmilk.

I’m not sure where such a strong urge came from, no one in my family breastfed other than my Auntie, and I was only 21 at the time so it wasn’t like I had any friends with babies. It was just something that I absolutely needed to do. 

I did all I could to prepare myself

I spent my pregnancy researching and reading and finding out as much information as I could to give myself the best chance at a successful journey.

I found my best resource to be Facebook groups, and my mind was blown to learn about things like the risks of formula, top-up traps, donor milk and more. The thing I was most nervous about was struggling to latch my baby on or being in pain, and I just wanted to be as prepared as possible.

In April 2019 I went into labour with my first son at 38 weeks. Unfortunately, that labour ended in an emergency c section. I insisted on skin to skin as soon as he was born, and once we were in recovery I asked the midwife to help him latch on. I think that might be the proudest moment of my life and if I could bottle that feeling I would.

 I insisted on skin to skin as soon as he was born, and once we were in recovery I asked the midwife to help him latch on.

We got back to our private room and I spent hours with my partner, Matthew, doing skin to skin with our baby boy. As soon as I was in the room I set an alarm on my phone for 3 hours time. I felt lucky that I knew all about demand feeding thanks to my research, but I also knew that some newborns could be sleepy – so I planned to feed on demand but at least every 3 hours.

Every midwife told my the latch was perfect, but I was in agony

Once it was time for the second feed I latched him on and within a few minutes it was really quite painful. I knew that I needed to get an optimal latch to help my pain and to ensure he got enough milk so I buzzed the midwife into the room straight away to ask for help. She briefly looked at him and told me my latch looked perfect and my nipples just needed to toughen up. I continued buzzing midwives into the room at every single feed as I was in absolute agony. Every midwife told me my latch was perfect. 

24 hours on from my C Section and a midwife came in to discharge me. I told her I wasn’t leaving, I knew something wasn’t right with breastfeeding and I needed help to get it right. By this point, my nipples were bleeding and blistered and I was crying with every feed.

A midwife told me to just give him formula, just give him a dummy, there was no care for protecting my breastfeeding journey at all. I stayed in the hospital until day 3, and at this point, the midwives FINALLY decided to send the infant feeding specialist to see me. She weighed Finley and he’d already lost 10% of his birth weight. She gave me nipple shields, nipple cream, and told me I must give him top-ups. That was the extent of the breastfeeding support I received. 

Day 5 and he’d dropped 11% of his weight

We were sent home and my nipples were still on fire. Matthew went to rent me a breast pump from our local children’s centre and we both watched Dr Jack Newman’s video on cup feeding. I knew that I wasn’t willing to introduce a bottle as I was anxious about nipple confusion. The nipple shields I was given eased my pain a bit, but I could still tell he wasn’t latched properly. Day 5 came and his weight loss was at 11%. The midwife tried to call the paediatrician to see what the plan was, but I thank my lucky stars that they didn’t answer the phone.

The midwife doing the home visit actually knew something about breastfeeding though, which was amazing! She sat with me and my boyfriend for an hour helping me latch baby on and teaching Matthew how to help me latch him. She told Matthew to go and make me a cup of tea and get me something to eat, and she sat and talked to me and calmed me down. Within the hour we’d got him to latch without the shields and I was genuinely no longer in pain!! I was still sore from where my nipples were already damaged, but I could tell there was no longer that pinching, agonising grip against my nipple. And even better than that, we could hear him gulping milk! 

I fed him non-stop in an effort to get his weight up

The midwife arranged to come and weigh him again the next day, and if he hadn’t put any weight on he would have to be hospitalised. I sat all night on the sofa just feeding feeding feeding, I felt like I was hallucinating with tiredness but I just knew that I needed to feed him. I decided to not give him any top-ups at all and just keep him at the boob instead, hearing him swallowing had given me a newfound confidence that my body was doing what it was supposed to do, and my baby was getting milk.

The midwife arrived the next day and I was in exactly the same spot, wearing exactly the same clothes, that she’d left me in the day before. She told me she’d made sure to bring the exact same scales for accuracy. I felt sick with nerves as she weighed him – and he’d put on 200g!! 200g within 24 hours from boob milk alone! She looked so confused, she didn’t understand how it had happened. I was over the moon, I could’ve cried.

By day 10 he’d surpassed his birth weight, and ever since our breastfeeding journey has been pure bliss. Obviously the demands of being a young mum and looking after a cluster feeding newborn after major surgery wasn’t easy, but I was just so thankful to be doing it. I loved giving him that comfort and knowing how my milk helps him nutritionally and also how it provides him with that invaluable security and connection. 

Trying for baby no.2

After my son’s 1st birthday, we were ready for baby number 2. Obviously, by this point, I was obsessed with researching all things breastfeeding, so I knew there was a strong chance my milk could dry up in pregnancy and I felt nervous about this. I just hoped and prayed it wouldn’t happen to me.

I fell pregnant when my son was 16 months old, and by the time I was 12 weeks pregnant, my milk supply was completely gone. I felt devastated about this but was willing to keep dry nursing. My nipples were super sensitive so this was really quite painful and I felt such a strong aversion to breastfeeding.

I fell pregnant when my son was 16 months old

Some days I’d get an urge to push him off me, obviously, I never did this, but the urge to was overwhelming. Somehow I preserved through this and I started producing colostrum again at 26 weeks, which made feeding him slightly less painful. 

I wanted a home birth this time around

I decided to plan a home birth with baby number 2 as I was anxious about leaving my little boy, and by this point had learnt a huge amount about the birth world and how being in hospital can significantly increase risk of intervention. I had a really really hard time to get anyone to take me seriously, seeing as I was only 23 years old and as my birth would be a VBAC, but I remained strong and emailed the head of midwifery to demand support with my legal right to birth my baby at my home. Thankfully this worked, and by time I was 35 weeks pregnant my home birth was booked in and we were ready to go. 

In an unexpected turn of events, in May 2021 I went into labour at 36 weeks pregnant. I thought I was having contractions and popped into hospital to get checked seeing as I was preterm. I was told I was definitely not in labour and might just have a water infection, so I was sent home with antibiotics and the promise of feeling better in a few days time. We got home from the hospital and Matthew put our son to bed and came downstairs to check on me. I was laying on my side on my sofa and in quite a bit of discomfort but I still told him to go to bed. He got to the top of the stairs and at this point I was feeling really uncomfortable so I decided to kneel over the edge of the sofa. Straight away I could feel my body pushing and my baby moving down!!

I shouted to Matthew to call an ambulance, he later told me he thought I was being dramatic as I was so chilled out there was no way I could be in labour. The ambulance arrived and got me to the hospital quickly, and my second baby boy arrived in one of the maternity assessment rooms 16 minutes later. He was put on my chest for skin to skin straight away, and he latched with ease which was amazing. I felt totally invincible.

I was only allowed to breastfeed for 10 minutes per breast

Unfortunately, a couple of hours later he had to take a trip to NICU due to low blood sugars, which can apparently be a common complication for babies born before 37 weeks. I was devastated to know I’d be away from my oldest for a few days and I had no idea how he’d cope without me. Luckily he managed a lot better than we ever could’ve hoped. 

Once we were in NICU we were put on a ridiculous 3-hour feeding plan, I was only allowed to breastfeed my son for 10 minutes per breast and then he’d have to wait 3 hours for another feeding. I argued this and told them it was against NICE guidelines for breastfed babies with low blood sugars, and that he should be about to breastfeed as much as he wanted to. But unfortunately, none of the doctors cared.

Once we were in NICU we were put on a ridiculous 3-hour feeding plan, I was only allowed to breastfeed my son for 10 minutes per breast

breastfeeding made me a better person

One of the doctors also took it upon herself to tell me that I must stop breastfeeding my toddler as she knew of scenarios where the toddler had drunk all of the milk leaving the baby to starve. Yep! She genuinely said that! I was too tired to bother even trying to educate her. 

His blood sugar remained low for the next day, and I asked to feed him more regularly. But the doctors in NICU wouldn’t allow that. Instead, they forced me to pump and give him top-ups. Luckily we were moved to the transitional care ward after this, and at this point, I just kept breastfeeding in private and then telling the doctors that I was topping him up even though I wasn’t. Straight away his blood sugars shot up and stabilised and we were allowed to go home. He only lost 7% of his birth weight by day 5, which was really reassuring for me after my rocky start with my oldest I felt so proud that I’d followed my instincts to just feed my baby. 

I was glad to be home to begin our tandem feeding journey

Once home I was able to start my tandem feeding journey with my two babies. I really feel this allowed my biggest boy to be able to bond with his little brother and adjust to the huge life change. Now, at 5 months old and 2.5 years old and they are both happy, healthy and thriving. I feel so amazed and proud of my body knowing it’s grown these two gorgeous boys and continues to be the reason they’re growing and thriving every day. Before I fell pregnant with my first I was a self-conscious 21-year-old and I felt such a huge disconnect to my body, but now I couldn’t be prouder.

I’m so glad I took the plunge to breastfeed and managed to fight to breastfeed my two babies despite the shocking lack of support around me. It’s been the hardest but best thing I’ve ever done. Not only have I learnt so much about breastfeeding through support groups, but I’ve also been able to meet some amazing, empowering women. I’ve also been introduced to the world of gentle parenting, home births, cloth nappies and more. I’d never know anything about any of these things if I hadn’t committed myself to my first breastfeeding journey!

Not only have I learnt so much about breastfeeding through support groups, but I’ve also been able to meet some amazing, empowering women

Breastfeeding has changed me for the better

I’ve also been given the amazing opportunity to train with The Breastfeeding Network and I’m close to finishing the required work so that I can volunteer on the breastfeeding helpline. I feel like breastfeeding has truly been the making of me and it’s the most rewarding, empowering and magical thing I’ve ever done. Breastfeeding has taken more hard work, time and energy than I ever could’ve imagined. There have been times where the sleep deprivation has felt like torture and I easily could’ve given in and told someone to give them a bottle. But I’m so glad that I’ve taken this journey with my gorgeous boys, it’s really changed me as a person for the better.

My advice for anyone who’s wanting to breastfeed is that it’s ok to do everything in your power in order to feed your baby in the way you choose to! We so often hear “it’s ok to give a bottle” and “don’t put too much pressure on yourself to breastfeed”, and yes, whilst these things are true, it’s also ok to want breastfeeding support. It’s ok to ask for help, it’s ok to learn as much as you can, and it’s not selfish to expect everyone around you to support you. 

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