I grew up watching the women around me breastfeed, mum, aunties and mum’s friends. I was fortunate to have seen breastfeeding and it was completely normal to me. I come from a culture where breastfeeding is the default way to feed your baby and breastfeeding up to two years or more was common. Yet when it came my time, I was still unprepared for some of the challenges I faced.
Islamically, it’s encouraged that mothers breastfeed their babies until two years of age
I grew up in a household where breastfeeding was seen as a child’s god-given right.
I grew up in a household where breastfeeding was seen as a child’s god-given right. Islamically, it’s encouraged that mothers breastfeed their babies until two years of age, it’s even mentioned specifically in the Quran.
“Mothers suckle their children for two whole years, if they wish to complete the term, and clothing and maintenance must be borne by the father in a fair manner. No one should be burdened with more than they can bear: no mother shall be made to suffer harm on account of her child, nor any father on account of his. The same duty is incumbent on the father’s heir. If, by mutual consent and consultation, the couple wish to wean [the child], they will not be blamed, nor will there be any blame if you wish to engage a wet nurse, provided you pay as agreed in a fair manner. Be mindful of God, knowing that He sees everything you do.” (2:233). Surat al baqara verse 233.
I wanted to learn as much as possible about breasfeeding
As soon as I got pregnant, I was keen to learn even more about breastfeeding. I wanted to give my child the best start in life, and I felt that breastfeeding was the least I could do for him.
I felt confident because I still remembered most of what I saw growing up such as feeding on demand and different feeding positions. I felt I had a somewhat realistic expectation of breastfeeding. However, despite my knowledge and awareness, I ended up facing a number of challenges that I truly wasn’t prepared for.
My baby’s birth started off in the birthing centre and ended in theatre. My son was facing my left, under fetal distress and the waters showing thick meconium. He was delivered via forceps and needed to be checked over, it was well over an hour before I could do skin to skin with my baby.
The birth left me exhausted and very weak
I was so exhausted, I had lost a lot of blood and felt very weak and couldn’t move due to the epidural. The midwife asked if I wanted to breastfeed, I said yes and she helped get him on me. She offered to show me how to extract my colostrum as my son wasn’t latching well. We managed to hand express and give my son a few drops and I tried to go to sleep.
The next day I tried again but he just wasn’t latching well and kept slipping off. I asked many nurses/midwifes to have a look and one nurse finally came to me in the evening and said that he could have a tongue tie. She also suggested my husband get me nipple shields as they would help with his latch. Fortunately, I already had some in my bag and sterilised too. We put them on and my son latched better.
He was getting sleepier and not feeding as much
I tried feeding my son every time he showed signs of rooting or looking for food, however I noticed he was getting sleepier and not feeding as much. The Midwife was concerned that he may be developing jaundice and that she would like to check him.
The results came back showing that he indeed had jaundice and would be put on phototherapy and a feeding schedule. As a new mum I was terrified and feeling extremely sad and anxious about my son having jaundice, even though my siblings had it before. I was feeling very down about staying longer in hospital and worried it would affect my son.
I was suggested to give my baby 50mls of milk every three hours and keep him under the lights for as long as I can. This meant I couldn’t cuddle him and do more skin to skin as I had wanted and I felt anxious taking him out of the lights to cuddle. This feeling was made worse as I overheard a midwife telling my fellow jaundice baby mum next door that she needed to keep her baby as long as possible under the lights.
Once my milk came in I started to pump
One night, my milk had come in and I had asked for a expressing milk and storing it in the fridge. On one occasion it was time to feed my son and I went to fetch my milk early to allow it to warm to room temperature but it was taking a while. I fed my son the milk semi-cold and he threw it up.
I instantly felt scared by this and guilty that I was delaying his treatment (it was suggested to me that feeding regularly flushed the jaundice out). For the next feed, I took my milk out again and it was still cold. I explained my situation to the midwife and she gave me formula. It was only much later when I was home that I learned that I could warm up the milk under a tap or in a warm cup of water. I really wished at that moment that the midwife explained this to me.
For the next feed, I took my milk out again and it was still cold. I explained my situation to the midwife and she gave me formula.
The following day, the obstetrician came to check my abdomen and how I was healing, she explained and suggested that I breastfeed more so that my uterus goes down a bit more. I remember feeling stupid and doubting myself and my abilities as a mother. Why was I not following my instincts?
Later on, a pediatrician came and checked my son’s bilirubin levels. She informed us that they were going down and I completely stopped the formula and fed him my own milk. I mixed bottle feeding and breastfeeding and started to get the hang of organising my milk and feeds.
Having given birth in the pandemic, visitors weren’t allowed, and I knew that having my mum around would have made things a lot easier and clearer in my mind. The midwives were rushed off their feet so I couldn’t blame them entirely.
I was exhaused and my anxiety was at an all-time high
The night I came home was awful, my anxiety was at an all-time high, the walk from the ward to the car was intense on my body. I got home and told my husband and my mum that I feel like something is wrong. I couldn’t even feed my son, I was that exhausted. I managed to get some rest while my mum held my son and then I tried to feed him again.
A few days later, due to my blood loss, I was still feeling very weak, and one night I just felt so tired I asked my mum to give my son some formula, my mum asked if I was sure as she knew I wanted to exclusively breastfeed my son. She gave him a few ounces and then a few hours later I tried to breastfeed him myself. He suddenly started vomiting and this kept going on after every breastfeeding session. We were so scared, I started to panic and called 111, they advised me to go to A&E. Somehow, by the time we saw a doctor, he stopped vomiting. I tried to feed him again in the waiting room and he seemed to be ok. The doctor said he could be intolerant of the formula but that he should be ok if he’s stopped vomiting. From that day on, he never had a drop of formula and he has been breastfeeding ever since.
Breastfeeding has been my biggest achievement
I kept using the nipple shields for about two weeks and then started weaning my son off them. He seemed to get better at latching without them so slowly stopped using them. I weaned him off them, by getting him to latch on with them first, then unlatching him after a few minutes and continuing the feed without them.
Along our journey, we have had ups and downs, one round of mastitis, and lots of painful biting. However, I’ve managed to stay strong because breastfeeding has really been the biggest achievement of my life and I love the bonding and connection I get from feeding my son.
We have been breastfeeding for 15 months and hope to continue as long as we want.
Breastfeeding has really been the biggest achievement of my life and I love the bonding and connection I get from feeding my son. We have been breastfeeding for 15 months and hope to continue as long as we want.
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