The great breastfeeding debate

First breastfeeding picture. A few hours old
Bottle fed expressed milk. I didn’t get on expressing so was a rare occasion but enough to go out for a few hours
On the moors. The dog suddenly became a guard dog. Usually placid, he barked at anything that can within 100m.
My favourite boobyfeed pic. At 11 months she scratched her eye, so off to the Children’s ED we went. She naturally wouldn’t settle so they could examine her eye. Sling, boob, sorted. She’s covered in flurosceine here.

I couldn’t let World Breastfeeding week go by without at least thinking of my journey. Most things I see written are fervently for or against it, or seemingly ambiguous. I’m the latter. I’m not a breastfeeding warrior, but I breastfed my baby at least in part until a year old and would still be now if I could.

I started out always knowing I’d breastfeed. I naively thought that I would be fine, people either chose to or not. So unaware was I to those who had problems. I didn’t do a lot of research, and crucially I didn’t go to antenatal classes. It just didn’t enter my head I, or anyone would find it difficult. Oh I know so much more now. So so much more, through friends struggles and crucially my own.

I can’t remember when I exactly first fed, it was some time between being stitched up and sent back upstairs to the labour/delivery ward. Probably about an hour after she was born then. It was fleeting, I don’t remember much about it. I remember feeling awkward buzzing and asking for help to feed her then being told off for changing her nappy wrongly, and feeling uncomfortable asking for more help. I remember managing enough that she could come home, I spent less than 20 hours in hospital after having her and in hindsight should probably have stayed longer, another night. I remember getting going and getting help from the midwife assistant I met. I remember the pain, the cracked, bleeding nipples, the uterine contractions that made my toes curl. The hours spent sat on the sofa, unable to move. One particular night, five days in when husband had been given permission to go out for a couple, wet the baby’s head was particularly awful. Off he went about 4pm. By 8pm I text him crying, it hurt, I hadn’t eaten and was starving, she was having a growth spurt and just constantly feeding with enough time in between to mean it hurt again the next time. Could he come home and get me a pizza on the way home. Two and a half hours later, after she’d eventually gone to sleep he arrived, very tipsy and carrying a lukewarm pizza. He was in the dog house then. I remember the next few weeks crying through it, but determined now I was going to continue to breastfeed. Formula just didn’t interest me. I didn’t have an in case box in the house, I hadn’t looked into it, I had bottles and a steriliser because the baby magazines said you should but looking back I don’t know why I bought them then. I just thought, felt conditioned that I needed them.

After about four weeks it got easier. My nipples healed (I love lanolin) and latching felt so much more natural. By six weeks it was easy but I never had the euphoria others talked of. It was a chore to me but one I didn’t mind doing. I watched the whole series of Grey’s Anatomy and read a few books and spent hours on the Internet whilst feeding. I was happy to ‘wap out a boob’ anywhere; I luckily didn’t feel any embarrassment or social awkwardness but equally I didn’t flaunt it. I always tried to position myself out of the way if I could- yes I was fine feeding but equally am aware it can make others uncomfortable. I hate seeing people kiss in public, or my real gripe hands on bums or public groping. Leave it for home. Once my friend and I were feeding in a coffee shop. A lady who was facing us got up and moved so she couldn’t see us. There was no animosity, just she obviously didn’t want to watch us feeding whilst enjoying her coffee so she took herself away. That’s fine, not everyone wants to see it and for that reason I tried to balance discreet with not ashamed when out and about. People use covers and that’s great. I love the picture of the woman with a scarf over her head because she was asked to cover up whilst breastfeeding.

Society plays a huge part in why we breastfeed, or why we don’t. Cultural acceptance, your parent’s choices, friend’s influences, education and personal preference.  Its traditionally seen as a middle class thing; there was a financial reward being considered to encourage parents to BF. There’s as always the huge debate about its appropriateness in public- I watched an interesting video doing the rounds on social media of a woman breastfeeding and being told she’s disgusting, next to a woman with most of her boobs out on a low cut top and no one batting an eye. My mum didn’t/couldn’t breastfeed, my sisters did but not as long as I did. All my friends with babies blen at the same time did, one still is now and I commend her for it. I wish I could be sometimes.

I tried expressing but it really didn’t work for me. I had a manual pump and could get a few ounces. I didn’t commit to it enough really to make it worthwhile. It did mean I was tied to baba a lot but I didn’t mind. I managed to express enough for daddy to have baby so I could go see Fifty Shades of Grey and Pitch Perfect (essential cinema viewing of course) and for him to feel involved but to be honest that was more to appease me than him. He wasn’t bothered at all if he bottle fed her or not and I was happy being a human milk machine so I ditched the pump and just rarely left her side. Fine by me as I knew I was returning full time and daddy was away during the week so didn’t need to express then anyway so saved the faff.

I had other difficulties that ultimately was the reason I had to stop breastfeeding; allergies. My multiple allergy baby is Cows Milk Protein allergic, soya allergic, nut, eggs and until recently we thought coconut and sesame too. She reacted and was diagnosed through my milk pre weaning (my one foray into formula ended in projectile vomiting as I’ll describe on another post) and so I had to cut everything out of my diet too. Faltering growth and not being satisfied after 45-60 minutes at night where a bottle of milk would send her off to sleep in 10 minutes also contributed. Working full time as an essentially single mum I couldn’t maintain it much longer safely eating all the nutrients I needed to stay healthy. I know you can, but I didn’t have time to adjust what I know and what I eat to a new diet and was restricted out and about, at work functions, for a quick snack after a busy shift. For a few months from my return to work I fed morning and evening, initially overnight but after hour feeding marathons twice a night I wasn’t sleeping enough and my job is dangerous if too tired, so she had oat milk overnight, boob morning, after nursery and after bed and neocate (prescription milk) for nursery. It took too long to prep the prescription milk overnight and she had enough boob and milk during the day that the night milk was just habit, comforting. It was complex and probably not right but worked for us.

Breastfeeding now means the world to me. I’m glad I did it, if I’m lucky enough to have another I’ll do it again. I’d love to become a peer supporter; I’ve already said I’ll help anyone with a child with allergies who wants to continue feeding and wants someone who’s experienced it to chat to at my local children’s centre and to friends. I managed a year, I stopped on her birthday and she didn’t miss it; sadly easily adapting to life without boob. I tried it the other day, we’d both had a bath together and she was looking at my boobs. She didn’t have a clue what to do, no milk I guess and now a long forgotten skill.

If you breastfeed or don’t, if you combi feed or solely formula feed it doesn’t matter. What matters is your baby is warm, fed (appropriately) and loved.

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