Tuesday, 21 June 2016

National Breastfeeding Week post: My Breastfeeding Journey...2 years in

It's National Breastfeeding week so it's only right that I talk a bit about my experience with breastfeeding. I'm now approaching 2 years into my breastfeeding journey. I'm lucky enough to have had no problems since those early days when Baby D and I were learning the ropes (see my early days post and my update post).

I was breastfed as a baby and have always known breastfeeding mums so there was no question in my mind that this was the way I wanted to feed my child. I remember saying to people when I was pregnant that I was going to 'try' breastfeeding. I said 'try' because that's what everyone else seemed to say and I didn't want to come across as arrogant or whatnot but what I really meant was 'I will bloody well do whatever it takes to succeed in breastfeeding my child'.

Breastfeeding is honestly one of the best things I've ever done in my life. I feel passionately that it's a wonderful thing and know how hard it can be at the start. Getting that support network in the beginning and being as prepared as possible was key in my success. I've been going to a Breastfeeding Support Group since Baby D was 3 weeks old. Although I didn't need much breastfeeding help as such, I needed support, a friendly face and someone to listen to my thoughts and worries. Some kindred spirits to keep me sane! It's run by Barnado's at the local Sure Start centre and is such a lovely and positive group. Peer Supporters and Breastfeeding Councellors are there to do just that: support. They are are not there to judge. They are there to listen, care, help mums identify their options and help them to help themselves. They helped me so much with my confidence, I've made some great friends and really look forward to each week when I get to sit and have a chat with fellow mums over a cuppa.

I have now trained as a Breastfeeding Peer Supporter through Barnardo's so that I can help and support new mums like others have done for me.
The training itself was totally fascinating, I learned so much - more than I can ever remember learning in a short amount of time, especially since leaving school many moons ago. And the more I learned about the benefits both for mum and baby and how these benefits continue past age two (for some reason I had in my mind that this was the cut off point for benefits) the more and more I want to allow Baby D to self wean when she is ready. I have the luxury of being self employed and working from home so this is a realistic prospect.
Now as a peer supporter I help to run two breastfeeding support groups, help out at events and also help run the associated Facebook groups. It's all voluntary and I enjoy it immensely. Only today I was at an expectant parent event at Mothercare chatting to pregnant mums about breastfeeding.

Yay for boobs!

Dawn x

Here's the beginning of my breastfeeding journey, I wrote this when Baby D was 7 months old:

My breastfeeding journey wasn't easy to start off with. We got off to a fantastic start on the first couple of days then it all went downhill. Thanks to my amazingly supportive and understanding partner and the kind words of encouragement, advice (some amazing advice) and love from my friends Lucy, Rildy and Abbey I was able to get through the hard times...of which there were many. Reading the following post back to myself I'm surprised I made it through! It just goes to show how support from other people is so important in those first weeks.

Straight after the caesarean section in the recovery ward Baby D was put on my chest skin-to-skin and within 30 mins of birth she was suckling lovely. It was truly amazing that this tiny little thing knew exactly what to do. Over the next two days in hospital she/we got on better with it and because of success with feeding were allowed home. Then...my milk came in.

We got home early afternoon. By late afternoon I noticed my boobs were starting to feel uncomfortable. I then woke up in the night with the most uncomfortable, painful, rock hard, lumpy, absolutely huge engorged boobs. I went from a B cup to a DD cup in a matter of hours. My boobs were so hard that my nips went hard too and Baby D wasn't able to latch at all. Much screaming (from me as well as Baby D) ensued. Trying to feed her was extremely painful and sore and she became upset as she wasn't able to get any milk. On top of this my hormones 'crashed' and I felt utter despair and wretchedness. It felt like what was happening to me was the end of the world, that I was a horrendous mother and this was never going to get better.

After seeking advice from my totally lovely midwife I managed to express a little milk for Baby D but not enough to satisfy her hunger and had to supplement with formula so she didn't starve. This broke my heart a little bit. Not being able to provide for my baby made me extremely sad and I felt like a failure. Luckily for me I am very determined, when I put my mind to something and with amazing support was able to get through it.

After 36 hours of semi successful breastfeeding my left boob softened up and I was able to feed Baby D properly again but it took a further 24 hours on the right boob as it was particularly engorged - I had to do hot compresses and massage to ease the hard lumpiness.

We got back on track but still had to give her a couple of servings of formula a day for 5 days as I worked on increasing my milk supply (I'll write about that another day). My partner had a big part to play in helping me in the first weeks. Baby D had a very frustrating habit of putting her hands in front of her mouth just as she was about to latch on, so he would gently hold her hands away to enable her to latch on. He was always telling me what a great job I was doing and encouraging me plus reminding me of what I said to him before Baby D was born "don't let me give up on breastfeeding". There were points where I could easily have given up - I just needed that support to keep me going. I had days where I'd dread feeding her because of the pain in the first few weeks but with his help we got through it.

We had a setback when Baby D was two weeks old. Due to having copious amounts of IV antibiotics in surgery my gut flora was killed off and I developed thrush in the nipples, Baby D got it in her mouth and made her bum sore too. It wasn't a pleasant experience for either of us but after a couple of visits to the GP, some help from the trusty book The Food of Love by Kate Evans and a load of pre/probiotics it cleared up.

The first 4 or so weeks it was quite sore to latch on (although I think it would have been less sore had I not got thrush), then it became just ‘pinchy’ then at about 8 weeks no discomfort whatsoever. I did however find that the letdown sometimes was semi-painful but I'm used to that now and hardly notice. Also each time Baby D fed as is normal my uterus would contract and sometimes would be quite painful - like period or early labour pain in the first few weeks. But I felt quite happy about it as I could tell my body was doing its job and starting to shrink back down.

I'd heard people talk about the 'letdown' but had no idea what they were chatting about! I thought it was just a weird turn of phrase and didn't really think about it. I now know that it's the surge of milk you get 30 seconds to a minute after baby starts suckling - if they pull away at this point (Baby D does this all the time!) you can get milk squirting all over the place and it's surprising how far it can go.

I knew about 'milk coming in' and the 'hormone crash' but had no idea it would be so horrible and hard. I especially didn't know about the boob discomfort. I wish I had been prepared. I thought there was something wrong with me and couldn't see a light at the end of the tunnel for a good 24 hours - and as a new parent this is a very long time. That said I totally adore breastfeeding now. In fact I'm a tiny bit obsessed by it. It's such a lovely and special thing to do. It's also free, no sterilising necessary and easily portable.

We are now 7 months in and had been exclusively breastfeeding since that first week until 6 months when we started baby-led weaning. It's a wonderful way to calm Baby D down if she's upset, over tired or in pain, sends her off to sleep in the day or at bedtime and helps her fight illness. We are going to keep going with it for now and the plan is to let her continue with it until she's ready to stop...I have no idea when this will be. Watch this space!

Dawn x

Here's a post with my top tips on maximising chances of success with breastfeeding.

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