Last week I gathered together four ‘mummy friends’ that I’ve met since having Athena to have a natter about breastfeeding with caffeine and cake as part of my role as a Medela Mum.
Emily is a Programme Coordinator and her son S is 2, Sally is a Yoga instructor and Author and has a daughter, B who is 18 months old. Anna is an Artist and has two children M and N with a 6 year age gap. Sjanie is a fertility specialist and has two daughters with a 3 year age gap.
When you found out you were pregnant did you plan to breastfeed?
A resounding yes from everyone. Sally (who runs pregnancy and mother and baby yoga classes so meets lots of new mums) said she hoped to but knew from talking to others that it sometimes didn’t work out and didn’t want to put too much pressure on herself.
What was/is your experience of breastfeeding?
Anna: With my first daughter M it was really hard and very painful. I got no support from my partner at the time and little extra from health visitors, one told me to eat more fatty foods like double cream to fatten my milk up to help M gain weight! I stopped after a month, and was a lot younger then and had very little help, and found feeding in public hard. With my second baby N I still found it hard, I should have sought help but was juggling a new house, kitchen refurb and a 6 year old starting at a new primary school. I didn’t realise how many feeds were necessary and the school run couldn’t wait! I breastfed for around three months, but found it so stressful to balance everything and I think my milk supply suffered because of this, both my children were being monitored for low weights for a while until I introduced formula.
Emily: My son was born with a cleft palate which we didn’t know until he arrived, he arrived early and was in NICU and it was there that I was told that I wouldn’t be able to breastfeed. The Cleft team were really good with helping me express and I was loaned a hospital grade pump to enable me to express as much as possible. S was given expressed breastmilk for seven and a half months although I had to supplement this with formula out of necessity. I bought an electric Medela pump too for when we went away and couldn’t take the big double pump with us.
Sally: I had a positive experience although it didn’t last as long as I would have liked. I was so pleased I did manage to breastfeed as I didn’t get the birth I wanted so it helped me to regain some control. It took two weeks to crack it and I found it hard to get into a good position as I had had an emergency C section. Night feeds were so special, I really bonded with B even though I was exhausted! I started work again after four weeks and was commuting to London twice a week, taking a pump with me to keep my milk supply up. As well as work my mum was seriously ill, so I was stressed and exhausted and my milk supply began to suffer. I couldn’t take my baby in to see my mum in hospital so was spending time away from her twice a day, and eventually one boob just gave up! I still expressed from it but got hardly anything, so continued to feed on just one side! After four months I stopped breastfeeding and was gutted about it. I missed being able to instantly pacify my baby.
Sjanie: The first time was incredibly hard, I had no idea I would get so engorged and it was incredibly painful and I was in shock. My baby couldn’t latch properly for the first three days so had almost no sleep and it only got worse when my milk came in. I called the Health Visitor in a panic and they really supported me, in the first three weeks I had three or four home visits and attended two breastfeeding clinic sessions. This amazing help really was the difference between me continuing and giving up there and then! I fed my first daughter until she was 2 1/4, and was quite happy she stopped then as I was pregnant with my second baby. Second time round was much easier as I knew what to expect, although I still found it difficult to get a good latch at first and this caused wind at times. I took her to see a cranial osteopath which really helped as we were finding feeding on one side more difficult because she had a misaligned jaw and neck. I also knew that there was a lot of help online, so watched lots of videos and read more articles. I wish I had known about them with my first baby! I don’t have a set age in mind to stop, I’m happy for L to dictate that, although there may be a time when I go away for work and that ends it, but I would be happy with that.
Have you got anything to say about the help that was offered or received?
Anna: I didn’t feel like there was much help readily available.
Emily: The cleft team were great immediately after the birth, but I never received any offer of counselling which I think would have helped with the great disappointment I felt at not being able to breastfeed directly. Also in my NCT course there was nothing said about bottle feeding, it was as though breast was the ONLY option, even when someone asked about bottle feeding they were brushed off. I can see why people feel so guilty when it doesn’t work out with this sort of pressure.
Sally: I had two home visits from a lactation specialist who helped me to find a good position and a good latch and was so thankful for the one to one help.
Sjanie: The help I got with my first baby was the difference between stopping right then and continuing. I lived in London then so I’m not sure if the same help would have been available had I needed it the second time round.
What about feeding in Public? Any bad experiences?
Sally: Initially I found feeding in public quite stressful, but it soon became normal for us! I had one bad experience in a cafe when feeding B (who would have been less than three months at the time) when a table of two middle aged couples was staring at me and I overheard one of them say ‘It’s old enough to drink water’. I knew this was wrong but didn’t say anything at the time, I wish I had now!
Sjanie: I’ve never had a problem feeding in public, initially with my first baby I was a little apprehensive but soon got over it!
Anything else to add?
Anna: I still felt guilty when I stopped breastfeeding even though it was a stressful experience all round. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t as people judge either way.
Emily: I feel like there is actually a decline in the acceptance of breastfeeding, with people being told to stop or cover up in restaurants and hotels etc. But bad publicity is still publicity and if it helps to raise awareness then that’s great!
We all felt that stress was a big factor in successful breastfeeding, and that as long as both mum and baby are healthy it doesn’t matter how a baby gets fed. We all agreed that there should be more information pre-birth that breastfeeding is HARD! That way people would be more prepared for what’s to come and might be able to overcome the hurdles better.