I wanted to write a post about breastfeeding, as I would love to share our personal experience of what it has actually been like for us, provide information about problems there can be that I wasn't told about, and to encourage more people to breastfeed if they were considering it or were unsure about it! I'll write a separate 'how to' post about breastfeeding :)
As recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) I breastfed Eric exclusively until he was almost 6 months old, and then started feeding him solid food whilst continuing to breastfeed. He's now 10 months old and still breastfeeding twice a day, alongside eating 3 solid meals and 1 snack per day.
I had some problems during the birth - a prolonged second stage and then a heavy bleed, so was given antibiotics on a drip for 8 hours. When Eric was first born he was very sleepy and had difficulty latching on to the boob, he wasn't hungry and only fed a few times in the first day. The midwives weren't happy about him going for more than 6 hours between feeds so would try to help get him latched on after that time, or would help me express milk (well, colostrum) into a syringe to give to him. Expressing by hand was painful, embarrassing and difficult. I was exhausted and emotional after the birth and felt like a failiure that couldn't look after my own child and was worried it was because my breasts are small.
After a few days my milk came in which was really uncomfortable, my boobs went like huge, rock hard balloons, and looked like I'd had implants! They felt really sensitive and the slightest movement would be painful. I managed to get Eric latching on 3-hourly (you measure from the start of one feed to the start of the next, so when the baby feeds 2 hourly and takes half an hour to feed this actually means you feed them every hour and a half!) We were both really struggling though resulting in us both being distressed and him not managing to get a good feed as he would be crying too much as he was hungry before the feed and then would be upset afterwards due to all the stress. Some midwives at the hospital were very helpful and sweet, but some were rude and treated me with no dignity. One midwife reduced me to tears in the middle of the night by suggesting that it was the vegan meals I was eating (that were balanced meals provided by the hospital, e.g. bean stew) that were making his tummy hurt as 'babies need meat and milk', which is obviously not true! And then she even suggested that the midwives look after him in their office for me that night as I obviously couldn't do it. I was devastated (and didn't let her, of course!).
I was kept in hospital for 5 days as Eric was slightly jaundiced and had to go in an incubator under a lamp for a day, which was why he had been sleepy and uninterested in feeding to start with. The midwives also wanted to be sure I could breastfeed and wouldnt let me go home until I could prove I could do it! So I would buzz a midwife for every feed so they could watch me do it then I wrote down every feed on a chart, making a note of the time the feed started, how long he fed for and on which side, and also when he had a wet or dirty nappy. Breastfeeding was painful when he latched on, but I persevered and we got better at it, with Eric learning what to do, and I thought the pain must be normal.
We finally got discharged from hospital and went home, and got more and more used to feeding. However, it was still painful and after many weeks was getting worse, with sore nipples that felt like razorblades cutting them when he latched on, and then stabbing pain deep in my boobs between feeds. Feeds took 45 minutes to 1 hour and he was feeding 2-hourly, so I only had an hour off between feeds, and the pain was horrendous. I frequently emailed a friend who I had met in ante natal classes and we compared stories of our difficulty breastfeeding, and it felt so much better knowing I was not the only one having problems, it was a huge help.
In the end I rang an NCT breastfeeding counsellor and cried down the phone, and explained the pain, and she said she was sure it was thrush. I had had no idea it could be thrush, I didn't know you could get it breastfeeding and no one had ever told me about that in our antenatal classes or even in the special breastfeeding workshop I went to! I went to the doctor who gave me cream for my nipples and drops for Eric's mouth but the symptoms didn't go away. I went back after two weeks and was given a low dose of tablets and a gel for Eric's mouth instead. The symptoms got better for a week, but then got worse again! So I went back to the doctor and took along the Breastfeeding Network's leaflet about thrush which the NCT breastfeeding counsellor had told me about on the phone and I printed off from their website. The doctor prescribed a higher dose of tablets and the same gel again for Eric's mouth and this time the symptoms got better and stayed better! I was so relieved and breastfeeding was finally pain free! Apparently thrush can be very common if the mother has had antibiotics during delivery, but nobody told me this.
Breastfeeding stayed pain free, and started to be enjoyable time to relax with Eric whilst watching tv, reading a magazine, or just enjoying watching him adoringly! As the months went on Eric has got better and quicker at feeds. In the newborn days I would feed him on one boob then swap to the other boob for the next feed, but after one weigh-in his weight gain wasn't as good as I would have hoped, so I started offering the second boob at each feed then swapping round for the following feed, and he took more milk like this. I was feeding him 2 hourly still after a few months, and he would often fall asleep on the boob, so we introduced more of a routine where I fed him 3 hourly and put him down for naps 3 hourly, which worked brilliantly. I think I was mistaking 'tired' cries for 'hungry' cries, and was feeding him more often than he needed. So offering both boobs and spacing the feeds out for us meant more time to build up enough milk for the next feed. And he is now massive! He's learned to suck strongly, and now takes 3 or 4 minutes on 1 boob then 1 or 2 minutes on the other, and has gradually spaced out from every 2 hours when he was little to every 3 hours when we put him on the routine, then every 4 then every 5 hours when we increased his solid food and now just once in the morning and once at night.
It took a good 2 or 3 months to find out what was wrong to start with and why it was painful, and to get it sorted and I wish I'd had more information about thrush so I could have been diagnosed and treated more quickly! Breastfeeding should not be at all painful. It's a skill to learn and can take a bit of time, but it shouldn't hurt. If it hurts something IS wrong, and you can get help! I love breastfeeding Eric now, it's such a lovely, quiet, bonding, close experience, and I feel very, very proud that I feed him myself and didn't give up. His weight is fantastic (on the 91st centile whereas he was on the 50th when he was born) and I love to see him looking up into my eyes during our night time breast feed, and his little hand holding mine. I'm SO glad I persevered and now I plan to breastfeed him until he weans himself, which will hopefully be when he's about 2, which is what the WHO recommend.
I also remember the first time I fed Eric in public, I was really nervous and was dreading it. It was embarrassing as he used to take such a long time to latch on so my nipple would be out and I used to be thinking "quiiiiiick! Just get on there! Everyone will see!", But I used to cover up with a pashmina, and you can even buy special breastfeeding covers, but to be honest no one has ever even batted an eye. Sometimes people have even come up to talk to me and thought we were just having a cuddle! Some cafés have 'Breastfeeding Welcome' window stickers or head to cafés where you can see other mums feeding, to help you feel relaxed, and places like Ikea, Mothercare and certain shopping centres have private feeding rooms. Nowadays I don't even worry about covering up, it's totally natural and most places are fine. Try not to be embarrassed, there's nothing wrong with feeding your child yourself when they are hungry, it's the most natural thing in the world, and if anyone ever did say anything to me I'd ask if they would prefer to have him disturbing them with his hungry screaming! After the Equality Act of 2010 it's actually illegal now for anyone to ask you to leave or discriminate against you in any way for breastfeeding.
So don't give up if you do find it difficult! There are people that can help you. Ask:
-Your friends, particularly mummies who are also having problems or mummies you met at antenatal or postnatal classes as the likelihood is they are going through the same thing
-Your health visitor. Health visitors have had specialist breastfeeding training which your GP probably won't have had, and they can watch you do a full feed and offer help and tips if you ask
-NCT breastfeeding counsellors. They were a lifesaver to me! I've rung my local counsellors several times and they've been unfailingly kind, friendly and extremely helpful, often telling me things I hadn't been told elsewhere. Click on hhttp://www.nct.org.uk/in-your-area and find your area, then you can look for the phone numbers of your local breastfeeding counsellors
-Support groups. We also have a local weekly breastfeeding support group at our SureStart centre where Breastfeeding Peers who have had specialist training run the group, and any breastfeeding mum can go along whether you have any problems or just want a chat!
-Other people who can help that I don't have experience of are hospital lactation counsellors and La Leche League.
Good luck, and enjoy feeding your baby, you are amazing!