Okay, I just want to put something out there…
My son is two and still breastfeeding.
It’s not something I set out with the intention of happening, it just kind of has.
I know there will be people reading this thinking it’s weird, some might even think it’s wrong, but I happen to think it’s one of my greatest achievements in life.
You see, breastfeeding is one of the most natural things in world – after all why else do we have boobs?!
However, just because it’s natural does not mean it’s easy – quite the opposite in many respects!
Just like learning to walk and talk, it might seem as straightforward once we can do it, but it’s still something we all have to learn and it takes time, persistence and a massive dollop of support to get it right.
I’ve had two children and two very different breastfeeding experiences.
With Grace, I managed seven weeks – two weeks of exclusive breastfeeding and then I began combination feeding until I was told to stop breastfeeding altogether by my GP.
It was all fairly grim to say the least.
Before Grace arrived, I was very relaxed about the whole idea of how I would feed my little baba.
I had decided I would give breastfeeding a go but if it didn’t work out I wouldn’t get upset – after all I’d watched a number of my friends struggle to breastfeed before giving up and being overwhelmed with guilt.
I was determined I wouldn’t let that happen to me.
And (if I’m being brutally honest) before I was a mum, the idea of having a tiny human attached to my boob did gross me out a bit.
So, when the moment came for me to try it for the first time, I was surprised and pleased to find that it wasn’t unpleasant and it actually seemed quite easy as Grace latched on straight away without any problems and fed like a pro.
“What’s all the fuss about?” I remember thinking.
By the next day however, things were already beginning to spiral out of control.
We had been moved to a busy maternity ward where we waited two hours for a cot for Grace and no-one even offered me as much as paracetamol to dull the pain from my caesarean section.
Help with breastfeeding was a luxury I realised I couldn’t expect.
I watched as other mums were handed bottles to feed their babies, one nurse even took a bottle-fed baby away for the night to give her mum a full nights’ sleep, while I was largely left to my own devices.
The harder I tried to feed Grace, the more impossible it seemed and my requests for help fell on deaf ears.
At one stage, after eight hours of her going without even one drop of milk, I was told the next time I tried to feed her someone would come and assist – but when the time came I was told everyone was too busy.
Things didn’t improve once we got home.
Every time she latched on to feed, a red-hot pain seared through me and I would sit and silently sob through the whole excruciating experience.
Grace screamed morning, noon and night due to the effects of silent reflux – she just wouldn’t settle no matter how long she had fed so we thought she wasn’t getting enough milk.
In the middle of all, a midwife told me she thought Grace had tongue tie, but the advice stopped there.
I became so desperate that I found a so-called ‘expert’ on the internet and paid her £70 to come out to my house and advise me on what to do – a complete waste of money as she gave me no help whatsoever.
However, by this stage, postnatal depression had well and truly taken hold, my grip on reality slowly slipping away and all I could think was by giving Grace formula I was failing as a mum.
After two fraught weeks of rowing through the night with my husband, he convinced me to give Grace a bottle.
Unsurprisingly, I developed mastitis.
The GP I saw gave me antibiotics and told me I couldn’t feed Grace, and just a few weeks later I was diagnosed with postnatal depression, prescribed with anti-depressants and told I couldn’t breastfeed.
I cried in the car as I realised I would never feed Grace again and it reinforced in my mind the notion that I was a lousy mum.
I couldn’t understand why I struggled to do something that is supposed to be one of the most natural things in the world.
Fast forward a few years and my experience couldn’t have been anymore different.
Ethan was born five weeks early so spent his first few days in this world under the watchful eye of neonatal and special baby unit staff.
I wanted to try breastfeeding again and the first night that he was alive I was given syringes to express for him to be tube fed.
Given the fact that he was premature, a consultant ordered that he wasn’t to be discharged until feeding was firmly established.
The staff couldn’t have been more helpful or supportive – with one particularly enthusiastic nurse grabbing my boobs as she showed me the best techniques to encourage Ethan to latch on.
The support I received once home was just as good.
Special mention has to go to my health visitor who admitted she was not an expert and put me in touch with the health trust’s fantastic breastfeeding co-ordinator when we did run into trouble.
Because that’s the thing, we did come up against problems along the way – it certainly hasn’t been all a bed of roses.
I had issues with supply and Ethan was diagnosed with a cow’s milk protein allergy.
I was horrified when I realised I would have to give up chocolate and cheese if I wanted to continue breastfeeding – my initial reaction was “well, we gave it a good go, but sorry Ethan”!!!
I’m not sure what changed my mind, perhaps it was my hope that I could give Ethan the same start as his sister and breastfeed him for seven weeks.
I had it in my head that I would only have to forgo my beloved pizzas for a few more weeks, but then seven weeks came and went and I decided to see if I could make it to 12-weeks.
Once I reached that point, I wanted to see if I could get to six-months.
The rest, as they say is history.
None of it would have been possible without my husband, however.
His attitude this time around was in complete contrast to our first attempt at parenting together, I felt like he believed I could do it and he totally supported my desire to breastfeed.
There were no arguments over bottlefeeding, in fact he was the one who told me to keep going through the hard times.
And that’s why I believe that the support you get when you’re a mum is absolutely crucial – they say it takes a village to raise a child and they’re not wrong.
I’ll admit I was woefully under-prepared for breastfeeding the first time around – I knew absolutely nothing – and I could have done so much more to prepare myself.
It was only after Ethan arrived that I learned about the reality of cluster feeding, the existence of antidepressant medication that is safe to take while breastfeeding, and the fact that feeding through mastitis is actually recommended to help tackle the infection.
There are some women out there who simply don’t want to do it – and that’s their choice – but the women who do want to breastfeed need help, guidance and support to achieve their goal, particularly as we publicise the ‘breast is best’ message to new mums.
The last target I had was to make it to two-years and that has been and passed.
I don’t have a target anymore, I’m just taking it each day as it comes.
The point I’m trying to make is, the decision to breastfeed or not is a hugely personal.
As it currently stands, I don’t know when I will stop breastfeeding, but what I do know is that when it happens it will be through choice and not necessity.