📸 Photographer, Family Outings & Raising 3 Boys
Mum to Jensen, Lyoto and Hero
Lover of Mickey Mouse and Huskies 🐕
I’ve written quite a few times about my feeding journey as a first time mom. Probably because it was much more eventful with him – but that’s not to say feeding the other two didn’t come with their own bundles of first experiences too. What I learned overall after three boys is that no two babies are the same – in any respect, at any time. No matter what you do, there will be an element of surprise handed to you by your newborn that you’ll probably never have anticipated or considered in your plan. My babies, I learned, aren’t fond of my well thought out plans.
I breastfed my boys. All three of them – and I finished my journey with around 6 years of solid breastfeeding under my belt, spread between the three babies – but I never planned it that way; in fact, I had completely different ideas right up to the moment I gave birth.
BIRTH AND FEEDING PLANS
My plan was to bottle feed my boys. I was bottle fed, so was my sister. It looked adorable when I saw mothers doing it, it meant that other people could feed my baby [notice I say could, not would – no one wants the 2, 3, 4am feeds] and I could sleep. I spent a very long time researching bottles and formula and felt very well informed. Gav [my husband] kept well out of the decision making in this area, saying whatever I wanted to do was fine by him. So I bought my equipment and everything was ready.
Then I gave birth after a 74 hour labour that wasn’t at all bad – and was in fact so amazing to me that hours after Jensen had been born I was looking back nostalgically, gazing at my 9lb 8ozs baby [who was twice the size of little Thomas in the bed next to us, welcomed into the world a few hours before we arrived] and thinking to myself that it was pretty amazing making a human and how I’d definitely be up for it again.
Immediately, the midwives encouraged me to try breastfeeding, but he was so exhausted after all those hours of contracting, that it didn’t happen. He sucked once or twice and fell asleep. However, it was at that point that I decided I wasn’t going to be bottle feeding at all. I was going to be breastfeeding – and the reasons are still quite complicated to me.
CHANGING MY MIND
I can’t actually put my finger on the precise reason I changed my mind. If I’m truly honest, and I think that’s probably the best way to be, because somewhere out amongst you, there’s someone feeling like I did I’m sure, it’s a mixture of reasons.
Firstly, there was no escaping biology. We all know factually and without casting shame that breastmilk is made by humans for babies, which is why it’s the best for them. That’s not to say it didn’t horrify me. All I could think prior to giving birth was that juice from a human, and having someone hanging and drinking from my nipple wasn’t for me. It turned my stomach. When I saw mothers breastfeeding, I turned away mortified.
A BREASTFEEDING CIRCUS
As the midwives didn’t offer me the formula, I assumed that everyone just gave it a go and off they went. However, after a few hours my baby still wasn’t feeding, couldn’t latch and from then, it turned into a horrible, awful circus. I had midwives forcing my nipple into his mouth, one actually jammed him head so hard onto my breast that he was in all out panic mode, arms flailing and screaming – and as a new mom I felt powerless and clueless because surely these were experts.
They weren’t experts, and it was a long few days of bleeding, raw, puss-filled nipples and tears and my having to ring a bell each time I was going to try feeding to prove I was doing it, and then I was discharged into the rainy night, with a new baby and a handful of leaflets that told me where to find support for breastfeeding. My boy had gained a little weight and he was allowed home thanks to non-stop pain and constant latching attempts. He woke up every 20 minutes crying in hunger and failing to latch for more than a couple of seconds and so I was constantly – and I mean that, truly – feeding him, in anguish.
2am that morning, we were driving around, trying to find nipple shields that would lessen the agony of the open wounds, and at 4am when I thought I had the answer, I discovered that he couldn’t latch at all through the shields and I was a huge, sobbing mess. I went through every number on the leaflet I was given – all four of them. None of them worked except for a number which was an answering machine for La Leche League. I was completely defeated and terrified. The first days as a mom were horrific.
In sheer desperation, I telephoned the birthing centre that I’d originally wanted to give birth in, but which I wasn’t allowed to because I was slightly over the recommended BMI and my baby was measured as on the large side. The NHS felt I’d need intervention or pain medication [which I didn’t thankfully with any of my boys] to ask for advice. I had no idea how they could possibly help me, but they told me to get over to them as soon as I could – and I was rescued.
The midwives spent time talking with me, listening to me, and gave me a room of my own with one of their breastfeeding specialists who realised within minutes that the reason we had been so unsuccessful and had so much pain was because Jensen had a tongue tie. A piece of skin inside his mouth and under his tongue which restricted its movement. It was an enormous one – stopping him latching, feeding, and destroying my nipples whilst desperately trying in hunger. The midwife examined my breasts and gently told me that it was perfectly okay to not breastfeed, that I’d been through trauma I shouldn’t have, and that they would be registering a complaint with me about how we’d been treated. I remember staring down at my scruffy Converse with my breasts uncovered as I was caught between really, truly wishing I could just choose bottle feeding so that the pain would go away, and feeling like I was failing him if I did give up breastfeeding.
Gav was on his knees at my feet holding my hands, and telling me it was okay to give up. Sadly – and I say sadly, because truly if I’d have met me at that point, I’d have wanted with all my heart for me to surrender and bottle feed instead for my own mental and physical health – the guilt inside my head didn’t feel the same and I decided I would have to try harder now I had help.
I stayed that night at the birthing centre in the room until the sun came up, learning to breastfeed with my baby and his tongue tie in different holds to make it less painful for me. I learned to lie down on my side to feed him as I had enormous breasts – bigger than my baby’s head – and this was easier for him to deal with, and it was so much more relaxing. I slowly stopped flinching and crying every time he wanted to be fed.
SWINGS, ROUNDABOUTS AND MASTITIS
Over the next six months it was swings and roundabouts. He became used to feeding with a tongue tie because he had a really long, waspy tongue [not like my other two, who were also born with the same ties but had them cut as their tongues were shorter and rounder] and I had mastitis a few times. If you do have mastitis, it’s probably going to show up as a lump in your breast, they’ll be hot and rock solid, there might be a red flash across your breast too, and you’ll feel like you have the flu – you need to get to the doctor fast. Don’t ignore it. It’s serious and I got a severe telling off from my doctor for waiting over two days to see him. It’s miserable. I spent a lot of time under the warm shower and I invested in a breast pump to make sure I stayed as blockage free as possible.
FEEDING IN PUBLIC
One of the things which wasn’t fun about breastfeeding was leaving the house. Sure, it’s easier – you take a breast pad for leaky nipples, which are unavoidable and have caused all kinds of embarrassment and at times, hilarity – I used to have these pretty ones from Johnson’s Baby in baby pink boxes which were so soft, and had indents for your nipples which were brilliant – and you’re good to go. However, people were rude to me about breastfeeding in public, especially in two well known restaurants and cafés, and so were people I actually knew. Some people seemed to feel it was perfectly fine to make clear their own feelings about breastfeeding and whether it was appropriate to feed in public where I might be seen. In fairness, I did once shoot someone in the back with my left nipple by accident as it was slightly overactive by that point, but joking aside, I carry the guilt with me to this day of being crouched on a dirty toilet seat in a public toilet, feeding my baby with the stench around him. I did this so often to avoid offending people who didn’t think it should be seen in public.
Who does that? Scared, vulnerable, exhausted mothers do. By the time my second was born I was more confident and never did that again, and when my third boy was born I could breastfeed on the move I became so skilled, but laughing aside, the shame and guilt contributed enormously to my postnatal depression – which went undiagnosed for 13 months as I had no idea I had it, I just felt like a horrible, inadequate mother for the first year of his little life. I wish that on noone. However and wherever you feed you baby should be guilt and shame free.
When it came to weaning off breastmilk, they were all different again – Jensen was 12 months old and he decided to start weaning from breastfeeding – and I’m so grateful we carried on as it helped him enormously at 10 months when he was hospitalised with H1N1 for his first Christmas. Lyoto breastfed until he was 26 months old and I was pregnant again. This is how I learned that breastfeeding is not a contraception, even if your period hadn’t shown up again yet, and Hero is beautiful proof of that. He in turn self weaned at a record of 35 months old and I cried when it was over.
As far as how it happened, all boys weaned down gradually to just night time as they became more active and ate more solid foods. The feeding dwindled to sleepy drop-off feeds and for comfort.
WE NEED FRIENDS
I find it all quite surreal and incredible, because I never imagined breastfeeding my boys, let alone becoming an extended breastfeeder. It was an immensely emotional journey and one I’m very proud I made. That being said, my own mental health would have benefited greatly from other people keeping their hurtful, misinformed opinions of parenting and feeding babies to themselves. This is why I’m a huge advocate for feeding your children however you choose, and however you can, without fear of judgement or shame – and this is why I decided to join Piccolo Family Friends. It’s very easy to tear people – especially new mothers – apart. It’s quite something else to lift them up. If more people tried it, they’d be surprised how good it feels.