I have a love/hate relationship with breastfeeding. It’s something I just assumed I would do when I became a mum because it’s what I heard my mum, her mum before her, my aunties, my cousins’ wives, my friends and people around me did. The way I heard everyone talk about it, I thought this would be the easiest, most beautiful, blissful experience. For me it wasn’t always the case.
I love that the great experiences are out there but it’s important that we hear as many people’s truths as possible.
Breastfeeding my first born was much tougher than I thought it would be. From the beginning, she had problems latching and then when she did, she would take forever to feed. Those first few days/nights in hospital were so overwhelming. I was so lucky that there was an amazing nurse who had my well being, as well as baby’s, at the fore. She was there for quite a few feeds and saw what was happening. When she saw my exhaustion levels she insisted that I sleep through a feed and she would give her formula. I started to cry. I didn’t want the decision to breastfeed to be taken from me. I wanted to make that decision myself. However, she talked me off the ledge and told me we would work through it. After a couple of hours sleep I felt better and we had a chat – she would watch my next feed and we’d figure it out together.
Again, my baby girl wasn’t latching. This is when she suggested a nipple shield. I had no idea what this was (it sounded like something a super hero would wear!) but this was my saviour. All of a sudden my baby girl was feeding! I thought that would be the end of the struggle but it wasn’t. Although it was much better than the first few days, and I was lucky not to have engorged boobs or mastitis, I still found it tough.
My baby girl would take forever to feed. People would talk about 10-20minute feeds, we’d still be going at 40-45minutes. Then there was the fact that because I was breastfeeding I’d have to do the night feeds and so I was so sleep deprived. Expressing was a living hell! I’d express for 30mins and only have about 30-40mls of that liquid gold. Nowhere near the amount needed for someone else to feed her.
This was eight years ago, in Ireland, so I also felt quite isolated. I was feeding in rooms on my own so as not to make anyone else feel uncomfortable, feeding in cars, behind trees, anywhere that was out of sight – I started to feel that I was becoming invisible.
Fast forward 5 years (2016) and I am thankful to say that the experience was different
with my second child. Attitudes towards breastfeeding had started to change in Ireland. I no longer felt I had to be invisible (that said I did try a breast feeding apron a few times – my baby hated it and I felt hot and flustered).
Feeding him was also so much easier. He took to the boob with ease and didn’t take as long to feed (although expressing was still a nightmare). I still had mixed emotions though. I loved the ease of breastfeeding – the fact that I didn’t have to worry if he needed an unexpected feed as food was always to hand (or boob).
I struggled with other things though. The biggest one was the feeling of having a constant ball and chain attached to me. Even when I did leave the baby with others to feed him – I still had to relieve my boobs when I was out, or time it to be home for the next feed.
I also felt like I had lost some of my identity. I had become a feeding machine. All my clothing decisions weren’t made based on what I would love to wear, they were all about whether or not the outfits were breast feeding feeding friendly. I also never felt less sexy! While feeding my son, I found it hard to think of my body in a sexual way. That said, I surprised myself and breastfed him for longer than I ever thought I would and I would do it all over again.
On breastfeeding awareness week why am I sharing these feelings? I suppose it’s to let any other mums out there (who may be feeling similarly to what I was) know that they are not alone.
It’s also to highlight that mums need support. Whatever way they chose to feed their baby, mind mum. Make sure she is OK. While she may say everything is grand, we all know that grand is not always what it means. Be there for her and please don’t judge her – support her. Be like a good bra – lift her up, don’t drag her down.