I must have been nearly 6 years old when my parents were discussing at the dinner table one of my auntie’s decision not to breastfeed my baby cousin. This is the earliest memory of breastfeeding I have, and it was portrayed to me as the thing to do from that young age. Growing up, it was always a natural, beautiful view, seeing mothers nurturing their babies.
During my first pregnancy, I was more preoccupied with how the pregnancy was going and how the birth will unfold, and did not prepare for breastfeeding in any particular way, other than attending the preparation for parenthood classes both public and private. I had a terrible fear of the birth experience, and tried to arm myself with as much knowledge as possible. My first born was overdue, and I ended up being induced, so none of the birth scenarios from the classes have materialised.
When I finally held my little bundle of joy, in the delivery room, he instinctively wanted to latch, so it seemed to be going well from the start. Not so many hours later, my nipples were not so comfortable anymore, they were too flat and the breast was too full! The baby was finding it difficult to attach, while the midwives were keen to see him feeding! He was also the sleepy baby type, so whether he got some of the liquid gold or not, he would quickly drift off to sleep. The midwives were checking on us regularly, particularly the one lady with 10 children! There was an ease in the way she was helping Peter to latch on, and a confident way of reassuring me that things were going well, she passed the confidence on to me, and I truly thought it was going to work out!
I was looking forward to being discharged and start our new life as parents!
Little did I know, there were few more humps on the road, before breastfeeding became natural. It was a challenge to find a comfortable position to nurse, partly because of the episiotomy, and I was also struggling to keep the baby awake to empty the breast. After trying the feeding pillow and numerous holds, I resumed to lying on a side with the baby on his side, or back next to me. It was the most comfortable position, and I have also adopted it for my second child. On day 3 or 4 the Public Health Nurse arrived, she assured me we were doing great, and promised that her heel prick test will tire the baby for few hours, and I could get some rest too. The baby was exhausted indeed, but I experienced the engorgement furry of the milk coming in!
My husband was working in retail management at the time, and sadly didn’t get any time off after the birth of his child, so coming home that evening wasn’t exactly the off time he had hoped for. Instead of a new mother lovingly cuddling their child, he found a fire spitting dragon with painful breasts, powered by an avalanche of hormones. He was tasked with getting the best pump he could come across, in the shortest space of time, so I could get some relief from the agony I was in. I must specify that although I tried, I did not manage to hand express at this stage, and I had no notion of lactation consultants or a friend that could help. The electric pump did a great job at relieving the pressure that evening and in the following days.
While I was expecting to feel stronger every day, I actually started feeling unwell. And around day 10 or 11 postpartum I felt pretty miserable, like not having the will to get out of bed, didn’t know what it was, I had a fever but couldn’t attribute it to anything in particular. I called the PHN, a friend who used to be a midwife and the hospital; I waited for my husband to get home in the evening, as I lacked the energy to go to hospital by myself with the child. In retrospect, I feel I should have known better, but I suppose my judgement wasn’t very sharp, given the circumstances. Once at the hospital, it was still unclear what was causing my high temperature and the sky rocketing CRP. There were two questions: was it a possible mastitis or was it the episiotomy wound? It wasn’t any of these, as I later came to know. I was put on IV antibiotics to cover either case and a student midwife was assigned to help me with baby’s latch and engorgement. I will never forget her, her name was Noelle, and she stayed with me through the night, to help me and baby empty the breast. To me that was extreme dedication and I will be forever thankful!
Returning home again, I started relying on the pump all the time: my baby was shortly asleep at the breast, and even if I woke him, it wouldn’t be for long. The breast wasn’t emptied by baby, so I was emptying by pump, and since demand is creating supply, I quickly created oversupply. Way too much supply: 250mls from one breast in one sitting! If I was trying to reduce pump use, the breasts would become tender and hard over certain areas, and I would massage it hard or position baby with his chin over the area while feeding, to prevent mastitis. Pumping is a lesson I obviously learned the hard way, and a mistake I didn’t make the second time around!
When Peter was about 7 months old, I returned to work to find there was nothing in place to facilitate breastfeeding after 6 months. This was a HSE Dublin University Hospital, in 2014. For a few weeks I pumped during my lunch breaks, in a dusty office space that my other 2 new mum colleagues were also using. I was working full time, and my MIL was minding my baby, so when there wasn’t enough pumped milk, she had to supplement it with formula. By 8 months, Peter was no longer looking for his boobies.
I am happy to have had a successful first breastfeeding experience, considering I was a total newbie at it. Even though, I knew nothing about lactation consultants, or very little of other forms of breastfeeding support at the time, my family, the hospital staff, the Public Health Nurse, our GP were all very positive, knowledgeable and encouraging. My mother in law was herself an extended breastfeeding mum, so there was a great favourable atmosphere there.
From my experience, the people, the attitude, as well as the culture were essential in establishing and continuing my breastfeeding journey.
Wishing all mums a very positive experience on their decision and to be surrounded by people that champion them!
Happy World Breastfeeding week!
We would love to hear from you mum, supporter or healthcare provider!
Mum, what was it or who was it that helped you get started with breastfeeding, or along the way?