In recognition of World Breastfeeding Week, Gloucestershire MVP Chair, Kathy, reflects on her breastfeeding experiences. 

My children are now 3 and 2.5 years old. I breastfed until they were each around 6 months. Choosing how to feed your baby can be a very difficult decision, from those who choose to formula feed early on to those who chose to continue breastfeeding until their babies are toddlers. With it being breastfeeding awareness week and thinking about protecting breastfeeding week, I think it is so important to protect the time that anyone chooses to breastfeed for, so that this experience is positive.

I was thinking about my experience and then realised that my memory has done an amazing job of remembering all the lovely times and I had to work hard to think about all the absolutely ridiculous and downright tough times on my breastfeeding journey. But some of these moments are also hilarious, and I don’t want to forget them.

My daughter was fairly small when she was born and it would seem that my body can produce enough milk for a few babies at a time. This might sound great, but for me it meant that my breasts became engorged and far too big for her to easily get her tiny mouth around, until we got the hang of different holds and I learnt about mastitis and managing the symptoms quickly.

When my daughter was nearly a week old, my breast has got so huge, so full of milk and were rock solid. As so often happens, it all become too much in the middle of the night. My milk was not moving and I hadn’t managed to feed my baby for a few hours and she was screaming. We did skin on skin, we cuddled, we had cabbage leaves, tried hand expressing, everything. About 11.45pm my husband started finding all the notes from our antenatal classes and researching on the internet. By this point, I was sat silently crying rocking my baby, desperately trying to find a way to hold her to help her latch. My husband said that we should try a warm flannel or bath. In my bid to speed everything up I got into the bath – it was empty, I was fully undressed as was my baby. It was freezing; it was November.  My husband got some warm flannels and was going to start filling the bath.

And then out of nowhere, my daughter did the biggest poo. She had been lying across me with her bottom facing one of the sides of the bath. I heard rather than saw (as it all happened at super quick speed), poo hit the side of the bath, ricochet back and hit the other side. She immediately calmed down. My husband absolutely lost it laughing. I remained a snotty, sobbing mess, but with added hiccups from laughing. My baby and I were covered, but at least in the bath! I am in awe of the strength of stomach and bum muscles in newborns!

Just that moment of laughing eased the whole situation. The rest of the night was better but still not easy, and the next day I was at a breastfeeding support group.

When my son came along, I was fully ready for mastitis as I knew my body seemed to make too much milk at the start. He was 4 days old when I felt the classic signs of flu setting in. I sat keeping my son close and trying to feed so that he could relieve some of the pressure. My brother and his girlfriend were visiting and suggested that they leave, at this point my husband and I practically held them hostage, so they could look after our 16 month old daughter and make us dinner!

I used cloth nappies with both my babies. Everything had been cleaned in preparation for my son and for the first few weeks we used disposable nappies whilst settling into having a second baby. I crawled into bed, looking for some sort of empty bin, bucket, anything to try and hand express into. I found my luckily very clean nappy pail bin. One of my lowest moments is sat, hand expressing into said nappy pail. My sister facetimed me as she’d heard I wasn’t well, and we sat in hysterics that I was actually milking myself over a pail. This time round, I felt better within the hour or so. I knew more about my body; I had experience from the first time, I knew that I needed to relieve some of the pressure.

Personally I didn’t find either start to breastfeeding easy. However I had amazing support from my husband, friends and family. My midwife was great and I cannot begin to explain just how incredible the support from MOBS (Gloucestershire Breastfeeding Supporters Network Stroud support group) was. And I know that all the community groups offer fantastic support. These groups are where I learnt different holds (rugby hold was for a while the only way my daughter felt comfortable), and techniques to continue breastfeeding.

This post isn’t meant to be a reflection on the negative .They are just moments in my journey that in hindsight have made me chuckle and I don’t want to forget. They are moments that highlight how exhausting new born babies can be, how much your body changes and that with each baby, you both have to learn again how to work together. They are moments that acknowledge you are not just supposed to know how to do this, it may be natural, but it also a time to reach out and be supported. I am so pleased for those people and their babies who just get breastfeeding and it works easily for, but I also want to speak to those who may need some support and say ‘ask for help’. I cannot stress enough that it is ok to ask for help. These moments and reflections for me show that you can get through the tough moments. You just grew a baby, delivered a baby and if you choose to and are able to, you will also get through the breastfeeding journey and to a point in which you hopefully enjoy it. This may be within hours, days or you may need some more support. Take that support if you need it.

Some people will have reasons that they were not able to breastfeed. Some will have reasons why they didn’t want to at all. Some will continue breastfeeding until their toddlers are two and beyond. Whatever your situation, protect that time for you and your baby.

I was very fortunate that my husband was supportive. But I also had other people around me who wanted to also feed the baby and felt that this was the way to build a relationship with them. However there are so many ways to spend time with the baby and create that bond; skin on skin, just cuddling, singing, a walk outside. This all changes very quickly and within a few weeks, the baby is smiling and holding their head and then you change again the time you interact with them. If you are finding that other people want to feed your baby, remind that them they could help you and spend time with your baby in other ways. Allow yourself to protect the time that you and your baby need, however long you choose to breastfeed for.

Why did I want to breastfed? To be honest, I am not sure I spent much time thinking about it, beyond it seemed the ‘right’ thing for me to do. And I was fortunate to have lots of support around me to get past the first few tough weeks. Once past that, I really enjoyed that I could feed my baby anywhere; that I didn’t have to prepare much to leave the house. Selfishly I loved that I could stay in bed in the middle of the night and not get up to make up formula. I loved that whenever I was with other people, my baby always came back to me for a feed. I also had read and learnt about the benefits of breastmilk and was in awe of what the human body can do.

Obviously this week is breastfeeding awareness week, but I hope it goes without saying to ask for support and help if you need it through formula feeding. You may be combination feeding or fully formula feeding. Again protect this time for you and your baby. Ask for advice from your midwife and health visitor. Everyone wants your feeding experience to be positive, regardless of how you choose to do it.

I am not a clinician; please do not take any of the above as advice. However you can find advice from the following –