What makes you carry on with something in the face of what looks like never-ending trouble? A complicated question. Everyone has a difference tolerance level and finds different things helpful or supportive.
During my breastfeeding journey I continued feeding through a traumatic birth where we didn’t feed for the first six hours of his life, split nipples so bad I couldn’t wear clothes or shower, tongue tie, giant boobs vs little baby, returning to work, pregnancy, tandem feeding, nursing aversion, 5 separate bouts of mastitis including one which landed me in hospital with sepsis, staph infections, post-natal depression and anxiety and more unexplained splits in my nipples.
I don’t tell you this to feel superior that I carried on. I am proud of what I achieved, but I achieved it in circumstances unique to me. I could not have breastfed at all, much less for as long as I did without a whole combination of things coming together to support me.
I grew up knowing I was breastfed, not for long but still for a few week0 and my brother was breastfed well into toddlerhood. I married a man who was also breastfed into toddlerhood and whose sister was fed until school age. So my background led to my assumption that I would breastfeed too, and family were all supportive. In Coventry we have an excellent set of breastfeeding support services. We have an infant feeding team who every new mum is referred to following birth. We have an amazing NCT breastfeeding counsellor who I met when my first child was 5 days old. Her gentle and non-judgmental support got me through so many struggles. The group she ran gave me other friends with the same age babies who became an integral part of my life.
I love learning. I love to read. I read and read and read when I was struggling, looking for answers. Every answer made me feel less alone and that there was always a reason for everything. I’m also incredibly stubborn, and once I am decided on something mostly I will stick at it until I absolutely can’t.
Breastfeeding became the easier option. Switching became something that required more effort than just pushing through whatever issues I was having – especially when things like mastitis meant just giving up could cause more issues. A piece of advice which stuck with me was “never give up on your worst day, get help and see if it improves – you can always quit tomorrow.” I only ever had to get through that day.
My family, my personality, my support network, my determination helped me through, but if any one of those things had been changed or different my feeding journey would likely have looked very different. It is never as simple as just trying harder or just having more support. To overcome the challenges many women face you need determination, information, support from professionals, and support from family and friends too.
My tips if you’re wanting to breastfeed:
• Find your support services before your baby arrives. Get phone numbers, group times and locations, understand the different levels of support available from peer supporters, breastfeeding counsellors and IBCLCs. There are amazing support groups available online too but check where your advice is coming from
• If your family and friends understand more about how breastfeeding works and support you it will be easier
• Read up on what is normal for breastfed babies, learn about normal newborn behaviour. Often many things are put down to breastfeeding issues which aren’t
• Remember that whilst it’s ‘natural’ that doesn’t mean easy, and it’s a skill that it takes everyone time to learn. Even if you’ve breastfed before a new baby hasn’t!