Depending on your perception and experience, breastfeeding can feel like an enormous privilege, hugely rewarding or wrought with complications and emotional stress.
Having planned, and hoped for, a water birth, I ended up delivering via emergency c-section – an experience that initially knocked the wind from me. So, it was a great comfort when breastfeeding came without issue. We were fortunate to enjoy skin-on-skin moments after birth and attempted our first feed within five minutes of leaving the operating theatre. To ensure our little boy fed easily, a midwife spent an hour slowly demonstrating ways to gently massage up the mucus that's usually squeezed out in a natural delivery. I feel grateful we had no issues with latch, milk production or pain, and were able to breastfeed exclusively for 10 months.
A recent report by Public Health England noted the UK’s breastfeeding figures as the lowest in the world. So, clearly, not everyone’s breastfeeding journey is a smooth ride. Here, five new mothers share their experiences.
I WISH I’D KNOWN THAT JUST BECAUSE BREASTFEEDING IS “NATURAL” DOESN’T MEAN IT’S EASY
“Our little girl arrived two weeks early at a small but perfectly formed 5Ib 12oz. We were home within 24 hours, breastfeeding and happily enjoying each other. A month passed and, having been signed off by a health visitor, we felt confident our daughter was thriving. It wasn’t until eight weeks, when a horrendous cold landed us in hospital, that we realised her weight had plateaued and she clearly wasn’t getting enough milk. I was devastated. I visited three GPs, each of whom suggested topping up with formula. Dissatisfied, I referred myself to a lactation specialist and hungrily sought out breastfeeding counsellors in my area. I found getting adequate support and advice something of an uphill struggle. It was stressful, hugely upsetting and I felt lost. Giving up didn’t feel like an option – breastfeeding was really important to me – and I’m proud that we got there eventually. I wish I’d known before having a baby that just because breastfeeding is ‘natural’ doesn’t always mean it is easy.” Jodie, marketing executive, 33
MY ONLY GRIPE IS THAT IT LIMITS YOU ON WHAT YOU WEAR
“Before having a baby, I never gave great thought to how I’d feed it. I think I must have subconsciously assumed I’d breastfeed. So, I feel extremely fortunate that, within minutes of delivering our baby at home, he was feeding happily, as we didn’t really have a plan B. It can be exhausting at times, but on the whole it’s been a dream – I’ve breastfed on trains, in parks, at pubs, on holiday and, of course, multiple times through the night. My main gripe is the limitations it puts on what to wear – if it doesn’t zip, button or billow, it’s no good. I recently set up Stylish Cows, an Instagram feed dedicated to outfits you can feed in without hassle. I wish stores would have ‘breastfeeding’ filters on their sites; it would make my life – and I’m sure all breastfeeding mums’ lives – much easier.” Claire, director, 36
I breastfed for 10 months and was sad to give it up; I'm not sure there is ever a right time
I HAD A TURBULENT START, BUT I AM NOW COMBINATION-FEEDING AND HAPPY WITH MY DECISION
“Having had two boob augmentations in my twenties, I’d always assumed I would never be able to breastfeed. But that didn’t matter, as I planned not to have children. Then, at 38, everything changed – my ovaries, as they say, started twitching and soon we had our first baby on the way. I can’t describe my delight when, lying on the hospital bed, I felt the milk come in and watched as my little girl latched on. It wasn’t all plain sailing, of course – after two days at home, we were readmitted to hospital, as she’d lost a significant amount of birth weight. We were put on a feeding plan to up my milk supply and set about expressing, cup-feeding and breastfeeding. After an emotional six weeks, we settled on combination-feeding – breast and formula milk, which works brilliantly for us. Having had a turbulent start with breastfeeding, I can’t imagine giving it up now – and this is despite suffering an infection that went untreated for 12 weeks, causing me so much pain I had to bite down on a muslin during feeds. I just love the bonding experience so much that the joy of this outweighs any struggle.” Alice, detective, 39
I MISS THE DOWNTIME THAT CAME WITH BREASTFEEDING
“Growing up, I didn’t give much thought to breastfeeding, beyond noting that people in my hometown seemed to bottle-feed. When I became pregnant, living in London, breastfeeding seemed to be more the thing to do – walk into any café near me and there’ll be mums happily breastfeeding. I also liked that it was free and came with health benefits. So, I decided unequivocally that I’d give it a go. I experienced a few issues at the start – our baby couldn't latch on, so a lactation specialist came to assist us. Then I ran the gamut of sore nipples, pain while feeding and low milk supply. But, with support from a local group and a little perseverance, these were each short-lived. I used to love the downtime that came with breastfeeding – Ethan was a slow feeder, so we would snuggle up on the sofa and spend a good 40 minutes together, taking time out. I breastfed for 10 months and was sad to give it up; I'm not sure there is ever a right time.” Carrie, management consultant, 36
MY BABY WAS IN NEONATAL INTENSIVE CARE, SO I EXPRESSED AND BOTTLE-FED
“After a birth complication, I found myself in the maternity ward with my newborn girl in the neonatal intensive care unit. I felt pretty useless, so it was a combination of pressure and a lifeline when the nurses told me that it would really help if I expressed some colostrum to feed her through a tube. It gave me something to do that was actually going to help her, which was brilliant. We started syringing drops off my nipples, which involved my mum, sisters and husband – as squeezing and syringing with only your own hands is almost impossible. I had to sack my mum after she dropped (for the second time!) the tiny bits of milk I’d made. I wasn’t cross, but she was gutted! The NICU nurses were so pleased with me when I showed up with my 2ml that it kept me motivated to do more. With hindsight, I think the process probably saved me in those first few days. When my milk came in, I progressed to the expressing room – four curtained-off chairs with expressing machines. I spent a lot of time in there. Occasionally, I’d read my book and drop off to sleep, waking up to the whirring of the machine and my milk sloshing on the floor. I was living at the hospital for a week and would journey over throughout the night to visit my baby and express more milk. When she got better, nurses tried to help me to breastfeed, but she wasn’t digging it and I couldn’t bear to put her through more stress. We expressed for eight weeks, pumping, freezing and bottle-feeding. I don’t regret not persisting, as I don’t think we could have coped with the challenge at the time. But I plan to give it another go with any subsequent babies.” Gill, regulation administrator, 37