Guest blog by Georgia - @georgiarule0891
To boob or not to boob?
Breastfeeding for me was never a decision that needed to be made, it was something I was always going to do. My mum had breastfed my sister and I, and my sister went on to breastfeed my two nieces, so I had never considered the alternatives. Those members of my family who had chosen to boob hadn’t struggled, so there was no reason why I would be any different. However I was still very conscious that boobing isn’t easy for everyone and I wanted to do everything I could to make sure we were successful.
As a result, breastfeeding played a massive part when considering my birthing preferences and I was adamant I wanted as natural a birth as possible. I wouldn’t contemplate any form of pain relief that would cross the placenta as I was aware that not only can this make babies groggy, but it can make it very hard for them to start their breastfeeding journey. I practised hypnobirthing which resulted in the most incredible birthing experience, a lovely, unmedicated waterbirth with my partner Matt there for company. At 10:31pm on Saturday the 8th of September 2018, Hayden Cole came into this world in a calm and gentle manner and we were able to enjoy immediate skin-to-skin which allowed our bond to start and for that rooting reflex to kick in (I was surprised at just how quickly this happens!)
We were given the option to go home or to stay in a very nice private room in the birthing centre which had an en-suite and a double bed meaning that Matt could stay with us. Given that it was late at night we decided to stay and in typical man style, Matt was able to get some sleep, which gave me the perfect opportunity for long periods of uninterrupted skin-to-skin with Hayden. For the rest of the night whenever Hayden would start to whimper I immediately offered him the boob and let him suckle, even if it wasn’t for very long, just because I wanted to make sure that a) he could latch on properly and b) that my milk production was being stimulated. And by golly did it work! I remember waking up on day 3 and my boobs looking like they belonged to a glamour model (albeit slightly more veiny than you’d see in a magazine!) I had heard people talking about your milk coming in, but no one told me that you would literally wake up one morning with ginormous, achy rocks stuck to your chest, I seriously thought they were going to burst! Having been a slightly small chested lady beforehand I found the new additions fascinating and couldn’t stop staring at them! And this was where things began to get interesting on our breastfeeding journey.
Got milk...? Yeah, and then some!
While doing my research about breastfeeding I’d come across many stories where people had struggled to feed due to having a low milk supply, but I hadn’t come across any where women had experienced problems related to having too much milk. I had also read that breastfed babies were much less gassy than bottle fed babies and were less likely to suffer with trapped wind/ colic type symptoms. Also, I had seen many women breastfeeding and it always appeared to be such a serene experience. The mother would be sat there gazing
lovingly at her baby while they calmly suckled away, often drifting off to sleep while they did so, and I would think to myself 'how beautiful'. The start of my own breastfeeding journey could not have been more different! Imagine this scenario: Hayden would latch on and start suckling…so far so good…then my let-down would happen and it would be so forceful that the poor little man would be choking and spluttering on my milk. He would instinctively pull away so that he could try and breathe and at this point my milk would literally be spraying EVERYWHERE! All over Hayden and all over me! This wasn’t such an issue when I was at home and could change my clothes (who am I kidding, I sat there in my milk stained top and let it dry) but when I was out and about it was causing me some real issues - there’s nothing more glamorous than walking around the shops with breastmilk leaking all over you (see the picture above!). Not only did my forceful let-down cause me some issues when it came to appearance, but it caused Hayden to have very bad trapped gas and reflux…not fun!
It was an awful experience to go through as he would be so unsettled after a feed and it felt almost impossible to burp him efficiently. I felt like I was spending my entire life either feeding him or burping him with very little time in between, it was truly exhausting and as a first time mum you can’t help but question if you’re doing something wrong.
When my parents came to visit when Hayden was 2 weeks old (they live over 200 miles away) I would hand Hayden over to my mum after a feed because I had convinced myself that I couldn’t burp him properly and that she was doing something better than I was. It didn’t help that my dad kept chirping up in the background that I was “starving the poor lad” and that he was crying because he was hungry and not getting enough milk which obviously knocks your confidence and makes you question your milk supply. I then did the worst thing possible and went to Google to try and find some advice and that just opened up an entire new world of confusion about how often to feed, when to switch sides, how to check if baby is getting enough milk etc. it was information overload!
I was not prepared for this overflow of milk and in one of my frantic Googling sessions I did find a way to help my beautiful little man breastfeed without fear of drowning! And so, for the next 3 months I had to hand express milk into a cup at the start of every feed and as soon as I felt/heard a let-down happen to take the worst of the pressure off the boob, giving Hayden more of chance to cope with the flow. If we were out and about I got into the habit of having a muslin to hand so that I could stick it over my boob whenever the inevitable milk shower started. Laid-back feeding became an absolute life saver, although it did take some skill to master. Also, I had to make sure his crib was raised at one end so that his head was higher than his stomach which seemed to help as well.
Family support was limited on this topic as this was new ground for them, neither my mum nor my sister had experienced a similar high milk flow. I’d be on the phone to them saying “isn’t it a pain to have to keep unlatching and latching back on during a feed” and “did your boobs used to leak milk all over you during and after a shower” or “how crazy is it that we can make milk shoot right across the room from our boobs” (I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s tested how far it can go…am I?) and they would respond by saying they didn’t have a clue because it had never happened to them, they were clearly those lovely peaceful women that I had envisioned I would be. The hand expressing hack seemed to do the trick until he finally got used to the fast flow himself (and actually developed a preference for it #weallhavealazyboob) and at 12 weeks old he began to be able to burp himself which was the most welcomed milestone
I think I have experienced yet. No more keeping him upright for 30 minutes after a feed and being terrified that I was going to fall asleep and drop him in the night! No more having to faff around during a feed listening out for that dreaded let-down and no more fear of being soaked in my own breastmilk in public. It was now my time to join the serene breastfeeding mama’s club! My confidence really grew when my sister came to visit when Hayden was 6 weeks old and she was able to reassure me that I was doing a great job (it’s amazing how just hearing those words can put your mind at ease). She showed me how to massage my boobs to get the best performance out of them and was able to give me practical advice about when to change sides and how to tell if Hayden had fed enough. That one visit really was a turning point in my breastfeeding journey and I grew in confidence from that point onwards.
Mind your own tits!
I am normally a very confident individual and I wasn’t worried about feeding in public (even in the days when I knew a milk shower was inevitable). I guess this is a good thing because I chose to feed Hayden on demand and not to a schedule, which has meant being prepared to feed him whenever and wherever we are…day and night! I have fed him in cafes, by the side of the road, at a theme park and most recently on a hike through a Swedish National Park (which impressed even myself given that he weighs over 10kg now!).
While the majority of my breastfeeding journey has been extremely positive it’s amazing how the negative experiences stick with you for longer. The one negative experience I had occurred in a café when Hayden was only 4 months old. We had gone for breakfast after Hayden’s swim class, which those of you with babies who swim will know makes them ravenous, I sat at my table and discretely began to feed him. While Matt was ordering our food, a mature woman approached me and started to yell that I was “disgusting” and "common" and that what I was doing was “sickening.” She felt so strongly about the situation that she marched over to the till and demanded a refund as there was no way she could eat her breakfast in a place where they allowed something that “vile” to occur.
I was in utter shock and didn’t know how to react. When I’d previously thought about something like this happening I’d always visualised myself valiantly defending myself or whopping my boob out and squirting the offender with milk until they ran away crying. But now I was actually in this situation I had well and truly frozen. What surprised me the most was that it was a woman who was verbally abusing me, I don’t know why but I had never anticipated a fellow woman speaking to a new mother in such a degrading way. What happened next though restored my faith in humanity. There were two other men in the café, one of them with two children, and before Matt could come over to say anything both men came to my defence and told the woman that she was the only one who was disgusting and that she needed to leave me alone immediately. The woman did leave but not without throwing a few more horrible comments in my direction on her way out.
I didn’t let this experience put me off feeding in public as the needs of my baby far outweigh the prejudice of other people. If anything, it fuelled my passion for normalising breastfeeding and opened me up to an entire network of wonderful likeminded mamas who are on a mission to drop the cover and empower women to feed with confidence.
And so our journey continues
So far we are 10 ½ months into our breastfeeding journey and I am fully intending to feed Hayden for the two years that the WHO recommends. I imagine this will have its own challenges as I’ll be the only one in my family who has fed for that long and no-one in my friendship group is planning to do so, but I feel so much more empowered now to educate people on the reasons behind my choice, (not that you have to defend your choices to anyone.) When it comes to deciding what is best for your baby only your opinion matters.
I love the bond that I have formed with Hayden through breastfeeding and I wish that all mamas felt supported enough on their breastfeeding journey’s so that they could feel the same bond. Keep on boobing mamas!!!