Guest blog by Jenna - @jennapeutrill and @fashionablyfeeding
Whenever I would think about having a baby I always knew I would breastfeed. In my head I just knew I wanted a natural birth, no pain relief and to breastfeed. I have no idea why I felt this way, I just did. I assume it is because that's what my mum did, but other than knowing my mum had breastfed myself and my siblings I was never around anyone else that did and never actually saw anyone breastfeeding. I just knew I was going to.
When I was pregnant with my son and began buying all the equipment I needed, I bought bottles and a steriliser because they happened to be on offer in Mothercare. I didn't actually think I would need them. I just got them as a backup. I never really did any research into breastfeeding because I just assumed it would happen, as I thought this it is what our bodies are meant to do.
My pregnancy with my son was extremely stressful. I loved being pregnant but my life became utter chaos. I found out I was pregnant weeks after my mum was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was the first person that knew I was pregnant. The second I walked out the bathroom with the pregnancy test to show her she was so happy she was going to be a nana and used that as another reason to fight through. Someone I knew said to me 'for every new life there has to be a death' which caused me so much heartache feeling like it would be my fault if anything happened to my mum. Pressure any pregnant woman does not need. During the pregnancy we found out my mum was terminal. My partner couldn't cope with everything that was happening so he panicked and left me. Yet another huge stress.
I got very unwell and was in hospital a few times and had different medications that never seemed to help. I then began getting extreme itching on my hands and feet that would keep me up all night and my skin was red raw from itching. I suffered for weeks but eventually went onto Google and found out about Obstetric Cholestasis. Google is never the answer but thank goodness I did because it can be extremely dangerous. My mum had spoken to my midwife about her situation and the midwife had contacted the hospital to ensure I had lots of support in place just in case. When I mentioned the itching to the midwife she did a blood test and sent it off straight away. I got a call a couple of days later to get to the hospital straight away and within half an hour of being there I was being induced.
Already it felt like nothing was going to plan. The hospital were great as normally you can only have your partner with you unless it's specific visiting hours, but I was able to have my mum there too. She was allowed to be with me every single step of the way because her prognosis wasn't long. Leicester Royal Infirmary were great for how they were and I thank my midwife for her input on that and ensuring my mum would get to be there with me. When my waters broke they very quickly realised my son was breech and before I knew it I was signing the forms and in surgery for an c-section. In recovery I did skin-to-skin and we tried to get my son to latch on. Obstetric Cholestasis affects your liver and my case was classed as severe which meant my son was very jaundiced, causing him to be very sleepy after birth. We persevered with trying to get him to feed over the few days I was in hospital and a nursery nurse even squeezed colostrum drop by drop from me into a syringe and fed it to him that way. I literally felt like a cow being milked.
I didn't eat the two days I was in hospital and hardly drank. I was up and about walking as soon as I could be, but I wasn't fuelling my body and that, added to my son's lazy latch, was clearly affecting my milk coming in. I was naïve to think breastfeeding would just happen because it was what my body was made for. For a full week I kept on doing what I could with my mum being the only person to try and help me. There was no other support at all and by day seven, when the health visitor said he had lost a lot of weight and that I should put him onto the bottle, I thought that was my only option. His dad went out and got formula and sterilised the bottles and my son took to it and guzzled the milk down. I got an electric pump but only a few drops came out. I cried to my mum a lot and felt like my body had failed me and that I had failed at being a mum at the first hurdle. The pregnancy had been stress after stress, the birth was the opposite of my plan and then I wasn't able to breastfeed. Looking back now I realise the lack of support of breastfeeding along with my lack of knowledge is what failed me, not my body.
My mum was able to create an incredible bond with my son as she would bottle feed him and had so many cuddles and special moments with him. He would always settle and fall asleep in her arms so quickly. She passed away when he was six months old but had fought so much and was so strong that entire time. My mum got to be there to support me through feeling like I had failed and learning how to be a mum myself. Being a mum without your own mum is incredibly hard emotionally. The only advice you ever really want is from your mum. I would tell myself the reason it all felt like it went wrong was because I needed my own mum to support me and that any births after that would be how I had envisioned them to be.
I and my sons dad got back together not long after he was born, but it took me a while to get over the fear that he would panic and leave if we got pregnant again. When my son was three I was finally ready to try for baby number two. Getting pregnant the second time round was a long process as I have PCOS. After over a year of trying and numerous tests, the appointment before they were going to try giving me hormones the doctor said to me "I don't think you'll be back here, I think you'll be pregnant within the next three months". She was right.
I knew this time round I was going to get the birth I wanted and I would breastfeed for six months! I researched and researched and watched videos on how to get the right latch and discovered brands like B.oob and Boobix that make lactation products. I found @littlepeachlondon on Instagram and followed all of her stories and posts to get as much information as I could, because I knew I needed to be as informed as possible to make sure nothing would go wrong this time. I packed my hospital bag with snacks and drinks to ensure I fuelled my body after birth this time. I felt prepared. I also prayed to my Mum to make sure it would all go to plan. I spent most of the pregnancy in and out of hospital having extra tests and appointments with consultants as I was classed as high risk, but this time the OC didn't come back. The hospital discussed booking me in for a c-section and explained all the risks of a VBAC (vaginal birth after caesarean) and that I would have to be monitored as soon as I went into labour, but I was determined to not have another c-section.
There were a few bumps in the road during my labour because the midwife on the birthing unit wasn't very nice. She was going to send me home for a second time, but after I forcefully explained I was told that I needed to be in hospital to be monitored while in labour, she sent me down to a ward and within half an hour I was back in the birthing unit. The nurse on the ward that sent me back up said she had no idea why I had even been sent down as I was five centimetres dilated and clearly in full blown labour. Five centimetres became nine in another half an hour so it's a good job I didn't go home. Luckily her shift ended during that half an hour and the lady who delivered my baby was amazing. She helped me to latch my daughter on very quickly after the birth, but I had made sure my partner and sister who were my birthing partners knew I wanted her to feed quickly after the birth, so that if I wasn't in the right mind or something went wrong they could tell the midwife exactly what I wanted.
I had to stay the night in hospital because it was late by the time all the checks had been done. I was on the exact same ward I had been on after having my son, in the bay next to the one I was in for him. I felt like it was all a sign. I kept myself hydrated and ate, then I tried to feed my daughter again but was struggling slightly to get the right hold to help her latch so I called for help. I wasn't worried this time about asking for help as I was going to do whatever it took to breastfeed. After a bit of help my daughter was latched on again. From then on it was all pretty straight forward. The sore cracked nipples, the infected stitches from the birth that meant sitting was agony, the lack of sleep from cluster feeding, nothing was going to stop me because I was informed enough to know it was ok and I would get through it.
From day one I made sure every family member and friend was aware that I would not put a cover over her head while feeding and that if they felt uncomfortable THEY could leave the room until I was done. I didn't have this with my son, I would panic about others seeing me feed and would try to cover us up even though I needed to see what I was doing to get him to latch. We had her baptised at five weeks old and it was during a heat wave so she was attached to me for pretty much the entire day and I didn't cover her up. Being in a room with every single family member and all of our friends feeding definitely got me over any fear of feeding in public. I feed her everywhere and anywhere with no fear. I plan outfits that work specifically for feeding quickly and easily when out and about and most times people don't even realise she is feeding at all and will come over thinking she's cuddling me and only then realise that we are mid feed.
I love that breastfeeding is so normal to my son. At six years old he understands it's what mummies do to give their baby milk. When my daughter is upset he'll say things like "Mummy she needs some boobie, she's a bit sad". We talk about how it can help protect her from getting really poorly like he gets. He even lets me use it when he's cut himself falling to help heal it quickly because he knows it’s magic! He also knows this is more than just food, drink and comfort at only six years old. If only more adults could be open minded and realise the same.
I always knew my own mum breastfed and found out recently my auntie and my nana did too for all her kids and was even a milk donor which is something I would love to do if we have another child. I was gutted when I found out the place that does it here will only do it if you aren't past six months of feeding. From me being so open with feeding it leads to conversations with family about them and their breastfeeding journeys. Turns out I am from a line of bad ass breastfeeding mums!
My plan was to make six months, but as that crept up I then wanted to make a year. We are now sixteen months in to our breastfeeding journey! I always knew I wanted to breastfeed but never knew I would go this long. Every time anyone questions me with why I am 'still' feeding I remind them that the WHO and the NHS recommends feeding until two years of age and that what I am doing is completely normal. I choose to post pictures of me feeding my daughter and talk about it on social media because I want people to see this is normal! I am in no way shaming bottle feeding because I ended up using formula for my son. Also because I am proud of myself and so should every single woman that has managed to feed for a day, a week, a month, a year or beyond be. I will continue to feed my daughter until she naturally weans herself, but for now she's still a little boobie monster and we are both happy with that. Even on the tough days I am so grateful and happy with what we have achieved. Both my breastfeeding journeys may have been different but they were both journeys that have taught me a lot.