Guest blog by Chloe - @colourfilledliving
I have two daughters who have both been breastfed. My eldest is two and a half years old, and my youngest, who I am still breastfeeding is just five months old.
Both my breastfeeding journeys have been very different and have made me view breastfeeding and my body very differently each time.
Let’s start with my eldest daughter, Arya. When I was pregnant with her, I always knew that I wanted to breastfeed. However, I was also aware that breastfeeding doesn’t come easily to everyone so I made sure I would keep an open mind once she was born.
When I had Arya I had a lovely water birth without any pain relief besides gas and air. This is exactly how I planned and hoped to deliver her. Although, I had torn quite badly and required sutures in theatre with a spinal epidural to complete the stitches. This was not planned. After a complication with my epidural I ended up back in hospital a few days later. The first week of Arya’s life was a write off for me. I was bed bound and unable to look after her properly except for feeding her. Amongst the chaos of that first week, she did manage to breastfeed fine and we got the hang of it quite quickly. I do believe that Arya picked up on my own stresses and pain in that first week of her life. It meant that she was an unsettled baby who needed constant feeding to calm her down. I wanted to enjoy feeding her so badly. Everyone else who spoke about breastfeeding said how wonderful, beautiful and precious it was. For me, it was a chore.
Arya was the first grandchild on both sides of our families, and therefore, everyone wanted to get a cuddle with her 24/7. We had visitors constantly and were also living with my parents at the time. I felt like everyone else got to enjoy this beautiful new baby and whenever she fussed or cried she was handed straight back to me to be fed. No wonder breastfeeding for me wasn’t that beautiful, bonding, special time everyone talked about. It was the only time I got to spend with my daughter in the first few weeks and she was always crying beforehand.
I remember being terrified at the thought of having to breastfeed in public. If ever we went out I would make sure it wasn’t for more than an hour in case I would have to feed. The first time I fed in public, we were Christmas shopping. Arya stayed asleep in her buggy for hours and because of that I could feel my boobs getting sore as they were so full of milk. I knew I had to feed her at some point so we stopped to get coffee. The coffee shop was packed and there were no quiet corners to feed in, it was all out in the open. I got muslins and blankets out ready to fashion some sort of cover as I wasn’t quite sure how I was meant to do it. As I got ready I noticed I had leaked through my bra and my t-shirt under my jumper was soaked! I was mortified and so upset. I had packed about three changes of clothes for Arya and nothing for me (definitely learnt a lesson that day!). Luckily we were in a shopping centre so my husband ran out to buy me a new top. When I eventually was ready to feed Arya, still anxious that I had to do it in the first place, I saw another mum across the café who was also breastfeeding her baby and it literally blew my anxieties away! If she could do it and no one was bothered then I could too, and I did.
I continued to breastfeed and got a bit more confident when feeding in public, but was still adamant to cover any tiny sight of boob when doing so.
Arya didn't sleep well at all from the day she was born and I felt like I was constantly feeding her throughout the night. I was told that giving a bottle of formula milk before bed would fill her up more and help her to sleep. She had her first formula bottle at around three months old and from then on she was combination fed with a formula bottle every night. In hindsight, this was the worst decision! It was good in some ways because it meant that Tom got to feed her as well, but she had such bad colic and I'm certain it was caused by combination feeding. It also didn't help her to sleep better at all, but by then my milk supply had adjusted to her feeding patterns and we were determined to continue to see if there would be any change (there wasn't).
Second time round, things have been very different. I have enjoyed breastfeeding from day one, I feel empowered and confident when I feed in public and I’m not ashamed to feed wherever and whenever I need to. I also feel more comfortable in my own skin because of it.
I always knew this breastfeeding journey would be different to my first. I decided that it would be while I was still pregnant. I had opted for a home birth this time round which was genuinely the best decision I've ever made. The support and education my home birth team of midwives gave me about my body and breastfeeding made me feel like I was doing this all for the very first time!
I educated myself on the incredible benefits of breastfeeding and also on the mother's bond with her baby. Although I delivered my baby at home, I made sure I was strict with who came to visit us this time round. For the first week I didn't want anyone other than my immediate family to visit and I was also confident enough to turn away visits when I wanted that all important family time with just my husband and our girls. This alone had a huge impact on my breastfeeding journey. I wasn't just holding my baby when she was hungry, I made sure I gave myself the time to bond with her and enjoy all aspects of her newborn self without having to hand her over to other people constantly. The first time I fed in public this time round, Nerea was just a few days old and I wasn't nervous or anxious at all. It was like something had completely shifted in me after having my home birth, I had a new burst of confidence and respect for my body and I've been proud to feed wherever I've needed to.
When I say I have fed wherever I've needed to I really mean it! I've fed walking through car parks and theme parks. I've fed in an old fire engine, on the beach and in an airport, in cafés, restaurants and while doing the shopping in a supermarket and not once have I felt the need to cover or been fussed by other people being around.
The way I view breastfeeding has massively helped my bond with Nerea. I'm 100% certain that babies, no matter how young, pick up on all the mother's own stresses and anxieties, and because I've felt so free to feed wherever I need to this time round, Nerea is such a calm baby because of it.
Don't get me wrong, I've still had those moments where I've leaked through bras and t-shirts or I've been feeding her in public and my milk has sprayed all over myself and her! However, I'm not bothered by any of it this time. It doesn't embarrass me or make me feel awkward and nervous, if anything it's just funny. It's natural, so why should it bother me? I'm amazed by how my body alone has been able to nourish and sustain my baby exclusively for five months and she's growing out of all her clothes far quicker than I can keep up! I'm proud of myself and my body and all breastfeeding mums should feel the same, no matter how long or 'short' you feel you have breastfed. Just a few drops of our liquid gold is exactly that, gold for our children's bodies.
I'm excited to continue to exclusively breastfeed for as long as I need to until I see the signs that my daughter will need something more. Even when she does start eating food, I'll still breastfeed for as long as I can because the benefits are endless for both my baby and myself!