One boob wonder: My breastfeeding journey by Clare Hopley
I always wondered why mothers referred to their experience of breastfeeding as a 'journey'. The word itself conjures all sorts of ideas: a long and winding road that is not easy to navigate; a path that is not straight; a step into the unknown. Now that my 'journey' is over I know exactly why breastfeeding is referred to as just that. I could journey to the ends of the earth and still not have an experience to match that which I gladly gained from breastfeeding my first-born, beautiful baby girl.
So, let me set the scene. I was due to give birth to our first baby in April 2016. We'd not had an easy time conceiving - in fact, it had taken us 2 and a half years and we somehow, by the grace of God or whatever you may believe in, fell pregnant the month before we were due to start IVF - so I was more than desperate and ready to be a mother. Whenever I thought about being a Mummy, I always pictured myself as a breastfeeding mother. I certainly don't disrespect anyone who chooses to bottle feed their baby but for me, I wanted to give my baby that experience. I wanted them to be able to nuzzle into my bosom and be nourished by their Mummy. I wanted to be like those mothers you see on all of the adverts and films, the ones that feed their baby looking all serene and calm and glowing. The reality was somewhat different.
My baby girl was born just two days after her due date and the first day was pretty easy in terms of her actually WANTING to breastfeed. She was suckling away, smacking her lips and attempting to latch the moment she was placed on my chest whilst I was still having whatever it is they do after an emergency C section done. (I don't think I will ever want to see any footage of what actually happens during and after a C section!) Now some poor Mamas really struggle in getting their baby to latch so I was immediately delighted that she'd done this no problems (I thought). So far, so good.
The next few days proved slightly more challenging. And the next. And the next. Why, I hear you cry at your screen. Well, there were 3 major obstacles that proved rather tricky to overcome.
Firstly, an emergency C section leaves you with literally NO stomach muscles. No-one had actually told me this. And, possibly rather naively on my part, I hadn't looked at ANYTHING about C sections as I "didn't want any negative vibes" and was hoping for a totally natural, pain-relief free birth. Hahaha. What a plonker! I so wish I'd done a bit of research into what an emergency C section actually does to your body but hindsight is a wonderful thing. Anyway, lack of stomach muscles makes it pretty difficult to sit in breastfeeding positions comfortably and with ease. It was hard to sit up by myself for the first 7-10 days so I had to get my husband to help lift me up, pass the (crying) baby and then shove millions of pillows in all sorts of places for me to be able to feed successfully.
Secondly, whilst my milk came in, it only came in for my right boob! This took me a little while to figure out. My left boob tried its best but just didn't produce anywhere near the amount that my right did and so, after a good 3 weeks of struggling to feed with both boobs, pump from my left whenever I got the chance and use nipple shields to protect my bleeding, cracked, blistered, ridiculously sore nipples, I ended up feeding solely from my right boob! I had great support from a breastfeeding specialist and was reassured that it was/is possible to feed off one boob, though obviously not common or easy. As the weeks went by and my milk supply was established, my left boob completely dried up and my right boob ended up looking like it belonged to someone else! I had the most lopsided, odd boobs you ever did see. I laughed and cried at how terribly odd they looked but was determined to carry on breastfeeding my baby girl. Carefully placed scarves and tent like tops did the job when it came to dressing my tennis ball (left!) and basketball (right!) boobies!!!
3. My baby had a moderate tongue tie. Unfortunately, it wasn't diagnosed until she was 8 weeks old. Having passed the check at the hospital, I didn't even consider it might be why she was getting so frustrated - head butting and punching with her tiny clenched fists - when trying to feed. In fact, it was the wonderful breastfeeding specialist who referred me to a consultant at Milton Keynes hospital and said it was the most likely reason for her behaviour and my poor, battered nipples!!! (Honestly, if any of you have been through this you will know how hard it is to let your baby latch on to your already blistered, super sensitive nips. One of my Mum friends compared it to a cheese grater being aggressively rubbed on them, and I'd say that was pretty accurate!) By the time 8 weeks had passed, my baby and I had just about mastered feeding off my right boob with a nipple shield, our baby girl was happy and steadily gaining weight so we decided not to have the tongue tie snipped as it seemed unnecessary.
So there we have it. My not so straightforward breastfeeding journey broken down into 3 bite-sized (ish) chunks. I carried on breastfeeding for 3 and half months and then slowly introduced the bottle. By 5 and half months, my baby girl was completely off the boob. It wasn't an easy transition and my boobs took a good 2 months to look anything like the same size. I'm really glad I stuck at it for that amount of time and that we overcame the obstacles put in our way. Most of all, I hope that if we are ever lucky enough to have a second child, I'll have learned from my first journey and will be able to do it for longer and with less difficulty.
Breastfeeding is certainly not for everyone but I will never forget the special feeling I got once we got it all sussed and I was pretty proud of the fact that my one right boob managed to feed our baby girl for so long. Finally, I'd have never succeeded if it wasn't for the support of my husband, family and friends, and laughter really was the best medicine for my oh-so sore nips so if you're struggling, crack a few jokes and tell people what's happening so that they can, hopefully, help you get through it.