"The truth is, stress is a definite hinderance so relax, trust your body and your instincts, and do whatever you feel is best for your baby because you know them better than anybody else."
My Breastfeeding Journey: Hannah's Story
"During my first pregnancy I assumed breastfeeding would be easy – a second nature. I was young, healthy and under the impression that, as women, our bodies are equipped to provide sustenance for our young, so never anticipated having to rely on formula to combi-feed my baby. I felt confident that breastfeeding would come easily and was programmed to believe there was no other (acceptable) means of feeding her once she arrived. I had witnessed stigma surrounding formula feeding and felt a silent pressure to breastfeed. The women in my family, though, have all breastfed and had different experiences in terms of ease, which has meant they’ve been able to offer varied and invaluable advice and support when I’ve needed it.
This is my second breast feeding journey (so far), my first lasted around 16 months and was quite difficult (emergency c-section and baby in SCBU led to delay in milk production and compromised supply in the early stages). My baby was initially combination fed as a result, whilst I struggled to increase supply and meet demand. Before the birth of my second daughter, I felt a lot less confident that I’d be able to exclusively breastfeed. Although I was adamant that I wanted to avoid it if possible, I had mentally prepared myself to combi-feed and anticipated difficulties with milk production.
As we were separated following a difficult birth, I was unable to breastfeed for the first two days. We managed one feed straight after surgery and then she was rushed to SCBU and incubated for the next 48 hours, resulting in her being syringe fed formula. I attempted to hand express colostrum but due to the stressful natured of the situation I struggled to do so which in turn led to poor milk production.
My first baby also had a cow’s milk allergy that wasn’t identified immediately which caused discomfort for her and distress for both her and I, as she wouldn’t settle after feeds. Luckily, I was able to increase supply by pumping between feeds and taking Fenugreek supplements, which enabled us to transition into exclusive breastfeeding. Eventually, I was able to breastfeed for 4 months longer than anticipated. I had intended initially to feed for a year however, due to her allergy, we extended this time frame to 16 months.
With baby number two, I planned to exclusively breastfeed if I could but expected difficulties and took formula to the hospital as a backup. Thankfully, we were able to avoid formula completely as breastfeeding came naturally, with baby latching first time round and feeding for over an hour whilst we were in recovery post c-section. We’ve actually managed to exclusively breastfeed for 5 and a half months with no issues.
My second journey has been a breeze in comparison to my first. While my first born took lots of coaxing, my second pretty much threw herself at the nipple at the first encounter and has latched really instinctively ever since. There haven’t been any physical complications but I’ve definitely experienced difficulties with feeding anxiety and worrying that I’m not producing enough milk for my baby to thrive.
In terms of breastfeeding in public, personally I breastfeed whenever my baby is hungry, wherever that may be. With my first I fed on buses, trains, planes, in cars, parks and restaurants. But with my second, due to COVID-19 we haven’t been in public as often but on the odd occasion that we’ve been in a restaurant, I’ve fed her proudly and comfortably. We’ve also fed in the car whilst parked outside of her sister’s school and in waiting rooms at doc/hospital appointments.
I expressed to increase milk production with my first baby and found it quite difficult, uncomfortable and tedious, using a manual pump. With baby number two, I’ve expressed as a means of allowing her older sister to feed bond with her, I’ve also expressed to allow Dad the chance to bond and most recently to store milk as a blending agent ahead of our upcoming weaning journey. This time round we’ve opted for an electric pump and had much better results, making this journey much more successful.
To take care of myself, during my breastfeeding journey, I made sure I was eating consistently (even when not particularly hungry), sleeping, drinking water excessively and relaxing as much as possible – which is the biggest help when breastfeeding. The truth is, stress is a definite hinderance so relax, trust your body and your instincts, and do whatever you feel is best for your baby because you know them better than anybody else.
If I could give any advice to new Mum’s just starting their breastfeeding journey is would be: Persevere! It can be really daunting especially if it doesn’t come easily or naturally to begin with but if you’re able to push through the hard times and continue breastfeeding you’ll get to experience the most sacred and special journey with your baby. They grow and change so quickly whilst they’re babies but time stands still in those breastfeeding sessions and you’re able to really soak in those mummy and me moments and truly bond. If you can’t breastfeed, don’t beat yourself up for formula feeding. It’s so much easier said than done to ignore the stigma attached to bottle feeding but ultimately fed is best and as long as your baby is thriving it really doesn’t matter where their milk is coming from!"