Breastfeeding: It doesn't work for everyone (and that's okay)
Breastfeeding is best for baby, right? Please, lovely mums, don't forget about what's right for you too.
I remember going to a breastfeeding clinic when I was pregnant. It involved knitted boobs, baby dolls and a midwife who was very pro breastfeeding, obviously. I decided very early on in my pregnancy that I would breastfeed Rex, and have a vivid memory of telling Eamo that I wasn't going to put any pressure on myself. If it worked, great, if it didn't, I would bottle feed. Simple. Or so I thought.
Despite saying I would just go with the flow when it came to feeding, I actually felt a huge amount of pressure to breastfeed Rex. Admittedly a lot of that was from myself, but also from many outside influences – midwives, health visitors and even some friends and family. “It’s the best thing for him,” everyone said.
Mine and Rex's breastfeeding journey was so different to what I expected. When pregnant, I remember being shown a video of a baby having just been born crawling up to his mother's breasts and just latching on. And I naively thought the whole process would be that easy. I wish I'd known that for some women, it isn't. For some women it just doesn't work. And that is okay.
Breastfeeding was a hugely stressful experience for both of us, however I persisted for the first six weeks of his life. I wanted to give him what I had been told and believed was the best possible start, and I couldn't understand why it was so hard for us.
Looking back now, Rex's arrival in this world was a little traumatic. He had to be delivered via ventouse and had really severe, deep bruising on his head for a long time after he was delivered, so much so I had a newborn on paracetamol just hours after he was born. This meant that every time I held him to breastfeed him was hugely painful for him, so much so getting him to a comfortable point to latch on was awful for both of us.
At the time, I had no idea that this was affecting him so much, and that he quickly associated breastfeeding as this awfully painful, horrible experience. Instead I went through six painful weeks of trying to breastfeed, not wanting to fail and to give Rex what I had been told and believed to be the best possible start in life.
As I struggled with feelings of failure, I spiralled further and further in to postnatal depression as I desperately tried to understand why my breastfeeding experience was so different to all perfect breastfeeding images and videos that are so readily available.
At around six weeks, Rex went through a growth spurt, and it was at this point I had to admit to defeat. I simply could not satisfy his hunger and so gave him some formula as a top-up. Immediately after he was like a different baby. Satisifed. Content. Full.
Breastfeeding: It's not the only feeding option
Rex is now three, and hindsight is a wonderful thing. At the time all I could see was that I'd failed as a mum. What I wish I'd been able to see is that while breastfeeding is wonderful, convenient and hugely beneficial for both baby and mum, it is not the only feeding option. By the time I realised this back when Rex was little, I was already broken.
I felt such feelings of shame and guilt that I couldn't bring myself to tell people he was bottle fed at first. I felt judged for what I thought would look like just giving up when things got a bit tough. The hardest thing for me to accept was what you are told is the most natural thing in the world, which it really is for some women, is actually the most arduous, stressful and upsetting task for others. Me being one of them.
As stupid or dramatic as it may sound, not being able to feed or continue to feed Rex made me, for a time, feel like a total failure as a mum. The thought of giving it up made me feel like Rex would no longer need me. It sounds ridiculous, but these were the desperate feelings not being able to breastfeed led me to believe.
But it’s often hard to see a situation clearly when your bang in the middle of it. What I wish I'd been able to do is recognise that while breastfeeding might be the best option for Rex, also the best thing for him was for me to be happy and healthy and confident in my decisions. I also wish just one of the midwives I'd seen in those first few weeks after he was born had reassured me that switching to bottle feeding was ok, rather than pushing me to continue with a form of feeding that ultimately made me ill.
Would I have liked to have two fully working boobs and been able to breastfeed my baby for as long as I'd wanted? Yes. But only if that meant Rex and I were both happy. And, as it turns out, it wasn’t meant to be. And that's okay. What's best for baby is, of course, what we all strive for, but, lovely mums, please try not to forget about what's best for you too along the way.