Hi, I am Carly, first time mummy to Theo and trying to share a very open and honest look at my first glimpse of motherhood.
In light of it being World Breastfeeding Week it seems only apt that I write about my breastfeeding journey.
For something that is supposedly one of the most 'natural' things in the word, it doesn't really come quite so naturally. I was determined to breastfeed throughout my entire pregnancy but even more so after my birth didn't quite go to plan and feeling let down by my body. With Theo in NICU they wanted me to try and get some colostrum to feed him, which I struggled extracting on my own. I remember on day 2 or 3 I was sat there in my bed on my ward crying hysterically to two midwives because I couldn't collect any. The midwives were incredible and reassured me that I had plenty and that there was just a knack to it. With one midwife each side of me they began milking me like a cow and they gathered the goods into about 4 syringes. I remember feeling so pleased with myself and as I was wheeled to NICU that afternoon I was beaming with what I could offer my son.
I struggled to breastfeed Theo in the hospital. In NICU I was under so much pressure to get him to latch on there and then, as they ensure that the babies are fed routinely around the clock. If I couldn't get him to latch at a certain time then he was fed by his tube and I felt like I was failing. I would try and try every time (often ending it tears) but only managed to get him to successfully latch for around 5 minutes. Every time we would have skin to skin I would try to get him to latch but I was awkward, uncomfortable and super anxious.
After having another meltdown to the midwives they set me up with a double pump (one on the ward and one on NICU) and I would routinely express every 3 hours to stimulate my supply and be able to gather enough milk to give to Theo, even if it was via his tube. By day 3 I was producing a lot of colostrum and was so proud of what I could take to my poorly baby. The night wake ups to express weren't fun, but it meant I could go and sit in a quiet room by myself and not have to listen to other mothers and families on my ward who were lucky enough to be with their babies.
Finally the day came when Theo was moved onto my ward. I was happy beyond words but also anxious about how I was going to feed him, considering his first 4 and a half days on earth he had been fed by a tube. That night I must have pressed the buzzer at least 4 times to call a midwife to help me get Theo to latch. Each time took a while and I found that different midwives had different techniques. I would urge everyone who wants to try and breastfeed to get the midwives to help you when you are in the hospital. Mine were incredible and it didn't matter how many times I asked or struggled, they were only too pleased to help.
I was even more worried about going home and had started to mentally prepare myself to bottle feed, not that there is anything wrong with that, just that I had my heart set on breastfeeding. I was beyond happy when we were finally discharged from the hospital at the end of day 5. When we arrived home I wanted to feed straight away to stop the anxiety and then Adam and I could plan what to do if it all went wrong. We went upstairs and I managed to get Theo to latch first time whilst we were in a lying down position. I genuinely believe that at home you are so much calmer in your own environment as opposed to a hospital, and if you're stressed then baby senses that and that may cause difficulty latching.
Those first few weeks are a blur. Sometimes he would latch on quickly, other times it would take a while and I would become stressed, practically trying to force my nipple down his throat. I suffered with engorged boobs and sore nipples (although not too bad with a bit of cream!) and started to express once every evening so that my husband could give Theo a bottle of expressed milk and bond with him, whilst I had a rest. I found my boobs really painful when I woke up and would often have to hand express a little in the shower to relieve some of the tension! Within the first two weeks I braved my first public feed, with the support of my husband and tucking an oversized muslin into my bra straps and covering my boob and Theo's head. Since then I have been lucky with my journey. Theo has put on over 4lbs (maybe even more by now) just from my breast milk and feeding is going well. I am unsure how long I plan to breastfeed at the moment, ideally 6 months exclusively but if things change in that time then that's OK too.
Breastfeeding can be hard. I know lots of women who have struggled with the latch, mastitis, bleeding nipples or not enough milk supply. It also feels like you're in demand all of the time, which you are. If Theo is crying then on most occasions I will whip out the boob, as I know it will settle him. Breastfeeding for me has been empowering. I am amazed that I have grown this tiny human with just my breast milk. I struggle to get my head around it and I'm in awe of every single woman who has breastfed, whether they tried, if it was once, a few weeks, months or years.
Here are 10 things I didn't know about breastfeeding until I started breastfeeding:
1. For something so natural it is so unnatural and difficult, especially at the beginning.
2. Milk actually squirts out like a fountain (not just one stream) and at some point you will cover your baby's face in milk without realising, maybe even a shot to the eye!
3. You think pregnancy gives you big boobs and then *BAM* 5 days after birth you have jugs that challenge Pamela Anderson's!
4. The size of your new boobs means that any pre-baby clothes no longer fit, particularly ones with buttons. No one wants to see your bosoms Sharon, invest in some vest tops and baggy tees.
5. Whenever a baby cries (not even yours) your nipples will start to hurt and possibly leak. It’s like you became the baby whisperer and can communicate on a whole different level. Suddenly baby sensory doesn’t sound quite as appealing.⠀
6. You will spend most of your time at home with your boobs out because you’re basically either feeding, pumping or just forget to put those bad boys away. Most of your neighbours, the DPD man and the Local Gousto advertisers have probably seen your baps by now.
7. Engorgement is real. You may wake up in the middle of the night feeling like your boobs are actually going to explode. Let some of that s**t out, you don’t want to wake up in lake boob milk.⠀
8. Every time your baby is weighed and they put on weight you feel like you’re boobs have special super powers and that your milk is sent from the nutritional gods. Don’t act like you haven’t done a celebratory dance.
9. Baby’s latch is strong. That s**t can hurt. Like really hurt. If you’ve ever had your nipple in your baby’s mouth and then they turn their head still attached it’s like a 90’s playground nipple cripple!
10. Breastfeeding is one of the most empowering and rewarding things I have ever done and every day I am fascinated and amazed that I have grown my baby myself from my boobs. ⠀
Whether you are exclusively breastfeeding, combi feeding, expressing or bottle feeding you are amazing and being a mother is hard. We need to stop 'mum-shaming' and support each others' choices. What is right for one doesn't necessarily mean is right for the other. Shoutout to all the mamas out there, you are real life living superheroes!