World breastfeeding week - why I totally changed my mind about breastfeeding.
It’s world breastfeeding week, according to people I follow on Instagram (I never knew there was such a thing). Which got me thinking about breastfeeding. Kind of the point of these awareness raising weeks/days really.
I know as a photographer it’s an odd subject to cover, but I do work with a lot of mums and mums to be, who are either going through it, or starting to plan how they are going to feed their baby. Plus I’m a mum myself. And I breastfed both of my babies. Edie only for a couple of months, and Leo for 6 months. And maybe it’ll help someone who felt like I did.
Before having children, I was adamant... ADAMANT I would not breastfeed. The idea repulsed me. These things were for fun. For making my outfits look good. Not for feeding babies. And right up until I was pregnant I felt this way. But it all changed. And it wasn’t the midwives and the constant banging on about breastfeeding that changed that. It was seeing it more in public, and seeing my friends doing it that changed my mindset.
Growing up, we weren’t breastfed (I’m sure my dad mentioned my mum other tried with one of us, maybe my sister? I dunno. But it wasn’t a thing at all in my family). Everyone I knew fed babies formula. It was all I ever saw, or remember seeing. As I child I don’t think I ever saw breastfeeding happen (that I know of). It wasn’t ‘normal’ in my world. How weird is that? But to me, it wasn’t normal. And I never even noticed that until a few years ago.
Worse still actually, my grandmother used to make comments about it being disgusting. Having something ‘hanging off you’ was repulsive. Again, I never took any notice of this, and how much it shaped my own opinions, until I was in my 30’s and expecting a baby of my own. It was just normal. I thought.
I wasn’t around any babies really (after my siblings had all joined the family) until my sister had her twins when I was 22 (she was 21). And again, they were bottle fed. She actually did try to breastfeed apparently in the hospital, encouraged by the midwives, but we never discussed it at the time (which I now regret). She was (and still is) very sensitive about her body. And at only just 21, and a single mother, too young to feel confident about any of it.
So until I was in my late 20’s, when friends started having babies and I started to think about my own desires for a family, it wasn’t even something I thought about, or saw. Babies had bottles. I knew the biology, I knew breasts were designed to feed babies, but no one around me did that. So I never gave it a thought at all.
But suddenly I was seeing breastfeeding everywhere. In cafes, friends with their babies. It was becoming normal. It had never even occurred to me that anyone I knew would do it, or what the benefits were, until a friend of mine was doing it. I don’t remember the conversation but I know she made me think differently. She mentioned the benefits of breast milk, and suddenly a whole different perspective started forming.
(My friend Kirsty just read this through for me before I published it, and she remembers me being dead against it when she was breastfeeding her daughter 2 years before I had Edie.... she was one of those friends that made it normal)
Perhaps this wasn’t “revolting” after all, as my grandmother once described it. And it is what our bodies were designed to do. I started listening to what people said about it, and considering that it might actually be an option one day. I still felt weird about the idea of doing it, and I still was sure I would bottle feed, but it wasn’t something that made me think ‘yuck’ anymore.
Blimey. Just writing that makes me feel all.... I dunno. Ick. That I even felt that way once upon a time. And I’m now a big breastfeeding fan! I actually feel rather ashamed of myself. But I think it’s a good thing to share this terrible prejudice I had against breastfeeding as I’m sure there are other women out there who felt, or are feeling the same. And it might help.
(Even once I was breastfeeding, most of my family were so uncomfortable around me. My brother and dad wouldn’t be in the same room if they could help it, despite me being ultra careful about anything being on show. If I was a different person that would have probably stopped me trying. But thankfully, I’m no longer that person).
So, yes. It became something that wasn’t ‘ick’ anymore.
Over the last few years, thanks to some brilliant campaigns, breastfeeding has become more acceptable in public (as it bloody well should be!!!) which has helped me (and I’m sure people like me) see it as the normal, natural thing it is. And I thank those campaigns, those strong willed women who wrote articles and got feisty in cafes over breastfeeding for doing it. If it wasn’t for those pro-breastfeeding women, mine would have had formula from day one, and I would never have experienced feeding my own child. And cried the last time I did (and a few times before that knowing it would all come to an end).
My breastfeeding experience wasn’t all lovely. I don’t think anyone’s is perfect at all. It f***ing hurts at first. But you get through it. And then it’s wonderful. And so easy. So convenient. It really is!
I decided while I was pregnant with my first baby (Edie) that actually I would give it a try. I was planning to feed my baby formula, but I wanted to at least try it and see how it went. Much to the surprise of my husband who had heard me say I wouldn’t breastfeed for 10 years. But the more I saw, and the more I read, I became determined to try it (and again, I wouldn’t have considered it had it not been for what I’ve already talked about). I wasn’t freaked out anymore. But I was nervous. I was scared of having to do it in public. I wasn’t as brave as all those other women. Despite never having had a problem with my body in changing rooms etc, this was different. And I think again my lack of exposure through my younger years, plus comments about it being gross, or feeling like it was ‘rude’ in some way definitely came into play here.
The major turning point for me was seeing my sister-in-law feed my niece. She had her Daughter 6 months before Edie was due and was breastfeeding. And she was so confident and great at doing it in public, it made me see it was possible. And the support from her family was great. It wasn’t just a ‘I’ll try it’ idea anymore. I really wanted to do it.
A few months later, I’m in the hospital, delirious from a horrible labour, no sleep and a c-section, and I have a baby clamped onto my boob. Emergency formula in the suitcase, but I was doing it!
It hurt so much to start. Everyone saying “it’s the latch, it doesn’t hurt if the latch is right”. Then looking at me and saying “hmmmm well the latch looks perfect, that’s better”. It still f-ing hurts!!! My nipples cracked, and my toes curled with the pain, but I was doing it and I was determined to get it right.
(blogger ‘parttimeworkingmummy’ on Instagram wrote a post about this very thing which describes this so perfectly. Incidentally she posted on my birthday, which was also when my boy decided he no longer wanted my boobs and it really resonated with me. Here’s a link
The first week or so was painful. Proper toe curling pain. We were combination feeding because that’s what I wanted to do (the midwives advise against it, they have good reasons, but it’s what I wanted to do, it worked well, and it was actually pretty amazing she was having any breast milk at all). The occasional formula bottle was a wonderful break for me, and gave my husband a chance to feed her. And I was having a pretty bad time. Lots of post c-section pain, bit of postnatal depression creeping up before my antidepressants kicked in. Nipples that felt like they’d been attacked with that barbed wire thing Neegan had in The Walking Dead. My toes are curling just thinking about it. But once I got through that, it was wonderful. I loved it. And the convenience! Not sterilising bottles and changing bag full of formula/bottles etc. Just some baby wipes and a couple of nappies in a handbag when I went out! Loved it.
But weirdly two months later, Edie stopped taking my left boob. No idea why. So the supply in that one dwindled. We got a pump to try and get things moving again but it was only slightly helpful. She started having more formula while I was frantically pumping. About a month later she started rejecting the right one. I managed up until about 3 months from birth to breastfeed her, and I was gutted. It was over.
When I had Leo last Nobember there was no question that I would breastfeed again. None at all (and it hurt again for the first week, despite me knowing what I was doing and the latch looked and felt right). This time I wanted to hit 6 months. And I did it. He started to reject the left one too after a few months. But this time I was ready. I was more confident. I spoke to health visitors and a Doctor. No one knew why, it all felt ok, but maybe that one had a different flow to the other? I knew I had a fast let down that we persevered through, so it was probably choking the poor boy or something. But I pumped, I prevented it drying up. That boob was always the rubbish one, but we kept it up for a few months more until he too decided he didn’t want it anymore. This time though I had a big stick of frozen breast milk from all the pumping, so he’s 8 months now and still gets a weekly dose of breastmilk.
I cried when I was all over. My husband took a picture because I knew it would be the last time. He also filmed it when the left boob played up like it had the first time, because we knew it might all go downhill soon. And tears were pouring down my face then too. But I did it. I got to 6 months. And I’m so proud of that. Especially considering how I never wanted to do it originally.
And I could not have done it without the wonderful support I had. From my husband primarily. Secondly the huge amount of support I had from my mother-in-law and sister-in-law (who also helped me get a better position to feed in when I was struggling - the rugby hold made everything so much easier!). And the midwives/health visitors. Not all of them I might add (a couple made me feel pretty shit). But some went above and beyond to be helpful and supportive, and reassured me I was doing great, and they were the ones I am grateful to. And all those women, mostly strangers, who changed my attitude about breastfeeding by doing it in front of me.
I would very much like to encourage anyone who is on the fence about breastfeeding, or thinking they will only formula feed, to just consider it, and give it a go. I absolutely think the ‘fed is best’, but breastfeeding is wonderful. I loved it, and I already miss it. It was one of the best things in the world, and I’m so happy to have done it. And you might feel the same.