Breastfeeding is like learning how to walk

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Babies are amazing.

As parents, we do our best to nurture them, guide them, support them, enable them to learn and develop, encourage them. They learn so much from us; what we do, how we do things. Yet, there is so much we can learn from babies.

Gwennan WalkingJust think about the process that babies go through to become toddlers. Babies are not concerned with failing; they try things, learn and adapt quickly, are determined, take the support offered, have and use stuff that helps (in the context of learning to walk – cruiser shoes, soft carpet, Jumperoo, baby walker!), practice, develop their skills, and gain confidence until they crack it. It then becomes second nature.

This experience varies from one child to another. Anyone with more than one child will know how different siblings can be. And of course, why wouldn’t they be? They are people after all! We are all different.

So, you may be thinking, why am I stating the obvious? Well, because sometimes we have to shine a light on the obvious. We can get caught up in a whole bunch of other stuff that means that we don’t consider the obvious.

Why is this important? Well, it’s Cymru Breastfeeding Awareness Week, and breastfeeding is like learning how to walk.

As mothers, we are provided with information about the benefits of breastfeeding to both us and our baby. I found, however, that there was much less practical information and support about the actual experience of breastfeeding… the stuff that makes it real, makes it tangible, stuff that you can implement. If it helps in anyway, here is my story and tips for what worked for me.

On becoming a mother, I knew I wanted to breastfeed. It’s one of the most natural things you can do. I have two children. A son who I breastfed until he was 14 months, and a daughter who I breastfed until she was 3 years old. Both journeys were different… but both had challenges and real joy.

I had a difficult birth with my son and wasn’t able to hold him for a couple of hours after he was born. I was also poorly and anaemic for 6 months following his birth. Whilst in hospital, I tried my best to breastfeed him but we just didn’t get it. I was told that we couldn’t be discharged until he fed properly. I reluctantly, and with huge amounts of disappointment, fed him formula milk.

But I didn’t want to give up on breastfeeding him. I was fortunate to have a really supportive Health Visitor who booked appointments to visit me at home at times when my son needed feeding. She gave me practical support and advice, showed me what to do, told me biologically what was happening to my body, sat with me, made me cups of tea, built my confidence. Similarly, when we had our routine visits to the surgery to get my son weighed, she and her colleague gave me space and encouragement to breastfeed him.

One of the big things for me was tricking my body to produce more milk. So in between feeding sessions, I would sit with a breast pump simulating a baby feeding. If anyone has used a breast pump, it is pretty basic and you do feel like you’re a cow going into the milking shed, but hey ho, that’s what needed to be done! To start with, not much additional milk was produced, but relatively quickly, my body clocked that I ‘needed’ to produce more milk to the point that I was solely breastfeeding my son, and importantly, he was putting on weight, was healthy and thriving.

I was comfortable breastfeeding in my home and the doctors’ surgery, but hadn’t braved doing it in ‘public’. So, I bought a Bebe Au Lait nursing cover and ventured to my local coffee shop – Coffee #1. This gave me some privacy whilst I practiced… plus the lovely staff in there, checked if I was ok and comfortable, sorted green tea for me without me having to queue, and brought my food and drink over to me so that I didn’t have to manage that and a pram/buggy and a baby as well! Fairly quickly, I got the confidence to feed without a nursing cover. What I would add here though is how important a top with some elasticity or bagginess to it is, and a light scarf also helps if you want some privacy. You do also have to come to terms with giving up wearing dresses for the time you breastfeed; they’re totally impractical!

I returned to work when my son was 9 months old and continued to breastfeed him twice a day – once before going to work and then again before he went to bed. Over time – when he was about 1, and instigated by him, this reduced to just once a day. This worked well for us both. I loved the time, particularly in the evening when I’d had a full day at work, cuddling and connecting with him. It was so fulfilling.

I was forced to stop breastfeeding him at 14 months when I underwent lifesaving treatment. This was so hard. By this point, he was self-weaning but I wasn’t ready. I wanted to be in more control of the decision, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. There wasn’t a choice.

I was so proud of where we’d got to together. One of my highlights was breastfeeding him whilst we watched a basketball game at London 2012!

The story was different with my daughter. I had a much easier birth and was able to feed her and hold her straight away; applying the knowledge, skills and experience I had obtained from feeding my son. Even with this, her latch wasn’t as comfortable on one side, and we had a blip. I became very poorly with mastitis. Having mastitis doesn’t mean that you necessarily have to stop breastfeeding. Don’t get me wrong, it was blinking painful (understatement of the century) and the air was blue every time I fed her… but it was important to try and keep my supply of milk.

As the antibiotics kicked in, the pain and infection subsided, so it did get easier. When feeding her, I would always start with the side with mastitis and I continued to do this even when the mastitis had cleared up.

Breastfeeding her was fab. It was cheap, didn’t require loads of equipment, and was on tap! It also didn’t hinder me taking a full part in life. I am a Board Member at Hafan Cymru and continued to attend Board and committee meetings, and take part in strategy days. I also attended strategy and business planning sessions with my employer whilst on maternity leave, and I attended public lectures… all with my daughter. I have to say that having a baby with you certainly helps with networking! Of course, being able to do this was helped by the fact that everyone was incredibly supportive of me as a working Mum. I was able to blend the two with ease.

Like my son, I returned to work when my daughter was 9 months old, and I continued to breastfeed her. Unlike, my son, she took a lot longer to wean naturally. I was still breastfeeding her at 3 years old, and that was absolutely fine for both of us. It’s important to wean when your baby is ready.

I know that breastfeeding until a child is this age is atypical in the UK (not elsewhere) and I have to say, I did feel that social pressure and was conscious of what ‘people’ thought… but for those that know me, I will always do what I think is right! And this is in part, one of the reasons that I wanted to write this blog. We have to positively shine a light on breastfeeding, apply the obvious, and help it become the norm.

Breastfeeding my children has been one of the things that I am most proud of. Sure, we had our ups and downs, but just like them learning to walk, I tried things, learnt and adapted quickly, was determined, took the support offered, had stuff that helped, practiced, developed my skills, gained confidence until I cracked it and it became second nature.

 

My top 10 tips for breastfeeding your baby

  1. Try things, learn and adapt quickly
  2. Take the support offered – Health Visitors, family, friends, baristas
  3. Use stuff that helps – breast pumps, nursing covers, scarves, stretchy tops, nipple cream, a comfy sofa
  4. In the early days, set yourself up for the day – remote control, books, magazines, tea, water, muslins and make sure these are all at hand
  5. Feed your baby from the side that is less comfortable first
  6. Seek out places that are breastfeeding friendly
  7. Practice
  8. Be determined
  9. Be patient
  10. And enjoy

 

If you haven’t seen Every Child Wales’ information and advice on breastfeeding, check out their website here.

 

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