BY GUEST WRITER, Natalie Jones-McWalters
I knew before I was pregnant that I wanted to breastfeed, but I wasn’t sure how successful I would be. People tell you, don’t worry ‘everyone can breastfeed’ – but can they?
I tried not to put pressure on myself, but it’s hard when you want something so badly.
My eldest was born 11 years ago in Hong Kong. He surprised us ten days early, weighing 5.5pounds (2.5kg). The midwife helped him onto my breast immediately, I remember how happy I was that we were doing it – I’d dreamt about that moment.
Unfortunately, this feeling of glee didn’t last.
He was taken to the NICU overnight due to my positive Strep B result. I went up to feed him as often as I could, but it wasn’t the same as having him next to me and it felt that we didn’t get off to a very good start. Thankfully the next morning he returned to my bedside, but he was crying more than quietly feeding.
I felt crushed and questioned if I could do this.
There was a midwife on my ward who became my angel! When she saw or heard us struggling she would hold him beautifully singing ‘Do-Re-Mi’, he immediately calmed and we would feed again. She was magical and helped me believe that maybe I could do it.
The coming weeks at home were tough though.
He always fell asleep so while nursing and so we struggled to feed for longer than five minutes. My nipples were wrecked, I felt exhausted and defeated. However, despite the toe-curling nipple pain, both crying, hand expressing and cup feeding, desperately trying to gain those extra grams at our weekly weigh in’s...
WE DID IT!
After six weeks with the help of consultants, doctors, my feeding pillow and sheer determination my nipples had fully healed (yes it’s normal to struggle that long - but get help early if you are struggling). We were happily feeding on demand and he was steadily gaining weight.
I was finally able to leave the flat with him, showered and feeling fabulous!
We confidently fed in public with my feeding cover and both went from strength to strength together, it felt amazing. When he was 13 months old I asked my husband to film him feeding one morning, we had gradually reduced to one feed a day.
It turned out to be our last one, so I love having that moment saved to treasure forever.
After a two-year break from breastfeeding my second son was born in 2013. This time I was thankful not to have strep B so he was by my side from day one. I only experienced 2 weeks of nipple soreness, nothing compared to my first time. I’m not sure if it was because I was more confident, if my nipples had toughened up or if he was better at it? A combination of all 3 things I think, plus he was bigger and stronger from the get go which helped.
We continued our journey together exclusively breastfeeding for a wonderful 15 months.
Mastering the art of feeding in the carrier was a game changer and something I definitely recommend you trying at home if you haven’t already. The biggest struggle with my second little man was the lack of sleep, he loved 'boobie' so much that he needed it all day and night. He didn’t sleep through until he was 1 years old, but despite the tiredness I never complained (for long) as I was so grateful we were such a good team.
I love the bond we shared together thanks to the gift of breastfeeding.
My beautiful daughter was born in 2018 and I was optimistic that our breastfeeding experience would be a positive one. It had to be right? I'd be a third time mum and know what I was doing? But this wasn't the case the beginning.
I damaged my coccyx during labour, which caused excruciating back pain for weeks after. I finally had the daughter I’d always dreamt of, my family complete, but despite all the joy that brought I was miserable as no position or amount of cushions helped me to feed her comfortably and I worried I wouldn’t be able to continue past the first week.
On top of the back pain, my nipples were not in a good way, this time even worse than the first.
I saw multiple breastfeeding consultants and midwives again, each one told us we were doing everything right – good latch and position. I was advised to pump to give my nipples a rest, some suggested I stop breastfeeding altogether because I was in such a bad way.
But, for me, giving up was not an option.
I managed to feed my other two babies for more than a year despite our hurdles, there was no way I’d allow myself to quit. (We do put a lot of pressure on ourselves don’t we!). I tried pumping, but the pain was as bad, so decided to continue direct feeding as this was my preference going forward.
I tried Silverettes, but they were no help. If anything, it made things worse as my nipples were constantly kept wet by the small amount of milk inside the cup. So I gently cleaned them with cool boiled water and clean cotton wool after every feed. Sitting with my boobs out airing helped too – an image hubby still remembers! Lansinoh cream definitely gave me some relief but it didn’t heal them. I was prescribed antibiotic and antifungal cream by one consultant, I think these did help a little - they didn’t get any worse at least.
I continued to trust that in time my body would heal and be ok like it was with my sons - thankfully it did.
After a long difficult 12 weeks the sores reduced in size and the pain stopped. I remember the first feed with zero discomfort. It was day one of week 13 and I sobbed - tears of joy and relief. I had done it again and knew nothing could stop us now.
Three years on I am still feeding my daughter each morning – what a blessing! When she cheers ‘yay boobies’ and tells me how much she loves them I’m reminded why I never gave up.
If you REALLY want to do something, you can do it.
It still amazes me how my babies empowered me with so much strength and determination. I have loved breastfeeding all 3 of them, despite the challenges we faced. There have been far more smiles than tears, far more precious moments shared than struggles and most definitely more good days than bad.
Mums - you are stronger than you know!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Natalie is a British mother-of-three who has lived in Hong Kong for 14 years.
She owns and runs NattyBop, which offers musical dance classes for little ones ages 6 months to eight years, as well as bespoke party entertainment.