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Breastfeeding – A Beautiful Bond Or A Ball And Chain?

by Rachael Binder

Breast is best right? That is what’s drummed in to you right from the word go. Attend any antenatal class and even though the class is about safe sleep or labour or antenatal care, there will be a section of the class promoting breastfeeding and its benefits.

This didn’t really bother me as I planned all along to breastfeed and was therefore interested in any tips and advice. And yes, breastfeeding does have a range of benefits but that doesn’t mean if you don’t breastfeed your a bad Mum. Being fed (by whatever means) and loved is the most important thing for any baby so whilst this blog post is all about my experiences of breastfeeding I hope people reading this don’t think I’m the breastfeeding police! It isn’t for everyone and there are many reasons why people can’t/don’t breastfeed and I have a great amount of respect for any new mum regardless of how they feed their baby – all I’m doing is sharing my experiences.

So… I’ve just spent hours in labour, am absolutely knackered and enjoying some skin to skin time with my gorgeous (yet slimy and gunky) little boy, when the midwife says it’s time to try and feed him. I don’t remember much about the finer details of feeding him on that first night but what I do remember is that I needed the help of a midwife each time to get Ollie to latch on. Then when he did latch on the midwife would leave, it would bloody hurt for a few minutes and then he’d come off and I’d have to call the midwife for help yet again! It’s safe to say that whilst supposedly being the most natural thing in the world, it didn’t feel natural that first night. It felt awkward, painful and stressful! But I got through it and the next day was determined to get him to latch on and feed without any assistance (mainly because they said I couldn’t go home until he was feeding properly and all I wanted was my own bed [ha – like I’d get to spend anytime in it!]) And I managed – we had a few feeds in the hospital and everyone seemed happy that he was feeding well so we came home.

Looking back, now Ollie is 5 months old, It’s hard to remember what feeding was like in the first few weeks/ months but I do remember it being a big deal every time. I had to be sitting in the perfect position, I had to be holding him in exactly the right place, his nose had to be perfectly in line with my nipple, his mouth wide open. It was like an exact science each time. And when he was feeding every hour or so it was flipping tiring! Even though I was trying so hard to do it perfectly, it killed for the first week or so. My nipples were red, sore and cracked so after every feed I was covering them in nipple cream. Ollie was also identified as having a severe tongue tie (something which can stop a lot of people breastfeeding as the babies can’t use their tongue properly to get the milk). Luckily, Ollie seemed to be gaining weight fine (after the initial loss all babies have) and I saw no difference after he’d had his tongue tie cut. Although maybe it became easier for him – we’ll never know – we can’t exactly ask him!

In the first few weeks I found that he seemed to always want feeding and would wake up every 20 minutes wanting more food. Turns out he was just falling asleep at the boob too quickly so we developed a little feeding routine – feed, nappy change to wake him up a bit, feed, burp to wake him up again, feed and then sleep. This could take up to an hour so to begin with I really was just a milk machine! But as time went on it got easier (he would feed all in one go!) and I became more of a natural. It’s hard now to think how I used to find it hard. It’s one of the easiest things in the world now – I can literally latch him on and feed him one handed, whilst texting and changing the TV channel. I’ve even walked around with him latched on to answer the front door (only to people I know – think the postman or window cleaner might have a shock if I answered with a baby attached to my boob!)

Then there was the breastfeeding in public hurdle to overcome. I can still remember the first time I did very clearly. We were in Lily and Arthur’s cafe in Wigan (go if you haven’t – their sandwiches and cakes cheered me up whenever we’d had a bad night!) It was fine, I covered us over with a muslin and no one batted an eye lid. Every time I used to feed him in public I would always cover up but sometimes it was hard – he started to become fussy and would unlatch (usually screaming at the same time just to draw attention to the fact I had my boob out!) Turns out he doesn’t like being covered up – handy! So now I don’t bother – I’m that much of a pro at feeding him (even if I do say so myself!) that I can whip my boob out and have him latched onto it within seconds and once he’s on his head covers the majority of my boob so there’s really not much to see. If people have an issue with that I see it as their problem not mine. I don’t flaunt it or make it obvious – I’m discrete and subtle so it’s simple – if you don’t like it, don’t look!

It’s safe to say that the main advantage of breastfeeding is it’s so easy to get out and about. You don’t have to worry about bottles or formula or sterilising – you just go and if he’s hungry you have milk on tap. I honestly don’t think I would have got out and about as much as I have done (especially in the first couple of months) if I wasn’t breastfeeding and getting out and about is important. I think I’d have gone stir crazy if I hadn’t gone out in the first couple of months! Even if it was just a little trip to tesco I knew that if he needed food it wasn’t a problem whereas if I had been bottle feeding I might not have bothered going.

So… a beautiful bond or a ball and chain? It’s safe to say that I feel Ollie and I have a really special bond. Mainly because I’m his primary carer – I’m with him all the time. However, I also put it down to breastfeeding. He needs me to survive and I feel he knows it. Nothing settles him quite like a few minutes at the breast and a cuddle with me. Sometimes when he’s feeding he’ll catch my eye and grin his little head off, falling off the boob due to smiling so much and we have a little cuddle and a giggle. I can honestly say that’s one of my favourite things he does – it melts my heart. HOWEVER, I have described him as my ball and chain a few times (albeit a very cute one!) He is now 5 months old and I haven’t been able to leave him for more than an hour. I literally have had no time away from him/on my own since he arrived on the 16th May. They tell you not to express or give a bottle for the first 4 weeks in order to avoid nipple confusion. So being the good girl that I am I followed this advice.

Unfortunately, Ollie simply refused bottles despite it being my milk in them. I did countless hours of research and tried all different types of bottles. He eventually took to the comotomo bottles I had imported from America (yes I was willing to try anything!) but it only lasted a couple of weeks and then he started to refuse them again so I gave up. It was too much of a ball ache to express my milk for him to then refuse it and me have to throw it away. It was easiest to just give him the boob. Breastfed babies have no routine and don’t take a set amount each time (in fact you don’t know how much they’re taking at all) – they just feed on demand so it’s not like I could leave him for a few hours after he’d fed knowing that he wouldn’t need food again for a while as an hour later he may decide he was hungry again. However, in the last couple of weeks I decided to try again with the bottles as I suddenly realised that even when weaned he would still need milk at points throughout the day and I couldn’t be tied to him for the next 18 months or so! And since trying again he hasn’t refused a bottle yet – he’s even gone to sleep for the night off a bottle (something I never thought would happen!) We’re also now 2 days into the weaning process as well (sweet potato going down well so far!) so freedom is in sight. Don’t get me wrong – I love him to pieces and don’t want to be apart from him for very long but the thought of a nice spa day or a meal out where I can eat with 2 hands rather than holding him with one and eating with the other sounds like bliss!

The dads also get an easy ride with breastfeeding, especially when the child won’t take a bottle. I have done every single night feed since he’s been born. I know Kai doesn’t have a choice – he doesn’t have boobs but I ain’t half jealous when I’m lying there in the night feeding and he’s sound asleep next to me, especially when it’s the third feed of the night (we had got down to just one, sometimes two night feeds but recently due to Ollie having two colds back to back, it’s back to multiple get ups a night!) I haven’t had an undisturbed nights sleep or a lie in in over 5 months. Just you wait Kai – once weaning is fully established and he needs my milk less, I’ll be claiming all those lie ins back!

And finally, those of you who know me well will know I like a drink! I somehow managed to survive 9 months of pregnancy with ease (it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be!) However, I still haven’t been able to have more than a drink or two in one go due to breastfeeding. Again, it hasn’t bothered me too much but now Ollie will take a bottle I may have a little more, especially over the festive period!

So would I breastfeed my next child? Yes I would. I feel the benefits far out weigh the disadvantages and I feel proud that Ollie has been and will continue to be (until he can drink cows milk) exclusively breastfed.

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