As a personal trainer, I do a lot of work with ladies who are trying to get back into shape after pregnancy. So, I knew how people felt about breastfeeding. I thought I understood the whole thing and I had heard a lot of stories – but nothing can prepare you for when it’s your own.
When I fell pregnant with my first child, Gaby, I took every single course – both NHS and private. I wanted a broad spectrum – but I felt that most of them were run by bullies. One said it was cruel to use a heart rate monitor on a baby – if I’d listened to that, I think my daughter may well have died.
They all said, “you must breastfeed”. At the time I was training a lady who was a breastfeeding counsellor and she said she’d never had a breastfeeding failure.
Gaby’s birth was traumatic. She was posterior (facing forwards with her head in the back of my pelvis), and I had no idea how horrific a posterior birth can be – nobody had told me any of that. I had a birth plan, which was just hilarious. Everything they tell you will happen didn’t happen to me. My contractions started straight away and they were really strong. I went from nothing to 3cm dilated really quickly. My waters didn’t break.
In the hospital I had no urge to push at all. They didn’t realise Gaby was posterior – I have a very strong belief that it would be easy enough to do an ultrasound scan during labour to check the position of the baby at times like this. The epidural stopped working so I went from a little pain relief to nothing. In the end she was distressed, they had to use a ventouse and basically drag her out because it was too late for a C-section. I was in shock.
They put Gaby on my breast and she just sat hanging on my nipple, she didn’t do anything. It got more and more sore. I just wanted to get home. I was freaking out because there was all this advice around that babies shouldn’t get too hot, and the temperature in the maternity ward was so high, I was sweating.
At home Gaby still wouldn’t latch on. She would be on my breast for 16 hours a day but she never once actually latched on. I couldn’t put a bra on. Imagine what my nipples looked like! It felt like someone had shoved a red hot poker on them.
Three days later a vile midwife came to the house and started shouting at me. Gaby’s weight had dropped from 6 pounds 9 oz to 5 pounds 12 oz.
She grabbed hold of Gaby’s head – I seriously thought she was going to rip it off – and she screamed, “you are starving this baby”.
She got me a breast pump and I spent days freezing milk. My milk production was out of control. I put on loads of weight – I couldn’t stop eating, I was pumping so much. Gaby still wouldn’t latch on and I knew I was getting mastitis.
The midwife had ordered us not to give her a bottle in case she got “nipple confusion” (which I now think is ridiculous) so my husband and I were spoon-feeding her because we were too frightened to give her a bottle. She was hungry all the time.
One day a friend came round with his wife, who had also had a baby. She just sat there and watched me suffering on that sofa, she did nothing to help or support me. I stopped going to baby groups because I couldn’t breastfeed.
My husband was in tears most of the time. He thought it was terrible.
Eventually a wonderful male health visitor came round. He said, “this is ridiculous, try a bottle. Let’s just try it”.
Once Gaby had the bottle in her mouth she went for it straight away. All she wanted to do was suck. After that, I had a happy baby. I was happy. I thought, “I can’t believe I’ve been sucked into this”. Normally I am pretty tough.
So I bottle fed her but there were still times when I felt like a complete failure.
I’ve met a few people who’ve smoked loads, drunk loads, and banged on about “breast is best”. It’s disgraceful. I heard one woman banging on about breastfeeding who then put Coca Cola into a bottle for her baby. I knew all this but I still felt really battered.
Breastfeeding support is one thing but if it isn’t working for someone don’t punish them for it. I just don’t believe it works for everybody.
I saw a psychologist for two years after Gaby was born. It made me talk about it – people are frightened to talk about it. You are made to feel like a failure whatever you do.
When my son James was born (we waited 4 years because of the trauma) it was a much easier birth.
The difference was unbelievable. He jumped on and latched on… but this time I found I just didn’t want to breastfeed forever. After a few weeks with James I thought, “I don’t want to do this”. I exclusively fed him at first and he had terrible colic. He screamed every night for 3 months from 11pm – 2am. After seven weeks I put breast milk into a bottle, then started giving him formula. It made no difference! Then I remembered that when he’d been in my stomach he’d always kick a lot at that time. It was just his peak time of being awake.
First time mothers are vulnerable. With the second one, I thought I wanted to try breastfeeding and if it didn’t work I’d give him a bottle. But I still felt emotional when I switched to the bottle – I felt like a failure, like I’d given up. It’s ridiculous.
Neither of my children have allergies. I have happy, healthy kids – they eat well, they’re sporty. I was formula fed too and I’m not dead!
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