Everyone has a different feeding journey, and I know that for some, breastfeeding simply does not work, and for so many different reasons. At the end of the day the most important thing is that we find and focus on what makes us as mothers as well as our little ones happy.
I always intended on exclusively breastfeeding Rupert when he was born for the first 6 months. Yet until he arrived I had never once considered the challenges we may face on our feeding journey, nor had I realised just how amazing a mothers milk is.
Although I had chatted to friends and family about their own breastfeeding journeys throughout my pregnancy and found this helpful, at 34 weeks pregnant I still wanted to read up on the subject, and after all I still had six weeks to go and had stopped working by this point. I had also planned on attending a breastfeeding session through my MW to find out more so that I could fully clue myself up as to what to expect. Then at 34 weeks +1 day, my waters broke (more on that here and here).
Despite not knowing an awful lot about breastfeeding by the time Rupert made his debut arrival, I quickly began to understand just how clever and complex a mothers milk is through the wonderful nurses on the NICU. As a result I feel that what I learnt with the support of the NICU nurses, I gained far more knowledge and skill than I ever would have by attending a session for a couple of hours or reading a few books.
Like many mothers, I had imagined a birth whereby my baby would be put on my chest and feed immediately, however a whole week would pass before I was to be able to have the opportunity to feed my beautiful baby.
Being premature Rupert’s sucking reflex was immature which resulted in him needing to be fed via a soft tube which passed through his nose for the first week of his life. Rupert also needed to gain weight quickly and the strength and energy it would take for him to feed without the use of the tube.
As soon as I was up and about after giving birth I went to the NICU to see Rupert and one of the nurses asked if I was planning on breastfeeding, I confirmed this was my intention and shortly after the nurse arranged a breast pump to be brought to my room and I was shown how to use it.
My first time pumping was spent shut away in a small, clinical room on a different floor to Rupert. I found the experience to be awkward, frustrating and upsetting as all I wanted to do was hold my baby in my arms and feed him directly. I was also concerned as despite my efforts, nothing came out which left me feeling like I had failed Rupert. It turns out that this is quite normal to begin with.
To help get things flowing, I discovered that all I needed was to be close to Rupert, comfortable, and relaxed. Comfortable and relaxed were far from how I was feeling that first time, I was still extremely overwhelmed at how events had unfolded over the previous 14 hours, so it’s no wonder that despite my best efforts I was not successful.
The next day I woke up with a new sense of purpose, my baby would have my milk, and so I took my pump up to the nursery and asked for a screen to be placed around us to give me some privacy. I was given a comfortable nursing chair and pulled it up close to Rupert’s incubator and tried again. This time I was able to draw up 10, 1 ml syringes of colostrum. I felt this was a poor attempt but I was assured by the nurses this was a really good start and it would provide one feed for Rupert.
With Rupert feeding every couple of hours and requiring 10ml each time the pressure was on and I worried that I would not be able to produce enough colostrum for him, despite it only being a measly 10ml.
The nurses told me that eating foods I enjoy while expressing would boost my milk supply, so I did. As it was coming up to Easter Mini Eggs and hot cross buns were filling the shelves of the supermarkets and my tummy. I think I put on more weight after giving birth than I did during my pregnancy!
Everytime I added my expressed milk to the ward fridge, I would glance at this poster and it made me even more determined to get Rupert off of formula and on to my milk alone.
I soon moved to double pumping and I was over the moon when after a couple of days at the end of each pumping session, my milk was increasing, 30ml, 50ml until I was getting over 100ml each side. My persistent pumping every two hours day and night, saw me build up quite a stash of liquid gold in the ward fridge, and Rupert was then able to fully come completely off of the formula milk.
Once Rupert was gaining weight we started introducing breastfeeding into his daily routine every other tube feed or when he was most awake.
I remember that first time nursing like it was yesterday. The nurse pulled a screen around us, it was on a day when I was alone in the hospital. The nurse clearly knowing how special the moment was asked me if I would like her to capture it.
We were then left to find our way together. I silently cried, it felt momentous, calm and extra special. I was finally able to hold my baby boy and feed him by myself without holding up a tube of my milk waiting for it to go down. In that moment all of the stresses and emotions of the previous week began to slip away. Looking down at Rupert feeding in my arms, I was completely overcome with happiness.
Over the next week the nurses helped with teaching me all the in’s and outs of breastfeeding, from the benefits, to positioning and getting the perfect latch. During the long nights as we got to grips with it all, if I had any concerns one of the nurses would come and sit with us and help to guide us.
Initially Rupert tired quickly with feeding and had trouble latching on. Due to Rupert not being able to latch properly it caused me to have a painful first week of breastfeeding and I suffered sore and cracked nipples. I was told that to begin with breastfeeding is generally uncomfortable but should not make your toes curl (which it did). To help with Rupert’s latch and help protect my sore nipples I was given a nipple shield, this helped us both enormously.
At around ten days old, while still in hospital it was picked up that Rupert had a slight tongue tie. Tongue tie is when the tongue is attached at the floor of the mouth which can cause latching on to be a challenge for some babies who are breastfed due to the restricted movement of their tongue. A procedure was carried out to snip the tie which made the world of difference immediately.
A week into breastfeeding, I remember one evening feeling quite feverish and one of my breasts becoming solid and extremely uncomfortable. I went down to see the midwives on the floor below who suggested that I was on the verge of mastitis (a painful infection of the breast caused by a blockage in the milk duct). I was advised to continue to feed Rupert from the breast that was causing the trouble, take warm showers and to gently massage my breast to help alleviate the discomfort and clear the milk ducts, thankfully it passed without the need to use antibiotics, I had taken enough of these already in my pregnancy and giving birth.
Away from the hospital and the nurses recording every feed, every couple of hours, we settled into feeding on demand. We continued to use the nipple shields for a good month or so as they made life a little easier for Rupert who still tired quickly by using up his energy to feed and it was important that he continued to gain weight.
At first I constantly worried whether Rupert was feeding well and getting enough milk, especially when the cluster feeding started. At this point I spent most of my waking hours and even sleeping hours feeding our little man. Things soon settled back down and after a few weeks Rupert began feeding every couple of hours again.
I remember feeling rather nervous about feeding Rupert while out in public for the first time, something I was not expecting to feel uncomfortable about, as once we got the hang of it in the hospital I was at ease feeding in front of strangers. Yet in public, I found myself fumbling with a muslin and feeling quite out of my comfort zone. I began using a nursing cover in public, which I found to be far less hassle than a muslin and offered me a sense of privacy as well as making me feel more comfortable in the early days. Then with lockdown I never really got to publicly feed again for months. By the time I was feeding in public again I was comfortable and confident in our feeding and no longer felt the need to cover up under a nursing cover.
Rupert has become quite accustomed to having his feeds anytime any place, this could be while out walking the dogs while he is in his carrier, in the hay barn, a stable, a bench with a view across Sussex/Surrey, literally anytime any place.
Rupert has absolutly thrived on being exclusively breastfed (after the initial bumpy start and up to six months old), when I look at him admiring all his dimples, I feel immensely proud that together we created them through our team work.
At almost a year old, Rupert is now down to around three/four feeds a day and although I am enjoying the weaning journey and watching him tasting and loving his food, (he is a real foodie), it has also brought with it mixed emotions as I have adored every single nursing minute with Rupert and the closeness and convenience of breastfeeding him. I literally cherish every nursing moment knowing that each feed is a feed closer to our feeding journey coming to an end.
I hope I never forget the sweet sound of Rupert’s little giggle of pure joy that used to come just before he latched on for a good few months. Or how he takes my fingers in his hand and holds on to them while he feeds, or even how our once dreamy and relaxed cuddly feeds have mainly been replaced with Rupert either patting at my face as if ensuring I am still there, shoving a hand in my mouth, or putting his fingers up my nose, or even trying to extract a few teeth in the process of a feed!
It’s been such an emotional journey, sometimes exhausting and overwhelming, but always full of love and closeness. I can already feel myself welling up at the thought of it coming to an end. But I hope that that’s not for sometime yet!
We are now a few weeks away from his first birthday, and the longest time Rupert and I have been away from each other has only been for a couple of hours while I was out riding my horse, as such I have never felt the need to introduce him to a bottle. This has been my choice and I would not have done things any differently as it has been such a huge privilege to feed and nourish him this way. The only thing I may have done differently is not feeding to sleep, as its extremely hard to get Rupert to drift off again without comforting him with a feed, yet I love that only I can offer him this comfort at the same time, so it’s somewhat of a double edged sword.
Looking back, I expected breastfeeding to be easy, its natural after all, however, I now fully appreciate that breastfeeding is not always straightforward and that it is very much a skill that takes time for both a mother and baby to master together. I have also come to realise how lucky I have been to be able to feed and nourish Rupert this way and for so long.
I have put together a list of a things that helped me on my breastfeeding journey along with a few links which I’ve come across that if you are just starting out on your breastfeeding journey you may find helpful.
- First and foremost eating a healthy balanced, and varied diet. It is widely suggested that breastfeeding mothers should consume an additional 500 calories per day. So eat that slice of cake guilt free!
- Drinking LOTS of water to keep hydrated, it really is thirsty work. I always have a leakproof bottle of water with me
- Taking a breastfeeding supplement, I take these as well as additional vitamin D, I know I have low Vitamin D levels as it is and many of us are the same so this really helps to keep me topped up.
- For leaking nipples, I used these washable soft Bamboo pads
- A breastfeeding cover for times when I wanted to be a little more discreet, and for building up my confidence when first nursing in public
- To begin with at night while getting to grips with Rupert latching on I used this night light
- 2-3 well- fitted nursing bras. Don’t bother buying any until you have given birth as your milk will not have come in, and you will be surprised at how much your breasts can then change again. I found a lovely mobile bra fitter (Charlotte) who came over the evening we arrived home from hospital and I was fitted in the comfort of my own home
- A good nipple cream is a must. I used the No Harm Nipple Balm from My Expert Midwife. You only need a tiny amount. I ended up only using it on a few occasions while we established feeding but oh my gosh did it help to relieve the soreness
- If pumping, then double pumping can massively help to boost your milk supply. You can buy or rent a Medela pump here, I chose to buy one for use at home. It’s had very little use to be honest as I never felt the need to bottle feed him. It did come in handy though to help relieve a blocked milk duct when we started weaning and Rupert dropped feeds, I have this one
- Nipple shields I used these ones
- Getting plenty of skin to skin time to increase milk supply, (also its just a lovely thing to do). I loved using this top especially while we were in hospital to get skin to skin with Rupert
- Latching on tips, how to get the perfect latch in 6 steps
- Eat cake! Look in to lactation recipes to help boost milk supply
- While on the Medela site just recently, I came across this free ebook on the amazing science of a mothers milk, which makes for interesting reading on the subject of breastfeeding, and if like I was at the beginning you are quite unaware of all the ins and outs of breastfeeding I would highly recommend taking the time to have a read.
- Also on the Medela site is a helpful read which talks you through how your milk changes evolves over the weeks/months of your breastfeeding journey and what to expect. Read it here. There are so many great articles on the Medela website so why not grab a cup of something warm and delve in to some of them.
- Lastly, if you are an avid reader like myself, treat yourself to some new reads. I never expected to be able to read so many books with a newborn yet in the early days of breastfeeding books were a great source of company and I got through many of them!
Love for now