I've never really talked about my breastfeeding experiences on here,
I think this is mainly because it can be such a contentious issue among mothers
and I wouldn't ever want to seem like I was passing judgement.
But I also stayed quiet because my journey was mine
and my son's
and it was and is deeply personal and close to my heart.
I think the nearest I ever got to mentioning breastfeeding
was an emotive post that I wrote one day
whilst in floods of tears
as I faced the idea of introducing solid foods to my beautiful boy's diet.
That's what I mean about personal.
This week is Breastfeeding Awareness Week
and at my weekly breastfeeding support group
- which yes, I do still attend -
we were talking about the fact that more mothers should share their stories about breastfeeding.
who have really done it.
Who have followed the book,
Who have had bumpy journeys with nursing their babies
or smooth ones.
Breastfeeding was a big part of our journey as mother and child
and it continues to be a big part of my heart when it comes to motherhood.
I never expected it to be so important to me,
but this is my story . . .
When I was pregnant I didn't really have an opinion on breastfeeding either way.
None of my friends had or were breastfeeding their children
but I've never been one to necessarily follow the pack.
I said I wanted to give it a go
but that I was categorically not going to be a martyr to it
and that if I didn't like it then I wouldn't carry on
however good it was for my child.
I felt that a happy mum equalled a happy baby
and I didn't feel that how I fed my baby would have any baring on the bond we shared.
Right from the get go I wasn't going to be dictated to by the rule book.
I didn't want my child delivered up on to my stomach
so that it could immediately seek out my naked breast.
For reasons I'm not entirely clear on
I was pretty convinced that a sticky, dirty, yucky looking baby
would be difficult to bond with,
so I requested that my baby be wiped down and wrapped up before coming to me for a cuddle.
No, I did not do skin to skin contact.
I held my newborn baby close but with a hospital issue gown and a towel between us.
I broke rule number one in the breastfeeding handbook, oops!
The midwife asked after he was born
how I planned on feeding him.
She didn't ask if I planned to breastfeed,
she just asked if we'd thought about it.
At no point was she pushy and I thank my lucky stars for that fact.
I told her what I had told everyone else;
that I would like to give breastfeeding a try and see how we got on.
My little guy was born very calm and content
and the three of were simply drinking each other in.
But after about an hour he started to show signs that he was rooting around for food
and without a word the midwife was at my side and helping me.
I have heard horror stories of rough midwives grabbing women and babies in an attempt to aid breastfeeding.
This did not happen.
She helped me position him
and to get him latched on
and after five quick minutes he lazily dropped off
and was chilled again.
So far so good.
With every single feed that came after I remembered the words she said;
"Latch him on, count to ten, and if it's still hurting then take him off and reposition him to try again."
It was a few hours later when we had been transferred to the ward
when he started to show signs of hunger again.
There you go, rule number two broken.
I didn't feed two hourly like you are told to when they are tiny,
I fed him when he was awake and seemed hungry.
I was amazed at how quickly my instincts kicked in,
and as much as I was terrified of breastfeeding going wrong
I was going to do it my way.
And if it didn't work my way
then we weren't going to do it.
I called a midwife to help me for that second feed
mainly because I wanted confirmation that I was doing it right.
He was very sleepy and had a lazy latch
and after five minutes or so I could feel him dozing off in my arms.
The midwife I had called suggested that I gently blow in his face to wake him up so that he would get a full feed,
which I did
and after a ten minute feed I put a sleepy little man back into his hospital cot by my bed.
He slept for four hours.
And as simple as that we had a pattern.
I kept him awake long enough to get a 10 to 15 minute feed
and he would reward me with a four hour gap.
He was the quietest and most content baby on the ward that night
and I'd say he got more sleep than everyone else put together.
Without even consciously thinking about it
I only fed from one side at each feed.
Because he only fed for such a short time in those first hours in hospital
it hardly seemed worth swapping him over.
But that habit continued
and it worked for us both.
On Day 3 my milk came in
and while I did feel full and uncomfortable
and quite frankly terrified at what had happened to my chest,
I plodded on doing what felt like the right thing for me.
His feed time increased as the milk changed from thick colostrum
to the more watery foremilk and creamy hindmilk that comes with an establishing milk supply.
But he stuck to his four hourly feeds
and I couldn't quite believe it!
You could set your clock by this baby,
and my body was cleverly in tune with him
and would start to let me know when he was due to be hungry
before he was even starting to stir for a feed.
When he was four weeks old
I joined my local breastfeeding support group.
There was a health visitor with specialist breastfeeding expertise,
available each and every week should I want to pick her brains,
plus peer supporters and a lovely group of mums with similar aged babies.
This group became my life line
and the peer supporters and other breastfeeding mums that I met there
are without doubt a huge part of why my breastfeeding experiences have been so positive.
There was nothing with regards to breastfeeding that these women hadn't come up against.
At eight weeks he started to be hungrier in the evenings
and I panicked, like all breastfeeding mums do at some point,
about my supply dwindling and not meeting his demands.
Unfortunately breasts don't come with useful gage on them
to tell you how many ounces of milk your little one has consumed.
Breastfeeding is in large part about trust
and you have to trust your body to do what it needs to do.
When little things happen like your baby suddenly changing their well established routine
you don't trust your instincts and you turn to people for support.
More than one person suggested that my baby was hungry and needed more milk,
but not at my group.
Growth spurts were suggested,
he could be increasing demand so my milk supply increased.
Either way they said to stick to my guns,
give it another week to check he wasn't losing weight
and see what happened.
By the following week it had all become clear.
My little man had been cluster feeding;
getting more food into his stomach so he could go longer without a feed.
Yes, at eight weeks my exclusively breastfeed baby slept through the night.
By ten weeks he was in a new routine
of feeding three hourly,
which I didn't mind a bit
as not only was he sleeping through the night,
he was sleeping twelve hours through the night.
All the stories I had heard about breastfed babies needing to feed more often
and taking longer to sleep through the night
didn't seem to be applying with my little man.
Good job I hadn't followed that rule book
as clearly he had no intention of following it either.
My original target had been twelve weeks of breastfeeding.
I'm not entirely sure where that number came from,
but I had that as an aim before I even started.
Beyond that point and I would happily stop and give myself a pat on the back for being awesome.
Well at twelve weeks it felt like we had found our groove.
Breastfeeding was working for us
and I was finding it easy.
Why on earth would we stop now?
So I set myself a new target of six months
thinking that by then I would be introducing solids and if I wanted to stop nursing that it would be a good natural point to stop.
We made it right to the half year with nothing but breast milk passing his lips.
And the day before we started on solids
I sobbed that something special would be gone the next day,
that something special I had shared with my baby son would be lost.
I had never in a million years expected to feel like that.
I had expected at the start, that introducing solids would come as a relief,
but it didn't.
And I didn't want to feed my baby food when all he had needed all his life so far was me.
He took to food really well
but I was relieved to find it didn't stop him wanting milk.
And so I didn't stop providing it.
By this point we were both naturals at it;
it was quick,
it was easy,
it gave us an excuse for a cuddle.
If someone had asked the pregnant me if I would be breastfeeding my six month old,
I'd more than likely have said no.
No one I knew at that time had ever fed that long
so it hadn't entered my brain that I might.
The right support equipped me with the right information;
that milk remains the most important part of a babies diet until they are one
and that breast milk is still of nutritional benefit until long past that.
We proudly made it one full year.
And it makes me so glad that at that point
it was my son who made the decision to stop.
He just simply decided one day that he just wasn't interested.
I was sad about it,
Particularly as it came out of the blue
and I didn't feel I had the chance to enjoy one last feed with him.
But I wouldn't have had it any other way.
It was the right time and the right way for us to stop
and it was seamless;
no tears or trouble.
Just mummy milk one day,
and normal milk the next.
I know that we were exceptionally lucky
to have had such a totally positive and fantastic experience.
I know that many women and babies work really hard at breastfeeding
and can't make it work for a variety of reasons.
I never thought I would end up being so overwhelmingly happy breastfeeding
or that I would end up being so passionately pro-breastfeeding.
Don't get me wrong
in the early days I would curl my toes and bite my tongue in pain when he latched on,
and the one time he decided to test out his newly sprouted teeth wasn't fun either.
But on the most part it was a wonderful thing that we shared
and something I'm extremely happy about and proud of.
I am realistic about breastfeeding
and I don't live in a dream world.
It's not for everyone
and I don't think it matters one iota what sort of milk goes into your baby.
It is the love and time together that bonds mum and baby
and not the way that they feed.
But I am approaching my next breastfeeding journey with a lot of trepidation if I'm honest.
Last time I was chilled about it
and everyday was a bonus as far as I was concerned.
This time I fear I'll put more pressure on myself to make sure it works,
because I'm not sure I could live with the guilt of knowing I gave a whole year of my life to breastfeeding my first born
but didn't do the same for my second baby.
I am realistic
and I know that indulging in long cuddly feeds with my next baby won't be the reality it was with the beautiful boy.
Because I'll have that beautiful boy to think about too.
But I do know that I desperately want I give it my very best shot.
To a certain degree the decision to breastfeed isn't entirely in my hands.
Because breastfeeding is a partnership
between a full grown adult and a tiny baby,
and my unborn baby will have as much of a say, if not more, in how my next breastfeeding journey goes.
I'm hoping against hope that my experience will make me confident
and that my confidence will take over
and rub off on my infant partner in crime.
In reality I'm sure that when faced with a tiny newborn
that I will feel like a newborn mum all over again
and that whatever journey we go on,
it will be different to the first.
Last time I said I'd do what ever made me happiest
because happy mums have happy babies.
But one thing I do know this time,
which I didn't know last,
is that breastfeeding makes me happy.
It's beautiful and I loved doing it.