Its February 2018, Norfolk has just had one of the harshest winters with many feet of snow and the extra four days my son had off from school after the half term is not helping my sanity. Mornings were crazy.
8.30am “Have you brushed your teeth? Go brush your teeth”
I rush around readying myself for the school run, I shove a hoodie over my vest top, pull on a pair of joggers and tie my hair in the infamous mum-bun.
8.40am “Book bag? Coat? P.E kit? Water bottle? Shoes on? Get your shoes on please! SHOES. ON. NOW! Right, Now please get in the car!”
Getting my son to school on time after the seemingly short two weeks my partner had off on paternity leave – and basically allowing me to sit on the sofa while I constantly fed our new-born – now seemed a monumental task.
My body had hardly recovered from giving birth to our daughter let alone getting back to school runs fully functioning with a breastfeeding baby. But I had to do it, we bundled in the car and I drove the ten-minute drive to his school. Parked up, and while telling the older one to jump out and make sure he has everything I try and get my daughters snow suit on, which makes her look like the Michelin Man and I pop her in the carry cot pram. So far so good.
We start walking through the school gates and Little Miss starts to stir, I know she wants a feed, I push the pram quicker, dodging the slushy puddles that have accumulating in the playground. We reach the classroom door; Little Miss is now starting to whinge. I kiss my son on the head and enthusiastically say the generic parent saying “Have a nice day” while hustling him through the door. Great we made it! Time to get back home, feed Little Miss and binge watch Netflix. I start to head towards the gate hot pace.
But, Oh no! What is this? Mothers! A huddle of mothers who want to see my new-born daughter.
“Ahh, look she’s awake”
“Doesn’t she look like her Daddy”
“How are you my love?”
Little Miss’ whinging is evolving in to crying, my boobs are aching, and I can feel the cold, dampness that now leaks onto my vest.
“Oh, I think she’s hungry” says one of the nosy parker mums.
No, shit Sherlock!
I pick Little Miss Michelin man up and gently bounce her up and down, knowing in my heart this is doing no good at all. I slowly edge through the school gate and begin to walk towards the car, trying to subtly tell the other mums I need to go now, they disperse. I’m holding Little Miss in one arm and speedily pushing the pram with the other, we reach the car and Little Miss is wailing now. I leave the pram outside the car door and quickly sit on the passenger side, close the door, lift my hoodie, pull down my vest and try to latch her on. I fumble about trying to get her latch right, the snow suit is making things awkward. I unzip it and pull it off her. That’s better. We try again, my mind wondering if any one in the car park thinks ‘what the hell is she doing?’ while I try and not suffocate her with the hoodie that keeps falling onto her face. We try again, she’s bobbing about like a little puppy dog trying to get the nipple in her mouth, I guide her in and she’s on. Relief. My anxiety settles and I take a deep breath. I sit in the car park feeding her, watching the other cars leave until we were the last one left, finally Little Miss falls asleep and I very stealthily commando style move her from my breast to her car seat. I put the pram away and drive home. My new lifestyle as a mum of two had just began.
Breastfeeding for me is persevering and determination. Ill give you that. When I fell pregnant with my first born, I was determined to breastfeed, I naively thought it would be uncomplicated. I’d spoken to my mum who said “ I breast fed you and your sister , your aunt had breastfed her children and nanny had breastfed all of her children” So seeing as we had all been breastfeed I didn’t see any other way. I got to eight months gestation with my son and went to the midwife for a routine appointment and was told I needed to go up the hospital, little did I know I wasn’t to come home that evening.
I had severe Pre-eclampsia and needed to deliver the baby. I wasn’t ready! it wasn’t time! He wasn’t due for another five weeks! A wonderful midwife came and spoke with me and explained what was happening to my body and how this affected the baby and she basically knocked some sense into me. I agreed to be induced and gave birth to my son the next day.
I had my waters broke at 10am and was put on a drip to get my labour going, I had my son at 21.51 that night. He was whizzed off to NICU for some extra respiratory support and brought back to me at on the maternity ward at 2am. Although he was a tiny 4lb, he seemed to settle well and fed from me. We were on hourly checks until the morning and everything seemed to be going well. That was until I noticed him not being “himself” the following lunchtime.
He had just had his hearing test and I noticed that he hadn’t stirred much during or afterwards, the hearing technician even said, “how well behaved he had been”. I watched him very closely for a while and noticed he kept clenching his tiny fists, his eyes rolled, and he was shaking. I immediately jumped out of the bed and alerted a midwife. The next part happened all so quickly my account only remembers the terrifying parts, my son was rushed back to NICU and given a lumbar puncture which I was told I couldn’t be there for, I stood outside the room pacing, my eyes welling up not knowing what was happening. Was this my fault? I clocked eyes with another mother who gave me a friendly smile, it was like she knew what I was going through. A nurse came out and said that my son would be staying in high dependency and they were treating him with antibiotics for an infection. It turned out he had Group B strep which is a type of bacteria called streptococcal and can turn disastrous for babies if not treated soon enough.
My post-natal experience then turned into looking after a premature NICU baby covered in wires and tubes. Each day he grew stronger and a tube or a wire would be removed. But the very last one was his feeding tube, my experience of breastfeeding my son was very different to what I expected. I was still determined to feed him my breast milk but due to his early birth and the stress I had little to none come through. I was then shown how to hand express but trying to hand express and syringe the most minute amount was hopeless. I sat in my hospital bed, behind the curtain, sobbing. I just didn’t know what to do.
After a little while I gained my reserve and walked up to NICU to see my son. I got speaking to another mum who said she was given a breast-pump and that it really helped her, so I asked the midwife if I could have one. I also got a photo of my son and a blanket from his Incubator to smell, this really helped me to relax knowing I could swap blankets with him so he could smell his Mumma. I started pumping and got very little through but syringe it up and took it to NICU for them to use, every drop of liquid gold was precious. I then started double pumping every 2-3 hours and within four days I was producing up to 100ml each pumping session. On the fourth day he was moved to room three and put in a heated open cot, I asked if I could try and breastfeed him, and at his three o’clock feed, I was allowed. After a few minutes and with midwife support he latched on. I was over the moon, as I got told he may have lost the latch. After six days my son was stable enough to be discharged home, I was so pleased, I could continue our breastfeeding journey at home.
When we were home, things were going well, and he was feeding every three hours, he was still under Outreach, so he had daily check-ups to monitor his progress. A few days passed and the midwife came to see me, I was in bed with a headache and exhausted, my son in his Moses basket next to me sleeping. I went through the normal rigmarole of answering the questions “How are you feeling? Make sure you rest when he rests, etc” Then off she went.
A few more days passed, and it felt like breastfeeding, pumping, looking after a preemie, keeping the household together was really affecting me, I could hardly get out of bed in the morning and my son had started to lose weight rather than put it on. Then one morning I woke up before my son did, but I couldn’t move, I was in so much pain. I pushed my legs out of the bed, grabbed hold of my door and hoisted myself up out of bed. I stood up in agony and then collapse in a heap in my hallway. I lay there crying in pain, I knew I needed help.
I called my midwife who came around an hour later and booked me in for an emergency doctors’ appointment. The doctor assessed me and said I had a uterus infection and severe body muscle spasms brought on by exhaustions. I was put on antibiotics and told to rest. The stress of it all really affected me, my breast milk ended up depleting and through the worry of my son not gaining weight I ended up turning to formula. It was the end of my breastfeeding journey with my son. I was devastated.
Five years later and pregnant with my second, I was determined to follow a different path. My labour with Little Miss was, so to say quick. It started around 11pm, my waters broke at home at 3.30am which at that point we decided to call my mum to look after the older one, eight phone calls later and she picks up, we then whizzed up the Norfolk & Norwich. By 4.55am, we get in the delivery suite and BOOM! By 5.25am Little Miss is here, screaming the delivery room down. A fine pair of lungs.
Fortunately, we had no major problems and were discharged home three days later. We found Little Miss had a slight tongue tie at eight months but I decided not to get it cut as we had journeyed so far, she did have a shallow latch but it didn’t cause too many issue and I am now in the 0.5% of UK mums who continue to breastfeed their baby after a year.
I had much better support second time around but still didn’t venture out further than the school runs due to her constant feeding. I was so apprehensive about feeding her outside my safe places such as my car and home. I used the winter weather as my excuse not to get out.
A month past and the isolation really started to kick in, I knew I had to get out of my four walls. My eldest had swimming lessons so I decided to go with my partner to one, knowing I had the support there if needed. All went well and then five minutes in Little Miss needed a feed. I decided that feeding her in one of the changing cubicles would be best as I couldn’t get to grips with covers – Little Miss always used to pull them off. I remember feeling isolated again. I could hear people bustle around me and worried someone would think ‘why is that cubicle locked for so long?’ Twenty minutes past and Little Miss fell asleep on me. I sorted ourselves out and walked back to the pool. The lesson was over. I’d missed seeing my son swim. The mum guilt set in; I’d let my son down. His swimming teacher came up to me at the end and asked where I had gone. She reassured me that I could always feed Little Miss pool side and if anyone said anything, they could speak to her about it. I felt so much better after that, I’d gained a little bit more confidence.
A few weeks went by and I ventured out more by myself, but I still used ‘feeding nooks’ or rooms if Little Miss needed a feed while I was out. I remember sitting in a Mothercare changing room feeding in the middle of a bra fitting session, but the advisor was very kind and didn’t leave me by myself, she stood outside the door and conversed with me. It made me realise I really must get out to some groups and meet some other mums.
I joined a baby massage course at my local Children’s centre and felt comfortable to breastfeed if Little Miss needed me to as other mothers there were also breastfeeding. At the end of one session I picked up a card for Breastfeeding Mum Meets and joined the Facebook group. I realised there were a lot of mothers who were also asking the same questions that I was thinking, this became my new place for general information and knowledge on breastfeeding. Then during a night feed, I was scrolling through the page and noticed a local event celebrating all things breastfeeding, it was The Global Big Latch On; a worldwide event that gets mums celebrating and breastfeeding their babies/infants together. I decided I wanted to be part of it. I clicked ‘going’.
August had begun, the weather was glorious, and the big event arrived, I felt apprehensive but determined to achieve – what I had called ‘proper public feeding’. My partner parked up and we walked to Chapelfield gardens, I registered and had a browse around some of the stalls, I bought a white liquid gold T-shirt and decided to wear it proudly for the event. During my browsing I bumped into one of my friends and we decided to sit together for the Latch On. The time had come, the announcement was called to get ready. I sat down and made myself comfortable with a five-month-old Little Miss across my lap, I unclipped my nursing bra, and waited for the countdown, 22.214.171.124.1 LATCH ON! I lifted my shirt, pulled down my vest and latched Little Miss on. We had to raise our hands for the mum count and a volunteer came around and counted them. I looked across at the sea of hands and had this overwhelming sense of pride. It really was an awe-inspiring moment. So many mums, partners, family members had all come together to celebrate and support the beauty of breastfeeding. My confidence soared. ‘proper public breastfeeding’ wasn’t scary at all.
Little Miss and I are now 21 months into our breastfeeding journey. I’ve had stares and double glances but most of all words of praise and smiles from other mums. From 5 months old we nursed where and when we wanted. Parks, beaches , cafes, swimming pools and while walking around the supermarket to name a few. I decided dealing with my anxiety of trying to settle her by worrying what people we’re thinking went away as soon as my hungry baby had a boob full and my eyes locked on to hers.
Its not been easy but learning something new never is. We’ve been through cluster feeding, nipple damage, tongue tie, feeding aversion, intense nipple twiddling, sickness bugs, teething and growth spurts but all journeys have their issues. But what I’m most proud of is trying, persevering, achieving and normalising and I couldn’t of done it without my First born and Little Miss.
In England and Wales, your right to breastfeed in public is covered by The Equality Act 2010 which states, “A business cannot discriminate against mothers who are breastfeeding a child of any age.” … It’s unlawful for the owners or staff of a business to refuse to serve you because you are breastfeeding a baby.
Breastfeeding is empowering, natural, normal, beautiful and rewarding.
So when you are ready, Go out, enjoy yourself, and breastfeed in public. The more often mothers nurse in public, the more normal it will become.
And please remember that breastfeeding support is there for you