I had my first baby 19 years ago, as this little boy was placed on my bare chest I had visions of the breastfeeding goddess that I was about to become..
As the first feed approached I lifted my new bundle of joy to my breast and with a flurry of movement seemed to flop him onto my nipple. A shooting pain shot through my breast like a hot poker but still I figured as long as baby was happy then I would endure whatever pain I needed to (why as mums do we do that?). Realising that my son was actually not getting anything I called for help, a nurse came in all jolly and quickly latched the baby on and left me, after my son had a good feed he went into a long sleep. That night consisted of different nurses latching my baby on after many failed attempts by me.
The next day I had lots of visitors who all seeing me struggle suggested I had given it a good try and should resort to bottles. This made me very sad as it had never occurred to me that I couldn't do it. After everyone left and my son was crying a nurse came to repeat the ritual of placing my baby on my chest as I seemed to not be able to this myself. I started to feel quite emotional and asked for a bottle as I sensed my baby needed more than I could give. That lovely nurse simply told me that like with everything, it was just going to take time.
After that the nurse would give me hints to help such as tickle the nose with the nipple to get the baby to open up the mouth wide, how to unlatch correctly making a “hook” with your finger and propping the babies body on a pillow to help free your hands so you can practice controlling the baby's head. I always made the mistake of bringing my body to meet the baby instead of other way around which put me in some odd shapes. These small tips were enough to give me hope and after a lot of fumbling and practice my boy and I slowly started to get the hang of feeding.
Arriving home, I felt I had cracked breastfeeding, my son was a happy little baby who slept lots but then he decided he loved feeding and seemed to never want to do ANYTHING else. The best bit of advice I would give a new mum is don't fight the cluster feeding, you can't beat it, just embrace it. We took the vouchers we had received as gifts from friends and family and my partner went to M&S and bought loads of nice food that could be easily made. I gave in fully to those cluster feeds, watching as my son curled his little toes up and looked up at me with his beautiful blue eyes. It wasn't all perfect, I was so tired I lived in leggings and I dropped lots of bits of food all over my boy when trying to breastfeed and feed myself at the same time and my house was not the tidiest. My son self-weaned at 11 months, he just decided that he wanted his cup instead of me. Fast forward 7 years and we welcomed my daughter to our crazy house. I never considered that breastfeeding would be a problem the second time around, I thought I'd be a pro. WRONG!
After a long and difficult birth, I was physically exhausted, I lifted my daughter to my breast and latched her on but she kept pulling off and getting so upset. I started to cry, so we both cried together. As I was a second time mum the nurses just left me to it. So, after a while I decided I needed to take back control (this was easier said than done). I laid down and placed her on her belly with her head heart height on my chest. After a short while she stopped crying and started to bob about on my chest, I gently sat up and latched her on successfully, so this became our little calming exercise. When we got home we repeated the M&S food plan and I took my spot up on the sofa. My daughter NEVER wanted to be put down, so I bought a sling and just tied her to me.
I then got the opportunity to become a peer supporter helping other breastfeeding mothers by way of a support group and helpline. I also volunteered at the maternity hospital to help teach new mums about breastfeeding. This was so rewarding, watching these mums gain confidence was a beautiful experience. It has been many many years since I have breastfeed and my children are quite independent now. I miss the days (although hard) that I was all they needed and that for those moments it was only them and me. In my work with breastfeeding mothers, I see the pressure and self-criticism they and others put on them and I think about how amazing these women truly are.
Words and images by Kelly Robinson
Thanks to Kelly for writing this wonderful piece about Breastfeeding for us here on Máthair. If you enjoyed this story and would like to hear other stories about motherhood from our many wonderful contributors, just sign up to our mailing list below and follow us on social media platforms (links also below). We'd really love to hear from you if you have a story, poem, event or artwork that you would like to share with our community. We're always looking for new stories and would love to include yours.
Love Cheryl and Lyndsey