Thursday, July 21, 2011

Guest Blog: Mandy's Story

Growing up I don't remember seeing anyone breastfeeding, I know step-mum fed her boys as I remember her having a conversation with her friend about what the best breastpads where and that she would give her friend some to try. I did see a lot of bottles but then it was the 80's. For some reason though, I knew when the time came I would breastfeed, to me there wasn't another option.

I was 26 when I had my 1st, a gorgeous daughter. I had planned a natural water birth, but as seems to be way with my little girl, it didn't go to plan. Everything that could go wrong did, after 37 hours of pre-labour, where I got to 5cms then dilated in reverse, I was rushed to theatre for an emergency section. I don't really remember much of her birth, my husband got the 1st cuddle and showed me our daughter and I passed out. I had been adamant from the start that she was going to be breastfed and even through the worst moments I kept reminding everyone that that's what I wanted. Once she was around 15 minutes old I got my wish. The midwife put her to my left breast and my Princess latched on immediately, as if she had been doing it her whole life, she fed for what felt like ages then fell into a contented sleep. As I was recovering from surgery the midwives helped me latch her on all through the night.

I was in hospital for 3 days before I was begging to go home, the whole time I was on the ward the midwives didn't help at all, I was the only mum in a ward of 4 who was breastfeeding. I had one feed where I just couldn't get her latched on at all, I buzzed on loads of occasions but no one ever came. Eventually I managed to get it right by myself, and discovered I had lived in the same street as the health care assistant, she was great; she brought me extra pillows and made sure I had plenty to drink.

By the time I got home, breastfeeding was 2nd nature. Sometimes I was embarrassed because it was so easy for me, but I was coming to terms with feeling like my body had failed me because I need a section, finding breastfeeding so easy was very healing for me.

When my health visitor came round, she told me she could have hugged me, I was her only milker she told me. She was determined I not stop, probably more so than I was.
I fed anywhere and everywhere, I didn't use a cover even though I am large breasted. I did start to get to comments once she was 6 months old about when I was planning on stopping, but I was planning on feeding for a year. Unfortunately she decided to stop at 10 months, I now know that was probably a nursing strike. I'm confident I would be able to work through that now. I always seemed to have plenty of milk, and could easily pump 8 ounces from 1 breast, I was gutted that I ended up having to throw milk away as it was going to waste.

I found out I was expecting my 2nd, a beautiful boy, the day before my daughters 3rd birthday. I was terrified of having the same experience with him so begged the consultants for an elective section. I had to have 2 separate appointments with the consultants before they would agree. They wanted me to have a trial by labour, as this was their policy. I wasn't happy to put my mental health at risk, or put my husband through watching his wife again, just for their numbers. When they finally agreed and gave me a date, it was very strange knowing the day my baby would be born. I had a feeling the whole way through that he was breech but my midwife shrugged off, but sure enough he came out foot first. I didn't pass out this time but was very shaky, so daddy got the 1st cuddle. I re-iterated my wish to breastfeed and the midwife said she remembered. As I had done more research this time, I was a little nervous that it might not be easy 2nd time round, but I was very lucky again; he latched on straight away and nursed like a pro. The midwife, said I clearly knew what I was doing, so would leave me to get to know my little man. As soon as she left, I started vomiting, unfortunately once I started I couldn't stop. I can laugh about it now, but I was mortified at the time when threw up into a bowl, all over myself and all over the bed, but not a drop went on the baby.

As I was at a different hospital from the 1st time, I found the staff a lot more supportive. I was told I was an old pro, and even helped a few of the mothers with their issues. I had a visit from the infant feeding co-ordinator about training as a peer supporter. For some reason I was a lot iller the 2nd time around, and needed to stay in hospital an extra day, on day 3 my milk came in, and it was like some had turned a tap on, I literally had milk pouring from me and filled 3 containers using the hospital pump.

I had read about milk donation after my oldest had stopped feeding, and vowed that if I had loads of milk this time, I would not pour it down the sink but donate it to where it would maybe do some good. So from when my son was 6 weeks old till he was 6 months, I filled bottle after bottle - took up a whole drawer in my freezer - everyday to go to the nearest milk bank.

Again I fed everywhere and anywhere, and only once encountered a problem: we went for a family meal, and being a sociable little boy, he wanted something to eat too. So I just went ahead and fed, I noticed a woman out of the corner of eye staring at me and whispering to the man she was with. They called over the waiter and started talking and gesturing to me. I thought great, let them try, I know my rights. The waiter came over to us, smiled and offered me a free re-fill on my drink, I could have laughed, here I was ready for a confrontation, then this lad who couldn't have been more than 21 was subtly standing up for me.

Again once he got to 6 months, I started getting the question from other people about when I was going to stop. I knew I wanted to feed for longer than I had my daughter, I set myself a goal of 12 months then see how we go. My son had had quite severe eczema since birth and nothing was shifting it, it was horrible to watch a small baby scratching away at himself. I posted on a mum's forum asking for advice on creams, and someone mentioned in passing that their child had an allergy to dairy. I trawled the net looking for back up and everything I read said that a dairy allergy could manifest as eczema. My 1st port of call was our GP but my theory was rubbished, he told me babies can't have allergies. But my instincts told me I was right, so I cut all dairy from mine and his diet for a week to see what would happen, and his eczema seemed to lessen, I started introducing diary back in and he flared up. I returned to a different GP and demanded an allergy test, and 2 weeks later just after his 1st birthday, we had a diagnoses that he was severely allergic to all dairy, but also had a topical allergy to bananas, tomatoes, egg whites (only if it isn't cooked) and strawberries. After that his skin cleared up brilliantly, along with a creaming regime from the community nurse. I was determined to nurse him for as long he would take. He stopped himself at 16 months, I was devastated. I tried everything to get him to latch back on but he wouldn't have any of it, and by then I had stopped pumping and could no longer get anything out with any pump I tried. I did get some donated milk from a friend but she couldn't do it long term, so I had to accept that he was done.

Breastfeeding and watching my babies grow, knowing it was all down to me, is one of the proudest achievements of my life. But without the unwavering support of my husband, who always helped as much as he could (I sometimes wonder if he'd had the tools, he would have probably fed the babies himself). He never offered to get some formula just in case, and would only offer to give them a bottle of expressed milk if I was absolutely exhausted from lack of sleep.

If I was to pass on advice to an expectant mum, I would say 1st read everything you can about breastfeeding, educate yourself, there are some brilliant websites and facebook groups out there - The Normalising Nursing in Public League is one of them ( ). Take it 1 feed at a time and congratulate yourself after every feed. Don't listen to people who aren't supportive, and trust your instincts.

If you can consider donating your extra milk to a sick kids or premature unit. It's a very worthwhile cause ( ). There is also a group on facebook for mother to mother milk sharing ( ).

Mandy, mummy to 2. Livingston, West Lothian, Scotland.

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