Breastfeeding: What I Wish I’d known the First Time

As a nursing Mum of a 22 month old……

As a nursing Mum of a 22 month old, who has well and truly become an advocate for breastfeeding, I’ve been reflecting a lot on how it felt to be a first time Mum with plans to breastfeed, and what I wish I’d known back then.

I was one of the first of my friends to have children. Five years ago, the list of things I knew about babies and breastfeeding was short…very short (so embarrassingly short, I can’t even produce one). I was 27 years old, and had seen a grand total of two women breastfeed… ever. Both times, I didn’t know how to react as I’d never seen it before. However one of those Mums (who is now a great friend of mine) spoke to me once about the importance of breastfeeding, and really made up my mind that when I had children of my own, I would definitely try my hardest to make it work.

I was definitely one of the lucky ones when I gave birth to my first son in November 2010; he latched on immediately and, beyond the first 10 days of nipple pain/toughening and a minor case of mastitis (which a trip to the GP and some good advice sorted out), he breastfed really well. No effort involved from me to get things started, thank goodness. I’m well aware many are not so lucky.

For me back then, breastfeeding in public was sometimes awkward. I’d recently moved to a new city and, through a kindly neighbour, met a few friends with babies a few months older than mine. Many of those Mummy friends were either not breastfeeding, or had struggled and quickly moved over to formula. A lot of those ladies are still very good friends of mine, and are big supporters of my breastfeeding journey and advocacy, for which I feel very lucky.
Whilst I have had a lot of verbal support since become an open breastfeeding advocate, when I had my first son, there were many niggling things that people (friends and family) would say to me: ‘I’m glad you breastfeed discreetly’, ‘you aren’t going to breastfeed here are you?’, ‘when are you going to stop breastfeeding?’. These were never said in a callous way, but all somehow served to undermine how I felt about myself as a breastfeeding mother. Since then I’ve heard and read much, much worse… but will save that for another day!

My target for breastfeeding my first son was 12 months. We didn’t make it that far and our breastfeeding journey ended after 7.5 months. I had to go on a 2 day trip away and introduce a bottle for expressed milk and some formula in my absence. When I came home my son was minimally interested in the breast, and I was minimally interesting in re-establishing nursing. Something I now regret, but then hindsight is a wonderful thing!

My second son arrived in November 2013. He was much more difficult to breastfeed as he had a restrictive tongue tie (I could write a whole other blog on the health professional lottery of having tongue tie issues resolved, but I shan’t digress). However, I was determined to breastfeed him for at least 12 months, especially given my regret over weaning my first baby early, and we hobbled through those difficult early months.

When my second little one was four months old, I read a story on Facebook about a woman who had been photographed minding her own business whilst breastfeeding in public, who was publicly shamed and called a tramp for doing so (Emily Slough). I was so very angry on her behalf that, when a mass feed in protest of this was set up in the town where it happened; I set up a sister feed in Stirling on the same day. We had about 50 people show up in support, the papers covered the story and BBC radio Scotland asked me to come and chat to them on Morning Call. On the day of the mass public breastfeed, I was in awe of the many women who were breastfeeding and sitting for photographs for the journalists. I couldn’t believe how brave they were. This was a real inspiration and turning point for me. One particular lady contacted me afterwards to suggest we keep the momentum going, so I set up a Facebook page for the people who had joined the protest, called “Normalising Public Breastfeeding in Scotland”. We now have around 270 members and the page has been and is a great source of support. Because of this page, I’ve read, re-read and shared so many wonderful breastfeeding articles. The list of things I know about breastfeeding is now quite a bit longer. How I wish I’d known so much back when I’d had my first baby!

Me feeding Tristan now 22 months.  Photo by Go Photo – follow on Facebook

So, just for you all… here is the list of things I WISH I’d known about breastfeeding as a first time Mum *drum roll please*:

·       Breasts exist first and foremost for nourishing children, it’s why we have them; not for male viewing pleasure/sexual reasons

·       Never feel ashamed for putting the needs of your children before the emotions of a handful of ignorant adults (and I say a handful, as most sensible peopl are fine with breastfeeding and wouldn’t dream of approaching a nursing mother)

·       There are laws to protect the rights of nursing Mums in many countries – look these up and know your rights

·       Breastfeeding does not have a time limit; as long as it works for you and your child, is as long as you should breastfeed for (the World Health Organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding [no solids] for the first six months then continuing for at least two years and beyond [for as long as mutually desired])

·       Breastfeeding in public serves to normalise this most natural act for future generations of children (monkey see, monkey do)

·       Breastfeeding is in NO WAY related to bodily functions/acts that involve getting rid of waste products/are sexual (feeding a child milk is NOT the same as eating a poo sandwich or ‘getting it on’ – just no)

·       Breastfeeding can take time to get used to and settle down. The nipple pain and engorgement were a real shock to me with my first but things DO improve (and if they don’t, ask for help)

·       The average weaning age Worldwide is 4.2 years (if allowed, children will self-wean anywhere between 2 and 7 years old [roughly])

·       Many healthcare professionals are not breastfeeding experts; if you are having difficulties and are not happy with the answers you are getting from your immediate health care providers, seek advice from a lactation consultant or infant feeding coordinator (or one of the many breastfeeding support lines/networks)

·       Join as many support groups as you can; read as many articles as you can; visit your local breastfeeding cafe if you can – being among like-minded individuals really can boost your motivation to continue breastfeeding when you hit bumps in the road

·       Artificial milk manufacturers use some pretty unscrupulous marketing tactics to undermine breastfeeding, even within our health services (NOTE: this point in no way serves to shame formula feeders; I myself have done it both ways. I make this point as this was news to me – Baby Milk Action have lots of good reading material on this)

So, that’s really a summary of ‘what I know now’, and I am happy to report that I plan to let my second born self-wean. Nursing a toddler is a whole other blog post (sometimes it’s hilarious and sometimes it’s infuriating). Either way, he certainly loves his mummy milk!

This year in early August, for World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) 2015, a member of our Facebook group, Katie Kennedy, suggested we host an event. So, inspired by a similar event which ran in Perth, Scotland for National Breastfeeding Week called ‘Tea for Two’, we set up ‘Nurse a Cuppa’. Katie’s husband Lewis made us a fabulous poster and Katie set up a Facebook page for the event; various cafes in Central Scotland agreed to come on board to offer nursing Mums a warm welcome and a free hot drink during the week, even approaching nursing Mums who hadn’t spotted the poster to let them know about the event and make sure they got their complimentary drink (Crema Central Cafe in Stirling, I’m looking at you!). Several lovely online retailers also readily lent their support, including Gumigem Teething Jewellery, All the Small Things and Oscha Slings, offering free prizes for competition winners. These were all very gratefully received!

From my perspective, it’s all of these small acts of support that really serve to strengthen the breastfeeding community, and for that reason I’m so thankful to those businesses that came on board during WBW 2015 with absolutely no hesitation. You guys are brilliant! Together, we will hopefully help future generations of nursing mothers receive the community support and encouragement they need to meet their breastfeeding goals.