A warning to any men about to read this. This isn’t about boobs as you know them. These boobs are no longer your domain, as you may have already gathered during pregnancy. Boobs now belong to your baby, and mum is going to experience a whole new batch of what the f**k? There are many things I didn’t learn in ante-natal class about what happens to your boobs after baby is born!!!
My breastfeeding journey began at one of these classes. I was looking forward to learning all about how to feed my babies. The class consisted of first time mums and we were all nervous. The midwife kicked off the class by asking how we know when our baby is hungry? I put my hand up and said, ‘because it cries’. ‘NO!!!!!! You never wait until your baby cries,’ was the response I got. I then got a harsh lecture on feeding cues and how difficult it is to feed a crying baby. Well thank you midwife, that has stuck with me ever since
Within hours of my babies being born, I was encouraged to express milk. The nurses were great at setting up the pump and giving me a big ‘well done’ when I expressed 3ml. Bless them. Over the next few days, my expressing became second nature and the volumes increased. However, no one prepared me for ‘when your milk comes in’!!!!! It was about day 4 or 5 I think. I woke up one morning with boobs Pamela Anderson would have paid good money for. Holy crap. And the pain!?! They were hard, lumpy and sore. With no breastfeeding baby to respond to, my body was producing milk depending on what I pumped. I was pumping every 3 hours for 20 minutes as I’d been told. In fact, my boobs responded to me putting the pump together – very strange sensation let me tell you!
So, to relieve the pain and lumpiness, I resorted to good old fashioned advice from experienced mums. Hubby was duly sent off to the supermarket and came back with cabbages – Savoy of course. I don’t know what difference they make but they are boob shaped so sit nicely in your bra. By the end of the day, my boobs were covered in coconut oil, had chilled cabbage leaves encasing them, and a hot water bottle on hand at every express. Oh, and buy a good nursing bra!! I was winning, albeit not smelling so great.
Although these methods provided temporary relief, I found that every day, I was finding painful lumps in alternating boobs. I went to see the midwife who told me I did indeed have a blocked milk duct, and to prevent mastitis, I needed to ‘empty’ my boobs at each express. Well, that night I went home and did exactly that. The relief was instant. Of course, what I didn’t know then was that my hormones would then tell my breast to refill. And so the cycle continued. Within a few weeks, I was expressing 1000ml per day. My babies were only consuming 200ml a day, so the hospital freezer became full very quickly!
It was great knowing my babies were getting my antibody rich milk and seeing them put on weight made me so proud. Six weeks after they were born, they were transferred to special care at our local hospital. The babies were breastfeeding once a day each and getting better at it every day. I was told that I would have to reduce my expressed milk supply as the babies didn’t need as much as I was producing. Oh. I was advised to reduce my expressing time by 5 minutes. Well, the pain was unbelievable. My body had gotten into such a routine that it didn’t like being messed with. Out came the cabbages and the coconut oil again. I reduced my expressing by 1 minute per day. The babies were also increasing the frequency and duration of breastfeeding so after a couple of weeks, my supply was being moderated by their needs. I still expressed overnight to keep up my supply as the babies were bottle fed EBM (expressed breast milk) during the night when I wasn’t there.
After 13 weeks, they came home and I naively thought I had feeding under control. At the hospital, they fed every 3 hours and I forgot that I went home every night and got some sleep!! That all went pear shaped when they got home. Never has the phrase ‘feeding on demand’ sounded so accurate. They demanded, I fed! We still had lots of frozen EBM so my husband was able to feed them too, but it was relentless.
To begin with, they fed every 2 to 3 hours. It took approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour to feed each baby as they suffered from acid reflux and winding took forever. So that gave us an hour between feeds. To eat. To sleep. Maybe shower.
I think I lasted about 10 days before I broke down. It was the middle of the night, and one of the twins had been breastfeeding for 4 hours. I was exhausted and just couldn’t take any more. I felt physically and mentally drained. We opened the formula. What a relief.
I continued to combine feed for another 6 weeks, when nature took its course and my milk supply weaned. What I hadn’t expected was the immense feeling of guilt for opening the formula. I met with a breastfeeding peer support advisor who said that lots of women felt that way, and she couldn’t understand why as they were not responsible for making mothers feel that way. I told her about an NHS publication I had read in the hospital, which stated that if I fed my baby formula, I was destroying all the good bacteria in their gut that the breastmilk had provided. That very statement is what made me hold off for so long until I literally couldn’t take it any longer!!!! That’s not supportive!!!!
I do miss the closeness you get from breastfeeding. When you have the energy, spending that time holding your baby and watching them feed from you is such a wonderful, powerful emotion. However, I had to do what was best for me as well as them. And my husband gets to feed them too which is great. They are happy, healthy babies, who are getting fatter and heavier every day.
Knowing that I gave them the best possible start is great. The fact that I kept it up for four months is wonderful. The first few days of their lives they had donor breast milk which I know is not for everyone, but I wanted them to have everything possible to help them survive and grow. So thank you to those women who donate their milk, it is much appreciated I promise you.
I hope you all have a marvellous experience, no matter what you decide to do.