We are delighted that some mums in Calderdale have agreed to share their infant feeding stories with us at HEY…This week Sheri shares her story.
I’m Sheri, mum to soon to be 3 year old, Gus, living in Hebden Bridge and working most of the time as a special needs teacher. I’ve just trained as a peer supporter and can’t wait to support as many mums as possible as they begin their breastfeeding journey!
What expectations did you have of breastfeeding before the birth of your first child?
My expectations were that I was determined to breastfeed, that I wasn’t even going to consider the possibility that I couldn’t or wouldn’t do it. I expected it to be hard and challenging (perhaps not as much as it actually turned out to be!) but that I felt up to it. I was, and still am, a huge advocate for attachment parenting and was expecting to be completely child led. Which while it definitely had its challenges, was also a green light to just go with the flow and let nature take its course!
What were the early days like for you?
The early days were very difficult, I was induced and ended up having an episiotomy which meant that I had to leave Gus after less than hour and the option to feed him wasn’t offered to me. There’s still a part of me that regrets that the first sustenance he ever had was formula but that is the only mouthful he has ever had. When I was reunited with him he was very sleepy all day and in fact we didn’t start trying to feed until the evening and it proved a real struggle. It was when I had two midwives manhandling my boobs to get a decent latch that I asked if he had a tongue tie. When they checked they realised he did, in fact a very severe one. I was seen by the lactation consultant the next day and referred for the snip 10 days later. In the meantime he lost over 10% of his body weight which meant a feeding regime was implemented with 3 hourly feeds, hand expressing and cup feeding in between. It was brutal but despite the tongue tie he piled on the weight and once it was snipped we never looked back.
What are the best bits of breastfeeding for you?
One of the best bits of breastfeeding is knowing that I provided the very best start to life for my son and am continuing to help his immune system to this day. It’s also a constant, and on tap, source of comfort, after a feed he inevitably has a smile on his face regardless of how he was feeling a few minutes before. It also gives both of us an opportunity to take time out, to stop, to look at each other and just enjoy being physically and emotionally close.
Did you experience any challenges and how did you cope with them?
The challenges were mainly during the early days and we soon got into our stride. I went back to work 4 days a week when Gus was just over 7 months old which was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. Work were brilliant about providing me with a comfortable space to express at dinnertime and after those first emotionally fraught weeks (or even months!) again we got into a routine. Breastfeeding never stopped, he just made up for it in spades when we were together! He was (and still is) waking through the night for feeds and comfort which was definitely very draining once I went back to work, some days I hit the wall and was no use to anyone, but they were relatively few and far between!
What support did you receive from partner/family/friends?
I had brilliant support from my partner, family and friends. My partner completely supported my decision to breastfeed and was on hand with tea and delicious home cooked food. He was also very adept at baby wearing and would give Gus the contact he needed when I had to have a break. I’m also fortunate to have a sister who is a midwife, she came up from down south the day after Gus was born and stayed with me for a couple of days, helping me get a good latch and providing invaluable emotional support through those difficult early days. One of my other sisters is also a GP and had given birth to her own child just 6 months before, so was a hive of advice and support. She had had a very difficult breastfeeding journey so was also the voice of reason when I needed another opinion.
I’d made some brilliant new friends through pregnancy yoga, 4 of whom were exclusively breastfeeding so they were always there on the end of a WhatsApp message 24 hrs a day!
I also relied heavily on the support and advice offered by Calderdale, going to Baby Cafe for advice on different feeding positions. Even before Gus was born at my antenatal appointments, a peer supporter called Amber, talked to me about breastfeeding and expressing. I did this before birth, collecting the colostrum in syringes and freezing it; I firmly believe this made all the difference in those difficult early days.
What advice would you give to an expectant mum/family wanting to breastfeed?
My advice to an expectant mum would be:
Be committed to breastfeeding but also be prepared for it to be a complete life changer that may mean you have to take it one feed at a time. Each one is a triumph and proof that you can do it. Be prepared for it to be difficult at the start, for it may be instinctive for both you and the baby but it’s also a skill that you both need to learn and that means do it as often as you possibly can! Be kind to yourself and don’t expect to do too much, that’s what your partner and family are for. Take a “babymoon”. Spend all day in bed, lots of skin to skin and just getting to know your baby and their feeding cues.
And advice for family:
Support her desire to breastfeed, don’t undermine her by suggesting formula may be better for her and the baby because she’s so tired. Offer to cook and clean so she doesn’t feel she has to. Don’t offer to take the baby away so she can “have a proper rest” because she won’t want to be separated from her baby yet, instead offer to watch baby for an hour or so in the house so mum can have a bath, or a snooze or just to catch up with the “real world” on Facebook!
And good luck to everyone of you on your breastfeeding journey. It is the most rewarding experience I have ever had and hope it will be the same for you!