“So tell me, do you think your milk has come in?”

“Yes, I think so” I said, to the male paediatrician standing over me in A&E whilst I hold my 6 day old daughter Charlotte.

“How do you know?”

I was a bit startled by this line of questioning but, ok……

“Because I’m having to use a shield on one side and there’s some milk in it”

“Ok, just express milk for me now then”.

Astonished pause. Are you joking? Am I a performing monkey? Needless to say the only thing I was able to express on demand at that point was tears so I did so, lots.

Luckily for me Charlotte had a big sister, Molly, who was then 21 months old and with whom I’d had lots of challenges trying to breastfeed. With the confidence that comes of being a second time mum, I was able to park this experience and take myself off to Harrow breastfeeding support the next day. If Charlotte had been my first baby I think my breastfeeding experience would have stopped then and there.

I knew from trying to breastfeed Molly that I was never going to be able to “shoot milk across the room” like some women I knew. I also knew that this wasn’t necessarily an indication of how much milk I had which I decided to point out to the paediatrician who simply shrugged and said I needed to start topping up with formula in order to get Charlotte to poo. Charlotte hadn’t done a poo in four days by this point. She made up for it in style around day 8 – we still have the photos.

Following this potentially disastrous start to my breastfeeding experience with Charlotte we did end up having a relatively stress free time of it. That was largely due to the incredible support we received from the infant feeding team in Harrow. Eventually it did just “work” as I had seen it “work” for some women when I was desperately struggling to feed Molly, my eldest, whilst I looked longingly on with raging envy.

My preconceptions about breastfeeding before I became a mum was that it may well be inexplicably tough, complicated and traumatic having seen my sister encounter challenges with her son and end up changing to formula quite early on.  Even one year in she was still feeling battle scarred by the whole experience. That wasn’t going to be me, oh no, I’m a rational, practical woman, I’m not even very maternal, so whatever happens with feeding my baby is meant to be and that’s fine. Bottles or breast it doesn’t matter to me. Ha! Wrong.

Molly was born after a pretty straightforward induced labour. We had skin to skin. I thought feeding was fine until that first night in hospital. She screamed through the night on the postnatal ward while I paced up and down the corridor with her so as not to wake the other mums and babies, determined that I was going to “fix” this situation somehow. I’d sent my husband home thinking that I was fine and that someone should get some sleep. By the next morning it was abundantly clear that feeding wasn’t working. That afternoon I ended up in almost as much pain as the labour as a deceptively strong yet tiny woman tried to pummel some colostrum out of my bleeding nipples whilst I lay back helplessly wondering if this was legal and Molly howled. Her first formula feed followed and the difference was astonishing.

I thought breastfeeding Molly was over for me when, on our first night at home, I was wincing and backing away every time she opened her mouth to feed because I couldn’t bare the thought of putting my shredded nipples anywhere near her jaws of doom. At my first breastfeeding support session the next day we discovered nipple shields – thank god for nipple shields.

Molly had tongue tie but there was a huge variety of opinions about whether this was affecting her feeding or not. My nipples certainly had an opinion about it. We were combination feeding from the second day and what followed was an epic struggle to get to exclusive breastfeeding which ultimately never happened. But there was always one more thing to try. The pervading idea seemed to be that if we just tried hard enough, for long enough, that it was possible.

Some of the different tactics we tried including hiring the industrial double breast pump and pumping around the clock, having baths together, making bottle feeding as “hard” as we could which was just traumatic for everyone…. I ate oats, took drugs, hand expressed, had her tongue tie snipped and finally devoted one bank holiday weekend to just sitting topless on the sofa with her and feeding, with no formula. Having started this at 4am she didn’t settle until midday. At about 12.05pm a delivery man rang the doorbell and almost woke her up. Let’s just say when I answered the door he was greeted with a colourful array of 4 letter words.

I was preoccupied with one thing and one thing only for the first three months of Molly’s life – exclusive breastfeeding. The idea of cool, calm, rational me who was indifferent to breastfeeding had long gone and to this day I still can’t explain why. Looking back I feel that we lost those first three months of her life, you certainly couldn’t say we enjoyed them, but that has spurred me on as a mum to always try and focus on the bigger picture and remember whatever phase you’re going through is just that – a phase.

Whereas Molly was just about combination fed until 6 months (does a 10 second breast feed count?!) Charlotte on the other hand is now coming up to 9 months and still breastfed. Having achieved the dream of exclusive breastfeeding I actually found that really hard too – it turns out feeding babies is just hard! – so we very gradually introduced a bottle of formula at bedtime for her after 6 months.

When Molly came along we lived in a different area of London and now having had Charlotte in Harrow I can confidently say the support here is exceptional. Whereas with Molly I felt the emphasis was on breastfeeding at all costs, to the detriment of my sanity and hers, our experience with Charlotte has been very different with a much more holistic approach to what is best for her, for me and for all of us as a family. We count ourselves extremely lucky to live in this area and I would urge any new mum to attend the feeding support sessions as there is no judging, pressure or expectation but genuine empathy for whatever situation you find yourself in.

Looking at Molly now you’d never know there was such a saga during her first three months, especially when she sits down to “breastfeed” one of her teddy bears – oh the irony. My daughters are simply incredible, breast and bottlefed, and I couldn’t be prouder of them.

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