Why I Trained To Be A Peer Supporter
I have two breastfeeding stories to tell.
The first taught me a huge lesson and enabled me to learn from my mistakes and go on to successfully breast feed my second little girl. I had my first girl, Sophie, 6 years ago. I had suffered many losses before her so she really was our rainbow baby. I always wanted to breastfeed because I knew the benefits were great but I really had no clue what I was doing. I gave birth at 35 weeks and instantly had skin to skin and fell in love immediately with this little 5lb baby lying on my chest. The first feed went well, she suckled with her tiny mouth but I really had no clue if she was actually feeding.
Due to her gestation and size Sophie had low blood sugars in the first 24-48 hours. I was upset that I couldn’t put her to the breast for her feeds but there was talk of moving her to special care and I didn’t want that so she was given bottles of formula. In between, I was putting her to the breast but she wasn’t really interested. At one point I asked a midwife for help and got the reply ‘you’re a nurse, you’ll know exactly what to do’. But I didn’t. I was clueless.
At 3 days old we took our little girl home. We were ecstatic with her. I continued to pump every 3 hours, as well as put her to the breast when she was in the mood, as well as feeding her my breast milk in a bottle. It was exhausting but I felt great that she was still receiving my milk. I did this for 12 weeks when I suddenly became very ill with food poisoning. I didn’t have a freezer stash of expressed breast milk as I was just about making what she drank from a bottle on a day to day basis. So I started topping Sophie up with formula more and more. Here’s where I made the big mistake. I never asked for help. I believed that I couldn’t feed when I was ill so I stopped feeding her my milk and mostly stopped pumping. Whenever I tried to pump I was so ill and dehydrated that I was getting very small amounts. If only I had reached out to a health professional I would have been advised to keep pumping and keep putting her to the breast until the food poisoning had passed. By day 5 of my illness I was barely getting anything when I pumped and she was being almost exclusively formula fed, so I gave up pumping completely. I cried for days, I felt like all my hard work had been for nothing and felt guilty that she was no longer receiving my milk. Again, if I had reached out for help from someone that could have helped me it may have been salvageable.
Fast forward two years and our next bundle of joy Phoebe, quite literally, flew into this world like a whirlwind (not much has changed today!). She was a nice big healthy full term baby. I didn’t buy any formula this time as I was determined to exclusively breastfeed. It started off great and she was feeding well. But my feeds were spent biting down into my night gown, they were so painful. I had a very young inexperienced midwife tell me that the latch was perfect but it didn’t feel perfect. On day 4 I was so desperate that I sent my husband to the chemist for nipple shields. I told him that if they didn’t have any he had to buy a bottle and some formula. My nipples were in shreds. So he walked through the door with a little bag and I was almost disappointed that it wasn’t formula, oh how grateful I am today that it wasn’t. So I put the shield on for the next feed, shut my eyes and waited for the pain to come, but it didn’t. I looked down and she was gulping away and I didn’t have one ounce of pain. I cried with relief. I could actually do this. So all her feeds from then on were with a nipple shield. They were a faff and I wasn’t overjoyed by the fact I had to use them but it meant I was able to exclusively breastfeed, and for that I will be eternally grateful. At this point I still wasn’t aware of any local breastfeeding support
So we moseyed along ourselves for the next 14 months. We tried on and off to get rid of the shields but it never happened. Phoebe remained exclusively breast fed until we started solids and I went on to feed her for over a year. It’s still one of my biggest achievements to date. I still carry guilt about her sister not having the same start but I know I did my best with what I knew at the time, and that’s what makes me feel better about it. I will always say that how you feed your baby does not equate to how much you love them.
So what have I learned looking back? I’ve learned about the amazing peer supporters in Harrow. I wish I had known about them with my first because I am almost sure we would never have switched to formula. They are an amazing bunch of women who are determined to help new mums achieve what they may feel is impossible.
Apart from using nipple shields it was the most amazing experience breastfeeding Phoebe, there is no greater feeling than feeding your baby and watching her grow from your milk alone. It is the most empowering feeling, and that is why 2 years ago I trained to become a breastfeeding peer supporter myself. I now have great pleasure helping new mums to have the same experience I had with Phoebe.