I’ve spent the last five years either pregnant or breastfeeding (or both). Once you get past the hardest part, the first few weeks, breastfeeding becomes a lot easier in many ways. Or at least, this was my experience. But first there was mastitis.
Statistics suggest around ten percent of women get mastitis, usually in the first few weeks, but anecdotally I’d say its much higher as many of my friends have suffered with it. I developed a lump; a blocked milk duct, which the health visitor said would get better with hot showers and time, but it got much worse. Eventually I was in enough pain to bother my GP, who diagnosed a breast abscess immediately and got me seen by a specialist at the hospital the same day. I had always imagined when I left my baby it would be for a spa day, or the pub. Not an outpatient procedure involving a needle and my left breast (I’ll spare you the details). Needless to say it wasn’t fun. But I did heal and continued to breastfeed.
Once I had recovered from my c section and breast abscess and was able to walk around a bit I inevitably faced the prospect of breastfeeding outside the house. Not everyone feels this way but I felt really daunted at the idea, and I’m sure that for many women it would be a driving factor in choosing to incorporate a bottle. I bought a massive breastfeeding cover, which I used to pop on every time he needed a feed. But Frank was a summer baby and being under that massive cover we both quickly overheated – it was fussy and sweaty and awful. I felt guilty about covering him up but I didn’t feel comfortable breastfeeding in public without it. When I see pictures of breastfeeding it always looks discreet, but in my experience babies often unlatch and squirm about, and milk goes everywhere – it’s just a bit chaotic. By the time Frank was two months old he used to grab the breastfeeding cover and whip it off, or play peek-a-boo with it, which meant that occasionally I’d feed him in the women’s bathrooms. Looking back I can’t believe I used to feed him in the toilets, but at the time I couldn’t face feeding in public spaces. These nerves possibly originated from when I was working at the bar once and an older regular told me to ask a breastfeeding woman to leave because it was “putting him off his pint”. I declined, and suggested that he leave, but it stuck with me. Years later when I was that mum in a restaurant/pub I kept worrying that there might be one of those people around that get riled up by the sight of a baby being breastfed. Of course, I shouldn’t have cared, and I wouldn’t do now. At the time though I did feel anxious about feeding in public. I remember meeting up with a new mum friend for a coffee and she just whipped her boob out and started feeding mid-sentence; no cover, no drama. I was in awe of her. By the time I had William I was the same, depending on who I was with, but with Francis I did not have that confidence.
One solution to this fear of feeding in public would be to express some milk and feed him with a bottle, but I used to express for ages and barely get a few millilitres. It was so disheartening, and made me feel like a human milk dispenser. I was never a fan and I’m still not (although I did have more success once I realised that expressing first thing in the morning was much more productive). Introducing bottles of expressed milk or formula is a great idea to familiarise the baby with bottles in case you ever need to leave the baby, or to give yourself a break. There’s something lovely about Dads feeding their babies for the first time too. Choosing to try a bottle shouldn’t come from a fear of breastfeeding in public though. Happily I do think that even in the short time since I was a new mum things have started to improve. My local shopping centre now has a designated breastfeeding lounge, and I’ve seen a much more positive and authentic narrative about breastfeeding on social media in the last few years. Once I’d mastered feeding out of the house I actually started to enjoy breastfeeding and continued for much longer than I’d originally planned. I’ve got a bit more to say on this subject but for now I’ll just say – keep up the good work ladies.