Breastfeeding has been quite the journey for me and it has been different with all of my children.

I have three living children. My first pregnancy, I was devastated to learn that my daughter had a fatal neural tube defect and I terminated for medical reasons. I didn’t want her to suffer if she survived birth, so I made a heart breaking decision and suffered instead. Deep in my grief, only four months after she died, I became pregnant again. All I wanted was to be a mother and to be able to hold my child in my arms. There was so much fear though that my baby would die, like my daughter had. Throughout my pregnancy, I had a lot of anxiety and was still grieving. Towards the end, I developed preeclampsia and was hospitalised. In the week before my son was born, I had four inductions before finally going into labour. I remember being preoccupied, crying as I knew there was no way I could have laboured with my daughter Eden, knowing if she survived labour, she would die soon after. My son got stuck and I had to have an emergency c-section. My focus had been on birthing a live baby; I incorrectly assumed that breastfeeding would come naturally. My milk was slow to come in and feeding was very painful. A hospital midwife tried to reassure me by telling me that “breastfeeding is like going to a shoe sale, you find the perfect shoes but they are a half size too small, you buy them anyway and put up with the pain because they look so good.” It was only when I transferred to a smaller birthing unit that I saw a lactation consultation and she immediately gave me a nipple shield and suggested I use a pump so I could give my nipples a break as they were cracked, blistered and bleeding. Things didn’t get better when I went home, the nipple pads stuck to me and ripped off scabs. Unfortunately as I had a c-section, I couldn’t drive myself anywhere to access extra breastfeeding support. Besides, I’d been told breastfeeding was painful so I thought I just had to put up with it. It felt like razor blades, slicing at my nipples every time my son fed. When I had a let-down, it was also painful. It wasn’t long before I started to dread my baby waking up and wanting to feed. I was also scared of getting close to him, as in the back of my mind, I was scared he would die like my daughter did. I was diagnosed with postnatal depression and I felt so much shame. I felt like a failure and wanted to feel good again so I went back to work when he was four months old. The pain, my grief and anxiety really affected my ability to bond with my son.

When I had my second son, I focused all of my energy on trying for a VBAC, I prepared a birthing bag with different herbal remedies, TENS machine etc. Again, I got preeclampsia and was hospitalised. This time however, my midwife advocated for me to have a different induction so by the next day I was in labour. Unfortunately, my second son also became stuck and I started to have pain between contractions as my old c-section scar was thinning. I had a morphine injection to try and help with the pain but ended up with another c-section. When he came out, he was stunned and had trouble breathing. He was a big nine pounder! When I was in recovery, after he fed on each side, my nipples were blistered and bleeding. I asked for a nipple shield but was refused one. A couple of days later, I saw the lactation consultant. I had been busy feeding all night but he just didn’t seem satisfied. She saw how much pain I was in and diagnosed me with Raynaud’s which is where the blood vessels are affected by temperature changes and they go into a spasm. This makes breastfeeding painful and explained the razor blade feeling I’d felt with my previous son. Later that night, my son had continued to feed but was crying a lot and wouldn’t open his eyes. The hospital midwives suggested I try formula top-ups as he was starving. It was a relief to mix-feed and I carried this on until he was four weeks old when I decided to stop as my supply was dropping off, he wouldn’t latch and pumping was painful too. It was just after this that he developed silent reflux. Until he was six months old, life was really hard. He would cry for up to an hour before every feed as he didn’t want to drink his bottles. I tried different bottles, propping his cot up, holding him at different angles to feed, seeing an osteopath then a chiropractor. The chiropractor really helped and gave us a calming remedy. We had been referred to the hospital paediatrician but they refused to see us and said he’d grow out of it. We ended up having to pay to go private but this was worth every penny as he ruled out a dairy allergy but prescribed reflux medication, a probiotic and a different formula. Overnight, our demon child (he screamed like he was possessed) changed into a happy baby. I always wondered if it was the formula that made him get reflux.

Not long after I got pregnant with my daughter, my life turned upside down; my (ex) husband was violent towards me and one of my sons. Two weeks before lockdown, I obtained a protection order and the wheels of the Family Court started turning. I wanted to do everything I could to give her the best start to life after such a stressful time while she was in utero. My midwife was great and she put me on to some good breastfeeding apps and told me about hand expressing. I started this a few weeks before my daughter was born so I had quite a decent stash of harvested colostrum when she arrived – it came in so handy for night two when they cluster feed most of the night. I also started attending a mother’s group – Ūkaipō where I met an amazing Lactation consultant. She encouraged me to hand express, suggested I get a prescription from my GP for medication that helps with Raynaud’s and recommended I start taking magnesium and b vitamins which also help with Raynaud’s. I also got some woollen breast pads which were warm and didn’t stick to my nipples. She also came to see me at home after I got home from hospital to check my latch. Without her support, I don’t think I would still be breastfeeding now. Ūkaipō has been such a good, supportive group. Breastfeeding peer counsellors are at every session to help troubleshoot. I was so grateful for the support I had that I trained to be a peer counsellor. The training made me in awe of breastfeeding on a whole other level. I’m so glad, with the right support that I was able to breastfeed without pain, after a couple of rough trial runs. I love the sense of connection my daughter and I have through breastfeeding. She also has allergies, so I like that with breastmilk you know what’s in it and she’s getting useful antibodies to help her immune system develop. I have also been able to support my sister and my niece by donating milk when my niece was a newborn. She was sleepy and jaundiced and had lost too much weight so she needed top ups. I never expected that I would be able to give the gift of milk to another baby but I’m so glad I was able to and my niece is thriving now.

I am still a firm believer in ‘fed is best’ and I don’t think anyone should judge another person for how their baby receives milk – whether it’s breast, tube, bottle or a mixture. I’m now 9 months into my breastfeeding journey and I’m proud of myself for making it this far…who knows when we will stop.