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Have you been wondering about breastfeeding? Are you unsure of whether breastfeeding would suit you? In this article, 2 women share their own experience.
Mary Kate's experience
I have two children, a boy and girl, who were born in two different countries and I had two very different birth and breastfeeding experiences.
My son was born in Virginia, USA and it was a long and difficult labour and delivery. Our breastfeeding journey got off to a very rocky start as he was very tired and sleepy from all the drugs, and had jaundice, while I need surgery after the birth so we were separated for some time. I found they were helpful in the hospital up to a point; I was quite determined to breastfeed, more to do with the fact that we were moving back to Europe when he was a month old and I knew I didn’t want to be carting around masses of bottles, sterilising equipment and formula than anything else. He was fed by syringe, I used nipple shields, I pumped, I hand expressed – we tried it all! After we left the hospital we went to see a lactation consultant who was fantastic. She instilled in me the ability to believe in myself, and after that we were flying and he nursed happily for 10 months until I became pregnant again. We had lots of bumps along the way including two bouts of mastitis, but we got through them unscathed, and I never lost that belief that what I was doing was the best thing for me and my baby.
My daughter was born in Bath, England and it was a great experience when compared with the first time. By then I knew a lot more about birth and breastfeeding so managed to have her with only gas and air and we got busy breastfeeding straight away. It was great to feel like I knew what I was doing although I was probably over confident which led to me again having a few problems; I felt like I was a pro but in fact every mother/baby breastfeeding relationship is unique and so my latch and positioning weren’t great in the early days.
As time went on with both my babies, and when I realised how easy it was to breastfeed once you got the hang of it, I felt I wanted to help other people get their breastfeeding off to a good start so I trained to be a breastfeeding counsellor. I help run a local breastfeeding support group and get great enjoyment out of it. I’m not a ‘breastfeeding nutter’, ramming it down peoples throats; my philosophy is that I help people who want to be helped. Every mother has heard from their PHN, midwife, doctor etc about the massive benefits of breastfeeding to both mother and baby and they are free to make their decision. So I focus on those who have decided to try breastfeeding, to help them get started and to encourage them along their journey, however long that may be. Even if it’s only one day, or while you’re still in the hospital, or maybe a week, or 6 weeks. However long you breastfeed your baby for, remember that ‘every day makes a difference’. Pat yourself on the back for a job well done, keep going for as long as you can and most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask for help and support! Breastfeeding is a learned skill, a bit like driving a car – you think you’ll never get the hang of it, there’ll be bumps and bends along the road, but soon you’ll (both) be flying along on a lovely journey without a care in the world.
My first daughter was born in Boston, my second in Galway. I breastfed both children up until 15 months. My experience in both countries was not too different, although America seems a little more advanced in having more rooms available in public places where you can find a comfortable seat or even with a sign on the door saying for “feeding and changing”.
The biggest difference to me though was facilities at work to express milk when I went back from maternity leave. In Boston there was no problem asking for a room to use, luckily our office had a spare unused room with a lock and I could leave my super "milking machine" as I called it, which was a double expressing unit that was available to rent very cheaply from my health insurance company. I had a cute little bag to store my expressed milk in the large fridge in the office kitchen.
In Galway, I had to go to the only single ladies' toilet and sit trying to hand express while on the toilet, which I detested as I felt it was unhygienic. Not surprisingly, I was never able to express much, I'm sure due to the stress I was feeling about a) being perched on a toilet, b) being sure someone would try the door any time. Then had to squish my bottle holder into tiny fridge!
From a cultural point of view, I have read widely and heard anecdotally that Ireland is behind in terms of women feeling empowered to breastfeed however that is not my experience here. A friend did tell me that she was asked to move from a chair that she had found on the quiet top floor of a department store due to the fact that the staff member was embarrassed but that's the only story I ever heard first-hand. I was not the type to whip out a boob without a qualm, I would always sit behind a table or choose a seat in the corner where I could feel a little discreet, but still I never had any remarks or stares so was never made to feel uncomfortable.
Personally, I am pro-choice when it comes to breastfeeding, but if you are a first-time mum-to-be and are reading this, I would encourage you to try it. It did me wonders in terms of bonding with both my children and helped me lose all the pregnancy weight very quickly.