For the past 12 days, my newborn baby and I have been learning a new skill. It's breastfeeding.
Even though I breastfed my first child for seven months, I do feel like I've had to relearn how to do it this time. And as for my baby – well, she's obviously got the instinctive bit sorted out, but she's been learning too.
My son is only 19 months old so it hasn't been long since I breastfed the first time – but I think this might have been part of the problem. I think I was so confident I'd just remember what to do, and that it would come easily and naturally, that I didn't really pay much attention to how my daughter was feeding in the first week. But towards the end of it, I was curling my toes in pain every time she latched on.
At first I was reluctant to admit that anything was going wrong - surely I knew what to do? Fortunately, though, I did get help, and feeding is now going well, thanks to my community midwife. She guided us through the process, reminded me of the basics, and watched us as we tried to perfect our technique – and after a couple of days, the pain was gone. My little girl is now latching on well, and hopefully, I'll be breastfeeding her for at least six months if not longer.
Now that we’ve got it sorted a bit better, I’ve been thinking about how different it’s been this time around. This time, I spent two days in a London hospital with my newborn before coming home. Sadly, the midwives were so rushed off their feet and stretched for time that they struggled to find the time to give us all the support we needed. Once they knew I was a second-time mum, I was left alone. No-one watched me feed or checked feeding was established properly before sending us home.
The experience was worlds away from when I had my first child, in New Zealand. I was helped so much by the midwives there that I went home confident I would have no problems feeding my son.
But here in London, were it not for the care and attention of a community midwife I’d never met before, I'm not sure we would have sorted it. I would have tried because I really wanted to breastfeed, but how much longer would it have taken – and would I honestly, in my sleep-deprived and post-birth soreness, really have persevered?
My experience wasn't, of course, terrible. We just got it a bit wrong for a few days, and while I was in pain, my baby was still gaining weight and thriving. But it could have got worse, were it not for the support and extra visits of one midwife. Were I a mother who hadn't viewed breastfeeding as so important, I'm not sure I would have continued to try through the pain.
A few weeks ago it was World Breastfeeding Week, and the theme was ‘support’. It brought attention to the fact that breastfeeding support isn’t just the responsibility of healthcare professionals: it's also important for mothers to feel supported by friends, family, and other mothers who breastfeed or have done in the past. Their help can be invaluable, particularly for mothers who would otherwise perhaps stop feeding or stop exclusive feeding.
However, I think it’s also important to support women who can’t breastfeed, or who choose to feed their babies with formula. New mums, whatever their feeding choices, need each other, their family, their friends, and the healthcare professionals, and this support can be really important to them at what can be a very tough time.
So, yes, let's support breastfeeding mums, but let's also support all new mums. Because whatever choice they have made, if they've done it out of the belief that it is best for their child, then they shouldn't have to justify it any further.