Breastfeeding is the most natural thing in the world and the best thing for your baby – when all goes well.
But often new mums don't get to hear about the challenges of breastfeeding, warning signs to look for, and what to do when things go wrong. That means that if things don't go as expected, it can be scary and new mums can blame themselves.
Remi Peers recently celebrated the first birthday of her son Rudy – and the one year anniversary of the start of her breastfeeding journey – by sharing her story of painful breastfeeding, loneliness, confusion, and mastitis.
Her Instagram image shows a red and swollen breast and a very unhappy looking Remi.
"Breastfeeding did NOT come easy for me," she says. "My milk came in after 5 days. I wasn't aware that it could take that long, I didn't even necessarily know what 'milk coming in' meant. (Nobody ever taught me.)"
Remi explains that she was the only breastfeeding mother in her maternity ward. She says one mum switched to formula after just 12 hours because she thought she had no milk.
"While other babies slept with full bellies," Remi continues, "my son screamed and cried attached to my breast through the night. (What was cluster feeding? Nobody told me.)"
When Remi took Rudy home from the hospital, her breastfeeding woes continued, with cracked nipples causing enormous pain. "I dreaded every feed," she says, "but persisted with tears in my eyes until I was healed. (Nobody taught me that breastfeeding could be painful, nobody taught me what a good latch looked like.)"
Remi also says she didn't feel that she could breastfeed in public, for fear of making others uncomfortable. And this limited feeding led to clogged ducts, engorgement and mastitis.
"I remember waking up at 3am shivering, putting on my dressing gown and extra blankets and trying to feed my son," she says. "The pain, it was excruciating.
"I was shaking and sweating but freezing to my bones. At 5am I woke up my boyfriend and told him I thought I needed to go to the hospital," Remi recalls.
Remi was showing the classic early signs of mastitis: as the ABA explains, you feel as if you are getting the flu. You can get shivery and achy. As time goes on, the ABA says, "The breast will be sore like it is with a blocked duct, only worse. It is usually red and swollen, hot and painful. The skin may be shiny and there may be red streaks. You will feel ill."
As Remi discovered, it can also come on very quickly. She was rushed to hospital, where she was given morphine, anti-nausea medication and "the strongest antibiotics they could give" for the potentially life-threatening infection she had developed: sepsis.
Worst of all, she was separated from her baby for two nights, leaving her heartbroken.
Remi says she attributes her illness and troubles with breastfeeding to a lack of support for mums who want to breastfeed. "The lack of support and education surrounding breastfeeding is just terrible," she says.
"And I don't mean in terms of relaying the benefits of breastmilk and handing out lactation support leaflets. I mean general education, about the basics of breastfeeding, about cluster feeding, about the problems that can arise and what to do, how to spot them and how to remedy them."
Remi says the solution is to provide real education around breastfeeding, including the challenges that can arise.
"I see many professionals push breast is best almost aggressively in some cases, and yet there is no real support post baby," she says. "Breastfeeding is HARD. If new mothers knew just how difficult it can be at first, more would take themselves to prenatal breastfeeding classes, buy books, join forums, and ask more questions – but we don't, we just assume that it will feel as natural as breathing. Because no one ever told us."