'Nothing prepared me for the reality of breastfeeding - I felt like a failure'

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A mum has shared her honest experience with breastfeeding (stock photo) (Image: Getty Images/Westend61)
A mum has shared her honest experience with breastfeeding (stock photo) (Image: Getty Images/Westend61)

According to the World Health Organisation, breastfeeding is one of the most effective ways to ensure a child's health and survival - as a mother's milk is clean, safe and contains antibodies to help protect a baby from many common childhood illnesses.

They recommend early initiation of breastfeeding within one hour of a child's birth and then exclusive breastfeeding for the first sixth months of their life.

Despite this, it's a sad truth that fewer than half of infants under six months are exclusively breastfed as many parents decide not to go down this route, or for one reason or another, they find themselves struggling to get their baby to latch on, or to produce enough milk.

In some cases, mums are also not able to breastfeed at all due to a medical condition or the type of medication they are taking. Encountering difficulty can be incredibly disheartening for mothers who had always intended to breastfeed their little ones and they may find themselves feeling a number of different emotions as a result.

One mum, who wishes to remain anonymous, has told The Mirror this World Breastfeeding Week how her struggles with breastfeeding left her feeling like a "complete failure". The mum, who was 37 when she had her first and only child, explained that she'd always thought it would be "easy" to breastfeed, but this just didn't seem to be the reality for her.

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'Nothing prepared me for the reality of breastfeeding - I felt like a failure'She claimed she initially felt like a 'failure' (stock photo) (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

She said: "I always thought that breastfeeding would be a beautiful, natural experience that I would get the hang of pretty easily. My mum had managed to do it so I was confident I would. I knew the benefits and really wanted to do it for as long as possible. I had, of course, heard about lots of friends who have had issues with breastfeeding but nothing could prepare me for the reality.

"Your main role when you become a mum to a new baby is feeding them and making sure they have enough milk to keep them well and happy, and when you're not able to do this, it makes you feel like a complete failure. Although obviously, you are not, when you're tired and full of hormones it's hard not to feel this way. But, no matter how bad you feel, it DOES get better."

The parent continued to say how her daughter was born via C-section and they quickly noticed she had tongue-tie, which is where the strip of skin connecting the tongue to the bottom of the mouth is shorter than usual. For some babies, this has little impact, but for others, it can make it harder to breastfeed.

"It was a wonderful experience and seeing her for the first time was incredible," she recalls. "As soon as she arrived they put her on my breast and I held her tight and waited. Desperately wanting, urging her to latch on, wanting her to get that so-called liquid gold of colostrum ready to feed her. Luckily for me, the midwife immediately noticed that she had tongue-tie.

"Having spoken to lots of people this is very common but rarely spotted early on so the breastfeeding specialists at the hospital paid me extra attention to help me encourage her to feed. I was kept in hospital for three days – a long time by today's standards – to help us feed. But soon it was clear she wasn't latching on, so I was gathering my colostrum with a syringe which sounds – and was – very clinical but by getting it out that way it was easier to give to my baby.

"After four days my milk came in which was a huge relief but our baby still couldn't latch on. She was getting hungry and after a week we decided to get her tongue tie sorted with a specialist who came to our house and did it. It was awful to watch but after a few days, the results were so much more positive. I had to wear nipple shields for a while as this helped her latch on (and helped with the pain!) but every day, bit by bit things started to get better."

She continued to share how she was encouraged to use formula to feed by a midwife after struggling and switching to a combination of breastfeeding and formula feeding really helped lift a "weight" off her shoulders. She said: "We had tried so hard to solely breastfeed but the moment we agreed to combination feed – breast milk and formula feed – it was a weight off our shoulders.

"The baby was happier and my partner could do more feeding. He must have felt so helpless watching us sat there crying as we struggled to make it work and knowing that she had milk in her belly, no matter where it came from, was a massive relief to us both. Things began to get easier.

"Pumping certainly helped and as time went on – and I recovered from the birth – my supply improved. To start with I had thought I'll aim to breastfeed for six weeks as that is what my mum had done but by six weeks we had got into a very nice routine. She could latch on, I had a good supply, I felt comfortable doing it in public, and while we still needed to top her up with formula to ensure she was full enough and not left wanting, she was growing into a beautiful, healthy happy girl and I was relieved my partner could help do the night feeds from time to time so I could get some much-needed rest."

The mum adds that breastfeeding really is a "journey" filled with "ups and downs" and is rarely simple, but that doesn't mean it can't be "positive". She urges those who are determined to breastfeed no matter what to seek help from NHS staff and specialists and to use online forums, webinars, and free workshops to find support from fellow mums who have been in a similar situation.

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"Breastfeeding can be one of the most amazing things to do, and the high you get from feeding and the closeness with your baby is unmatched. But if it doesn't work and you need to use formula – whether completely, or to top up, that's fine. The most important thing is your and your baby's health (and mental health). Being a new parent is hard and we are all just doing our best."

If you're concerned about breastfeeding and would like more information, please head to the NHS information page https://www.nhs.uk/start-for-life/baby/feeding-your-baby/breastfeeding/.

Do you have a parenting story to share? We want to hear all about it. Email us at [email protected]

Courtney Pochin

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