Breastfeeding: 'There is a fine line between support and pressure, particularly when it comes to something as personal as breastfeeding'
Determined mum Yvonne Hogan persisted through the initial 'searing' pain and reaped the rewards through the closeness feeding inspires
I love breastfeeding. I love talking about it, reading about it and writing about it. I find it fascinating. The very idea that you can get a new bodily function as a grown woman is amazing. Breastfeeding is humbling - it reminds us that we are mere mammals like any other and are part of an ecosystem that we must mind and respect. Even now, almost two years after I last fed my daughter, I still read every bit of research and every article that is published about breastfeeding.
When I was pregnant with said daughter, I decided that I was going to breastfeed. I was helped in this decision by a close friend - she had breastfed her two children and was a very enthusiastic advocate. She was also very realistic. "It really hurts for the first couple of weeks," she told me. "But then all of a sudden, the pain goes away. You will literally wake up one morning and the pain will be gone."
Well she was right and she was wrong. She was right about it 'really hurting' for the first couple of weeks. I will never forget the searing pain when trying to get my daughter to latch on in the hospital. It was like a hot knitting needle being pushed through my nipple. Thankfully, there was plenty of help in Holles Street, where I delivered my daughter, and I left five days after she was born (they had to make me go home, I didn't want to leave), still in pain, but fairly confident about what I was doing.
The next couple of weeks were still painful. Even though we were latching correctly, it still hurt like hell for the first minute or so of each feed. About three weeks in, the pain in the left boob disappeared. The right one was still agony - often for the entire feed.
When my daughter was five weeks old, I had to leave her for an afternoon so I bought a breast pump so I could express milk and leave her with my mother. Interestingly, the left boob, the non-painful one, would yield about eight ounces, whereas the right one, the sore one, would produce less than half that amount. That explained things somewhat - I had a gammy boob.
After that, I would prioritise feeding her from the left boob and pumped the right boob whenever I could and I came to quite enjoy feeding for a while. I loved the closeness, the convenience and the fact that I could go anywhere for any length of time as long as I had enough nappies.
Then, at around six weeks, came the growth spurts. There were days when I would literally be feeding all day. My daughter was insatiable. I remember a few occasions when I had to feed her while I was actually on the toilet. Days when the only time I would get a break was when she fell asleep while feeding, and then I would be afraid to move in case she woke up and started feeding again.
My goddaughter's christening took place during one such growth spurt. My daughter was nine weeks old and she was on me all day. If I took her off she would scream with hunger until she latched on again. That night we got in the car to go home and she was still crying. As we passed a pharmacy I asked my husband to stop and buy some formula. The very idea of her latching on again as soon as we got out of the car had me in tears.
So that night, my daughter had her first bottle of formula and I got a few hours off. It was bittersweet. Once I opened the formula door, I knew it was the beginning of the end. She had a bottle of formula at 8pm every night thereafter and about five weeks after that I started giving her a bottle at lunchtime.
About six or so weeks after that I introduced a bottle in the morning and started weaning her completely. She was over five months when I stopped breastfeeding altogether and I remember feeling really sad and a little bit of a failure. I was disappointed that I didn't make it to six months, which had been my goal, and I was also sad that we had moved past this important stage.
I am very grateful to my friend for supporting me through the early days of breastfeeding, and I try and pay it forward wherever I can. But I tread lightly. There is a fine line between support and pressure, particularly when it comes to something as personal - and potentially painful - as breastfeeding.