When I was pregnant I was determined I was going to breastfeed. My husband wanted to buy some bottles and formula "just in case" but that was not an option for me. I wasn't expecting it to be easy having watched my best friend screaming in pain as her 3 day old son latched on, but I did expect it to be possible and to just happen.
The reality was a little different. My son was born 11 days late by emergency c-section following 3 days of contractions coming and going and numerous failed attempts to induce me. Therefore I missed out on the immediate skin to skin contact. I didn't get to hold him until he was an hour old and even then I was numb from the neck down.
I was tired, emotional and shaky and my husband had been kicked out as Eddie was born at 1am. No-one suggested to me I try to feed him and I was physically unable to even pick him up as it took 6 hours for me to get some feeling back and stop shaking. When I finally got round to it he wouldn't latch on. I cannot begin to count the number of midwives and MCAs who grabbed my breast and tried to shove it in his mouth. Looking back I'm not surprised we weren't getting anywhere.
So I then started hand expressing either into a little cup or with a midwife standing by with a syringe to suck it up. That was possibly the strangest thing I've ever done! I found it hard to believe my baby could survive on just 2 or 3mls of colostrum here and there. I used a pump to express some more and still remember the MCA announcing to the rest of the ward how amazing it was I'd got 20mls off. So much for privacy.
We then gave Eddie the expressed milk in a bottle. I had some inkling that you shouldn't give breastfed babies a bottle because of nipple confusion but just wanted him to eat. Eventually someone suggested using nipple shields and like magic he latched on and fed! I was so relieved, although I must have fed him every half an hour that night. It was exhausting.
When I was discharged 2 days after giving birth we were still using the shields. My midwife was unconcerned about me using the shields as he was breastfeeding and that was the main thing. It felt to me like she was just glad she could tick the breastfeeding box and didn't really care how I felt. She suggested the problem was that my nipples were too small! The health visitor on the other hand kept telling me I should stop using the shields as they would diminish my supply, but offered no advice or support how to do so. She recommended a support group but I couldn't go anywhere without a lot of help and being in pain from the c-section.
It was uncomfortable feeding my son. It involved a lot of cushions and generally gave me a bad back, but I persisted. After about 4 weeks I broke down in tears (not for the first time!) in front of my mum. I kept hearing that breastfeeding was an amazing thing, a wonderful experience but I didn't feel the magic. My mum then called a friend of hers who is a breastfeeding counsellor. Unlike the midwife ("You'll be alright if I don't come for a couple of days won't you?") she was at my house as soon as she'd dropped her kids off with their grandparents.
She helped me with positioning and gave me suggestions and tips. The most important thing she did was give me the confidence to keep going. She said my son clearly did know how to feed without the shields and that it was just about persistence. She also confirmed there was nothing wrong with the size of my nipples!
The very next day Eddie fed for a whole hour without the shields. I was alternating feeds with and without the shields, except at night when I just used them to make things easier. Just two days later Eddie decided he didn't want the shields any more, screaming when I tried to use them but latching on straight away once I removed them. I threw the damn things in the bin the next day and have never used them since!
We're still going strong and Eddie is 15 months now. I'm going to let him self-wean and considering he still sometimes has about 4 feeds a day I think we're a while off that time yet! We've had some difficult times (blocked ducts, thrush, milk blisters, a 3 week period of Eddie screaming and fussing at the breast for no apparent reason) but I definitely feel the magic now :-)