Eimear Hutchinson: Breastfeeding - the highs and lows

As a mum of four, Eimear Hutchinson says her breastfeeding journey was a mixture of highs and lows. Here she shares her experience
Eimear Hutchinson: Breastfeeding - the highs and lows

“How we feed our babies is a completely personal choice and whether you bottle feed or breastfeed, it is your choice,” says Eimear. Picture: Stock, posed by model

LAST week was World Breastfeeding Week, and granted I am a week late in writing this, but I think at the moment most of us are too fixated on what day of the week it is, let alone what week it is!

I always feel that I have to preface any article about a specific aspect of parenting by saying this — we all make our own choices when it comes to how we parent our children and it is so important that we respect everyone’s right to do that. We all make different choices based on our own individual and personal situations and it is so important, regardless of what you choose, that you respect other parents and the choices they make.

My experience with breastfeeding was a mixed bag of emotions. With my first baby I breastfed her for about four weeks and unfortunately it was four long, painful weeks filled with guilt and dread because it just wasn’t working out — I got cracked nipples, she was hungry, I didn’t have a huge amount of support as I was new to the area we lived in, and I didn’t know where and when to turn for help.

Second time round I was still determined to breastfeed and it was working well for about six weeks but perhaps I was overwhelmed with having two small children and in the end my supply just ran out. Looking back, I probably didn’t mind myself, I didn’t drink enough water and I didn’t eat the right foods and there is only so much a body can give.

Third time round I was absolutely determined to breastfeed so I set about learning from my previous experiences. I did a class, I took notes, I read over them, I read articles online, I set myself up with supports, I knew where to turn for help if I needed it, I knew to act quickly if I got sore, I knew to look after myself, to drink water and to eat right. And I succeeded. I breastfed my third lady for almost six months, not the longest stint in the world but it was the right length of time for me and for her.

Fourth time round I prepared myself again and things worked out well, I breastfed that lady for almost seven months and it was wonderful. On the occasions that breastfeeding worked out for me it was literally one of the most satisfying things I have done as a mother of babies. However, my first experiences put me in a position where I understand fully the frustration, the guilt and the pain of breastfeeding when it doesn’t work out.

If you are even remotely interested in breastfeeding, I think the single most beneficial thing I did in order to make it work for me was to take a class. The hospitals provide them (in these Covid times I don’t know in what format they are doing them) and they are, in my experience, absolutely fantastic. I think for me the notion that breastfeeding is ‘natural’ was actually a bit misleading, it is natural but it can be tricky.

In a class they will give you advice on how to get the latch right, different positions for holding the baby when you’re breastfeeding, tips on knowing the difference between sucking for milk and sucking for comfort, what are the signs of hunger, cluster feeding and so much more.

Another important part of breastfeeding is ensuring you get off to a good start, the first few days are really important so be sure to ask for help, even if you don’t need it. Get a midwife, nurse, public health nurse or lactation consultant to check your baby’s latch. This is so important because if it is wrong it can lead to all sorts of pain that is easy to avoid.

Most of the challenging aspects of breastfeeding can be fixed if they are addressed quickly but if left unattended they can be enough to make or break your breastfeeding journey.

Usually, pain is caused by incorrect latch or in some instances tongue tie so get advice from an expert. There are numerous products you can get to help ease or alleviate pain like compresses, lanolin cream and what I found fantastic were silver cups.

Breastfeeding is a great excuse and reason to put yourself first. You need to mind yourself and eat well and you need to drink lots and lots of water. Make sure you have a comfortable set up when you settle in for a feed, have a glass of water, some food, sometimes a breastfeeding pillow is useful and a good supportive seat.

How we feed our babies is a completely personal choice and whether you bottle feed or breastfeed, it is your choice. My experience with breastfeeding was a mixture of highs and lows but the highs were worth the lows, I absolutely adored it when it worked out.

Parenting is rarely simple or straightforward but always remember the most important thing is that a fed baby is a happy baby.

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