Sarah Bridges IBCLC

Independent Midwife

My Breastfeeding Story:

I moved from Essex to Dulwich in 2001, when I was six months pregnant with my daughter Zaiah (now eleven!). In 2003 we moved to Eton, and I have two sons, Isaac, who was born in November 2004, and Otto, who arrived seven weeks premature on the 30th Dec 2006.

My pregnancy with Zaiah was without complications, and I worked as a private swimming instructor until two weeks before her birth. Because of our house move, I had to change hospitals and was therefore unable to attend antenatal classes as they were fully booked when we arrived. Luckily though, I was able to attend the ‘Breastfeeding Workshop’ (organised by Clare Kedves) at King’s College Hospital. I had always intended to breastfeed my baby, and the support and encouragement - as well as the information provided by the midwives - made me determined to succeed. At the workshop, I was taught how to hold and position my baby, and also about any problems that may arise and how to deal with them.

I was also informed of the Human Milk Bank, which operates at King’s, and learned that the midwives were appealing for donors. I had been leaking colostrum since I was twenty weeks pregnant, and had been expressing by hand to ease my discomfort. I called the Milk bank and offered my colostrum, and was told that it was ‘liquid gold’. I was advised that I should store it for my baby, in case there were any problems either during the birth or shortly thereafter. By the time Zaiah was born, I had one pint of colostrum stored in the freezer. In the months that followed, I donated over 40 litres of milk to the Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU) at King’s.

As with Zaiah, I had been leaking colostrum from around twenty weeks with Isaac, and had 2 ½ pints in the freezer by the time Isaac was born. Both of my babies were put to the breast within half an hour of being born. I have seen video clips of newborn babies crawling up their mother’s stomachs to get to the nipple and had wanted to try this with Isaac, but I completely forgot to once his birth was over!

My feeding experiences after the births of my children are relatively similar. Three days after the birth, my milk ‘came in’. Both times, I’m sure my body thought that I’d had triplets as I was severely engorged and very uncomfortable.

I had been advised to express as much milk as was necessary to make me feel comfortable, and this ended up as being 9-10 fl oz each time. I have not suffered from mastitis, but have known friends who have, so to help relieve my pain I took their advice and spent a lot of time in a warm bath, laying on my front, massaging the lumps and using hot and cold pads.

Of course, there were irrational times in the early days when I thought about giving up, and I questioned whether it was worth the discomfort. Yet knowing that it takes around 8 weeks for a feeding pattern to be established, I assured myself that it would get better, and so it did.

My Otto was born seven weeks early at the end of december 2006. I have great admiration and thanks for the Neonatal unit at Wexham Park Hospital, Slough who made our stay simply wonderful in the face of our adversity.

Otto had his first taste of breastmilk when he was four days old, a completely different experience for me after both zaiah and Issac were at my breast within half an hour of being born. He was in an incubator and I was unable to hold him until he was 5 hours old, then once a day until day four, with Kangaroo care playing an important part of our time together. I would sit for two hours at a time, with his skin against mine, amazed that this little 4lb 6 1/2oz baby was actually mine.

I had been expressing since he was born, determined that he would not be given artificial milk, and it wasn't long before our bottom two drawers of our freezer were once again full with breastmilk. I would carry his milk into the hospital with me, as I was discharged before him, and express at the hospital too.

We gradually increased his breastfeeds and the remainder of the time he was fed my milk via a tube. And once he came home, we were totally demand breastfeeding.

I witnessed mothers who had been in the Neonatal unit for months, expressing milk relentlessly so that their babies had the best possible start, and our stay, although short in comparrison, has had such an impact on me and our family, that I am determined to help mothers who find themselves in a Neonatal Unit.

I breastfed my daughter for 27 months, Isaac for 25 months and I have just finished feeding my little Otto on his fourth birthday. My immediate family were broadly supportive of me breast-feeding my daughter in the early days, but it soon became apparent that they were not comfortable with it after a few weeks. I was even asked to feed my daughter in a bedroom on my own to avoid embarrassing my own Grandfather! Social perceptions of breastfeeding are still very out-of-date in many places, which can make it hard for some women to go for it. I breastfeed my children whenever and wherever they need it – I have had to stand and breastfeed on the tube (hanging onto the overhead handles! buggy folded and resting against my leg!) while men hid behind their daily papers, not knowing what to do - certainly no-one offered me a seat! I also think that it is the most practical option there is – no bottles or sterilisers, no heating up milk in the middle of the night, no having to take extra bags with you every time you leave the house – surely that’s an incentive if nothing else is?

The idea of bottle-feeding children seems ridiculous – to breastfeed a child is the most natural thing in the world, and I think it is a real shame that some women get coerced into bottle-feeding when they do not really understand enough about it. Why buy a bottle of formula milk when you have perfectly good breast milk? The benefits to both mother and child are of no surprise to me, as mammals didn’t evolve the strategy overnight! Obviously there will be cases in which a woman genuinely cannot breastfeed, but these are few and far between. In many countries today it is breast or death for many babies.

When I talk to women who have given up breastfeeding because of bad (or sometimes plainly incorrect) advice it makes me feel angry, as there are so many doctors, midwives and health visitors that are still peddling out-of-date information to new mothers. A classic example would be the ‘I don't have enough milk' scenario when a mother questions her baby's frequent need to feed which is incorrectly explained by a health professional to be a lack of milk in the mother.

A friend of mine recently gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, and after only 3 days of breast feeding she turned to the bottle because of advice given to her by her midwife. She was suffering from sore nipples, and the midwife bluntly told her that she was ‘unable to breastfeed her daughter’, rather than exploring the possible reasons for her soreness – it may be that something as trivial as adjusting the way in which her baby latched on would have been enough to remedy the situation.

I passionately believe that breastfeeding is an important part of raising a child, because of the emotional and physical benefits it brings to both mother and child. My experiences with new mothers have made me realise just how strongly I feel about the issue, and with my Breastfeeding Counsellor Qualification from the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers, I am now able to disseminate helpful information and advice to women who would really reap the benefits breastfeeding brings.