Age at interview: 36
Brief Outline: Pre-eclamptic fit, caesarean section, breastfed in intensive care and later in coronary care (heart failure/post partum cardiomyopathy). Determined breastfeeder. Peer counsellor and breastfeeding programme administrator.
Background: At the time of interview, this married 36 year old, White British woman had a 3 year old daughter, whom she had breastfed for 20 months. She is a Breastfeeding Peer Support Coordinator.
More about me...
As a breastfeeding peer counsellor, this woman believes that empathising with a woman and providing the right kind of support is important in ensuring that a woman's breastfeeding experience is as positive as it can be. She says that her own expectation that a baby would be fed, go back to sleep for about four hours and then wake for another feed was unrealistic. In reality she was quite overwhelmed by how having a baby took over her whole life. She thought that she would go back to work and had not anticipated the intense longing to be with her daughter and not to go anywhere without her that she developed in the days after birth. She was very ill in the perinatal period and being closely monitored but was determined that she was going to breastfeed and that no-one would take away her motherhood. Becoming a peer counsellor was a turning point in her life. She has started several very successful 'drop in' support groups, run numerous breastfeeding peer counsellor training programmes and been given local authority funding to run programmes in hospitals and antenatal clinics, all in an area that has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the United Kingdom.
As a teenager, she had seen her older sister breastfeeding but had no information and unrealistic...
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I don't know, I really didn't have any information about it, no expectations of it. I have a sister who's ten years old than me who breastfed both her children. So I were a little bit old when this happened and, probably I think I were round about thirteen when she breastfed her first child, so I was aware of it but at that age it didn't have much impact on me so whether that had a bearing on my decision I'm not sure but at me booking appointment when me midwife when they said, 'How do you intend to feed?' I said, 'Breastfeed?', through my pregnancy I didn't look into it, I didn't read up on it, I knew very, very, very little about it, so when it came to actually having me daughter I went into it with quite sort of unrealistic expectations I'd say of what a baby would do after birth. But yeah I never felt, I'd read about everything to do with pregnancy and childbirth but not really anything about what happened after and that included feeding.
So what do you think those unrealistic expectations were, and what was the reality in comparison?
The unrealistic expectation was that a baby would feed by however means and then go to sleep, probably for around about four hours, and then wake up, want another feed, be changed, and go back to sleep and. This is what I, sort of, this is with what I'd read that I picked up, this is what happened, this is what normal babies did. But, actually it were nothing at all like that. She wanted to be held which I couldn't understand because I thought babies were put down to sleep, but she wanted to sleep being held by me and she didn't feed every four hours she fed quite a lot more than that, she wasn't happy to just be left while I got on with everything else that I thought that I'd be doing, and really I was overwhelmed by how it took over, took over me whole life, I'd not expected it to be like that. I thought it would be all flowery and baby talc and you know that sort of perception of motherhood and it wasn't liked that at all.
Where do you think that perception came from?
Media, I think that the perception lots of people have comes from media. We read books which are, are good in one sense, you sort of, you know, there's quite a lot of useful information in them but also nobody ever tells you about the realities of it, and, that to me is why a lot of women afterwards feel sort of things are going wrong and it's not normal, because they believe that what's said in these books, you know, lots, lots of different magazines, television is another one. On television you see babies in sort of drama, soap opera, this sort of thing. They don't portray it in the way that it actually is, how much it does change your life, so I think a lot of people unless they've sort of grown up with lots of babies around them and, and are aware I think, a lot people pick it up from media, yeah.
Do you think some people think that having a baby is a bit of a hiccough in their lives and then they'll get back to normal?
Yeah I think with your first child you do feel that this is an event that's going to take place in nine months and then after the big event which you focus on when you're pregnant so that's what you're actually looking to and you give not that much thought about what's going to happen after, that yeah you just assume that things,
She developed the confidence to trust her instincts and realised that her baby wanted to be with...
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Was that a huge weight off your shoulders?
Yeah. Yes, I just felt that in that one statement it all made sense, so that's, just, live my life how I need to live my life as a mother, stop trying to be independent from my daughter, accept that this is how life is, and once I did that, and I stopped trying to put pressure on myself to hoover every day, and put her down because I'll spoil her, which, you know, I, lots of people, 'Oh you don't want to be carrying her about all day, you'll spoil her, you'll never get a minute, you're making a rod for your own back' all these things, and in me, here, I'd be here at home in me, like, 'Oh God I'm doing it all wrong, oh no, I will, I wouldn't, what will so and so, what will auntie so and so say because I've, I've spoilt her, I've spoilt the-I've fed this baby and I've spoilt it, and I'm, I'm doing it wrong I'm not good, I can't do this'. And so all that went, I just thought, 'd'you know I'm going to just trust what feels right, trust this process', and that's what I did, and we absolutely sailed through, we had a wonderful time. And, you know, we had us little moments along way as you do, things weren't always great and there'd be night times when I'd sort of be blue in the face and thinking, 'Oh no what have, you know, what have I done?' [laughs], 'Scuse me. But it were all, I acknowledged it as all being normal and that was what was normal, and not this trying to make, trying to make a baby fit in with my life, I just accepted that we had to learn it were a new thing, we were a new family who had to learn to be a family together and each one of us as individuals would bring something to that, and had to take something away fr
She would tell a pregnant woman about the realities of breastfeeding, not just the benefits but...
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I think I would try to talk about some of the realities of breastfeeding. I think with me experience with new mums and the pregnant mums, the benefits of it, are not something that actually makes a big impact on their decision, I think a lot of people have the, 'Well that won't happen to me anyway', sort of frame of mind, but I think looking at the other things about breastfeeding, that it's not just about benefits, it's not just that it's good for a baby, and it's, you know, it's good for a mum, but also the, the emotional part of it, what that has to offer. The feeling of holding that little baby that's been breastfed, and it looks up at you, and that connection and that eye contact, and that feeling then of wanting to protect this little bundle, and I think a new mum has, or an expectant mum that's very sort of, they're very focused on that, that immediate sort of birth and just after the birth and the first holding of this little baby, and the skin-to-skin contact, the cuddles that it brings, because it, you know, it's not just about the food, it's about a whole, it covers everything, the whole mothering of the baby, so I think looking at it like that, not only looking at what nutritional value it has, and what it may help prevent and things, but as a whole, and what the whole thing offers. And also again the reality is, you know, of how many times a baby feeds in a day, and that they don't necessarily want to be put down. And just, I've found actually with talking to the pregnant ladies that when you put it like that, when you say to them, 'You've carried this baby for nine months, it's heard your heart beat, and it's been awake and heard your voice and, everything that it's natural that he's going to want to be with you'. I think, they then think 'Well yeah' because like me with my health visitor it just makes sense. And it's easier to think of it that way, so I think that is important, but not to go into having a baby with great expectations of what it'll all be like and to, just acknowledge that it won't be this fluffy experience that we all think it will, because it is, it is that if you're not prepared for the other parts which are hard, the tiredness, sleepless nights, the feeling of, 'Oh my God, there's this baby that I've just had, What do I do? What do I do with this baby? No, no don't leave this room, you don't leave me with it, I don't know what to do' acknowledge that everybody has that, and you are not different and it's not that you're not bonding, and it's not that you're not a good mother, it's just such an overwhelming experience. I think that's important for people to know, and it all then comes together with breastfeeding, if you're aware of this it makes breastfeeding seem a much more natural and normal thing to do.
Even though she was extremely ill she wanted her baby with her. Breastfeeding was the only thing...
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I was suffering from heart failure due to post partum cardiomyopathy. This condition was explained to me and my husband as something separate from the eclampsia, I was very unfortunate they said to have suffered from two quite rare pregnancy-related illnesses. At the time they were unsure of what, what would happen about it. The first thing they did is they told us that we wouldn't be able, we wouldn't be able to have any more children, they advised that we couldn't look at this because it would, the literature that they had on the condition said that it would return and the chances are it would be worse, and this happened immediately after a fall, immediately after giving birth so, it's difficult that I'd just had a baby so everybody thinks that you shouldn't be affected by being told that you won't have another, in reality I'd just had a baby, my hormones were everywhere, my maternal instincts, were, were overwhelming, and I were told that I couldn't have another, child, or it would be potentially fatal to have another child. So it had, it actually had a really, really big impact, it hit me, so hard, but other people didn't necessarily understand it because they thought, 'Why would she be upset she's just had baby? Why she already be upset about not having another?' And with the talk of, there were lots of, lots of things thrown about in the room, they talked about possibilities of a transplant, they talked about the medication that could be used, very quickly they talked, they sort of went down the route of the medication, and decided what I should take, but then they also decided that I should take warfarin which they told me I couldn't breastfeed if I took it, to which I said quite naively, 'Well you're going to have to look at something else because I am going to, I want to breastfeed so I'm not just going to accept that'. I don't think it were, I were too popular at that time with some of the, the doctors but, I felt that everybody were taking control of every aspect of my life, absolutely everything, they monitored when I went to loo, they monitored everything, they monitored my heart rate, everything about me somebody else was checking and looking at, and yeah because I needed that to get better, I'm eternally grateful, but they weren't taking away my mothering, I was quite, it was the, in fact it was only thing that I could keep hold of and I were quite stubborn and I thought, 'No because if I breastfeed you can't take her away again' and I knew that because somebody had already said to me that because I'd been re-admitted into a different area of the hospital there were a possibility that me daughter had been discharged, that she might go home with me husband and they weren't, there were no way that that were happening, absolutely no way, so I said, 'No, no, I'm breastfeeding and I want you to look at it', and they did, and they came back and they said that they would try something else, they said they would try something else if it didn't then I would have to have the warfarin but they were prepared to try something else and they did and it worked. So I, kept hold of my daughter, and the only thing that I did sort of agree to is that at night time she went into the staff room which they absolutely loved, nurses, but she were brought back to be fed, so it meant that in-between feeds I could rest and weren't disturbed by my daughter's little, you know, every turn and such. And we spent a week on coronary care, by the time we left the hospital I was breastfeeding wonderfully, absolutely great we were quite sort of in tune w
She was extremely ill with eclampsia and postpartum cardiomyopathy but the most important thing...
She became an advocate for breastfeeding in her area and the demand for support has grown very...
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In adult intensive care, no-one thought to express her milk. One nurse/midwife held her baby to...
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How did that make you feel?
Frustrated. Because I, I think me natural instinct as a mother took over and I didn't particularly matter, it was her that I were concerned with, I wanted to be able to take, to take, to be the mother and I felt that everybody else was being the mother. My sister-in-law and my sister stayed at the hospital to look after me daughter through the night so that she weren't on her own because my husband was spending time with me and, even though they were doing that, and I'm eternally grateful, it was all things that I felt I should be doing, it was my time and it was really difficult because I didn't have the energy to do anything about it, so after I think five days, I insisted that they move me and, it weren't, it, you know, intensive care's not a nice place to be.
At any stage did anybody pump your breasts or anything, or were you lying there for three days'
'with nothing happening?
No, nobody, nobody expressed any milk, I wish that it would, obviously hindsight's a wonderful thing, if I could have known then I wish that I would have given my permission prior to that happening, but nobody, nobody'.
Her daughter's weaning was very flexible but she felt that their whole relationship had changed...
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Yeah she were only doing that one feed and if she didn't sort of remember about it, it was only when I would prompt, but some nights she would've quite happily just gone off to bed, and not had a feed. And I sort of, I were aware that there were things called nursing strikes but she'd not just stop, she would if I asked her and then one day I asked her and she said, 'No' she didn't want it so I said, 'okay' and off she went to bed and then the next day she did and, this went on for a while and then she just started to say no all the time, and after about two weeks of her saying no, and me keep offering, I discussed it with my husband and he said, 'You know, maybe if she wants it she'll ask' so I thought, 'well I'll not offer and I'll see what happens', and since that day she's never mentioned it again, and I would rather have continued for longer, but, and I worry sometimes that were it a nursing strike, and I found it very difficult to cope with what happened and I spoke to a breastfeeding counsellor about it because I felt my whole relationship with her had changed. And I think it linked with my illness and breastfeeding starting as the thing that I could take control of and other people couldn't and it was ending, and I think that I, felt that, quite deeply, because I had stopped being the one and only person that could do this thing for her, because anybody could make you know, fish fingers and mashed potato, and I really struggled for a few months to come to terms with it and then I spoke to a breastfeeding counsellor and she talked to me about how it, to embrace it as another stage of my daughter's development and not so much a rejection of me, that, you know, she was growing and I was her mother and would always be her mother and would begin to sort of bring new things to her life as she became more independent. And I did, so I did work with that but still there's some sadness deep down that I think, 'Should I have, should I have kept asking for a month? Should I have tried a little bit harder to keep that going?' But then I question who would that have been for really, would that have been for me? Because it was never a time when she was told that she couldn't have it, she could've asked.
Her health visitor suggested solids at four months but they distressed her and her daughter so...
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Yeah, I, didn't think about introducing solids it was suggested to me by my health visitor, my daughter was sixteen weeks and I was asked if I'd considered this, which I hadn't. And, it was suggested that maybe I would like to start thinking about it and one of the good things to start with was baby rice. So I went out and bought some baby rice, I expressed breastmilk to mix with baby rice, I'd never expressed really, never had, never had the need to express because I just always fed when she wanted feeding. So that were a little bit tricky, I found that bit difficult, and I mixed up baby rice and expressed breastmilk and thought, 'This don't, this really don't look very appealing', we sat down, I put it in her mouth and she spat it out, and we did this for a week. And, it, weren't pleasant, it, she didn't want it, and I didn't want it, it, weren't, well neither of us were happy, you know, it just, it weren't working. So I thought, 'Maybe it's the baby rice I'll give her a carrot'. So I did all the carrot thing and mashed it up.
Yeah she became, she really weren't happy about it and she became quite, as soon as she realised what was going to happen she became distressed, so I became distressed. And we did it for a week, I kept trying, for a week, really to shove this food into her mouth and then at end of week I thought, 'I can't, I can't cope with the stress of this because she don't want it and it can't, surely she can't be hungry if she's so upset about it' so I stopped. But I never admitted to anybody that I'd stopped, I never told my health visitor, because I thought that people would think I were a bad mother because I weren't doing what I should be doing. But I just didn't bother, I'd, I went back to breastfeeding and then when she was nearly six months I tried her with something and she seemed to take it so much better, and it started very gradual, we didn't sort of start with, it had to be one meal a day, we sort of just took it quite, really relaxed about it and, if we had, we were at home and we had time to sit and try it we did, and if she took it that were great and if, we just built it up, so it weren't as if, one day she were fully breastfed, next day she had to have a meal regardless of whether she wanted it, and it, it worked like that for us, and I found that she moved on to foods much quicker than what they said that she'd, what they'd originally said that she would. So whereas it had been you have, you do this and you have to do that for a week and then you introduce something else and you do that for three, four days and then, I just sort of started doing little bits and putting them together because I think she were more open to different flavours as well, it didn't need to be as, as bland as what were said. So she, she ate loads of sort of different tastes to what I hear a lot of people say that their children are eating, and I mean, brussel sprouts, well it's one of her favourites for a little, a little baby, at and still [laughs] at three she likes brussel sprouts and she's got quite strong sort of tastes. So it were so much easier when I did it sort of later, it really were and we were both much more relaxed and it, it were a lot nicer.
For her own comfort she discouraged her toddler from wanting to breastfeed in public.
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