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Pregnancy

Feeding and caring for the baby

Infant feeding is an important and complex topic. Here we focus on what information about feeding and caring for the baby parents would have liked before and after the birth and how the reality compared to their expectations. You may also be interested in our breastfeeding section. 

Most people got some information from antenatal classes, but some felt the focus was too much on the birth itself and would have liked more about parenthood (see 'Antenatal classes and preparation'). However, some women thought there was a limit to how much they could learn until they had their own baby, including a young single parent who had plenty of childcare experience.

 

The responsibility of caring for her daughter was overwhelming at first, but she was determined...

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Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
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I mean, does it feel strange to you in some way to be so young yourself and to have all this responsibility?

It did at first. I was a bit overwhelmed at first, because I thought to myself, 'I've got her now for eighteen years or longer', do you know what I mean? 'But I'm going to have to look after her. She, she's going to depend on me now for the rest of her life, and am I going to be able to cope with this and things like that?' And that, that's, I think that's what upset me the most, the thought that, I was thinking to myself, 'Am I going to be a bad mum? And there's people going to judge me because I'm so young and having a baby and things like that.' But now it doesn't bother me because I've done it for six months now. I've got like the rest of her life to do it, I'm trying my hardest and that's all I can do. I can only do it to the best of my ability. 

As most, as most girls probably fret saying, 'Oh, no, I can't, I can't do it. I'm scared and I need help off everyone'. You can only do what you can do to the best of your ability. If you, if you feel like you can't do it, then you can't do it. But there's no such word as can't. You've got to have a try, do you know what I mean? And that's what my mum was telling me, 'There's no such word as can't, so don't be saying you can't do it. Try. Try and change a nappy, try and make the bottle', do you know what I mean? But, as my mum said, 'You should know.' I should know all this anyway because I used to babysit for my mate and she, I was babysitting from when the twins were my age, the twins were our baby's age. So I had to change their bums and do their nappies. But to me that was different because they weren't mine. 

They weren't my responsibility 24/7, they were hers. I'd only mind them now and again, like if she needed to go somewhere like to do shopping or something, I'd mind them. But to me she, she's my responsibility. It's now 24/7 I've got her. But I wouldn't change her for the world. I would not change her for the world. 

In some areas, postnatal classes offered advice on a range of childcare topics. Women also valued advice from midwives and health visitors, and from other mothers they talked to at baby clinics and mother and baby groups. They often worried about whether they were doing the right thing and needed reassurance, especially with a first baby.

 
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Postnatal support has been very good. Her local postnatal group has covered lots of useful...

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Age at interview: 29
Sex: Female
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The postnatal care that I have received I've found very, very good. Initially, when I came out of the hospital there was, the midwife came in for 10 days after I came home and then we had a health visitor. Because I had had a section I couldn't drive for 6 weeks after the section, which meant that the health visitor arranged home visits. She would normally have you go to a surgery to see her. But she arranged home visits and has been of great support. We also have a postnatal group that's run locally and it's been a nice opportunity to meet with other mums and they cover various topics. They've done sort of sleeping and crying, they do a session on how to play with your baby, they do baby massage as well. They did something on choking and resuscitation, how to wean your baby on to solid food, which has, yeah, it's been very useful.

And who organises that?

It's, that session's been organised by the National Health Service and it's run at one of the medical centres locally.
 
 
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Tina was given safety advice about caring for her baby because of her epilepsy. She found this worrying.

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Age at interview: 33
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Is there anything else about the experience that you wanted to tell us that we haven’t covered?

And I had, I had  the thing, the thing that really did get to me on, because I had the, because I had a couple of fits while I was giving, while I gave birth and after, that I had all these people coming into my house because, had an epileptic specialist coming in and all this and telling me, oh I’ve got to have this fitted, I’ve got to have, put this in place, I’m not allowed to carry my baby up the stairs just, if I do I’ve got to put her in the car seat, I’ve got to do this, I’ve got to do that, and oh, just, all because I’ve got, that one fit [laughs]. It just really put me off, to bond with her to begin with [laughs].

Oh what, why, because it worried you?

Yeah. Because of, of what they were saying.

Hmm.

So I was like, “What do I do?” [Laughs] “Am I allowed to even sit with her or..” because they kept on even, they said, “Oh, if you are going to sit with her, don’t sit with her on a normal sofa because, just in case you fall. If you’re going to sit with her sit with her on the floor so then you’ve got a cushion on the floor and …” Just …
 

Amanda had community midwives coming daily for the first few weeks, then Team around the Family support.

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Age at interview: 35
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And since then things have changed at home. I’m more happier and I love my daughter to bits. But the children’s social worker came out on the Friday saw her a few times. [Mitchell’s] mum was here cos she needed to be here to support me and [Mitchell]. And my support worker was here. And, and what the outcome of that was from that Monday when, and the named midwife suggested that I need to have community midwives practically every day for the next few weeks. And it was the same community midwives who I had before, but different ones. I had the healthcare assistant, who would come out once or twice a week to help me or show me how to bath the baby.

And I felt more confident because I was out in the community again. And I didn’t feel pressurised, no, nothing. The midwives weren’t worried [which was good]. The children’s social worker suggested that I continue having these TAF meetings, which I said before was Team Around the Family. And we’ve only just recently had the last meeting of it a couple of weeks ago. And we’re not having any more. So I don’t need to prove myself any more. Sure Start centre which has now been took over by [charity], are really really good. They help me. I go to Let’s Play on a Wednesday morning. I do a lot of things with my support worker and my daughter in the week. I’ve just recently started working at the weekend, to have a bit of time to myself, and [Mitchell] to see his daughter cos he works in the week quite a lot. And, and I think to myself that I don’t have to prove anything anymore [to anyone].
 
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Tina found it scary to begin with when she went home with her baby.

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Age at interview: 33
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And can you tell us a little bit about when you first got home with your baby? What it was like.

It was, it was to begin with it was quite scary because it was trying to get her into, because obviously for the first night it was, it was a different environment for her and obviously we needed to get to understand what, what the cries were all about, which she was waking up if it was waking up for a feed or whether she just wanted attention and things like that, and so we needed to listen out for. So he was quite, it was sleepless nights to begin with because we needed to understand what, because every baby’s different so we needed to understand what her cries meant and if it was for food then obviously we’d get up, but if it was attention then obviously we would give her the attention but obviously she did need to go to sleep [laughs]. So, yeah.

Many women asked their family for advice, although occasionally it conflicted with professional advice and they had to decide which to follow. One woman's mother was too embarrassed to talk to her about breastfeeding, but she was convinced it was the best thing to do.

 
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Her mother was too embarrassed to talk to her about breastfeeding, but she was convinced it was...

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Age at interview: 28
Sex: Female
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( Translated from Punjabi)

How are you going to feed the baby, bottle milk or your own?

My own.

Own?

Yes, your own milk is good. Our mum did not use a feeder for us. Even in Islam it is recommended that mother's milk is good, children should be given mother's milk

Do you believe it is better?

Yes, much better.

How is it better?

It is written in the book, and they say you don't get breast cancer if you breastfeed. It is also good for the baby, makes the bones stronger. They take longer to get used to the other milk, you don't know which one will suit the baby. Mother's milk is natural and God made it so - and that is why motherhood is highly regarded, you know, giving birth and then giving milk.

Right. So has anyone advised you about this, how to look after the baby and about feeding?

No, nobody.

Did you talk to your mum when you saw her?

Not really. My mum was so shy; she just told me to take care and to rest and all that.      

Yes

When I got married I said to her that other mums tell a lot of things, but you haven't really told me anything. I think she got embarrassed and even now she did not say much.

Why not?

She is not very educated. I am very close to her, we are good friends, but she did not say much on this topic, I don't know why.

Even after you asked her about it?

Yes, I asked her but she just laughed and told me to behave [laughs].
 

The reality of breastfeeding often differed from what people expected. One woman who found it much harder than she expected wondered if it would help to have more detailed information beforehand, or whether it would put people off. A breastfeeding counsellor from a support group encouraged her to keep trying.

 

She had not expected to find breastfeeding so difficult. A La Leche counsellor encouraged her to...

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Age at interview: 33
Sex: Female
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I think I was surprised how difficult breastfeeding was, because I'd assumed that that was the least of your worries and that once the birth was over it was sort of plain sailing after that. And of course one knows about sleepless nights, but no one had really told me that breastfeeding would be so difficult and I was quite shocked by that.

Tell me about that experience.

Well it was just very, very painful for me. Very painful in all respects and very difficult and that, that was, that was just quite a shock because I hadn't anticipated that it would be so hard. And of course once you look into it, then you realise that it is quite difficult, and it is acknowledged to be quite difficult, and it is acknowledged as a skill that you have to learn. But going into it I had no idea about that. So perhaps that's something that could be emphasised in the run up, but then you don't want to put people off. Because once I'd started doing it I was determined that I would do it. And maybe if I'd known beforehand that it was going to be so hard I wouldn't even ever started trying.

Can you just sort of talk me through, you know, when you first tried what went wrong and who tried to help you and so on?

When I first, I don't thing I realised that anything was wrong for a couple of days. The baby was feeding perfectly well and he was putting on weight, so that was fine. As far as he was concerned everything was fine. But my problem was that it was very, very painful. I had a very a huge engorgement so that the actual breasts themselves were really painful. And sometimes I couldn't have, even hold the baby to me because they were so painful. And the nipples were very sore and bleeding. 

And it was just a very, very, very painful experience. So every time I knew it was feeding time I would tense up with pain because it was just going to be agony. And I just hadn't anticipated that at all, so, but I contacted the La Leche League and they were absolutely brilliant, and the lady who ran it locally came round and she was wonderful and she really helped me. 

What did she advise?

Well she, she sort of gave me some practical tips about positioning but she also was very sympathetic and said, 'Yes it does hurt' and, 'I know it hurts' and, 'You're doing a really good job to keep going' and, 'Well done' and, 'This is the right thing to do but I know it's hard.' And I've not, I can't quite put my finger on what she did but somehow she was just very inspirational and very kind and very understanding, and she kind of got me through it. And the midwives also tried to help, so everybody tried and everybody understood.

Did you feel emotionally upset because it was difficult?

Mmm, yes, but I also felt emotionally determined to do it and quite pleased that I, that I was doing it and the fact that the baby was putting on weight was a reassurance that I felt that ultimately it was okay because it was getting into him and he was feeding happily himself. So I was upset that it wasn't as easy and it wasn't this beautiful picture of this lovely baby suckling beautifully and everything being fantastic. So that was a disappointment but I, I was determined to keep going.

Other people found breastfeeding easier than they expected after hearing stories about how difficult it would be, including a mother who had a few problems but was determined not to give up.

 
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Other people told her breastfeeding would be hard, but she found it easier than expected. She had...

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Age at interview: 31
Sex: Female
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I think it went, breastfeeding went a lot smoother than I'd expected, because I'd been kind of told by people around me how hard it was, how other people had found it hard to get breastfeeding, and how people couldn't breastfeed. And like even my husband who was totally supportive in every other way was like, 'I'm just going to buy some formula in case you can't breastfeed' which I was quite upset about. Which never got used [laugh]. It was a point of pride actually. And I, I was fairly determined to breastfeed, so I kind of felt that people weren't terribly supportive about that decision. The first 24 hours she only suckled twice for very short times, I was slightly concerned, and she slept quite a bit. Actually she didn't sleep quite a bit, she slept for kind of four-hour periods, then she was awake. But she was a terribly good baby, because I remember the woman on the next bed saying, 'Oh, your baby's so good' because her baby cried all through the night. She said to me, 'Your baby's so good'. And, you know, she suckled a few times and that. And then the third night when this other woman had gone home she like screamed the whole night through, because she'd realised she was hungry and my milk hadn't come in properly. And so I just paced up and down the whole night and she just couldn't get enough milk from me.

And then of course my milk all came in at once and I got mastitis and I had to have antibiotics. And the first ten days of breastfeeding were quite difficult because she was like feeding constantly every hour on the hour all night. And even like by about day seven the midwife was saying to me, 'Look you can give her a bottle, give yourself a rest, give her a bottle' which I was not going to do [laugh]. I was like, 'No, it's not happening'. 

But by about day ten she then slept, she went down about 9 o'clock and she slept, such that after about seven hours we phoned up the out-of-hours service and said, [laugh] 'Our daughter's sleeping. We're really worried about her.' And after that it was fine. She, she fed absolutely fine. She never had any problems latching on, she didn't have any problems taking the milk, she just didn't stop feeding until about three months. I couldn't like get serious gaps between her feeds until she was about three months old. And the mid-, the health visitor kept saying to me, 'She'll establish her feeding, it'll start spacing out'. And it didn't. But she would go down for about 8 or 9 hours a night so I think I was quite lucky that way.
 

Another woman who had bottle fed her babies had since trained as a SureStart volunteer and learnt more about breastfeeding. She wished she had been given more information and encouragement at the time. Particularly with her second baby staff assumed she knew what she was doing and left her to it.

 

She chose to bottle feed both her babies, but now wished she had been given more information and...

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Age at interview: 30
Sex: Female
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Why did you decide to bottle-feed rather than breastfeed?

I did with both of my children because, I don't know, I think probably because of my mum. Probably because she bottle-fed all of us and I think you sort of tend to go for, for what your mum does, basically. If, because, because I do quite a lot of stuff for SureStart now, if I'd have known what I know, if I'd known then what I know now then I probably would have breastfed, but I didn't, so.

So at no point in the care you were receiving while you were pregnant from - were you seen by midwives while you were pregnant?

Yeah.

And did nobody ever give you, offer you any information about breastfeeding?

No, what they said was, the first interview that you get when you go in when you are, the 12 week, you know the 3 months and you get your first scan and you have all your bloods done and everything like that, that was the only, ever time anyone asked me, was I bottle or breastfeeding? And because I said, “Bottle,” she said, “Okay,” and that was it. Nobody ever asked me again, did I want to change my mind and breastfeed? Nothing.

If you reflect back now, I mean as you say, knowing what you know now, do you wish that somebody had sort of had a conversation with you and at least offered you the information?

Yeah, I do. I wish somebody had just sat down and given me the facts and the figures, and shown me that it's, it's easy. Because it didn't look easy and no-one ever explained it to me, so I just never did it, but I would now because I know a lot more information about it. I know the benefits of it which I didn't then, so no, nobody ever, as soon as I said, “I'll bottle-feed,” that was it.

Do you have a sense of why they just left it at that? I mean, do you think it was because they didn't want to pressure you or because they just were..?

I just think they couldn't be bothered. If said I would bottle, that was it. If you said you were breast, you'd probably got a lot more support. If I'd, I get the feeling that if I'd have said, “Oh, I'm going to breastfeed,” then they'd have given me the in depth information about it, but because I said I was going to bottle, that was the last time anyone ever mentioned it to me. And when I had my children the first thing they did was to come in and put bottles down on the table, so that was it, no-one ever spoke to me about it.

While some people thought midwives and health visitors should provide more support and encouragement for breastfeeding, especially with a first baby, others worried about women feeling they had to keep trying at all costs.

 
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She would like the NHS to provide more specialised support for breastfeeding, especially for...

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Age at interview: 29
Sex: Female
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I think the advice that I would give to health experts - certainly I had absolutely no issue with my antenatal care and my postnatal care has been fabulous. The only problem really was immediately after I had my section in the hospital, my baby was born. The only advice that I would say is that if somebody wants to breastfeed, perhaps there should be somebody allocated, a special nurse, and that should be their only duty, should be encouraging mums or helping mums who want to breastfeed be able to achieve that. And certainly people who, it's their first baby, they don't know when to change nappies, they don't know how often to feed, you, it's your first time round, you've never been in this situation before. I think it's important that the health service, certainly, recognise that and give these people more support immediately after the birth of their first child.
 

A mother whose baby was premature and spent five weeks in special care had wanted to breastfeed but felt staff unintentionally put pressure on her to keep trying. Another agreed that women should not torture themselves with guilt, but thought much of the pressure came from women's own expectations rather than from staff.

 

She believes there is unrealistic pressure from society and women themselves to conform to an...

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Age at interview: 33
Sex: Female
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Do you think that people sometimes put unrealistic expectations on themselves?

Mmm, yes, absolutely, absolutely and I think-

In what way?

Well, I think one just feels, you have this image that everything has to work just perfectly from the start, and if it doesn't somehow it's your fault, and there's this ideal that you'll just have this baby beautifully at home and then you'll pick it up and you'll breastfeed serenely, and there is that image. I'm not sure where that comes from, but I felt that pressure a lot, and if I didn't conform to this absolute ideal there was some sort of a failure. And I think that's just so unfair and so unrealistic.

Where do you think that pressure comes from?

I'm not sure, but there's a pressure in society that somehow you have to do it in a certain way, and that if you're not doing it in a the most natural way any kind of intervention is a sort of reduction in the sort of ideal. I don't know where it comes from, actually. Because it doesn't, it doesn't actually come from health professionals, I don't feel. I think they're very supportive. I don't think it necessarily comes from them. I think perhaps it just comes from oneself, that you just want to do everything right.

 
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She wanted to breastfeed her baby in special care. In trying to support her, staff made her feel...

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Age at interview: 33
Sex: Male
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I mean it's weird, though, because we were encouraged to breastfeed, and I wanted to breastfeed, which was fine - because they, they did ask me. They gave me the choice, you know, 'What would you like to do?' Once you've decided that you want to breastfeed, they will help you and support you all the way and really focus on that, which is great. But the, also the, they have, there's this pressure as well, all the time. You know, you're expressing, you go into the milking room, which is what I called it, with all these machines and, you know, you're expressing milk, and you're doing it in the night and, and then you're feeding him. And then you do the kangaroo care that you do, which is skin-to-skin contact and you're, you know, you're, you're changing his nappies. And it's such a long day for you, because you're doing all of that, plus you're expressing, and also you're trying to breastfeed as well. So it was absolutely shattering. And then the other thing is because we - well, because I was actually staying there most of the time, overnight, and we were quite a way from home, it was, you know, I had to make sure, 'Well, I have got some food in the fridge.' And there was only a microwave there, so you weren't actually eating properly either. And so if you're tired, you're not eating properly, surely those are the two main things that would affect your breastfeeding? And I thought that in my case that was the case, that because I was tired, stressed and I wasn't actually eating properly, I wasn't actually producing a lot of milk. And I just thought that I was going backwards rather than forwards. 

So I just thought, 'Well, I don't understand how I can establish breastfeeding if I'm not producing enough milk and I'm stressed.' So in the end, I think, it was because I burst into tears in the end because I, I just couldn't get him to breastfeed, because he was very little at that stage, that they actually took notice and thought, 'Oh, yes, well, she has been trying for nearly five, four and a half to five weeks, and she's got to the stage now where, it's got to the point where she, you know, she's so frustrated and stressed that it's affecting her ability to produce milk.' 

And I think it all sort of culminated in, in that sort of me bursting into tears and saying, 'Oh, I just want to go home', that they realized, 'Oh, well, actually, you know, perhaps we ought to say, well, change tack.' But up until that point, though, they were sort of, 'Oh, no, you must be doing this every three hours, you must be doing this every so often.' And they didn't sort of give any options, 'Oh, why don't you just relax and not think about it for a day?' or something. You know, they would say, 'Oh, go to the canteen and have a nice lunch', but that was about it.
 

Views were mixed about the advice on baby care while in hospital. Some people who had to stay in hospital several days, for example after a caesarean, valued having extra time with midwives to learn how to bath the baby and get feeding established. Women recovering from a caesarean may need special help in finding a comfortable position for feeding. Others found it easier when they got home and felt more relaxed. A few had encountered staff who were unsympathetic or abrupt.

There were also mixed reactions to the midwives offering to look after the baby over night so the mother could get a good night's sleep - some mothers were relieved, but one mother was distressed and felt the midwife did not really understand her feelings.

 

She panicked when the midwife took her second baby away to give her a rest. The midwife did not...

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Age at interview: 34
Sex: Female
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There was one particular instance, when the impact of having a ill son really impacted on my experience in hospital after having my daughter, was when in the middle of the night I was having real trouble feeding my daughter and real trouble getting her to sleep, one of the midwives in really quite a kind gesture, took her off to try and get her to sleep, but there was no way I could then lie down get sleep for myself. I was hopping off the bed with fear that she was taking her away and I know rationally that she wasn't, her job was to help me.

[Mmm].

But having been there after having had my son in the same hospital, him having been taken away unexpectedly, much more quickly to the heart hospital than planned, and being left on my own without a baby I actually had a panic, I panicked, and had to sort of run crying to the midwife to get my baby back. Whether or not I was going to get any sleep, I didn't care, I needed her in my sight. And the midwife was quite offended and said, 'What, do you think I'm going to run off with her or something?' And she wasn't particularly harsh, but she was sort of ridiculing me for being panicked. And I don't think she knew what had happened to me before, and she said, 'Is this your first baby or something?' And I was like, 'No, it's my second baby, but my, my first baby had really bad heart, heart problems and was separated from me very early and it' - I don't know whether I was even that articulate. I just sort of tried to explain why I was panicked and she sort of, I don't think she really understood.

Some women may have particular difficulties with breastfeeding, for example pain (see Interview 04), feeding constantly (see Interviews 15 and 12) or being concerned about the amount of milk being produced. One woman had not been aware that having an elective caesarean might affect her milk coming in, but she was happy to change to bottle feeding (including some expressed milk). (There is some research evidence that after a caesarean women may produce a smaller volume of milk during the first few postnatal days, but the reasons for this remain unclear).

 

She did not know that having an elective caesarean might affect her milk coming in, but she was...

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Age at interview: 31
Sex: Female
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Did you breastfeed?

I didn't breastfeed, no. I did try, time after time to begin with. Sometimes the milk doesn't kick in when you've had an elective caesarean because you've had no natural labour, so by the time my milk came in I think was day, I can't remember now, I think it was day three, by which time I had a starving child who was guzzling six bottles a day, and once you've started on the bottle, it's very, very difficult to go backwards. However, my baby had expressed milk once a day.

Did they tell you before the elective caesarean that that might be an issue for breastfeeding?

I was not given any information about that on the possibilities of not producing enough milk having had an elective caesarean beforehand. On the other hand, I know it can happen to some people who give birth through natural labour, that the milk doesn't always come through very quickly.

How did you feel about the fact that you weren't able to breastfeed?

I was fine about the fact I couldn't breastfeed. I had a happy child, she was eating, she was getting my milk once a day. That was all that was being produced, but she was getting what she needed. She was getting the hind milk and fore milk so that wasn't a problem to me and I continued that for, I think, six to eight weeks before she went onto formula solidly and we had no problems at all. 

Others had specific physical problems, for example women who had had breast surgery.

Babies who are born very early or need special care may also find it difficult to feed (see Interview 12 above and 'Looking back - preterm birth and special care').

See also our Breastfeeding section. 

Last reviewed May 2017.
Last updated May 2017.

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