8 March 2016

My Breastfeeding Journey



A few weeks ago when I posted Willow's one month update, I shared that my breastfeeding journey so far hadn't gone quite to plan and I have really struggled to breastfeed Willow, who is currently being combination fed with formula.

Over the coming weeks and months I am going to be sharing a few posts about our breastfeeding journey, what has and hasn't worked for us, the services, communities and organisations which I have turned to for help as well as products and devices which can help if you are struggling to exclusively breastfeed. 

Today I wanted to start things off by sharing my breastfeeding experience, from someone who had the aim of exclusively breastfeeding for one year and who never realised how hard to achieve that would actually be.

For those of you who read my post announcing Willow had been born, you will know that any ideas I had of how I would give birth completely went out of the window and after a 19 hour labour I ended up with an emergency c-section. I'm mentioning this because I really do believe it has had a massive impact on my breastfeeding journey; I wasn't given skin-to-skin contact in the hospital after she was born, nor for the entire time I was an inpatient before discharging myself (more on that in my birth story, which I plan to share soon). Also by the nature of a caesarean, my body didn't go through a full natural labour which teamed with the lack of skin-to-skin contact meant my body didn't go through the motions of getting my milk flow started. My colostrum was there, and I fed Willow in the hospital, but it took much, much longer for my milk to come in, 5 days in fact; which seems to be the standard for caesarean mamas. 

Ultimately this made it harder for me to establish breastfeeding in those important early days and give Willow the amount of milk she needed, particularly as she was cluster feeding and we were 'feeding on demand'. Another way in which having had a caesarean made our breastfeeding journey difficult was the recovery process; I had just had major surgery and so trying to position Willow in order for us to get a good latch was really difficult, painful and uncomfortable. I'm still recovering now, having unfortunately caught an infection and finding it harder than expected to get back to my normal self after the surgery. 

It's the positioning and latch I struggled with the most in the first week or so and ultimately what has been the biggest problem in trying to breastfeed. Before my pregnancy I have always had a big bust and obviously when you are breastfeeding, your breasts get bigger. Gravity also took over some time ago for me and years of not wearing correctly fitted bras means my breasts aren't in the best shape. All of this put together makes positioning extremely difficult and despite trying every position going, nothing seems to fit.

My partner and I went to a breastfeeding workshop when I was pregnant so we actually knew quite a few different positions to try out and we also got some tips and ideas from the community midwives, we literally tried every position going and nothing seemed to work. I either couldn't get comfortable or I couldn't get the latch right, all of which left me feeling stressed, anxious and extremely upset.



As each day passed, my anxiety levels rose, which in turn had another negative effect; my milk supply which had only just come in started to decrease, rapidly. Did you know your mood, for example being anxious, can inhibit your milk supply? I didn't, and finding out that was a factor in how much we were struggling simply made me more anxious. And so the vicious cycle continued. 

I had sore, cracked nipples right from the off, with one bleeding after just a couple of days and an issue with blocked ducts on the same breast due to the severity of how cracked that nipple was. I pretty much applied nipple balm from the get-go but struggling to get a good latch meant that my preventative methods were fruitless; Willow was pretty much on the end of my nipples the majority of the time which was extremely sore, caused a fair bit of damage and at one point I even ended up with blisters. I tried the whole 'if the latch is bad, remove her and start again' method, but I struggled so much to get the latch right that I would often be sat there for an hour doing just that, in which time Willow would get worked up and more hungry, in turn making me more stressed and anxious. I have my fair share of tattoos and piercings, I spent 19 hours in labour - I can wholeheartedly say that trying to breastfeed through sore, cracked, bleeding and blistered nipples is by far the worst pain I have ever experienced in my life.

Another problem we had was that Willow wasn't waking herself for feeds and we were really confused as to how long we should leave it before waking her to try and feed her. One person would say 4 hours whilst another would say no longer than 90 minutes, with others saying everything in between and one midwife even saying that 5 hours between feeds was fine. There was so much contradictory information being thrown our way which made an already stressful situation even more difficult to manage. You're not given a handbook when your baby is born, you don't automatically know what to do and become a perfect parent. We trusted advice given to us and all too late found a lot of the advice was bad advice. Eventually we had to give in and Willow was given formula as a 'top up', which over the weeks has increased in quantity, to ensure she is getting enough food and growing the way she should be.



Breastfeeding is hard, and it's something I think very few people are emotionally and mentally prepared for. Having shared some of the difficulties I faced with feeding Willow when chatting with other mums on Twitter and Instagram, it astounded me how many others had faced the same difficulties as I had, and even more who had found it more difficult. Being able to breastfeed is an accomplishment and not something to be sneered at - everyday I feel guilt that I am not exclusively breastfeeding my daughter, and envy over every happy breastfeeding picture I scroll through on my Instagram feed. I cannot tell you how upsetting it is when you have your heart set on breastfeeding, to struggle the way I have. You feel like a failure, that you can't do the one thing that is meant to come naturally to all mothers.

I've learned a few important things over the past 6 weeks. The first being that fed is best. When I couldn't provide enough food for my daughter, formula was a life saving product which meant she got enough food and didn't become poorly. There is no doubt that breastmilk is best in terms of health benefits and being the best food you can give your baby, but in those times of need, no one would chose to let their baby starve for the sake of being stubborn. Secondly? There are an unbelievable amount of resources, organisations, communities, all just a phone call, email or direct message away who are there to help in whatever way they can. I lost count of the amount of times I had the community midwives come out to see us in those first two weeks. Thirdly, technology. It is astounding the products and devices which have been created to help mothers, whether they are exclusively breastfeeding with the aid of electric/manual pumps, whether they like me are combination feeding or whether they just need a little helping hand in upping their milk supply.

I have a couple of posts coming up covering exactly that; products and brands which are great in helping you along on your breastfeeding journey, essentials and must-have items which have made things easier for Willow and I. I'll be sharing my feeding essentials, techniques, tips and tricks we have tried as well as reviews of a range of breastfeeding aids from Medela which have been absolutely invaluable.

Today I want to end my breastfeeding journey post with a quick fire Q&A with Medela's Lactation Consultant, Sioned. I was given the opportunity to ask Sioned some questions and decided it would be beneficial to pick her brains about my own experience, including the specific aspects of our journey so far which have affected our breastfeeding experience, and in doing so learning a lot more about why I have struggled and what else I can try to make things easier.




001. I attended breastfeeding workshops prior to my little girl being born and I was shown many different positions for breastfeeding and told how to get a good latch. However, as a naturally big busted girl I find it extremely hard to find a position that works for us, even more so to get a good latch - do you think size of breasts can have an effect on someone's ability to establish breastfeeding and if so, what positions do you recommend as easiest for getting a good latch whilst being comfortable for both mother and baby?
Every lady is different and whilst the generic feeding positions are adapted sometimes mum has to be a little creative and finds what suits them. Nipples come in different shapes and sizes and are not always positioned where baby can be tummy to tummy. What is important is that baby can get a big wide mouth and a deep latch. To do this a guide of having her in line where her nose is in line with her umbilicus or her ear is line with her hip means that she isn't twisted and can slightly tilt her head back and open wide. For ladies who are fuller breasted adopting a biological nursing semi-reclined position may help as baby is on top but occasionally this can lead to breasts shifting to the side with gravity. Placing a small muslin square at the side or under the breast can help with supporting the breast or using a scarf to sling the breast to help lift and support to aid feeding. Size does affect and more so on posture and back support. A good supportive bra is a must and it will aid you to monitor and check for fullness and discomfort through breast examination to ensure that baby is draining effectively, minimising fullness and engorgement.

002. In my personal experience breastfeeding is not only a huge responsibility, but it puts a lot of pressure on you as you try to ensure your baby is being fed as often and as much as they need. I found my anxiety to have a big effect on my experience of breastfeeding and my community midwives suggested a rise in my anxiety levels could be inhibiting my milk supply. Do you believe your mood can affect your milk flow and if so, what do you recommend for ensuring breastfeeding is as stress free as possible?

The breastfeeding hormone oxytocin not only regulates and supports breastfeeding but is also can affect mothers well being. It buffers emotion and releases anti-stress agents so that you feel happy, content and bond with baby. However if you are stressed, apprehensive, afraid, in pain, these physical and emotional factors can switch down the release of oxytocin and inhibit milk flow. Mood and parenting come together with reduced sleep and adapting to motherhood, and can affect milk production. Any tactile stimulus can trigger oxytocin so hand/back massage can release this love hormone, massage your hands and thumb area to stimulate the reflexology points for buffering worry, eat foods with essential fatty acids; 2-3 portions a week can also enhance mum's well being as well as increased concentration of these fats into your milk to help baby's brain development too. 

Make time to rest and relax. Value those minutes that baby is asleep to take 5-10 minutes of you time rather than try and catch up on chores or emails, close your eyes and do a few deep breathing techniques. Maybe have a few days that you go to bed early and refresh, and if baby wakes your partner can help with getting baby ready so that you just need to feed. The breastfeeding hormones help you to get quality sleep and help to take you into deep sleep so quality is often better than quantity. Link into a support group for chatting rather than feel the pressure associated with achieving milestones; every baby paces development at different rates so enjoy the moments. Be realistic with what you can achieve and if things are a little overwhelming see if family can help out with some of the chores such as the ironing or don't iron, have a morning where you double up on a few meals that can be frozen in advance and see if you and your partner can have a date hour so that your relationship also has some protected time too.

003. Having had an emergency caesarean I didn't get the birth I had planned and the skin-to-skin contact I so desperately wanted did not happen during my 2 day stay post-birth in the hospital. Do you think skin to skin contact in those first few hours after birth can affect how someone may go on to breastfeed, and do you think hospitals should do more to ensure those who have caesareans, are on strong pain killers afterwards and may not be in a clear state of mine to request help, get that important skin to skin contact after birth?
There is still unfortunately some work to be done in the early hours and days after birth. Skin-to-skin is greatly beneficial to you both and ideally it should happen in delivery suite immediately and can be done with supervision of a nurse even after an emergency section whilst you are in the recovery room. Skin to skin can be done at any time and is not just for after birth as I'm sure you have done. What this does is introduces your baby to your skin flora by being placed on your abdomen , as if he was born vaginally he would have been bobbing on your pelvic floor exposed to the outside world being protected by your unique flora too. Skin-to-skin surges your oxytocin levels as you go through the third stage of labour to deliver your placenta, this releases the love hormone oxytocin for you to connect with baby and this helps with milk stimulation and let down.


I believe there is still a lot of work to be done for women who have emergency sections and their partners are unable to attend, and theatre nurses should support placing a newborn in skin to skin so that the mother and infant are safe and monitored in the recovery room even if mum is under sedation and pain management until family can support this. Feeding back to the midwife in charge and through patient experience (PALS) can start to make a difference and talking and including in your birth plan that these are your wishes should highlight that there needs to be a change in support in recovery and postnatal wards.

Skin to skin definitely supports breastfeeding initiation and maintenance but it is the early initiation, frequent and effective feeds where baby latches well and suckles with lots of swallowing, and good milk transfer and breast emptying which are the key things for good milk production and this affects the breastfeeding experience for both mum and baby.




A big thank you to Sioned for taking the time to answer my breastfeeding questions.

If like me your breastfeeding journey has not been as easy as you expected, I would love to hear from you - none of us are alone in this! Keep an eye on the blog over the coming weeks where I'll be sharing more breastfeeding content, with my breastfeeding essentials coming up very soon. In the meantime I'd love to hear your breastfeeding stories as well as any tips and tricks you have for making breastfeeding easier.

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32 comments

  1. Thanks so much for sharing your breastfeeding story. I plan to breastfeed as well and I really hope it all goes okay. I've always wondered about the 'wait time' between feedings. I'm still so unsure about it all! Some say you need to wake them up to feed, others say only feed them when they wake up on their own. So confusing! Looking forward to the rest of your breastfeedings posts!

    Renee | Lose The Road

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    1. Thank you Renee. It's definitely confusing and no two babies are the same! I'd say go with your instinct as much as you can and in some cases Google and parent forums can be such a big help when the official sources are giving such contradictory advice! xo

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  2. Your breastfeeding story is so honest. I loved it. My daughter is now 3 and Im pregnant with my second. I had great difficulty breastfeeding. it took me four months to get it right. I went to the doc and he suggested I lock myself in the house, Get out a bunch of dvds and just sit and spend time just concentrating feeding Esther. No house work or socialising for a couple of weeks either untill I got it right. Also I was told not to wait more than four hours between feeds. Hope this helps hun.
    Renee x

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    1. Thank you Renee - I always aim to be honest here on Tattooed Tealady and I think that's even more important when it comes to posts like this! Thank you for your tips and sharing what has worked for you :) xo

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  3. I've had two babies and two very breastfeeding experiences. And I've come to the conclusion that some babies just get it and some don't, because I didn't do or learn anything different between the two! The experience reminded me of horse-riding (I know - weird analogy), some horses would ride like a dream, others just weren't having it! And whilst I may have been able to get breastfeeding to work eventually, for me my sanity was more important.

    Personally I'm not a fan of being praised for breastfeeding. I was no more a better mum to my breastfed child than my non-breastfed child. He just happened to breastfed and latch on properly. I don't need a congratulations for that. Congratulate me for sustaining on two hours of sleep, or for getting through the day without forgetting something!

    So from me to you - congratulations. You're raising a tiny person, running a successful blog, probably getting through the day with very little sleep!

    That Wise Lady

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    1. Extreme pro-breastfeeding advocates like to say that ALL mothers and babies can breastfeed, but I really do think it depends on the baby and the mama! I completely your horse-riding analogy (used to ride myself and it's a pretty good way to explain it actually!).

      I completely believe that so long as baby is fed, happy and healthy, that is what matters. I do think people should appreciate how difficult breastfeeding can be - but it certainly doesn't make a breastfeeding mother better than a formula feeding mother, in my opinion!

      Thank you very much for your lovely comment :) xo

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  4. It is hard and Iam doing the same combined feeding expressing and formula. In my 9th week and I think my lo is starting to prefer formula do worth bearing that inind that it can happen later on.
    Mandy x
    Www.onesliceoflemon.com

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    1. It's interesting that your little one is preferring formula, I will definitely bare that in mind. Keep doing what you're doing mama! xo

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  5. Thank you for sharing your story! I had a horrendous breastfeeding journey with my daughter who is just over 3 weeks old. After a straightforward birth which went to plan- I got my waterbirth- on getting out of the pool my temperature spiked and we both ended up being treated for a sepsis infection. It meant I didn't get proper skin to skin with her or further feeding attempts until the next morning due to the treatment we both needed. She refused to latch on to the breast and I spent the next 24hours trying everything with great midwife and breastfeeding nurse support.

    My daughter developed jaundice and spent 3 days under photo-therapy lights and to flush the jaundice out we had to introduce formula which I hadn't wanted to do. She was starving and as her mum I wanted her to be fed and happy. I expressed using a hospital grade pump to combi-feed her during this time and for the first 10days of her life but the expressing every 2-3 hours was exhausting on top of my and her infection/ jaundice recovery than on day 10 I stopped and she of formula fed exclusively.

    To say I was devastated would be an understatement- I had left no room in my feeding plan to consider formula so psychologically it took me a long time to get over the guilt I felt in not breastfeeding her. I had spent hundreds of pounds on breastfeeding and expressing kit and never imagined it would be so hard to establish. Formula feeding meant I was embarrassed to admit it to others and feeding her in public for fear of being judged. I had spent those 10 days of combi-feeding in floods of tears to every family member and health professional that I was on the path to PND. Having turned a corner and formula feeding we are both so much happier and she's growing as she should. I can't ask for much more than that.

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    1. Thank YOU for sharing your breastfeeding journey with me Lynn!

      I think sometimes you really do have to do what is best for you as well as baby, and like people say - a happy mummy is a happy baby. I think I am the same as you if I am honest; I wasn't psychologically prepared for things not to go to plan breastfeeding wise. I'm still adjusting now, and feel guilt everyday. I appreciate formula for being able to give my daughter what she needs, but I also resent it because it should be ME feeding her, not a bottle. It's such a frustrating situation to be in!

      I'm so glad you are both doing better now. You are doing a fantastic job Lynn xo

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  6. this is so honest and all very true. I too want to breastfeed my babies once the time comes, but knowing it's not easy or simple like everyone thinks is eye opening and will surely keep all these tips in mind! Good luck going forward beauty!
    Pam xo/ Pam Scalfi♥

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    1. Thank you Pam, I'm glad you found it an eye-opening read! xo

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  7. I LOVED this post! I can completely relate- when I had Harry he wouldn't latch on (apparently my nipples aren't the right shape!) and it was so upsetting to not be able to feed him. There's such a huge pressure to do the 'right' thing and breastfeed and it took me a while to get over feeling guilty about it and stop caring what outsiders thought. It was between formula or having a hungry baby so it was a no-brainer! Unfortunately the chances of being able to breastfeed in the future for me are pretty slim but I wish I'd have known the truth about it and the difficulties people face before I experienced it myself. Hopefully this post will make others realise that too! Thank you for this post. P.s Willow is just beautiful xxx

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    1. Thank you lovely :) There is definitely a big pressure on mamas to breastfeed and I TOTALLY understand why - no one can deny that breastmilk IS better health wise for babies. But that doesn't mean it is the right way for everyone. Thank you so much xo

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  8. Thank you for sharing your breastfeeding journey so far, I found your blog a few weeks before Willow was born and have been hooked ever since! My baby is due next Wednesday by elective c section due to its stubborn breech position! Something I've had to come to terms with, but baby has dictated here, decision is out of my hands!

    In my head I want to breastfeed, but I am also quite a realist and know that baby may prefer formula/bottle so I am open to both. What I found interesting about your post, this and others is how real you are and honest. I'm well aware that this parenthood journey is going to be one of highs and lows but I am sure it'll all be worth it in the end!!

    Thank you for keeping it real! Can't wait to read more! Ladykake x

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    1. Thank you so much - I'm so glad you're enjoying my posts here on Tattooed Tealady! How exciting that your due date is so close - I hope the birth goes quickly and smoothly for you :) Willow was breech for a while so a c-section was always a possibility for us. Just make sure you rest up and let everyone else run around after you!

      DEFINITELY! Having our little ones is worth everything we go through. Best of luck to you and your growing family xo

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  9. I had a similar experience. Squidge just couldn't latch on, and trying to do that while he's distressed and screaming is not easy. Also he had a nasty sore scab on his head from where they'd screwed an electrode into his head when I was in labour, so trying to support his head for feeding was tough because it really hurt him.

    From day one he had to be topped up with formula. I did express for 6 weeks so he had all the milk I could produce until it dried up.

    Emotionally it's so hard and not something you expect :/

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    1. Oh gosh yes, it is so much harder when they are crying/distressed, it's a vicious circle! I couldn't agree more - emotionally it has been a really tough journey for me and one I was really not prepared for at all xo

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  10. Before you have your baby you hear and think that breastfeeding is the natural thing to do for a woman. Well, not always is an easy thing to do for many different reasons. I struggled to breastfeed both my boys, they wouldn't latch properly, I didn't produce enough milk, probably because I was so stressed. With my first son after a month of a nightmare I gave in and started topping him up with formula. I was hoping that with my second child would be easier but it was the same struggle. I managed to do mixed feeding for about 4 months with my first son and a bit less with my second and then they were exclusively formula fed.
    I'm not feeling guilty about it, I did what I could.
    Too often women are under the pressure to be the perfect mothers and breastfeed and when they can't they feel guilty. I think it's important to know that no one is better just because breastfeed their child.
    And I can totally relate, breastfeeding with cracked, bleeding nipples is extremely painful.
    I'm sure You're doing great and want the best for your daughter! Often more relaxed mamma is much better then stressed and anxious one who's trying to follow all the 'best advices'. x

    Mummy’s Beauty Corner

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    1. I do think the pressure put on mamas to breastfeed is a massive reason why so many of us end up feeling guilty. So long as our babies are fed, happy, healthy, that's all that matters. I completely understand the drive to encourage breastfeeding, especially exclusive breastfeeding, but it doesn't work for everyone and in those circumstances formula can be a real life-saving product. Thank you Dagmara :) xo

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  11. What an honest post. As you said fed is best. It doesn't matter how, as long as baby is getting fed and is healthy that's all that matters. Do what is best for you and baby.
    When I was pregnant I was nervous about breastfeeding, we started off ok in the hospital but then as soon as we got home it all started to go wrong. I couldn't find a comfy position, she wouldn't latch properly. My nipples also became cracked, blistered and bled. I called for help, I was told it was normal and to just carry on. I was in so much pain, I bought nipple shields and a pump to express because it was agony. I was about to give up when a midwife came to do a home visit.
    She sat me down, surrounded me in pillows helped me get comfy and showed me what to do. After that it was still painful until my nipples healed but it got better. It's such a hard thing to do, you expect it to come naturally and for me it didn't. I am glad I carried on, now 19 months later we are down to just one or two feeds a day and I will definitely miss it when we stop completely. x

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    1. Thank you so much! YES! I was the same - in hospital it just fell into place, once home? It all fell apart. I think because she wanted more than I could physically give her, with my milk coming in later and also the pain relief wearing off. You are doing so brilliantly, 19 months is an amazing achievement especially after such a hard start xo

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  12. Thank you for sharing this. I find the topic of breastfeeding really stressful. There's so much contridictory information and shaming around the issue that makes me really anxious. I had no idea your mood can inhibit your milk supply either. There's so much I don't know to be honest. I look forward to reading your future posts.

    Roxie | thebeautifulbluebird.com

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    1. You're welcome Roxie! Definitely. There needs to be set and approved information. It really didn't help us having such mixed opinions and advice thrown our way and when I realised I was leaving her too long between feeds, I felt like the worst mother in the world.xo

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  13. Thank you! You are doing amazingly too- little Willow is gorgeous! I really enjoyed following your journey while I was pregnant :)

    It still makes me sad over breastfeeding and I feel little niggles of jealousy when I see mummies feeding their babies bit every journey is different. I came across this post today which I loved and thought I'd share :)

    http://www.scarymommy.com/mom-who-didnt-breastfeed/

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    1. Thank you Lynn! I'm so glad you enjoyed my pregnancy posts and *hopefully* like my 'parenting' posts now! I work hard on trying to make the posts stand out as much as possible. Thanks for the link, I'll give that a read now :)

      And thank you so much - I still can't believe we made such a beautiful baby, me and M are so lucky to have Willow <3 xo

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  14. Only just catching up with your breastfeeding story, so sad that things didn't work as planned. I was the same with my first, determined to bf but ended up giving formula as well, though only a couple of feeds a day. So frustrating at contradictory advice from midwives etc. Women really need to be able to get help and support from dedicated lactation consultants. Happy to say that I did go on to bf feed my next 3 babies, including tandem feeding and extended feeding - def. got easier as I got more confident in myself and my parenting abilities. Hope all carries on well with you guys :-)

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    1. Thank you for stopping by Tracy and for your comment! I'm so glad things worked out for you with your future babies and I hope if/when we have another, our breastfeeding journey is easier! I completely agree, us mamas definitely need more support. It just simply doesn't happen the way people would lead us to believe! xo

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  15. I don't have children nor am I aiming to have them for another 5 years but I absolutely love your baby posts I'm learning so much. I can really imagine how you're feeling but of course I don't really know. I wish you the best with you little one x x

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    1. Thank you so much Georgina, it means a lot to hear that you are enjoying my baby posts! Thank you so much :) xo

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  16. My, my, my ... breastfeeding struggles are such a pain in the neck; how they mess up our neat baby feeding plans. I struggled so bad at the start too - for months. So vital to have the right support at the right time, isn't it. And my, breastfeeding a sleeping child ... well, trying to, especially when you need to. I don't think anyone can quite prepare you for the challenge until you experience it! And even more annoying that they don't come with an instruction, it would have the best instruction manual of all time - what a missed opp, right there.

    Sioned is good, isn't she. Go Medela.

    Thanks for sharing your story; I'm glad you've found what works for you. I can relate with the difficulty of coming to terms with unexpected breastfeeding twists and turns. All the best with the rest of your journey.

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