This is my second pregnancy. With my first son, I mixed fed. Our first son was born at 38 weeks but weighed just 5lbs, and after his final health visitor weighing, I was told that I needed to mix feed in order to help him gain more weight. By the time he was 9 months old, I rarely offered the breast as I struggled with the latch. With my second pregnancy I was determined to breastfeed, and so I attended various breastfeeding courses and spoke to friends and cousins who had successfully exclusively breast-fed.
Our second son was born at 41+1 weeks via emergency C-section, and a cuddly 7lbs. He immediately took to the breast, and I felt so happy, empowered and proud. However, by the second day in hospital I knew that he wasn’t latching properly because feeding was incredibly painful. I received initial support from midwives and nurses, but as the hours and days in hospital progressed for me, it became apparent that the overworked staff did not have the time, and in some cases, the proper knowledge about breastfeeding. This often resulted in my calls for assistance with latching to go unheard and ignored.
I left the hospital with my son and returned home with very cracked and sore nipples. That night reality hit. I was home with an exclusively breastfed baby and in unbearable pain – I couldn’t have my son on me. And so, at 1am, I frantically called for my husband and asked that he find any 24/7 shop and buy formula. I found an old bottle too! I felt terrible, not because I had to give formula, but because I had expressed my concerns, poor latch and pain to the hospital staff and had not been listened to. And now I was home, in pain and unable to feed my crying baby.
The next morning, I phoned a friend who was a breastfeeding advocate and she immediately provided me with the contact details of the South East London LLLGB Group. Through tears and exhaustion, I left a voice note for the South East London Leaderes and immediately I received a message that simply read “I’ll come at 6:00pm this evening”. I had never felt so supported than I did at that moment.
That day, the LLLGB Leader came to my house on what had to be one of the wettest March evenings so far. With patience, softness and wisdom I was shown how to establish a great latch even on my cracked nipples. Within 20 minutes, through gritted teeth, my son latched and fed! Days later I attended the LLLGB group and received even more support from women about how to repair cracked nipples and breastfeeding. Five months later our son is healthy and exclusively breastfed.
I can’t begin to express the amount of pride and joy that I feel knowing that my body has been able to nourish my child. But what’s even more amazing is that, it is despite some negative and sceptical comments from family members. Some who either find breastfeeding uncomfortable, or who assumed that due to my small breast I would not be able to produce enough milk; I have a baby who is healthy, cuddly and weighing at the top percentile for his age!
My journey would not have been possible without the support of my husband who recognises the value of breastmilk; my best friend who constantly encouraged me to feed, but most importantly, the LLLGB group who provided a safe space to discuss the highs, and sometimes lows, that come with breastfeeding; and the Leader who responded to my desperate cry.
More needs to be done to normalise breastfeeding and encourage women to believe in the power of their bodies. More support to educate and help mothers during those early days when breastfeeding is hard, when you spend most days glued to the sofa or bed cluster feeding. And within the Black community; in as much as the older generation appear to understand the benefits of breastfeeding, from my experience unfortunately I have often had comments from people in my community saying “surely he isn’t getting enough food; give formula; quickly get him on the bottle you’ve been breast feeding for too long, or go and feed in that corner waaaayyy over there”.
I choose to silence those voices and continue nourishing my child. I savour every breastfeeding moment as my son looks up at me with his big brown eyes whilst we feed, creating a beautiful bond. Daily I give thanks that my body is feeding our child.
Thank you to the LLL South East London group member for sharing her story with LLLGB for Black Breastfeeding Week 2023.