I scroll through my Instagram feed, tears of frustration spilling down my cheeks. I know that the curated world of social media isn’t reality, but I still feel a sickening jolt in my stomach when I come across yet another picture of a perfectly put-together mother breastfeeding her child in blissful serenity. Her baby’s tiny hand clutches its mother’s fingertip, and she smiles down at her little one contentedly.
With my firstborn, it had all been so simple. I had less expectations of myself when it came to breastfeeding and, whilst I knew I had wanted to nurse, I’d always figured that maybe I wouldn’t be able to. So, when Hector had taken to it like a duck to water, I became ignorant to the difficulties mothers could face.
When I then fell pregnant with Hector’s younger brother, Sylvan, I was confident that breastfeeding would be a breeze yet again. I had enjoyed it so much the first time around, and mine and Hector’s breastfeeding journey had only come to an end as the first trimester nausea had hit with full force and I couldn’t continue whilst feeling so unwell.
Sylvan arrived safely into the world in October 2021 and, at first, appeared to latch on well and was gaining weight. My Health Visitor was less involved this time, perhaps because this was my second rodeo and, therefore, it was assumed that I would know what I was doing.
It’s odd how you forget everything.
Even trying to dress Sylvan in the hospital, I had completely forgotten how to move a newborn and was terrified of “breaking” him.
I had also erased the memory of night long cluster feeds and, with a toddler to care for, napping when baby napped was no longer an option. I became somewhere close to a living zombie. Every evening a feeling of dread would creep in and I would develop an overwhelming anxiety thinking of the colicky hours ahead and the sleepless night to come.
No longer did I want to leave the house like I had done when Hector was first born. He had arrived in July and the sunshine was a blessing that I hadn’t appreciated at the time. I would take walks around the park, pushing Hector in his pram and thinking how lucky I was to have such a beautiful baby.
Mid-October wasn’t as kind.
“I should know what I’m doing by now.” I’d tell myself. This feeling was further perpetuated by family and friends who had once been so keen to help, but now assumed I didn’t need the support.
The truth is, I often felt (and still feel) like I’m drowning.
Breastfeeding then became a struggle. I was usually trying to do too much at once; entertain a 2-year-old, eat my lunch (if half a pack of digestives can be considered lunch), see in visitors, and Sylvan would be plonked on my boob in a half-arsed fashion as I just tried desperately to appear that I was coping.
If I did take the time to position Sylvan carefully and find a comfortable hold for us both, Hector would often get jealous and try to climb onto my lap or would declare that he needed the potty. I would then be left dashing to get it whilst Sylvan held on for dear life.
Sylvan also began to squirm whilst feeding, pulling away from my nipple but then crying for more if I took him from the breast. Nursing became an endless repetition of “on-off”, “on-off” all day, to the point where I felt I was completely smothered and longed to be on my own.
Finally, I reached breaking point and knew that I needed to speak to someone, anyone. I joined a chat group of mums with babies of a similar age to Sylvan, two of which had older children around Hector’s age, and I took the step to admit that I was struggling.
I clearly remember bursting into tears, so unbelievably relieved when every mother on that group replied to say that they had felt the same way as I did. Slowly I began to open up, sharing my concerns, and found that one of the lovely mums was training as a lactation consultant. She reached out to me privately and not only gave some wonderful advice, but also signposted me to services that could help.
From there things began to improve. I realised that I was putting an extraordinary amount of pressure on myself to portray an image which wasn’t a true reflection of how I was feeling. The more I spoke about my struggles, not just to the mums in my chat group but friends and family, the more people could help me.
And so, my main advice to any mum suffering in silence, is please talk to someone. Don’t feel like you must go it alone, no matter how many children you have, how easy you found it before, even if you think others have it harder than you, your thoughts and feelings are valid.
We’d love to help
Through Juno Jack’s, we are lucky enough to have a community of mums who are wonderfully kind and understanding. Not only is our inbox always open should you ever need a listening ear, but we also run a Facebook Members Group open to all mothers. There you will find a common ground and a true empathy, because us mums are all in the same position - navigating through one of the hardest, yet most beautiful, of journeys.
And please remember, Mumma, you’re doing a great job.