Combining specialist medical training with family life is a challenge at the best of times. When Leading Steps Paediatric Registrar Dr Victoria Matheson returned to full time work six weeks after giving birth to her son she worried that breastfeeding was “doomed to fail”.
Vicky wrote about her experience for World Breastfeeding Week 2015.
I chose to breast feed whilst returning to work as I had a young baby and I felt it was important to provide the benefits of breast milk in this period, the short answer!!
The longer answer, as a working mum I felt a huge guilt leaving my baby (even if it was with daddy) and by breast-feeding it alleviated some of that guilt. It also continued to give me a connection to him whilst at work. I was returning to work for ten weeks before having a six-month break.
In retrospect one of the reasons I contemplated continuing to breastfeed and returning to work was because I was in a supportive work environment. My employers allowed me to disappear every three hours like clock work to pump and I had an incredibly breastfeeding friendly environment to pump in, without that I don't know I would have gotten through the first few weeks!!
The first challenge I faced was to keep my milk. I lost my milk early on with my first child, not sure why. It's no secret amongst my friends that I didn't enjoy breastfeeding the first time round. I had difficulties with technique, pain, emotional rollercoaster and embarrassment feeding in front of people and most of all feeling like a failure when I lost my milk and my girl failed to thrive. I was utterly horrified that I had inadvertently starved her. So this time round I was acutely aware of how pumping and not feeding might detrimentally affect my milk.
To begin with I felt it was doomed to fail and I was extremely anxious about losing my supply. So I gave myself a mental slap and approached this like I would an exam or a race and made it a challenge. I stopped feeling sorry for myself about how hard it would be and decided to own it.
My husband was very supportive of whatever I wanted to do but hated seeing me permanently anxious about my supply. He gently suggested I switch to formula, but like setting out to do a long run I told him to push me when it all seemed too hard that I wanted to win!!! This I’m sure wouldn’t work for everyone and sounds quite cheesy but it worked for me.
I went out this time and bought a wardrobe of new clothes that were breastfeeding friendly and made me feel pretty, wish I had done that last time!!! I used domperidone to help when my supply was low. I ensured I pumped every three hours whilst away from the baby, this I know is a luxury.
I tried not to let a failed pump be a disaster, stress and rushing don’t mix well with let downs! I accepted my supply would have good and bad days and topped up with formula when my stored supply ran out. I let myself be ok with that!
With a week left to go I'm really glad I did this, and would do it again if I had to! I love coming home in the evening and breast-feeding my boy. This time round I would go as far as to say I have enjoyed feeding! Managing to do this has left me a lot more confident. I even feed in public without a shawl sometimes!
This brings me to my final thoughts, breastfeeding like everything to do with your children and family is a personal journey. Advice can be helpful but at the end of the day it’s your life, your baby and your family. Working out what best works for you is most likely to lead to successful breastfeeding regardless of the challenges. I now intend to breastfeed for much longer than I had originally planned and I’m looking forward to post feed snuggles on the couch with my boy.