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Interview 25

Age at interview: 35
Brief Outline: Special Care separation from 1st baby emotionally difficult. Got into cycle of engorgement, expressing, mastitis, too much milk for six months. Has not expressed for second baby.
Background: At the time of interview, this 35 year old, French-British woman was breastfeeding her 8 week old son. She also had a 2 year old son whom she had breastfed. A mother and self-employed osteopath, she was married to a human resources director.

More about me...

Originally from France, this woman has lived in Britain for sixteen years and is married to an Englishman. Her French female relatives all breastfed and her sister-in-law donated breastmilk to a milk bank for a long time after her children had stopped breastfeeding, so she thinks that was partially influential in her determination to breastfeed. She says that in France there is a lot of advertising of infant formula in magazines. Companies send pamphlets and free samples of milk powder through the post to new mothers and the temptation to introduce a bottle at a difficult moment is too great. She thinks that motherhood is a 'world within a world' and can be very isolating. For her, it is important to meet regularly with other mothers to share experiences of breastfeeding and parenting. She also thinks that health professionals and supporters need to listen to a woman's story because her emotional state will affect the way that she positions her body and her baby. Breastfeeding is 'not a technique, it is an experience' and giving lots of advice can appear cold and heartless and increase the tension if things are not going well. 'You must meet the woman before you meet the breast and the baby' she says. When she is breastfeeding her breasts are sensual rather than sexual. She sees breastfeeding 'as an act of giving' and enjoys 'reclaiming her body' after childbirth by beginning her normal exercise routines again. When she exercises she is doing something for herself and that creates a good balance for the whole family.
 
 

Her mother combined breastfeeding with bottle feeding and she saw her sister-in-law breastfeeding...

Her mother combined breastfeeding with bottle feeding and she saw her sister-in-law breastfeeding...

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When I was pregnant I was, it was my first pregnancy and I was only working part time so I had a lot of time to read, and I did quite a lot of that, I think I bought a couple of books that had quite good sections on breastfeeding and I decided then that it was the thing to do. I was very determined to do it, and it seemed very natural to be doing it, you know, our body knows what to do and I really wanted to do it. I was, I mean the advice is pretty clear that it's probably the best thing to do in terms of immunity and, and also in terms of the relationship you have with your child [laughs], so I decided then pretty early in my pregnancy that that's what I wanted to do. And, however, I mean I suppose I was slightly influenced by the fact that in my family, the my auntie's and my brother had a child very early so I was an auntie at sixteen years old and I saw my sister-in-law breastfeeding her four children so that was, I suppose, you know, although I didn't register it at the time it was probably quite a big influence on me because she was very comfortable with it and she, she actually carried on giving milk to the milk bank for quite a long time after her children had stopped breastfeeding, so she was very, she was a breastfeeder [laughs] a mother earth [laughs].

Was this in France?

That was in France yes, that's right.

Did your mother breastfeed you do you know?

My mother, breastfed, I think all of us but not totally breastfeeding she combined it with a bottle because she was working so she had to combine the two, but I think she, she breastfed us yes she did, for a period of time, I wouldn't be able to tell you for how long, she had four children and she was a nurse and she was a trained maternity nurse so I think she knew what to do in terms of combining the, you know, the formula milk with the breastmilk.

 

She said that breastfeeding is not a technique, it is an experience and that professionals need...

She said that breastfeeding is not a technique, it is an experience and that professionals need...

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What would you say to other women who are experiencing this contradictory advice?

I think you have to find one person you, you respect and you trust, and perhaps stick to one, one version of things, but I think what would be, so much more healthy for the professionals that deliver advice is that they could say, 'There are many ways to do this'. I've had so many times where this one person delivering the advice would tell me, 'This is the way you should do it, like this, like that, like this, you know, your position must be like that, baby must be like that, and that this is the way to do it, there is no other way'. It seems that, you know, each person has got their own ways and they want you to, to just stick to it, in fact there are many ways to do things and it would be healthier if they could just say, 'Well try this and for a period of time and if it doesn't work we'll do something else'. 

I was very uncomfortable with one thing as well when I had advice, I went to a breastfeeding clinic and there was, I suppose when you, when I had the breastfeeding clinic you quite, you need help and I think breastfeeding can be very emotional, there is a lot of tension, if it doesn't go well it's, it's very difficult on the mother I think, and the thing I found very difficult is that I arrived at this breastfeeding clinic and you had all these women sitting in a circle and, you know, really trying their best to do the positioning and, what I found amazing is that nobody asked me how old my baby was or how I was feeling, you know? Before they started saying, 'This is wrong you have to do this', so it was very clinical in a way, there was no, I think breastfeeding is very emotional as well and this is a big part of it, you have to listen to the story of the women breastfeeding, so that you can understand, you know, perhaps their emotional state because it really will affect the way she is positioning her body and, you know, how she would relate to that baby. So if there is a problem, I don't know, is that, you know, one mother might think it's because of her and her technique, one mother might think it's her baby not doing it right and it's possibly a number of things but, you need to listen to the woman before you start giving this technical advice, it's not a technique it's an experience to me, and very much I found the advice I got was really, sort of heartless and a bit cold and very hard because you already feel like you are doing something wrong, and very much the advice I got just, you know, highlighting what I was doing wrong and, just being given a set of things to do, but it was actually quite disheartening in a way, because you had confirmation you were doing something wrong and I don't know, you know, you would wish somebody to sit with you for about half an hour and not be given a list or, you know a drawing or something, so perhaps there should be more, more time and more attention given to the history of the woman and her baby. I was really disappointed and I think they're doing a really great job and it needs to be there but they need more money and they need more time, because at the moment I don't think that the advice or the way it's given is possibly not, not great, could be improved upon, and it's very much the experience of my friends that have been there too, you arrive there in a very needy state and what you get is even more of a, 'Come on do, do this better', you know, it's, there is not much time given for the care of the woman. I think, and that was really disappointing, and I know they're doing their best and I know they have a lot of women coming to them and they'll need like, two or three of them running this clinic, and so they're, they're doing their best but there should be more, you know, funds and more time, more people. I think what I mean to say is that in giving advice to a woman b
 

She is in total harmony with her eight week old baby's feeding pattern in contrast to her...

She is in total harmony with her eight week old baby's feeding pattern in contrast to her...

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And, you know, that allows me to go into this experience now my baby is eight weeks and I feel totally happy, I totally follow my instinct and my body, I have not, I have not expressed a single time, and it's just, a total harmony, you know, it's my body, knows what it has to do and my babies knows how to get it, it's just the way it's meant to be, I think and, so, that totally natural, there's no equipment, there's no [laughs] you know, you can always go out, it's always on you, it's easy, this time.

How have you found the milk supply this time now that you're not expressing? 

Totally I, it seems that my baby's getting what he needs, I haven't had engorgement, I haven't had discomfort, if I have it it's just for, you know, half a day and it's not as bad as it was the first time so, you know, if there is too much milk then I don't know, it sort of sorts itself out, I don't do anything it's just happening and that's the magic of it, it's easy because I don't tamper with it, it's a sort of a, it's an automatic thing, I you know, I don't do anything [laughs].

Do you find you have different amounts of milk at different times during the day?

During the day, well it's very interesting because my baby is quite a sleepy baby this time and he has a sort of frantic feeding and it always happens in the evening and I wonder whether my milk is actually my, I usually find that I have more milk and perhaps the better milk, I don't know, but he seems to want to really feed at this time, he feeds almost hourly, so he's not a baby that feeds every three hours like they tell you it should be, my baby tends to feed early in the morning when I get up, he feeds about you know, hourly, sort of at three hour, you know, three hours at an hour interval and then sleeps quite a lot when he's awake but doesn't feed very much and then in the evening he has another burst of feeding time where he wants me all the time and that's the way he is. And I'm not worried about it as, you know, you get sort of advice that it should be every two hours when they are little and then every three hours, but really he knows when he's hungry and, that, you know, there's no I was told to wake him up every two hours to sort of feed him but he's not hungry, he doesn't want it, he's asleep, he's happy, he's probably growing up, so I leave him and he knows what he needs and I think, you know, I can see that he's well, with him.

 

Meeting with other women to share experiences has been important in helping her to adapt to...

Meeting with other women to share experiences has been important in helping her to adapt to...

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Did you have friends who were breastfeeding at that stage while you were pregnant?

I came to [this town] only when I was pregnant and actually I met all my new friends in this new town when I had my baby, so when I was pregnant I actually didn't know any women in this area and nobody breastfeeding, so I came to it, and then once my baby was born I sort of wanted to be part of a group so I made sure I contacted a few sort of people and did it'.([laughs] this is my baby wanting to feed [laughs]).

So what sort of groups did you get involved in?

I contacted the NCT and I met five other women that had children of the same age, so same sort of you know, they were about, I think they were about five weeks when we met for the first time. And I, I also exercise when I was pregnant, I went to antenatal aqua-natal exercise, sort of exercise in the water, and because I went very early in my pregnancy I did several groups so actually I knew probably about twelve, fifteen woman that had done the exercise classes and we kept in touch as soon as we had our babies we exchanged, you know, sort of the opinion, the happy or even, the news anyway [laughs] and we meet regularly since then actually I am still in touch with those woman so their children are about two, two and a half, three years old now and we are still meeting up regularly, so.

What is it you get from those sorts of groups?

I think meeting up with them, we, we share the ups and downs about being mothers, about, you know, breastfeeding and when it's difficult you do need to talk to someone. and when you become a mother you just, you, it's difficult to say, I mean I stopped working and that was already quite a big change for me, and you will suddenly become a mother, you at home a lot, so and you don't exchange very much with the outside world so you don't engage in a job and you very much go to the shops to buy some food and buy some nappie's and then you come back home and, you know, you go to the parks, to the swings and things, but it's very much a world within the world sort of thing, so it's very important to be able to talk to a woman that might have the same levels of tiredness [laughs], because we are all tired all the time, and, and just being able to share the experience is important, yeah, so we giggle a lot about what we do and we just relax and, and we share, you know.

We have in, it's very interesting in my group, we talk about, we all have breastfed our baby and we all very, very different women, we all have very different professions, very different personalities and in fact it's very interesting that we've stuck together because we're breastfeeding and because we have children I suppose, because we are so, in the spectrum of personality we probably would have never jammed together outside of this experience, so the group is so important, I, in fact I don't know why it's so important, but it has put together some people that would have never, never, you know, decided to spend time together, so it's bringing things into people that they don't know about and you explain something that is so special that it, it just changes you start relating to people differently and you start making friends with people that you would have never looked at before. It's, it brings something, different into you. In fact once, I think once you're a mother you're a very different person, and that's what I discover still, and the way I look at women nowadays is very different from, you know, the way I perceived them, or understood them before. Motherhood is very challenging and in a way there is this great conspiracy [laughs] that, you know, you are just going to have a baby and it's easy, in fact you, it'
 

She felt that regular weighing of her baby was a judgement on her so she stopped going....

She felt that regular weighing of her baby was a judgement on her so she stopped going....

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I don't go to the health visitor every week and weigh him like I had to do with [first son]. I was told to do that with my first one and, on reflection it was putting a lot of pressure on me, 'cause, you know, [first son] was born very big, he was on the ninety-fifth centile, and then he went gradually down to the fiftieth centile and then it was like, oh my goodness this baby is losing weight, she needs to feed him more and, in fact I was told to give him pots at four months, and, I think it was perhaps possibly too early, [first son] had normal weight, he was always a healthy baby, a healthy boy, and it was such a horrible thing to go every, every week to have this sort of judgement, the weight and the cross of the line and where it would be, it was a pressure on me.

What do you mean judgement?

It seemed to be that, you know, you got this chart and that everybody, every baby has to sort of progress on that line and if you go slightly under it, even like one notch down it's like the end of world and you're doing either something wrong or there is something wrong with your milk, or, you know, you must do something differently, and what amazed me is that my baby, or my boy, was always healthy and happy and thriving in a way, having said that it seemed that this chart was more important than looking at him and seeing that he was happy, so, that was a bit distressing [laughs].

At what stage did you introduce solid foods?

At four months because, as I said, [son], sort of, I think became more normal, he was born very, very big boy, he was over, he was over forty weeks, he was forty-two weeks and a half, and he was born at nine pounds ten, and he sort of, he maintained his weight and then suddenly it just went down gradually over, you know, weeks and that's when the health visitor started saying, 'Oh my god no, there's something wrong with this' and, 'Haven't got enough milk' or, so I, not only had I, you know, questions in my mind about my technique, with the way he was latching on, about how much milk I had and the quality of my milk, I was worried about every aspect of breastfeeding really, because of this little line going down towards the fiftieth centile which is totally normal and he was not underweight, he was happy, he had all, you know, he was chatting, he was, he was, he was well. Having said that, the line was going down, so there was something wrong and I was told to go every week, if not twice a week at one point, and one day I just said to my husband, 'I can't cope with this, I'm not going any more, I know [son's] well, I'm not doing this crazy, you know, monitoring I really can't cope with it', I just had enough, I, you know, it felt like I had to perform some kind of miracle to make this line going up and this line didn't mean anything to me because the baby was fine so. I gave up the monitoring, the close monitoring, and from then on I was much happier and, and the baby was fine so, you know [laughs].

So you introduced solid food at four months...

Yes.

'because of this line?

Going down, yes, yes.

Did it make any difference?

No, not at all and he wasn't really interested in pots so actually I had, you know, I had this, the first period of [son's] life I worried about the breastfeeding and then I worried about him not taking this, pureed carrots and things, I remember struggling with those pots and trying to tempt him and spend, you know, too much time doing this, and, you know, I think probably, for a month or a month and a half he wasn't interested and the
 

She thought that the best environment for breastfeeding was in a supportive community and was...

She thought that the best environment for breastfeeding was in a supportive community and was...

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If you were God what would you change about the breastfeeding environment? The whole thing?

For me the best environment for a woman to breastfeed would be, in a way I just realised how much it would have been helpful to be in a village, in a community, where you could really call on people around you. So a total like, sort of, if I was God [laughs] and changed things, I would probably go back to village life where you have people you love and respect and people of different ages around you so that you can really call upon them. It's a time where you need to have friends and you need to have family, it doesn't need to be family maybe but just people around you, you really do need to hear about other people's experience. So perhaps a closer community, a closer sort of, perhaps a more informal, you get a lot of formal advice in books and you know, on the internet and, but in fact the delivery of it would be so much better if it was from a neighbour, a friend. I think it would be more human and that would be more desirable and perhaps that would be best problem but perhaps that's a fantasy as well, it's very difficult to say.

What about in society, attitude towards the breast and breastfeeding?        

I have never come across somebody that was against it or shocked by it personally, I think everybody knows it happens but it's kind of not talked about and in a way I am not sure whether that's actually to, to care for the mothers by respecting this intimacy, or whether it's just an embarrassment, or, it's an interesting subject, I don't know why it's so little talked about, in a way, but then would I like to shout about it to everyone, perhaps not, it's an intimate experience as well, so I think it's important that those groups happen, you know, that you can, you can ring the NCT and find a group of women doing it, that's very, very important.

What about the way breastfeeding or infant feeding is portrayed in the media?

And that, that is one thing that I am really shocked about and in fact it's both in France, I think possibly more in France, the magazines are covered by advice, advertisement, advertising sorry, for formula milk and powder milk and those companies have got a lot of funding so they can really go for it, they send you things through the post, in fact, when you're in hospital you fill a little sort of pamphlet with your address and your name, and you're too tired or too involved with your baby to tick the boxes that you don't want to receive all this advertising through your letterbox but, you know, they send you a little, like samples of milk powder and they send you a sort of teat and they send you things, and in a way it would be so easy at that low point when you have mastitis to say, 'Oo I've got that pump oh I might as well try it' and you're a customer for life [laughs] or, you know, you're a customer for a long time, so I think the advertising's, which in fact, is covering magazines is too much. I know they have to put a little line saying, 'Breastfeeding is better for babies' but, you know, when you have that colourful page with that absolutely gorgeous looking mother and the gorgeous looking baby you think, 'Oh I'd like to be this', you know, when you tired and you have your eyes like [laughs], you know, grey eyes and you feel absolutely awful, you think, 'Oh is that what I would get with that powder' then perhaps you might be tempted and I think that that's a bit, you know, undesirable because at some weak point where, I think it's the tiredness that really makes you so weak in taking decisions and you could so easily opt for that option, whilst really I think it's more important to breastfee
 

She had two very different experiences of breastfeeding after a caesarean section. Positioning...

She had two very different experiences of breastfeeding after a caesarean section. Positioning...

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They were both breastfed, yes, from the word go, although with my first child the experience was totally different than with my second child. The reason being my first child was delivered by c-section and he was in special care for ten days, and I did not have access to him for about three days so I was separated from him and therefore the breastfeeding experience was very different. I felt very distressed to be separated from him and I got very anxious about not bonding with him straightaway and therefore I was really, really eager to, you know, cuddle him and breastfeed him, and therefore I was advised to go and express very regularly as soon as I delivered and I did that, and in fact my breastmilk came very fast, it came in four days, which is excellent for after a c-section I'm told. And [son], my first child, was too tired, too sleepy to breastfeed so I was expressing and I was actually giving him my breastmilk through a tube to his stomach, so that was quite emotionally that was very difficult but after five days he had his first breastfeed and it was I think lasted about forty minutes and he knew exactly what to do and from then on it was not an easy ride but it was a wonderful experience [laughs]. So that's, that's, my first experience of breastfeeding. Second time I also had an emergency c-section but my child was delivered to me, to my chest, and breastfed right away I think about thirty-five minutes after delivery and he was with me all the time so that was very, very different. And also, I mean, it always amazes me how they know what to do, they know where it is and they just latch on and, they know [laughs], that's quite awesome and, and amazing. So second time was very different.

I think after the c-sections I had the positioning for feeding was important, 'cause physically I was quite weak, I think, first time probably more both physically and emotionally and the feeding lying down was so much easier, because I could rest and I didn't have to physically hold the baby which was really demanding on my body. I think breastfeeding is a very physical thing to do, not be, not only because you're producing milk but physically holding the baby who was getting heavier and heavier, there is quite a big physical element to it and with a c-section, you have to wait a little bit longer before you can be more active.

 

Breastfeeding was physically demanding and she was keen to begin exercising again to maintain her...

Breastfeeding was physically demanding and she was keen to begin exercising again to maintain her...

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I suppose I was, have always been quite active, you know, going to the gym and doing exercise, and, in pregnancy and in childbirth and then just those few weeks after giving birth, for me I just feel really unfit, I really do, and I feel I'm not strong enough to, do the holding and perhaps it's because I have a toddler as well, so breastfeeding lying down was, is a life saver for me, and in fact even during the day I often lie down to feed my baby because it just is more, less stressful on my body and perhaps as I get fitter I will feel more comfortable feeding sitting again, and [laughs] even cooking and feeding at the same time, as you surprise yourself you have to do, but there is something about fitness and I think more support should be given to women getting fit after childbirth because it's a very physically demanding job, being a mother.

So when did you start exercising again after the birth of the baby?

Right, well for my first baby [laughs], it was probably six months before I started, doing my workouts, I have my own routines that I do at home. With this time it was much easier with my c-section, perhaps I was more confident having had one before, the situation in which I decided to have a c-section was totally different as well, because the baby was healthy and I am exercising already. I started about six weeks, and in fact I found the six week period when you can't drive, you're supposed to be not driving, very long and I went and begged the GP to have a letter to be able to drive and asked him about exercising and he was very cautious which is normal possibly but I went back to swimming and now I'm doing my normal exercise routines that I was doing and as a result I feel better in myself, I feel like I'm getting stronger and I think everybody benefits around me because of that, and reclaiming my body as well is quite important, so although I enjoy the breastfeeding which is an act of giving, I enjoy as well reclaiming my body after a childbirth, by getting stronger again and getting back into shape. That's very important for me and I think it's a balance that I enjoyed last time I was really unfit for a long time, this time I'm fitter and I'm much, I feel much better in myself because of that, because when I exercise I feel I'm doing something for myself, and when I feed I'm doing something for my baby and there is a good balance there so that's very important for me.

 

She began expressing to deal with engorgement and mastitis and continued to do so for six months....

She began expressing to deal with engorgement and mastitis and continued to do so for six months....

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I was expressing first thing before I fed because my breasts were really hard and I was told the reason I had mastitis was because my breast was too hard and the baby couldn't latch on, so I was expressing a little bit, then feeding him, and then, you know, wait until the next feed.

And you got up in the night to do that expressing?

I had the breast pump next to me and I was just throwing away the milk that I was expressing so it was yes, it was quite a, you know, quite a lot of things to do but I got really good at it, I could do it with the lights off, and, you know, I knew how to put the breast pump together in the dark [laughs], you couldn't learn this sort of thing, there are all lots of little parts and things but I knew how to do it very well and it was, I had to start it with a, I would sort of take a mechanised, you know, battery one because there were, I knew the suction was better, in fact, I didn't like that because it was making a noise and then the batteries would run out and you would have to charge them, it was quite something, so I bought a hand pump that was very good and I got on quite well with that.

Very time consuming?

Yes and totally, I think I was just creating more problems'

No wonder'

'doing it.

'you were so tired.

So, I yeah, it was. I had a lot of milk yes, I had, you know, I had to express a little bit out because that was going, with my first experience with [son], it was to, it's so totally different thing that happened and I have a feeling it might be because I was expressing from the word go and I kept it going, and in fact I was probably creating more milk than [son] needed and in fact, I probably would have been better off putting up with the engorgement just for one day and then letting it die down to what [son] needed as opposed to just expressing all the time which was just, you know, the, creating an imbalance really between his amount and the production of the milk, but you, I know that in retrospect and with the experience of it, at the time I was a beginner and I just believed what people said and I think had a lot of quick fix advice, 'Just express a little bit dear and you'll feel better', and, I, you know, I think that was the wrong thing to do, so with [son] I kept on feeding, expressing, storing milk, it was just, you know [sighs], really complex sort of experience and until he was about seven months I really struggled with it you know.

So how long did you continue this expressing for once he was fully feeding?

Totally for about six months, you know, I was, I just [sighs], it was quite, quite a struggle really I always had too much milk, I was always uncomfortable in fact.

Why did you continue to express?

Because I was told that the engorgement it would be, that the baby wasn't latching on because my breast was too hard and that I should take a little bit off first and then put him on the breast. So I was expressing first and then feeding him, and then I would do that again, you know, express a little bit off my breast and then feed him, and then, you know, I just found that I always had too much milk, it was too much, and then I was told he was not latching on because the breast was too hard but also because I had too much milk so it couldn't come through the flow, so I had to take a little bit off, but I think it was just a vicious circle, just, you know, total sort of, it was the wrong way to go about it. so that was, I, you know, t
 

At first, she and her husband did not know how to relate to her breasts which she saw as sensual...

At first, she and her husband did not know how to relate to her breasts which she saw as sensual...

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Has your attitude towards the breast changed?

Well, that's very interesting the breast and sexuality in a way, before I breastfed I think my breasts were very, a sexual sort of part of my, you know, life, and when I started breastfeeding then both myself and my husband didn't know how to relate to this [laughs] to this object, you know, this thing and in fact still noticed we're really quite timid about it, and very much for the time where I'm breastfeeding, so for [son] almost a year and for [second son] is now eight weeks, the breast is essentially belonging to the baby really and for me as on my personal, you know, experience of it is like I'm quite proud of the beautiful ballooning, beautiful pink warm things, but they're not sexual any more in a way, I find them beautiful but it's beautiful in a different sense, it's sensual, sensual, but not sexual, that's what I would say. So it's a, you know, my reflection, my relationship to my breasts have changed and it, they probably change again when I stop breastfeeding, because when, I knew when I stop breastfeeding with [son] they would, they would at, I was wishing for another child and I was granted that wish so I am doing it again and perhaps, I'm really glad that I'm doing it and I think, I might miss it, you know, I might one, if I stopped breastfeeding this time if I have friends breastfeeding I'll probably feel like, 'Oh that was so nice', that was such a nice time to spend with my child, it's a wonderful time when, yeah well actually when my toddler is away and I can really have a feed quietly and just have to look, you know, looking into my baby's eyes and he's looking into my eyes, there is nothing else that matters, you're really in the moment, and it's very special.

What do you think your husband would say if I asked him that question, if his attitude towards the breasts has changed?

Oh, he's very open about it he says, 'I'm, you know, I'm not sure whether I can touch them or whether', you know, we're not bothered about the milk leaking out but in a way they, they have another function and we're quite happy, you know, kissing differently and having another sort of routine of loving, but, and I think we're quite happy both of us just giving it to the child for the time being, so I'm not sure [laughs] it would be a good question, you know, perhaps he would say something totally different, I have no idea, but, it seems that we both happy having that, you know, have, giving that gift to our baby, it's part of being parents I think and that's probably what he would say to that, I cannot be sure [laughs].

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