I was asked to prepare a piece about my experience of breast feeding when she was about three weeks old by 'Positive About Down Syndrome.' It was shared pretty far and wide and had some lovely responses, including that it was likely to have helped some people with the start of their feeding experience. The piece was posted on Facebook on 6 August 2020 and is reproduced in full.
Jess Flanagan is mum to Ada (3 and a half) and Frida (2 weeks) who has Down Syndrome. She shares her positive experiences of breast feeding both her girls.
For me, it was never an option not to work hard to breastfeed my babies. The health and developmental benefits for baby are unrivalled, and it is so much cheaper, and less time consuming (once in the swing of it, of course)! When pregnant with my nearly four year old, my mum bestowed upon me the gift of positivity around breast feeding. whenever I said ‘I’ll try’ she corrected me and said ‘you will.’
Luckily, the group of amazing women I became friends with when pregnant with my first were also determined to breast feed. Living in Bristol, where there is much more of a liberal attitude towards most things, many of us fed publicly and for way after the babies turned two, having all all supported each other to get through the early and sometimes very tough days. Coupled with that luck, it seemed that when the time came I produced enough milk and fed my first little girl for 2 and a half years. I loved every minute. So I went into my second pregnancy as a confident breast feeder and knew I wanted to do exactly the same for my next child.
When we found out that our second little girl had a high chance of having DS, I did my reading and research and quickly realised that she may struggle to breast feed. Not achieving (even if it was later down the line) breastfeeding with her was, again, not an option. The benefits would be even more important for her, in terms of supporting her immune system and her speech and language development, so it was something I was determined to make happen. So I read enough and with the support of my mum, husband and my brilliant community midwife, prepared as best I could. There were some lovely blogs and articles that pointed out some of the challenges that meant baby might not be able to feed immediately, but that ultimately, and perhaps with a bit of hard work, it would be possible. Maybe it is what I chose to read, but it was almost all positive and I was excited to see how we would get on. I bookmarked advice and resources and in my final weeks of pregnancy, got my supply going and collected enough colostrum to keep baby going should she need to be tube fed or topped up in the early days, knowing I could express as soon as she was born to keep the supply going!
However, as soon as Frida was born two weeks ago (after a long night of painful and almost constant contractions leading nowhere but to an exhausted C-section the following morning) my luck continued! The moment she was placed on my chest (in accordance with my birth plan!) she crawled immediately to my boob and she’s basically been there ever since. Her suckle is strong and her muscle tone pretty good.
I was beyond thrilled that we’d achieved the one thing I was so desperate for us to be able to do.
When we got back to the ward (we were placed on a step down from NICU, so feeding was something most mums were being supported with and there was an emphasis on keeping an eye on how much baby was feeding) I had already fed her twice for 20 minute sessions in the recovery ward and had been praised by the midwives who had supported me. When asked how feeding was going, there were no negative comments or suggestions around formula top ups. To be honest, given that she was 9lb1oz, there was probably little conversation to be had.
So I have had an entirely positive experience. I put that down to my confidence in feeding and my strong will and desire to want to do it. I also think I have a way of saying things firmly and getting in first, so if anyone was going to say anything negative, they’d think twice before doing so. Also, Frida is healthy, a good size baby who latched well, and my milk came in very quickly and seems to do the trick! I’ve been using all that stored colostrum to give her an extra boost, so it doesn’t go to waste!
I do worry that mums who don’t have the right support, experience or confidence to articulate that they want to breastfeed may face more negativity, so I hope that my experience might help you be more vocal and confident about your choices around feeding, whatever those may be.
My message would be that if you want to breastfeed, believe that you can and don’t accept anything else until you have tried. It is worth preparing for a situation where you might not be able to immediately as you may need to compromise once your baby is here, but don’t be put off before and certainly don’t write off the possibility of doing it at some point in the future once your baby has gained the weight they need to!
I leave you with the quote from the red book around breast feeding babies with Down Syndrome (which you could firmly point to anyone challenging the suggestion): ‘Many babies who have Down syndrome feed just as well as other babies’.