My first thought about breastfeeding was this: I don’t like having my nipples touched therefore I probably won’t like breastfeeding.
It wasn’t that I thought breastfeeding would be weirdly sexual, it was just that I believed that the sensation, sexual or otherwise, would be unpleasant for me.
That was back in 2007 when I was pregnant with my first child, Luca.
Cut to today, May 2014, and here are some interesting numbers;
Luca – breastfed for 17 months
Ziggy – breastfed for 19 months
Harlow Rose – still breastfeeding at 2 years of age
When you’re wrong, you’re wrong, huh?
What this has taught me, and more broadly what motherhood has taught me, is that you really can’t predict how things will work out. We are all different as are our babies, and what seems obvious before we have children is often far less black and white once we are holding this new life in our arms.
When I was pregnant with Luca, I read extensively and spent much time on pregnancy and motherhood forums online. I quickly learnt the benefits of breastfeeding and though I was concerned about how I would like it, I became determined to give it a real go. Despite my personal misgivings, I knew it was something I really wanted to do for my baby.
In July 2007, a darling boy came into the world via emergency C-section and though I was off my face on drugs and exhaustion, I vividly remember Luca’s first suckle at the breast. Whatever I had feared it would feel like was wiped away by the sheer joy of seeing my baby son doing this very primal and life-giving thing. I was amazed that he seemed to know what to do. It was incredible.
We spent five days in hospital which was a real blessing because my milk didn’t come in until I was due to go home. Until then, there was concern about how much milk Luca was getting from me. He had developed low blood sugar after birth, a side effect of me having gestational diabetes during the pregnancy. In order to get his blood sugar levels up, there was a very traumatic and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to feed him via an IV. Each time the doctor attempted to insert the cannula into the back of Luca’s hand, the tiny vein would blow. In the end, formula top-ups were necessary. I had read that this could potentially interfere with my breastfeeding success but I understood that the health of my little man was the primary concern. To avoid nipple confusion, I fed Luca via a little plastic cup and we continued breastfeeding. I also used the hospital pump and managed to get a fair bit of colostrum which I would also feed Luca in the cup.
After a few days of breastfeeding, my nipples were grazed and one was sort of squashed flat which meant that Luca’s latch wasn’t right. It was uncomfortable to feed but I was resolute in my determination. I asked the midwives for advice and some were helpful, others weren’t. I was very tired and the morphine had built up in my system to such an extent that I became horribly nauseated. Luca was spending long stretches of time asleep. Building our breastfeeding relationship felt slow-going and I was unsure of myself for those early days in hospital. Finally, the day I was due to go home, my milk came in and WHOA, did it come. My breasts were like Sherrin footies – massive, rock hard and weirdly misshapen into a point that would put your eye out. Trying to latch Luca while my boobs were so full was almost impossible and for the first time, he rejected the nipple. I was distraught.
And then an angelic midwife descended upon me. “He’s not used to how hard and full they are,” she told me, “Before, your nipples were soft and pliable. They will go back to that. Your milk will settle. Just keep offering the breast.”
It made a whole lot of sense and I felt confident that we’d be okay at home. Those words of encouragement were priceless and I will always remember her because of them.
At the end of that first week, the grazing had gone, my milk had settled and I was feeding my baby exclusively at the breast. Luca was stacking on weight and each day, my confidence grew.
I remember those early days, sitting on the couch, trapped under a feeding baby and thinking what a beautiful prison it was. I wasted hours just staring at his little face. He would often fall asleep and I couldn’t bring myself to transfer him to his cot. I just wanted to feel his warm little body, cocooned against mine. I wanted to smell the top of his head forever. I kissed him one thousand times a day. Maybe more.
After the births of my second and third babies, I had a similar period of sore, grazed nipples that took about a week to settle down. I refer to it as ‘breaking in the nipples’ and even veteran breastfeeders will go through this period as mum and baby adjust. And often, it takes a while to find a feeding groove for you and your bub. That’s completely normal and sure,breastfeeding is natural but the process is a skill that needs to be learned. Like anything, the length of the learning period will be different for every mum and every baby. We need to cut ourselves some slack as we develop this beautiful but often complex relationship.
Breastfeeding has been a blessing in my life; moments of stillness in the chaos of newborn life; communicating without words; heartbeat to heartbeat. And selfies. So many selfies! Breastfeeding meant feeding my child in the first six months required nothing but a comfy place to sit. The simplicity alone was one of the best aspects of breastfeeding.
But full disclosure; it wasn’t all putting the feet up and gazing into baby’s eyes. There were times when that 2am (3am, 4am, 5am) cry for a feed had me on my knees. And anyone who has ever breastfed an older baby can confirm it is often anything but still. Trying to wean my boob-happy babies has caused me some grief. But when I weigh it all up, I know that breastfeeding has made the challenges easier rather than harder. Breastfeeding is how I have nurtured my babies and how I have comforted them. There are other ways but this way worked so well for us.
Of course, writing about how wonderful breastfeeding is can be tricky. I want to promote my experience but am at pains not to alienate those women who could not or would not breastfeed. I acknowledge that the decision belongs to the woman and no-one should ever be made to feel ashamed of their choices. So why don't I just quietly go about my breastfeeding and quit blah blahing about it? Statistics demonstrate that breastfeeding rates are well below World Health Organisation recommendations (source). For this reason alone, I think sharing my story is worthwhile.
But beyond stats, there is still so much misinformation around breastfeeding, weird societal hang-ups and a lack of support for those women who really do want to make it work but who are finding it a terrible struggle. The obstacles I confronted in my quest to breastfeed may be relatively minor, but it's important that people know that almost every woman will face at least some hurdles during their time breastfeeding.
My best advice to any woman wanting to breastfeed is to ask for help if you are struggling. Whether it be a professional (try ABA) or a trusted friend who has been there before, please speak up. Motherhood can be lonely and isolating at the best of times so getting the support you need is crucial. Surround yourself with people who encourage you on your journey. Having supportive people in your corner is often the key to success.
I write in support of breastfeeding and share photos of same in the hopes that I might help other women who want to be breastfeeding mothers but are experiencing opposition or difficulties in doing so. As a proud breastfeeding woman, I hope I am adding to the normalisation of this beautiful, convenient and FREE baby-sustaining practice, a practice that is still subject to outdated and often ridiculous misconceptions.
My vision is that if my daughter (or daughter-in-law) someday has a child and chooses to breastfeed, that she will do so in a world that unconditionally supports it; that she will never nurse in a toilet or ‘with discretion’ because of ignorance and misplaced morality.
My hope is that more women have successful breastfeeding relationships that they will look back on as some of the most incredible moments of their lives. Breastfeeding can be a simple and profound joy. I would like more mothers to experience that simple joy, too.
Medela provides real solutions for breastfeeding mothers to get over any hurdles in the early days and to support their long term breastfeeding goals. Through its extensive range of breast pump products and other breastfeeding products, Medela is committed to promoting the benefits of breast milk and encouraging long term breastfeeding. For more information visit: www.medela.com.au Iwww.facebook.com/medela.au
A Medela Giveaway
I have a Medela voucher worth $100 to give away to one lucky reader. This voucher can be used towards the purchase of any of the extensive range of Medela products, including their popular breast pumps and bottles.
- Share a piece of advice (breastfeeding-related or otherwise) that has helped you in your mothering journey.
- If you haven’t already, follow The Little Mumma on Facebook – we have fun there, promise!
Conditions of entry:
- Entrants must leave a comment below (not on Facebook) and be contactable via email. One entry per person. Australian residents only please.
- Entries close: Friday 6 June 2014 at noon.
- Winners will be chosen by random.org, notified by email and announced on this blog post.
- The prize will be distributed by Medela.
- Prizes are not redeemable for cash.
- Prizes are not transferable.
- The Promoter is not responsible for prizes once they have been dispatched to the winner but please shoot me an email if you do not receive your prize within two weeks so I can investigate for you!
Promoter: The Little Mumma, PO Box 159, Montmorency, Victoria, 3094
Best of luck!
Disclosure: Medela approached me to write a post about my breastfeeding experiences. In return, they provided me with vouchers to the value of $150. I decided to use the $100 Medela voucher as a reader giveaway. Because Saint Angie. 😉