Twelve months after having my baby girl I find myself still breastfeeding - something, just a week after having her I really didn't think I would say. And something I am also really proud of. Perhaps it's a strange thing to be thinking of around her first birthday but it also marks a milestone for me - one year of being a mum and caring for this amazing little girl that has changed my life forever.
I have decided today to share a personal post about my breastfeeding journey - these are my personal experiences rather than advice or guidance for new mums or mums-to-be. I am no midwife or lacatation consultant, just a breastfeeding mum that happens to be a pregnancy and postnatal yoga teacher that comes into contact with a lot of breastfeeding as well as bottle-feeding mums. In no way do my opinions critisise mums who choose not to breastfeed (or cannot) - I just wanted to share my journey in the hope that this is of help or interest to some others.
So I guess my breastfeeding journey started when I attended a breastfeeding workshop at my local hospital when I was heavily pregnant. A very lovely midwife and breastfeeding expert spent a few hours with a group of pregnant mamas explaining the benefits of breastfeeding, showing a little video of a baby latching on for the first time, discussing the nutrients in breastmilk, the mechanism for how it works and the types of milk that come through. It was informative, positive, encouraging and basically encouraged breastfeeding over all other potential options where possible. I was sold. The workshop cemented in my mind what I had never really though about before in much detail - I just assumed breastfeeding was what you did. Breastfeeding it was to be. Yoga teacher / earth mother was the way for me! It's totally natural right?
Tears and Ouch
When my little one was born, breastfeeding did not come naturally. OUCH is all I can say. She didn't latch on properly, it felt awkward and it hurt like someone was sandpapering my nipples off (sorry for the graphic description, but did I mention - Ouch?!) I had never handled a newborn baby before and oh my are they tiny. She also had a tongue tie that was discovered and cut at day two - something more common than I had realised in my experience of all the people I see in baby classes. And so, shattered and broken after giving birth I was told to hand express little drops of colostrum (the clear thick substance we produce before milk proper comes in after 3-4 days) which we then had to feed to her with a syringe. It all felt very surreal. Earth mother I was not.
The Baby Blues
I was warned about the baby blues - the hormones that kick in as your milk comes in after those first few days that can make many women upset, depressed or tearful at that stage. Me? Teary? Not me I thought.... but on day four the floodgates opened and I just couldn't stop crying. I realised that breastfeeding was actually the ONE thing I really wanted to do and it turns out I couldn't. I was set on it and knowing that I just couldn't do it was making me so upset. Of course this was all combined with crazy hormones that make most people tearful regardless of issues with breastfeeding.
Home Sweet Home
And so we left hospital. We were home. We were sort of breastfeeding through floods of tears, pain, nipples shields and breast pumps. The first four weeks for me of breastfeeding were horrible. It seemed to be non-stop, every few hours, day and night this torture would continue, combined with feeling weak, broken and hormoany (yes, I know that's not a word but it describes how I felt). I tried different positions, different latching techniques, spent hours researching on Google, messaging friends and dreading the next feed. I felt I couldn't leave the house for more than 30 mins between feeds and even started to think that I was actually just not a good mum. And the sick - the milk sick - so much of it! I could swear that I would feed her and she would literally throw up all the milk - all over me, the sofa, the bed or all three!!
However, on the positive side I am also soooo lucky to have had wonderful support in terms of family and friends. Family that were just there sending love and kind thoughts (and food). Friends that also had similar experiences and told me to hang on in there and a friend who was a mid-wife that spent time with me 1-2-1. I also visited loads of breastfeeding groups, which were the lifeline in those early days. The midwives, lactation consultants, assistants and other mums were amazing. They know their stuff and gave me somewhere to feel that I wasn't alone with my experiences.
Week four was a big turning point. I remember feeding my little girl one day thinking - ooooo - that wasn't as painful as usual. A friend of mine had challenged me to one more week and if it was still as bad to stop then. If it at any point felt a bit better then keep going. And I did. I mean it was still awkward and I had this obsessive set of notes on my phone for when she fed and which side and for how long but it was better. Boom - breastfeeding was established. A massive achievement and milestone and unfortunately without the wonderful support I had, one that not every woman who wants to breastfeed gets to. I would love for there to be more help and guidance for new mums on breastfeeding prior to baby arriving so they are prepared for what to expect and where to go for help.
Out in Public
In one of those early weeks I had gone for a walk in the sunshine just after a feed, thinking I was safe to walk and come back before feeding was required again (rookie error). However 20 minutes in I was far from home, sat in a cafe with a coffee and baby needed a feed. I had no choice but to feed her then and there. So I did. Did anyone comment or look - no. Did the world stop turning - no. Did baby get fed and I feel like a total winner - yes! Ok, so it wasn't perfect but I still fed my baby whilst out which a week before I was thinking I would never do.
I am aware that some people have had negative experiences, comments or looks when feeding in public, but I am lucky in that I had only positive feedback and even on one occasion a 'congratulations'. I actually don't have any problems with confidence in feeding in public, I just didn't want to do it when I couldn't do it and latching was a problem, baby was screaming and milk went everywhere.
Get 'em Out
To be honest I'm a little bit of advocate for feeding baby whenever and wherever the need arises. Maybe the earth mother is there after all! If we can eat in a cafe, why can't baby? If we can eat in a pub, why can't baby? Do I eat in a toilet cubicle - HELL NO! And nether would my baby. I get those milky bad boys out at any time they are needed for feeding my little one - wherever I happen to be. Ok, so that sounds rather brash. This is all within reason and I discretely feed baby of course. There are no neon signs, placards or announcements to the world. I just sit down, adjust a top or two and feed my little one. I don't make it a big drama and no-one else seems to either.
6 months mark
After those first four weeks all I could think about was getting to 6 months. Feed baby to 6 months and then they have food. Weaning begins, breastfeeding stops. Er....
Well, food wasn't a roaring success from the start and I chose baby-led weaning as the primary way to feed baby, which meant a lot of mess (and fun) and still lots of breastfeeding. Something again in my ignorance I hadn't realised. But of course why would one day they have 100% milk and the next - oh yum, some food. It's weaning - a gradual introduction of food. And I must say this has been sooooo fun. Seeing bubba eat food and explore new textures and tastes is hilarious. Eating peas one by one, pulling faces at avocado, launching potatoes across the room and smearing porridge through her hair (and there is a LOT of hair) are just a few highlights.
and the breastfeeding continues....
Yup - these continue too. Between 1-4 times a night she wakes for a feed. Am I tired - yes. Do I want her to have a bottle instead - no. Now this is a personal choice and any mum that wants some sleep over feeding, even just once - you go girl. I could express milk and get someone else to feed her but I love these special moments. Yes, breastfeeding has become special.
In my opinion, breastfeeding is soooo special - the connection and the bond that we have cannot be described and I just don't want it to end. For me, breastfeeding is not just about sustenance. It is time for me to stop and just connect with my baby. I have to sit down, slow down and cuddle my little one whist she takes her milk. She snuggles in, her hands grab for me and hold my own, she cuddle my sides, she calms down, she loves me. It is a wonderful bond that I cannot put into words. I have totally become that earth mother I imagined I would be.
Now is 12 months old for breastfeeding? I don't know. The World Health Organisation recommends: "Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond."
But it is so different feeding now at 1 year to at the start. Sometimes she scratches me with her hands. Sometimes she wriggles like crazy. Sometimes she gets distracted and milk goes everywhere. Sometimes she doesn't want to feed at all. Sometimes she giggles for no reason and then carries on. Sometimes she only wants me and some milk and I feel really special. I know that I provide something for her that no-one else can.
I've had milk blisters. I've had engorged breasts from not feeding for periods. I've had to hand express milk in an evening gown in a public toilet. I've got pouches of frozen milk in my freezer. I've made ice lollies with breastmilk. I've joined breastfeeding groups on Facebook. I've worked out ways to wear clothes in layers to discretely feed without getting my tummy out. The list continues...
Some people stop feeding early (or earlier than me) due to work, due to baby refusing food, due to milk supply problems, due to so many other reasons. And all of this is ok and normal - every baby and every mum is different. I let her be in charge (rightly or wrongly!) and as long as she wants to feed, then I'm there. Within reason of course - I do have a life and go out sometimes and Mr Bottle steps in.
Is there a point?
Is there really a point to this blog post? I'm not sure there really is, other than I feel that breastfeeding perhaps needs more public discussion and that whatever you do as a new mum, it's ok, because breastfeeding isn't easy.
It's not quite like I imagined in that first breastfeeding workshop I went to at the hospital when I was pregnant. It's rather real and messy but also really rather special.
I see many new mums struggle with feeding and when they first come to a baby massage class or postnatal / baby yoga class it's the first time they have been able to talk to other mums about their experiences, both good and bad. This blog is just simply sharing my story, perhaps raising awareness, perhaps informing some pregnant mums of what could be to come. If I help just one mum out by sharing my story then that makes me a very happy mama.
The worst and the best
And so my breastfeeding journey has been the worst thing about motherhood (I really hated those first few weeks of feeding) but also one of the best. I love it. I have no idea how long it will continue, so I will enjoy these precious moments whilst I can because I know my little baby will grow up way too fast.
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