I’m reflecting on my own breastfeeding journey as World Breastfeeding Week draws to a close.
I know women who have had a vastly different experience to me. Some who’ve had a trouble free experience from day one (yay!) those who’ve chosen or needed to nourish their babies with formula, women who’ve battled with low supply, tongue ties… the list goes one. We aren’t all dealt the same hand when it comes to lactation & breastfeeding and as with pregnancy and birth, our decisions are very personal.
I assumed that I’d be a natural when it came time to breastfeed- I’m not sure why! It took me by surprise when the experience of establishing feeding with my first baby was so deeply unpleasant. When my milk came in, it REALLY arrived. There was enough to feed a small village and then some. My body went in to overdrive and so my first experience as a breastfeeding mother was marked by severe engorgement (even my Midwife was shocked), ongoing & recurrent mastitis requiring many doses of antibiotics plus cracked nipples. For the first 16 weeks of life, my baby was very unsettled (antibiotics and breastfeeding affected his previously perfect gut health) and I experienced some PND which I attribute mostly to that rocky road to successful and pain free breastfeeding. Every feed was a struggle and my baby was losing patience.
Still, I had milk. LOADS of it. So I pumped. I was able to continue feeding my baby breast milk with a bottle and straight from the breast when I could bear it- thank goodness for a nipple shield, my best friend for about 18 weeks. I wanted to stop many times in those early weeks. I spent hours on the phones to the ABA and looking for answers. I cried and swore and resented the physical and mental pain I was in. It was a miserable time and nothing like I expected. I persevered. Despite the agony of feeding, I had a seemingly bountiful supply of milk which seemed a good reason to push through. The weeks rolled on, things improved and I went on to JOYFULLY & LOVINGLY feed Paddy until he was two and half years old. It is one of the fondest memories of my first little boy. He thrived, and, actually, as it turned out, I was a natural once we got in the groove! I had gone through a lot to get to this point and I knew that the nutritional and emotional benefits for Paddy continued until the day it felt right to wean him. I breastfed in all sorts of places in the presence of all manner of people and it was incredibly bonding for us.
Fast forward to my second baby. This time I felt confident that experience was on my side. I certainly didn’t think it likely that my body would respond the same way again. It did. Sure enough 48 hours after birthing Myles my milk came in. Again it was a case of severe engorgement, overwhelming pain and this time a cracked nipple straight up. Nipple thrush followed closely by fully blown thrush throughout both breasts. I was sick, my system was again in overdrive, my milk production was intense and feeding Myles was excruciating. Breast thrush is like nothing I had ever experienced. I cried, swore and screamed as he latched and fed and my milk re-filled. It was miserable. So I pumped and pumped and fed him from the breast when I could cope. It was intense and stole much of the joy from the early weeks with my newborn. I relied heavily on the Hypnobirthing breathing and deep relaxation I had used during his birth to cope with the much more intense experience of breastfeeding!
10 months on and I am still feeding Myles. Coincidentally here in the midst of world breastfeeding week I’ve never been more grateful for having persevered because I have a sick baby (who’s thankfully sleeping right now). He’s been fighting a nasty virus all week, vomiting and covered in a full body rash. He’s miserable, lethargic and clingy. His little mouth is very sore- the only thing soft enough has been my nipple (no more dummy for Myles!). I’ve had two night time dashes to emergency in the past few days and plenty of time spent with our GP. Myles hasn’t been eating but he is breastfeeding for nourishment and just as importantly, comfort and nurturing. This is one very good reason for having persevered in those early months. As far as I’m concerned, his breastfeeding days will continue for as long as it’s right for us both and for that opportunity I am both grateful and humble.
Some helpful links: