As with the birth of Kai, nothing really prepared me for my breastfeeding journey. There is plenty of information on breastfeeding out there, but until I tried it with him, I really had no way of knowing how things were going to go.
I always wanted to breastfeed. For me, it was just the journey I wanted to take with Kai. My plan was to breastfeed for 1 year. Long enough for him to get the benefits but not so long that the two of us would have difficulties weaning. Deciding whether to or how long to is quite something. There is so much information out there and I found a lot of pressure from the ‘mommy world’.
I come from a circle of which I suppose navigates towards more natural and alternative lifestyle choices. I use the word ‘natural’ loosely here as what comes naturally to one does not necessarily to another. Coming from a circle like this, as with any type of circle, comes a certain amount of criticisms, expectations and pressure. From cloth nappies, to natural organic lotions, corn starch for nappy rash to colloidal silver and bicarb for almost every ailment, and of course, “all mother’s should breastfeed for as long as the baby wants you to”. There is a strong ‘breast is best’ movement and while I agree that this is great for mothers who can breastfeed or choose to breastfeed, the reality is that ‘fed is best’ and no mother should feel guilty or less than because she has chosen not to or is unable to breastfeed.
My breastfeeding journey started just after Kai was born via an intense emergency c-section. I was taken through to recovery tired, ecstatic and feeling a love I had never felt before. I was so blown away by how beautiful he was and so, so exhausted from what was a long and exhausting labour. I remember staring at him when without warning my midwife started moving my clothes away from my breast and started pinching my nipple. She was trying to get some milk out. She then tried to push my nipple into Kai’s mouth. This as you can imagine, did not work out well for me or Kai. He was struggling. We both were. This was not how I imagined his first feed. She just kept squeezing and pushing, trying to get my nipple in his mouth.
Being so exhausted from the birth I couldn’t find my voice to tell her to stop. I had really wanted Kai to find his own way to the nipple and for the two of us to figure this out together. For some reason, I just could not find the words. I was just too overwhelmed and tired. After 2 minutes or so of trying this terrible technique, she looked at me and said, “I think you are going to have to get nipple shields to make it easier for him”. I felt awful!
A few more tries and Kai eventually latched. It was amazing! He drank and drank and drank for the next 30 minutes. Success! Well, it was success until his next feed and his next and his next. Kai was a great feeder when he eventually latched but trying to get him to latch, was quite something. Not because there was anything wrong with me, anything wrong with him anything wrong with my nipples, but really because we did not know what we were doing, my midwife was not good at teaching breastfeeding techniques and the nurses were not trained either. And so, he screamed out of frustration on the top of his lungs every time he wanted to feed until we got it right and I felt myself becoming more stressed, tense and my nipples were starting to really hurt.
My first day back home, my milk came in. Nothing could quite prepare me for having melons hanging off my chest. It felt like my breasts were going to explode. They were boiling hot, enormous and very heavy. It was as though my body thought that I had triplets. Trying to get a baby to latch onto a nipple that is attached to a breast the shape of a melon is almost impossible. But we kept trying, kept persevering, still having no idea what on earth we were doing and my nipples got more and more sore and more and more raw until they were bleeding. There was a sharp pain going straight from my nipples into the centre of my brain. I could barely think and was not sure how much more I could take and oh my word I was hungry. So, I did what I had do to, I sent my husband to go and find me nipple shields. In hindsight, I should have phoned a lactation consultant. If you are reading this and pregnant all I can say is spend the extra money, get a lactation consultant and save your nipples!!
Using the nipple shields in that first week really helped. Without them I might have stopped breastfeeding. Problem was, as much as I had no idea how to breastfeed, I also had no idea that it would take just 1 week for Kai to reject my breasts without the shields. I didn’t know that when using shields you should rotate between shield and nipple to prevent nipple confusion. If I tried to feed him without them, he would scream. Like he was being tortured scream. I immediately regretted using them. I thought I had made the wrong decision (even though Kai was happily feeding and my nipples were healing). For the next few months I tried and tried to get Kai to take the breast without the shields. I saw all these other mothers doing what I could not. Breastfeed without a shield. I felt less than. With my happy and healthy baby, I felt I was not good enough. How absolutely silly!
One day when Kai was 4 months old, I was leaning over to get the shield so I could feed him. My breast was in front of his face. He looked at it, leaned over and started feeding. All on his own. Our journey with the shields was over. I was over the moon!
Our next challenge came at around 9 ½ months. Kai got his first little cold from swimming class. He had a super blocked nose and was struggling to feed. As a result, my milk supply dropped dramatically. He only wanted to feed from a bottle as it was easier for him to breathe that way. I pumped and pumped and pumped but just could not pump enough to feed him every feed (even with a double electric). I started to get worried about what I was going to feed him. He was eating solids, but still needed milk and I just could not, no matter how long or how often I was pumping, produce enough milk for him in this way. So, I did what I felt I had to do and I gave him formula. I felt terrible. I had failed him. Carl, my husband kept telling me that I had done everything I could possibly do, that I was a great mom and Kai had to eat. I still felt terrible. Other moms had sick babies and they could still breastfeed so, why couldn’t I?
It is these types of things which make being a mom difficult. If you say, “I am struggling to keep up my supply and my baby needs to eat, what formula do you suggest I try?”, you are likely to get a response about why you must just keep pumping or power pumping or increase fluid intake, and, and, and… You will very rarely get an answer for the question you asked such as “try this formula it worked for us.” This is the reason so many of us feel as though we are not doing enough. We are!
When Kai turned a year old, I was still happily breastfeeding. I had made it to my goal. If I had to supplement on occasion, I no longer felt any guilt. I did what I needed to do to keep him fed as “fed is best”. Slowly, we started our weaning journey together. We did this very gently dropping one feed at a time over the next 2 months. At 14 months’ he was fully weaned. Happy, healthy and full of energy. We had enjoyed so many intimate moments together staring at each other, connecting as mother and child. Cherishing each other and soaking in our bubble of love. I had grown as a mother to no longer feel less than and was confident that I had done my best. It might not have been perfect, but my best none the less. Our best!