Breastfeeding. Just the word itself is enough to elicit a truck load of emotions in me. The total awe I felt knowing my body could, not only grow a new life, but sustain it by producing exactly what’s needed at exactly the right time. Oh and that blissful feeling when you put your baby to your chest and it nuzzles in and makes those magical feeding noises. But what about when it doesn’t all go to plan? The frustration when no matter how hard or how many times you try, your brand new bundle of love just won’t latch on? Or when they do finally attach, the pain is so unbearable you simply can’t stand the thought of allowing your hungry baby near you. Gut wrenching and guilt laden pretty much sums that up. And it’s supposed to be the most innate and natural thing in the world – isn’t it?
You see I know about these things because I’ve been on both sides of the emotional mountain of breast feeding. My first two babies were born just knowing how to feed. The moment they were lifted to my breast they latched on and were happily suckling away – right through until they were both almost one. Added to that my midwife told me, with glee like excitement, that I had the perfect breast feeding nipples. (Now that’s something a girl can add to her resume!) And I had a great supply of milk to boot. It was simple and natural and I smugly didn’t realize just how easy I had it. Queue the wonder and awe feelings.
But then along came baby number three. I still don’t know exactly why but baby number three was never going to ‘get it’. (She was born by caesarian section and had bruised cheeks – which may have stopped her learning to open her mouth wide enough.) Suddenly I went from being the gold star breastfeeding mother (you know the ones the midwives love) to having my breasts manhandled and a baby thrust at my sore and unhappy, but still perfect, nipples. No matter how hard I tried she just wouldn’t latch on well enough to draw out my milk supply. Within hours I was forced to start expressing – as my little girl sunk into sleepy jaundice territory. Each successive midwife gave me her own set of instructions and in my own sleep deprived emotional post birth state I started to feel every shred of confidence drain away. The stories I’d heard and scoffed at, about bossy overbearing midwives materialized in front of my eyes and I was in no state to stand my ground – let alone think clearly enough to string sentences together.
By the time I was allowed to take my baby home I was expressing for every feed. I’d put my little babe to my breast for 10 minutes each side and then give her a pre-expressed bottle to actually fill her belly. The hospital rented me a double electric breast pump and I spent thirty minutes every 3 hours hidden away from my family with my boobs ensconced in dual suction cups. With a 2 and 4 year old at home already I’m guessing you can image how much fun this was. My most vivid emotional memories of this time (now almost four years ago) are the overwhelming indecision about what to do and a heavy feeling of failure – because we all know breast is best! I wanted so badly to do the right thing but was struggling to have the energy and desire to keep the expressing up.
There were trips to lactation consultants, maternal child health nurses and many words of encouragement – but things didn’t improve. My little baby just didn’t get it. After a month of semi-mental torture I finally gave up. I needed to make the decision for myself and my two other children, but a war was raging in my mind and I felt selfish and like the world (or the professionals around me ) thought I’d failed. Looking back now I can see I did all I could do and made the right choice for me, and my family, at that time. But amid that post birth, sleep deprived emotional roller coaster, I simply didn’t have the presence of mind to know this.
I’m writing about this today because I know this is such an important and emotive subject. I still think about this four years later and wish I’d had someone impartial to really talk to. I was happy to hear recently that MumSpot have produced a beautiful and information DVD called how2breastfeed which is filled with advice and support from other mums (along with some professionals). You can check out their website and join their facebook page if you are in a situation where you would like support and information about breastfeeding – or if you’d like to share your own breastfeeding story. I know how important it is feel supported and heard when you are a new mother – and this is one great way of making that happen.
Disclaimer: I originally wrote this post for MumSpot and the How2breastfeed blog but am posting it here to help spread the word about this fabulous DVD.