My breastfeeding journey started in 2012 and just finished three months ago. I am currently feeling quite mixed emotions ranging between nostalgic and relieved. I have carried and breastfed my three boys for the past six years and, as my youngest is now heading towards the age of two, it seems a good time to tell my story.
During World Breastfeeding Week 2018, as I approached the end of my journey, there were lots of things going through my mind, including the politics of breastfeeding, the lack of support for breastfeeding mothers, attitudes towards breastfeeding in public and the big, bad formula companies who started the ‘mommy wars’. I was, statistically, a mother more likely to have a successful breastfeeding journey, i.e. educated, over 30, employed (by the NHS at the time) and full of my American cultural spirit of ‘not to giving up without a fight’. I believe that breastfeeding is important and, by sharing our experiences, we empower each other, so here is mine.
My first baby was born via emergency c-section at 39 weeks after a failed induction due to polyhydramnios and failure to progress despite 18 hours of labour. I had planned on breastfeeding as, to me, it was a no brainer and is totally natural so I didn’t really think much of it. It is natural so how hard could it be right? Ugh. Well, I was wrong. It was hard but, to be honest, it was never hard enough for me to give it up. During these early days and weeks, I even convinced myself that I was no longer making milk after 7pm(!) and started supplementing with a bottle of formula (because I thought it would make him sleep better!). I was mistaken about my milk supply (which I later learned in the breastfeeding peer support training course I took) but it did mean that my husband could put him to sleep without me.
Despite this hectic start, our breastfeeding journey turned out well, but not before we dealt with tongue tie, colic and me as a broken mama. I felt broken through the sheer torture of disrupted sleep, physically broken in trying to recover from my pregnancy and c-section, and broken because I had lost all but brief moments to look after myself. It took me a while to find moments to see if I was still there underneath all of the demands of having a newborn who cried and needed to be held all the time. But we made it through those early days and I lived to tell the tale. I pushed through the nipple pain, got the tongue tie snipped, found babywearing to ease the colic and made my way back from a broken mama to a stronger one. I thought I was completely lost and I think, for many months, I had no idea if the person I thought I was, was actually still inside. But I knew I had to keep fighting. Living far away from my own mother made that hard but I joined other mums for coffee and baby classes at the local children’s centre and read books on everything about attachment parenting, feeding, babywearing and sleep. For me, it was tough, but I made sure that I got the support I needed. I talked endlessly about breastfeeding to everyone and anyone who was interested. I learned to ignore unhelpful comments (or at least fake it until could make it) and I reassured myself that I was doing the best job of being a mother no matter what my views on breastfeeding, sleep, weaning etc. were. I think that is probably the only way I found myself again by accepting myself for the mother I was and not the mother I thought I should be or even wanted to be. By the time I was due to go back to work, I was talking about the next baby. I had healed a bit and changed a bit, forever. In my opinion, there isn’t enough support available for breastfeeding mothers and I felt passionate that there should be more. So much so, that I trained with the Breastfeeding Network to offer peer support and help other mums with breastfeeding just when my second baby was born.
I felt lucky to have got through my first breastfeeding journey, which was sort of like a baptism of fire. I had assumed I would breastfeed Keane for a year and then stop. But then my second son, Søren, breastfed for three years so he convinced me that letting the baby lead was more comfortable for everyone. I was more relaxed I think as a parent and that helped. I knew that my baby would feed a lot and want to be held a lot, so I planned on doing just that. Funnily enough, with that expectation I was easily able to respond with strength and confidence to those well-meaning people who asked horribly annoying questions. They would ask things like how often I had to feed him or whether he was a “good baby” (meaning did he sleep through the night). I found myself being able to hold my head up high and say, “yes I feed him constantly day and night and we were both totally fine with that,” and he was a wonderfully ‘good’ baby no matter how often he fed at night. I had made my peace with the idea of co-sleeping by this point. I used to try to hide it with Keane, but with Søren, I no longer cared what people thought. Once I let myself follow my baby’s lead, I learned more than I could have imagined. Luckily Søren did not have tongue tie so my milk came in on day three instead of day five which helped as well. We enjoyed lots of skin to skin straight after my section. I just let him feed any time he seemed to want to and never watched the clock to see when he last fed. Søren really loved being close to me all the time but also fed much quicker than Keane. I don’t think it would have mattered but that was certainly a blessing as I then had two boys to look after. At this point I was doing breastfeeding support and in full swing with all of that for a good couple of years and was still volunteering when my third baby boy was born. By the time, Breckon came along, I just went with the flow. He was really chilled anyway I think but that may have just been how I was by then too.
Stopping breastfeeding was different each time too. Keane stopped when he was a year old just by me not offering his morning nursing session one day which, by then, was all we had left. He just never asked for it again. I cannot believe how it easy it was in comparison to Søren. He kept feeding and asking and asking and feeding and, in the end, I was already pregnant with his baby brother and my milk had dried up and then my colostrum came in and he was still going. I had hoped he would just naturally self-wean but then when Breckon was born and I had two boys tandem feeding, I realised what nursing aversion was like. I really could not stand feeding them both at the same time so I had to make them take turns. But even that did not last long and I knew I would have to make a plan to stop. So we made a deal over Søren’s pirate birthday party when he turned three and he agreed to stop after that special party. He asked for it less and less often for a few days and was satisfied with the reminder of his special party to celebrate his third birthday. He still talks about breastfeeding with me a lot. And then came the time for Breckon to stop. This was a hard decision to make. I had found out that I had diastasis recti after my second pregnancy and it had gotten worse again with my third pregnancy. So Breckon had to be the one to pay the price. He wasn’t really ready. It was my decision to help my body recover and give my muscles the best chance at strengthening up. While I was breastfeeding, my body would still be producing relaxin which helps keep muscles and ligaments loose, similar to during pregnancy. After working with my physio for a while, she told me that stopping breastfeeding would help me increase my progress as the relaxin would be out of my system. So I made that tough decision and also stopped babywearing to ensure that I did not further injure myself any further. When I stopped breastfeeding Breckon, he was 18 months old, and thankfully he adjusted well. I was definitely a more relaxed mother by this time but not without my moments. He was the hardest one to stop breastfeeding because I had to make the choice to put my body’s needs above my breastfeeding goal for him to self wean. I wasn’t really ready for my breastfeeding journey to be over, but I was ready to start healing my core.
My breastfeeding experience with each son was different, but each one was part of my journey deeper into motherhood. I journaled my thoughts from all my sleepless nights and called it “Lessons from the Nursing Chair”. It’s amazing what goes through your head when you are sleep deprived and feeding all hours. I will always be grateful for breastfeeding and think fondly of those long nights feeding, lazy cuddles and boob snoozes. In case you haven’t seen the Channel 4 programme, Breastfeeding Uncovered, it’s worth watching and important to raise awareness of the support mothers need to feel free to breastfeed their babies surrounded by the supportive society that we all deserve. Keep on boobing!
Marissa, writing for The Mother Side x
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