I wanted to share my breastfeeding journey, and like all good journeys, it has a beginning, a middle and an end. Even though everyone has a different breastfeeding journey, I hope some of the mums out there will relate and I hope mums-to-be will gain some additional insights into the mysterious world of breastfeeding.
The Decision to Breastfeed
The breastfeeding journey for all of us starts with the decision to breastfeed. Throughout my pregnancy I did a lot of reading and went to workshops and seminars. About four weeks after Dylan was born I was given a really good DVD about breastfeeding that I recommend watching before birth. I gleaned as much information as I could, but it is such a weird and foreign concept that until the time came, it was hard to imagine what it will be like, let alone how I would ever enjoy it.
I love this country, I was born here and I wouldn’t live or raise my children anywhere else. However, the enormous and overwhelming cultural pressure to breastfeed has just got to stop. There has got to be a more balanced and less guilt-ridden message out there. There has got to be more help and assistance to feed your baby how you choose. But that is for another day.
Regardless, I decided to give breastfeeding a good go for a few weeks at least, to get it established, and then aim for six months or longer. I always had six months in my head. Like exclusive breastfeeding for six months is some sort of golden aim. Who decided that? Why? What happens if you start feeding solids earlier than six months – is that deemed not exclusive breastfeeding? By its nature I would guess yes. I read somewhere that only 6% of women in New Zealand exclusively breastfeed for six months. Does that mean the other 94% of babies are doomed? I digress again.
Well we didn’t get off to a good start. My milk did not come in until day 5. Dylan got a touch of jaundice, became lethargic and didn’t take to the breast very well. In the hospital, I was offered formula without anyone batting an eye. By the time we left the hospital he was breastfeeding adequately, but exclusivity fell out the window in the first week. Oh well.
The pain of the baby latching onto my breasts in those first couple of weeks was excruciating. It felt like a burning razor blade had seared onto my nipple. This feeling lasted for about 10 seconds, and then it eased. The lactation consultant at the hospital said count to 10 and that helped a lot. All I can say is the pain is fleeting, only lasts a couple of weeks, and a Lanolin based product, applied liberally at every opportunity, helps enormously.
The hunger that accompanies breastfeeding is like nothing else. Even pregnancy cravings do not compare. I would eat an enormous breakfast followed by a mid morning snack, huge lunch and something in the middle of the afternoon before polishing off whatever was on my dinner plate and asking for seconds. Then I would wake up in the night and need nuts or a muesli bar to slake off the worst of it. It is really weird knowing your body is expending so much energy just sitting and breastfeeding.
I never had a huge amount of milk. I had a good steady trickle but it wasn’t a fire hydrant gushing torrent that could fill a baby up in minutes.
The two results of this being … well the first was the hours and hours and hours and hours of breastfeeding. In those first few months I would average 20 minutes on each side and up to 8 times or more per day. You are supposed to wait until the baby comes off by himself, or until the breast is drained, but that never really worked for me. Dylan would quite happily comfort suckle without taking much in and stay on for much longer than was required. It took weeks for me to realise that this wasn’t helping either of us very much.
You are not supposed to care about how long it takes, and you are supposed to enjoy spending time with baby but when you look around the house and see all the other things that could be done, like even having a shower, and this is the fifth time this morning that baby has fed (at 40 minutes a time), it just gets tedious. There I said it, breastfeeding can be tedious. I wanted to be one of those women who loved it, but no.
On a more serious note, it didn’t seem that Dylan was getting enough milk, as he wasn’t putting on weight like he should. When he was a couple of weeks old, my midwife suggested a controversial method of only breastfeeding for 5 minutes a side and then changing then 5 minutes then 5 then 5. Apparently then the baby gets all the best sucking and best milk, but some people agree with it and some don’t. I didn’t because the thought of him latching over and over on my extremely sensitive breasts was too much. I just couldn’t bring myself to de-latch almost as soon as I started so I could go through that latching pain again. Yes, waves of mummy guilt wash over me when I think about that, but sometimes there is only so much you can put yourself through.
At 6 weeks Dylan only weighed what he weighed at birth (he had lost some and put some on, but very slowly) and my midwife was talking “failure to thrive”. So I gave the 5-5-5-5 method a go, and it worked for us. Or perhaps that is the time that breastfeeding gets a bit more established, the milk is in better. Anyway whatever it was, Dylan started putting on weight. He will never be a nice chubby butter-thighs baby, but he is growing and happy.
I think there was a ‘Golden Age’ of breastfeeding with Dylan when he was about 3 to 4 months old. Latching was easy and painless, the feeds were (slightly) shorter and there were not as many, and he was still young enough to be quite still and not look around very much.
Some of you will have journeys that are fill of more obstacles and are more exciting than mine. I feel very grateful I never had engorgement, blocked milk ducts, mastitis or any other breastfeeding inflictions. I am even happy that on the positive side of not having a huge supply of milk, I didn’t have to wear a breast-padded bra to bed each night, like some mums have to do unless they want to replace their mattress. I have been lucky so far to not even been bitten.
Now Dylan is 9 months old and for the past couple of months I have introduced formula to some of his feeds. This took a while and he didn’t like it at first but I did a mixture of expressed breast milk mixed with formula for a while then one day he just took to it wholeheartedly.
I did this for a number of reasons. One reason funnily enough is that I reached the six-month milestone (not exclusively, but pretty close). Also, he is a very active boy who likes to pop off the breast every few minutes to see what is going on, and therefore not taking in much milk. Plus, going back to work is looming up, and I know some women express but I couldn’t see that working for us with my limited milk supply. On the few occasions I did express I would get on average 60 mls in 20 minutes. That is just tedious. Yes that word again.
So now we are down to one or two breastfeeds per day and I am sad. I have heard that weaning off can be a trigger for post-natal depression. I am not in the realm of being that sad, but I am a little bit glum. All that lovely time spent with my son against my chest, looking down on his suckling sideways profile, gazing at his beautiful skin, it will really be over all too soon.
I have surprised myself by discovering that don’t want to give it up completely just yet. Although it was painful and infuriating and messy and boring at times, I do enjoy that very special bond that only I have with my son, much more than I ever realised. Hopefully we continue our peaceful morning feeds for a little while yet.