10 years (by Amy)
My firstborn turns 10 this week, so I have been breastfeeding for 10 years.
Ten long years.
(across 6 babies)
Has it been easy? No
Has it been frustrating? Very
Has it hurt? At times
Is it the best thing ever? Not for the whole ten years, no!
Worth it? I reckon so!
When I was pregnant with my first, in July 2012, I distinctly remember my midwife asking me:
“And are you going to breastfeed?”
“I’ll give it a go.”
I think if you had have told me what things would look like in 10 years I’d have laughed in your face.
I came from a place of no breastfeeding. I myself was not breastfed; my sister was not breastfed. I have a small extended family, so never saw any breastfeeding there. As far as I can recall, there wasn’t anything in primary school, and secondary school was probably limited to biology, one class a year on that particular anatomy.
I’ll admit, pregnant with my first, I was naive. I followed parenting pages on Facebook where it was all too easy to read about how “breastfeeding didn’t work for me”, “my milk never came in”, “so much easier with bottle”, and Parenting Clubs run by certain formula or bottle manufacturers that, ultimately don’t really care about breastfeeding. It was all very much in my face!
So, to start with, it was lucky that I even tried to breastfeed!
Then, when things inevitably (due to my lack of knowledge and researching!) went pear-shaped in the first couple of weeks. I’m lucky that I kept going! Because if I had of stopped breastfeeding in those first few days with #1, I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t have bothered even trying with my others.
The reasons I didn’t give up? The reasons I’m still going 10 years later?
1) My husband. As a breastfed baby himself, it never really occurred to him that I wouldn’t breastfeed – and as such formula was never offered as a solution by him.
2) My then health visitor, Sarah. When I was struggling in those first few weeks it was never suggested that formula may be the answer, in fact, it was never mentioned at all, and instead she focussed on troubleshooting, and most importantly (I realise now), giving me some time and space to sort it out. Skye was a slow gainer in the beginning, but there was no panic, and I think that was really important – that was what I needed – someone else to be calm and take the responsibility for me. But to give us time.
3) Support groups. Ultimately, I ended up at Karen’s support group and just knowing that there were others around who understood, did so much for my confidence. (Plus, husband sat outside in the car, which also helped! Moral support!)
The first few months of breastfeeding were pretty much never enjoyable. We were plagued by thrush, there was often pain, and there was the dreaded feeding when out of the house!
There was the lack of knowledge of normal baby behaviour.
“She can’t need feeding again” with tears.
“Why won’t she sleep in the basket?” with confusion.
“Why is she crying again?” with worry.
My husband could see it better than me. He has always been able to judge what the baby needed, even when I couldn’t (blame the hormones). Many times, he has bitten his tongue when I have snapped at him for daring to suggest that they baby may simply need feeding again. I even once woke up from exhaustion to find him trying to latch baby on to me because he didn’t want to wake me. I wish I could go back and appreciate him more, and use his “outsider” view. Because being the one, the only one, who the baby needs and wants, is hard.
And there is no making that any prettier. Having a baby is a whole ugly experience at times. And I shan’t go off on a rant about the image that society portrays and expects of baby/parent-hood, but suffice it to say, I sure as heck don’t sugar coat that one to those new parents I support. I myself was caught in that trap – expecting new parenthood to be all lovely and flowers and quiet walks by the beach and beautiful photoshoots. It wasn’t. It was tears, and mess, and stress, and mental health issues. And the thought that I was somehow not ‘normal’, because this isn’t what it’s supposed to look like, right? (no ranting, promise)
In the end, we pushed through. We got through all the difficulties and it became easier to feed naturally, she got bigger and knew what she was meant to be doing. I ditched the blanket covers that I was attempting to feed privately with – hurrah! It all worked out.
Then I had another baby. But I knew what I was doing now. Yes?
I can categorically tell you that with all the 6 babies I have had, each feeding journey has been difficult. Each has had their own peculiarities. Each one of them have caused me direct damage and pain. I didn’t enjoy feeding any of them for the first week – I had the pain, the damage, the toe curling agony, the dread at feeding - “not again!”.
But the hard times definitely passed quicker after baby #2.
Apart from a brief bout of mastitis with baby #3, I could even say that it was enjoyable! For most of the time. With each baby I definitely found the fact that they needed ME, and only me, very difficult. I couldn’t palm them off on the husband. He just wouldn’t do.
Did the thoughts of “why isn’t my baby normal?” flash through my mind every time? Absolutely! It’s so engrained and a constant battle to go against the ideas, that are thrown at parents from every angle, that simply DO NOT COMPUTE with normal baby behaviour.
I won’t say that it wasn’t hard on me, especially mentally. In fact, I had to have a conversation with husband when I was pregnant with #6. I had decided that I wasn’t going to breastfeed. I just couldn’t do it.
I am an Internationally Board Certified Lactation Consultant.
And I was choosing not to breastfeed. That's how hard it can get.
I just couldn’t face it. I was having bad aversion to feeding baby #5 and the thought of doing it again was just a no-go. Not that I need to explain my reasons of course – every parent going through this has those decisions to make for themselves.
Breastfeeding is a life changing thing. The decision to do it, or to not do it. The trials and difficulties. The ups and downs. And I’m not ashamed to admit that it all got too much for me.
That’s not a bad thing.
Do I feel a little guilty though? Yes.
In the end, I did breastfeed. Hormones took over right after birth, I pulled up my big girl pants, and I just got on with it. Mentally though, I was on the edge for some time after birth. But I did it. And now, looking back to 2.5 years ago, I’m glad that I did.
I think that I would regret it. I remember something that I saw/heard/read somewhere once (– was it Karen??):
You’ll never regret doing it, but will regret it if you don’t.
And looking back to 10 years ago and that comment to the midwife of “I’ll give it a go”. I don’t regret it. It has totally changed my life. The same HV that supported me without stressing me out suggested that I become a Peer Supporter and put my name forward. Which then lead on to further study with the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers, becoming a breastfeeding counsellor, and ultimately an IBCLC.
So, what do I tell those parents that I support?
It very rarely comes with regrets.
Breastfeeding. My life.