It is Breastfeeding week from the 1 August to the 7 August. All of my social media channels are filled with pictures of moms feeding their babies. It is really great and I love that so many moms are so comfortable breastfeeding their babies.
I was never half as comfortable as the moms I see sharing pictures.
I never enjoyed breastfeeding as much as they say they do.
In fact, I hated every moment of my breastfeeding journey with every one of my 4 children.
Please don’t confuse this with we being anti-breastfeeding, because I am not.
What made me hate it so much?
My oldest is 16 years old. I was 24 when I had him, which is pretty young. The internet hadn’t hit South Africa yet. I was new to Joburg and none of the friends I did have even knew what a baby was, never mind how to care for one.
My support was limited. My mom was 40 minutes away (not far but when you can’t drive post-op and she worked, it was a world away). Everyone I did speak to about baby related issues told me I had to breastfeed. The ante-natal clinic stressed repeatedly the importance of the first 6 weeks of breast milk. The hospital nurses kept shoving the baby onto my boob, like it was their only option. Every baby magazine I picked up told me breast is best and had a wonderful photo of a happy mother and her calm baby sweetly feeding while they gazes into one another’s eyes!
There seemed only one option – breastfeed my baby.
So there I was a new mom with a baby who wouldn’t stop crying unless he was attached to my breast. It took me a while to figure out how to get him to latch but when we did, the kid never let go. I was exhausted. I was overwhelmed. Why was my child not feeding like every one’s. Why was he still crying all the time. Why was he not sleeping, EVER. He then got colic! WHAT? How does a breastfed baby get colic?
What was I doing wrong?
Despite my very clear desperation, no one ever suggested I stop breastfeeding. I was told to stick out to 6 weeks because he needs those antibodies. He was about 4 weeks, I had no bonded with him, in fact I was started to resent him a little. It was not what everyone said it would be.
So I stopped. We bought some formula and I stopped breastfeeding just before he was 6 weeks old. I was calmer. He was calmer. I started finally bonding with him. It was the best decision we made for us.
Despite the fact I stopped before I had given him all of the required goodness and anti-bodies, he has made it 16 super healthy.
When my second child came along 2 years later, I was filled with new baby happy hormones and decided to try breastfeeding again. She was easier. She latched better and fed at regular intervals. It was an easier experience but every time she latched (and the same happened with all 4 kids), my toes curled. It wasn’t painful but just not an enjoyable experience for me. I couldn’t wait to get her off. I fed her the longest until about 10 weeks when it was just too much for me. She actually stopped drinking all milk at 9 months old, she just refused any milk we tried so we stopped it.
She is now 14 years old, our GP hasn’t seen her in about 9 year. She eats well and is incredibly healthy.
Jack came along 7 years later. I was older. My relationship was completely different. Everything was just different so I was going to be that mom who breastfed my kids forever. Until they latched him and I wanted to scream. Nothing had changed for me but I soldiered on. Then I got mastitis and the pain I felt in that week was something out of this world. I have had my hip replaced. I have dislocated my hip. NOTHING comes close to the pain of mastitis. I was done right there. I know there are many of you who have fed through mastitis but I am not that strong.
Jack is 7 and a part from a few rounds of tonsilitis he is pretty healthy.
When I fell pregnant with Emma I didn’t want to feed her at all. I felt I had tried it enough to know that it was not working for me but then David mentioned that I had done it for all the others so surely I should try. So I did. But Emma was born tongue tied so 2 days into breastfeeding I had cracked, bleeding nipples because she couldn’t latch properly. I fed her through nipple shields and cried through every feed because cracked nipples are next level painful (still not as painful as mastitis but close).
Eventually a couple of weeks in we ended our journey. At 4 years old she is the picture of health.
During my battles and my tears and my frustrations, few people ever suggested I put baby onto the bottle. I did get help, I had lactation specialists out to help me, I asked my clinic sisters for help. I discussed things with my paeds. I was told it gets easier, it is best for my baby and still every image I saw was of moms happily feeding their babies.
I was resentful. Why wasn’t it like that for me? Why was I the only mother in the world struggling to breastfeed their baby? Why was I the only mother in the world not having those special bonding moments with my child?
The truth is, I was not the only one and this is why I wanted to share this post so that those moms out there struggling, know that they are not alone and that breastfeeding is not the only option. You do not have to continue if it is not working for you and your baby.
Breastfeeding is not easy. We need to stop creating this ideal that your baby pops out and attaches to your boob, drinks beautifully, falls asleep and does that all again two hours later. YES this may be the reality of some moms, but for most it takes a while to figure out how to latch. It is stressful because you aren’t sure if baby is getting enough milk. Then your baby gets cramps and suddenly you are too scared to eat anything in case you are causing the cramps. Suddenly your baby hits a growth spurt and you are literally feeding him every 5 minutes. It may be a natural thing to do but it is not easy.
I want to just repeat that I am not anti-breastfeeding at all but I hate the saying breast is best because it implies then that everything else is not best. It might be good, but it is not best. It is only best when the mother has decided that it is best choice for her family.
If you are a new mom struggling to breastfeed, get in touch with La Leche League, they have sisters all over the country who will come to your home and help you. I had a wonderful experience with them. There are also a few private lactation consultants who are amazing.
If you feel you have reached the end of your breastfeeding journey or if you don’t even want to start – that is perfectly FINE.