One of the most popular posts on this blog is this one, where I talk about my own experience with (attempting) breastfeeding and formula feeding Dear Boy. Quite a few of the ladies who find their way here seem to come via a search for a baby-feeding story that resonates with their own experience. When there's quite a lot of shame or guilt or anxiety surrounding formula-feeding, it's not really that surprising that sometimes these stories are hard to find. They're hard to tell. I wept writing my own down as I relived the rawness of those months.
My story, though, isn't unique. There are plenty of other women who've struggled: some struggled on through and kept breastfeeding, some turned to pumping and bottle feeding only; and some went down the formula route. But my story is also not typical. There are still plenty of women who have great breastfeeding experiences, for whom it is natural and easy, or for whom it becomes second nature. There are some women who never tried to breastfeed but went straight to formula for a variety of reasons. There are some who tandem feed their newborns and older children. There are some who fully breastfeed their twins. There are some who formula-fed one child and breast-fed the next or vice versa. So many experiences in so many different permutations.
With this new Breasts and Bottles series, I'm keen to share some of those other stories. I've asked friends and family and strangers to send me the story of their own experience with feeding their babies. Because if a first-time pregnant lady asks me about my breastfeeding experience, I want to be able to offer something other than just my own rawness. I would have loved to know, back then, that there's no one right way to do this (I would have also liked to know that formula-feeding wasn't a bad choice, it's just a choice - although I deal with that in my own post). I started this series with a post on donor milk, but now I want to turn it over to other mums (and dads too) to tell their stories, stories that are deeply personal and yet universal. This first story is from T, who is a champion among women for taking the time to write and share it. Thank you.
I began the breastfeeding process when my Sweet Daughter was born in 2009. I was anxious I wouldn’t get it right or that I wouldn’t be able to feed her due to a teenage decision about having nipple piercings. Either that or I would be squirting milk in 6 different directions.
We began breastfeeding within an hour or two of birth. At first it was just the two of us taking a stab at how this would work; we thought we had it worked out. We were wrong. Later that evening, for the next feed, I remember a nurse manually manipulating my nipples into the right shape for sweet daughter to latch on. It was a little confronting having a woman I didn’t know touching my breasts but the latch we got from this was much better and sweet daughter had a good feed. Over the coming days we thought we were doing OK, we mustn’t have been. My nipples were sore and my left nipple looked like someone had taken a knife and tried to cut it off. I had a big split across the top. Yes, I was sore but the feeds themselves weren’t hurting me which is the part they tell you indicates it's a latching issue. It was only after the feeds that would cause me any pain.
This went on for three or four days and it wasn’t until Sweet Daughter emptied the contents of her stomach onto a towel and there was blood in the vomit, that I freaked out. This wasn’t normal, or so I thought. I rang the ABA and after a short conversation they had me reassured that it was normal, she was just rejecting the milk due to the blood content from my cut nipples that she swallowed while feeding. I made an appointment for a lactation community nurse to come visit me the following day.
She was wonderful. She watched me do a feed with Sweet Daughter and then offered her advice. She changed my sitting position: what a difference an extra pillow makes! I was bringing my breast to the baby too much. I had E sized cups originally, and when milk comes in you can only imagine how much bigger they got. It seemed easier to arch my back down to her than to bring her higher. She also explained how to correctly shape my nipple prior to letting her latch. My husband watched too which, in the coming days, made such a difference to my mental state. I was told I had to correct Sweet Daughter's method. Yes, she was feeding but I was in pain and it should be painless. Both of us spent the following few days crying, Sweet Daughter because she was frustrated that I was removing her from my nipple if she didn’t get it right and me because it was hurting to put her on and take her off, not to mention the hormones your body goes through within a week of giving birth. I would get my husband to help me get it right: he would correct either of our positions or tell me if my nipple looked to be the correct shape or if I was holding my nipple in the correct position before letting sweet daughter latch.
What an improvement! Within two days she was feeding correctly, my nipples had all but healed and we were all feeling so much better. We didn’t want our children to use dummies, but the community nurse had told me that sweet daughter was comfort suckling on me as well as feeding which was contributing heavily to the poor latch. So now we had a baby who fed correctly and would take a dummy to soothe those comforts. The rest was a breeze for me with Sweet Daughter.
I had wanted to feed her for 12 months up to about 18 months. By the age of nine to ten months she was down to one feed daily, first thing in the morning after she woke. At 12 months and one week she weaned herself. It took three days, and by the third day she flat out refused the boob and we were done. I was proud of my efforts.
In February 2012 my monster-sized boy was born. He was 4.5kg and hungry! Within minutes of birth he was searching for boob: this time round I knew what I was doing although I had doubts. But he latched perfectly and fed for the first 2 hours of his life. It was another six hours before he took another feed and the ward nurses were pressuring me to feed him again after two hours. He didn’t want it. I knew he was full and needed his sleep, I just knew. When he woke he fed perfectly again and we never once had an issue.
Here we are: Monster Boy is now two years and two months and still occasionally breastfeeding. For about nine months we have just been doing a feed as soon as he wakes as he weaned himself off the other feeds. I had given myself a limit of two years, not thinking we would reach it. But when two years rolled around and he was still interested and we weren’t hurting anyone, the bonding continued.
This is our special connection. I wont force him to finish. It won't last much longer: he fed this morning for the first time in four days. He only receives it if he asks for “boobies”. He only ever asks first thing in the morning and on the rare occasion I’ve forgotten or am unavailable to feed him there isn’t a second thought on his behalf. Surely my milk is running out when he only feeds every few days (??). I’m OK with this. I achieved what I set out to achieve. For me, personally, this was: breast milk in all instances, no formula and no bottles. I haven’t expressed once in the three years (total) I have breastfed. These are my choices, no one else’s and we all do what works for us individually.
If you'd also like to share your breastfeeding story, short or long, happy or sad, boring or weird, please email me at: lilybett[at]gmail[dot]com