The whole messy breastfeeding journey
My breastfeeding journey did not always look like this, but this is why I perservered and these are the moments I love to remember. Snuggling, connecting, staring lovingly into each others eyes.
Do you want to know the WHOLE messy breastfeeding story?
To be honest, this is not even a pic of my baby and I? I did take some. Secret selfies. Back then, I was still influenced by outside opinions around so much in my Mothering journey. Opinions that were not my own. Growing up I would hear old school comments about breastfeeding being private and women exposing themselves in public...."well there was simply no need". And so I guess I felt a bit ashamed to consider asking someone, even my partner to take a photo for me. Those pics are somewhere amidst the 1000's taken and never organised or set aside for easy access. One day I hope to stumble across them again, and then I will add some to this post. They were never so glamorous. But they are the most beautiful moments caught to me.
If I could go back, I would definitely be taking more photos. For me. So that I could look back on these tender moments. I still feel all those feels. Those emotions seeing another Mama feed, or another photo, but I wish I had some more special ones with my babies and I.
#toptip - Do not worry about other people's opinions. If you want to do something, do it. You do you Mama
Even so my breastfeeding journey did not always look like this
The early weeks of my 1st baby I spent grimacing, in pain. The first week or two marking down how long she fed, what time, which breast. It was all about records.
My toes curled and I held my breath with the sting.
I suffered blocked ducts.
I suffered mastitis
I remember sobbing saying "all the books say it will get better by 6 weeks in. It is 7 weeks now and it still hurts so much. I don't want to quit but I don't know if I can do this much longer"
I knew that I had the option to quit, and I knew formula is made with the best possible nutrition for my baby, and I knew it would be perfectly okay to switch. But for ME, it was not okay. Not yet.I was not ready to quit my breastfeeding journey. That may have been a part of a bigger picture or my anxious need to be 'perfect' (ps. does not exist), or just the fact that I really really wanted to breastfeed. Whatever the reason, I was NOT ready to stop. And I had not tried everything yet, so I had options to consider.
I contacted a number of lactation consultants, spoke to a couple on the phone, a couple via email. When Virgina Thorley, OAM, PhD, IBCLC, FILCA rang me back and we spoke for a while, I knew she was the one for me.
On visiting (I think it was 3 hours or more) we had determined my ongoing pain was because:
- My baby was tongue tied. The pain came because her latch was so poor. The pain came because of a flood of ongoing problems because of her poor patch. And my poor understanding of all of this.
- I had an oversupply of milk. The bonus being she did not struggle to gain weight as my milk flowed freely almost drowning her. She barely had to latch. (why her tongue tie was overlooked) The downside being it seemed almost impossible for me to drain my breasts, causing bigger problems like repeat episodes of mastitis.
- My tiny girls neck was SO TIGHT that she could not easily turn her head to the left AT ALL. I had already recognised this and was also booked to see a pediatric chiro after recommendation from another Mama. This restriction saw her favouring one breast as it was far more comfortable for her. It saw me developing a MASSIVE imbalance between supply from the left and right breast. Milk works by supply and demand. As she demanded more from one side, it was supplied. The other breast kinda got lazy and backed right off. You would be amazed to see the difference in size between my left and right breast as this happened. Another photo I wish I had to share with you.
- I put WAY TOO MUCH stock in the ‘expert books’ saying a newborn needed to feed 20 minutes on each side in order to fully drain the breast. With my mass oversupply, she rarely fed more than 7 or 8 minutes. But my overtired, over anxious mind worried that she was not feeding long enough. That she was not getting the hind milk. And so I would start her on that breast next time so she ‘began’ with the hind milk before being switched to the other breast.
FUN FACT: IT DOES NOT WORK THAT WAY!!!!! I simply added massively to the oversupply problem already beginning with my daughter favouring that one side. My overtired, over-anxious brain worrying SO MUCH about all of this breastfeeding, skewed by CONSTANT PAIN could not compute that she was growing, really well, her nappies were full. She did not need to feed longer. That was just how it was for us.
- Ongoing episodes of mastitis, or ‘near’ mastitis as I began to recognise the signs early. I believe I have covered the likely reasons why above.
- A number of other tiny issues related to all of the above.
What was important in this visit with Virginia, is that she sat and watched us together. She listened. She asked questions, and let me answer them, often coming to solutions myself. She reminded me what an amazing job I was doing, despite all these problems, and of how beautifully connected and aware I was of my baby. Until that day I felt completely overwhelmed. I lacked all confidence. I still look back and remember feeling those feelings, and none of the ‘awareness’ she speaks of. But I left FEELING more confident from then on.
She explained to me the importance of feeling loved up and safe and comfortable while feeding. Around bub in general. Of boosting my oxytocin. She validated my feelings in her words, and in helping me to recognise and resolve all of the above issues. She was without doubt the first key to helping me find my feet as a Mother, and my path to supporting other Mothers. I was honestly so clueless entering Motherhood, and so overwhelmed by trying to follow strict regimes from books that shall not be named.
She, as an ‘expert’ helped me to recognise that the books ‘suggestions’ are just one way of doing things, and not the right way for everyone. Certainly not the best way for me. She got me. She helped me find my feet. She helped me to repair my breastfeeding journey. And much of my anxiety.
I booked to have my daughter's tongue tie snipped. Controversial for many I know. She was out of my arms for no more than a minute, and immediately placed on my breast on return where she stopped crying, and where I noticed an immediate difference. In my own experience, tongue tie snipping was an essential key in saving my unique breastfeeding story.
We booked in with a paediatric chiro, who I watched like a hawk, nervous. Worried with my tiny baby in her hands.
From that day on she supported my baby and I through our postpartum year, through my second pregnancy and postpartum years, and with both my babies over the years as needed until we left Brisbane. All worries dissipated in that first visit. Belinda Siddle was my other core postpartum professional support in my early years. Helping us not only physically, but me as a woman to grow into a more confident Mother. The catalyst to my path to supporting other Mothers.
But at this time, just a few very gentle visits saw my baby freely turning her neck, massively reducing her post feed vomits, and so demanding to feed less as she kept down and digested more of her feeds.
With all of this my mastitis issues settled. The pain went away, and our feeds began to look more like these pictures. I finally began to love breastfeeding with every part of my body and mind. There was no more conflict. We continued to feed until she was almost two, stopping simply because my milk stopped. It was the sweetest way to wean a baby. She asked, I offered, explaining I did not think there was much, but she could try. If it did not work, I had a bottle for her. She tried each time for a week or so, each feed saying “no more. Bye bye” with a sweet wave. I held back tears as I cuddled her and gave her her bottle.
Two weeks later I realised I was pregnant again. It does not always happen this way. That was just our story.
It is important to recognise a few important things here:
Finding help for YOUR breastfeeding journey can be a game changer
If you too find it difficult, or painful, you are certainly not alone. I share my story of just one of many across the globe. I share it because I do not want you thinking you are failing because your journey looks nothing like what the books or internet tells you it should. And please remember it takes time for almost EVERY Mama. It is the rare unicorn that finds breastfeeding a breeze from day one.
If it is hard for you, but you desperately want to continue breastfeeding then you are in excellent company. This is why there are SO MANY people out there trained to help you troubleshoot and find your path.
I strongly believe a lactation consult is an investment well worth your efforts and your income. And I cannot stress strongly enough that, like most any profession, one size does not fit all with lactation consultants.
You are seeking help for one of the most personal moments of your life, and so you MUST feel comfortable in the care of this person. You must feel that you connect with her. Because like all professions, different people will bring their own views into how they teach, they guide, they share their wisdom.
I am not a lactation consultant, but I am very aware that a key player in any successful breastfeeding journey is boosted oxytocin. You NEED this hormone for your milk letdown, particularly in the beginning. If the person you are turning to for help does not click with you, does not make you feel comfortable and safe and loved, how will your oxytocin flow?
That does not mean she is not an amazing consultant for many women. But the consultant for you needs to be amazing for you. Ask around for recommendations. Call around, chat or email to get a feel to find that person who feels right. For you!
If you are still pregnant, I highly recommend looking NOW to find that person. Hopefully you will never need to use them, but if you do, at that time you will likely be feeling fairly stressed out. How wonderful if you already feel connected to and know how to contact your lactation consultant when in need.
If you are more like me, and only begin your search because you are already struggling, it is still worth taking that bit of time to feel into the person who is right for you. Ask other Mothers, ones you know, or ones in facebook groups if they have recommendations that you can begin to consider. And go from there.
I wish you a long and beautiful breastfeeding journey ahead.
FED IS BEST! It is okay to stop breastfeeding as long as YOU are okay with it
For a Mama who does not want to feed for her own reasons (business of nobody else), or who has tried all and feels the stress far outweighs her valuable time feeding her baby, I want you to know, that is okay.
Sit in with yourself and if you are okay with this, it IS ok to stop.
Please do not stop because someone else pressures you to if you want to keep trying. At Least not until you have tried all that YOU want to try.
But if YOU are ready to stop, or YOU do not want to feed, also do not let anyone else pressure you.
It all comes down to really being certain the decision you make comes from within, and brings you peace (outside pressures aside).
We are so blessed to live in a time where there are so many formulas out there with wonderful nutrition. So many options. And what is BEST for your baby, and for you, is that while your baby is nurtured with maximum nutrition, you are both nurtured with feelings of love as you snuggle together, stare into each other's eyes. As your baby feels safe in your arms.
Your breastfeeding or not does not determine how amazing you are as a Mother. It does not impact your connection with your baby. Never let anyone's words or opinion (because I have seen and heard them said) make you feel otherwise.
Mama, however you feed your baby, if it is full of nutrition, and you are both loving the experience, then it is the perfect journey for you. Xx
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