(My Favourite Breastfeeding Photo of my second child)
Breastfeeding Awareness Week
Okay so to be clear, so no-one is offended I am an avid supporter of breastfeeding but I also realise that there are many women around the globe who have tried and been unable to pursue breastfeeding. This blog is purely my opinion and my experience.
With Breastfeeding Week being celebrated from 1st to 7th August across 170 countries around the globe I thought I would write about my experiences to date.
I am a cancer survivor and due to this I was told my milk may not come in which would mean I couldn’t breastfeed.
To be honest I wasn’t phased in the slightest, I watched my best friend a few years earlier attempt breastfeeding until one of her nipples was hanging off (yes it was), and she ended up with post natal depression due to the stress this caused her. She tried so very hard and eventually when she decided to move her baby to the bottle, mother and baby were happier and life was better for all involved.
Because of this, I actually felt that breastfeeding wouldn’t be for me and I was okay with that. I refused to be drawn in to the pressure. I believed then as I believe now that a happy Mummy and a happy baby are the most important parts of this process. We seem to get too hung up on how they were delivered into the world and how they were fed.
I am proud Mummy to four beautiful children who all arrived by elective caesarean (and no, I don’t feel like I missed out on anything), my children thankfully arrived in this world safely and it wasn’t until I had my twins that it was confirmed I would never have been able to deliver naturally if I wanted to. I am a proud breastfeeder as well as a proud bottle feeder.
So at 35 weeks and growth restricted my first born arrived into this world. I relentlessly expressed milk for him and was amazed on day two when I woke to breasts that resembled rockmelons. He was given my milk through a tube and eventually he got stronger. At four days old, my first hold, I was encouraged to try to feed him. With an oxygen prong slipped into my bra so he didn’t get out of breath, he sucked for dear life and I was overcome with such emotion. I loved it.
After four months of beautiful breastfeeding he had gained 2kg in four weeks and my body could no longer cope. All my thyroid levels were so unstable I was advised to move him to formula. I was devastated and felt the need to constantly justify my actions to those around me. At the end of the day my little boy thrived and he is now a healthy seven year old.
When my one and only full term baby was born, I was determined to feed her for six months. With help from my specialists we were able to keep my levels stable. She was such an efficient feeder she never actually lost any weight for her five day stay in hospital. The weight she was born was the weight she went home. I am told this is quite rare and I felt very excited once again that my body was making these great nutrients for her.
I breastfed her exclusively for six months and then introduced solids. At thirteen months one morning she had a suckle and pulled off like I had pinched her (which of course I hadn’t). She screwed up her little face and tried again. The same reaction. I was stumped. That was the last time she fed at the breast, she outright refused me and I was terribly sad as she was to be my last baby.
A month later I found out I was pregnant with the twins. I am told that the taste of breastmilk changes when you become pregnant and it is common for babies to dislike the changes. It all made sense.
Because the twins were born at 27 weeks I knew it would be some time before I could feed them. Only 32 hours after my girls were born we lost one of our precious babes to heaven. Due to the intense stress and grief on my body my milk had all but dried up. I would try hand expressing every three hours and after only 2 tiny drops the tears flowed. I felt like a failure.
I knew for Lucia the only thing I could do for her was express milk so that when she was healthy enough my milk would sustain her little body with great nutrients. A premmie mum produces a different kind of milk to that of a full term mum. My milk was more creamy and thick for a long time because her little belly was so fragile.
I called in the lactation specialist and they told me to try and rest and calm down and my milk may come in. After a decent night’s sleep a few days later I was relieved to find that my breasts were starting to cooperate and finally I had enough milk to use the electric pump. Every three hours, day and night for months I expressed. I was expressing 1.5 litres of milk a day. So much that I filled the two freezers in the NICU and my own freezer at home. The lactation specialist suggested I fill my older daughters bottle with my milk so it wasn’t wasted as she had only stopped feeding five months earlier. We were shocked to see her guzzle it down and hand her bottle up to me for more.
After seven weeks of expressing I was finally able to put Lucia to my breast. She was only just over 1kg in weight at this stage and so tiny that her head was much smaller than my breast itself. She tried one suck but it was too much for her and she fell asleep. We tried this numerous times a day and after so many attempts she started sucking.
It is a great celebration when a premature baby can learn to suck, swallow and breathe all at the same time. You take these little things for granted when you have a bigger term baby. I can’t tell you how many times she would be sucking and swallowing as fast as her little body would let her but she would forget to breathe and go blue and the nurses would rush over the oxygen mask and rub her chest to make her breathe again. After these experiences I wondered if I was doing the right thing. The medical staff in the NICU were very encouraging of breastfeeding and reassured me constantly that it was the right thing to do because as she got stronger these episodes would be less.
She eventually started feeding confidently three times a day at the breast. It was shared with a tube feed and a bottle feed and a breast feed (all using breast milk) so she didn’t become too exhausted as her brain continued to grow and learn all these new requests. At ten weeks old she was going so well and I was visiting the hospital four times a da/nighty to feed her and then she just stopped. She would not suck at the breast and she would not suck a bottle but was quite happy for the tube to fill her little belly without her doing any work. It was realised that she had an oral aversion. This means that due to all the medical intervention she had enough of people shoving things in her mouth. It was near impossible for us to get her to even open her mouth.
I was crushed. This meant we would be in hospital even longer or would have to go home with a gastric tube.
We were lucky enough to have such supportive nurses. One in particular, the amazing Glynis, encouraged me to arrive early in the morning before the buzz of the hospital erupted. I would bath her and massage her and quietly sit with her on my bare chest which we had done so many times before. This is called kangaroo care. She loved it and had done it daily since she was twelve days old.
I did this routine for three days when all of a sudden she nuzzled into my breast and started feeding. I was so happy and emotional I sobbed.
From this point forward my little darling never looked back. I watched her grow, slowly, but steadily.
Finally after 87 long days in hospital we could take her home.
We did have a few hiccups along the way where she required added calories to her milk when we were at home to fatten her up a bit quicker but she managed that eventually.
I successfully fed my beautiful little miracle until she was seventeen and a half months. I had mastitis six times during that journey. One case of mastitis was so severe I ended up being rushed by ambulance to hospital with the medication I was taking to stop the mastitis attacking my liver. Not once did I ever want to stop feeding her, I feel that the bond that was created by feeding her helped me realise that she was staying with me, I could stop putting up a big wall and nurture and bond with my precious baby as I should’ve been able to earlier had her twin not been taken from us so suddenly. I felt honoured that because of our hard work together I was the main reason that she was growing into a healthy bundle of joy. I helped build her immune system, I helped protect her from germs that could be life threatening for her, I was her life line and I was proud.
On the day she decided she no longer wanted to feed I was distraught. I wanted to feed her until she was at least age two. This would’ve repulsed me when I was pregnant with my first – but I quickly realised how amazing breastfeeding is the moment my first born attached and I think any length of time you get to feed your baby is a blessing.
I believe that my daughter stopped feeding because it was her way of telling me she wanted to be more independent and be a big girl – I was definitely not ready for that.
My breastfeeding journey has had many ups and downs and I am thrilled that I got to feed my children. I am still a strong advocate for breastfeeding and the only part I have no tolerance for is the women that flat out refuse to for no apparent reason. I think that’s very sad, but we are all of course entitled to our own opinion and we choose to do what is right for us and our family at the time.
I am equally lucky that I was supported during all experiences with dedicated nurses and a supportive family who understood my need and want to feed. My husband openly tells any new dad to try and encourage the mother to feed as then they don’t have to get up through the night!!!
Many times over the years I came up against women who were “offended” by my desire to feed my babies past six months – this still amazes me that people feel they have the right to tell you they don’t like something you’re doing for your own child. I have equally come up against women who have told me that my milk wouldn’t have come in on day two because I opted out of a natural birth and I wouldn’t be able to bond with my babies.
I am happy to report that my milk always came in on day two except with the twins due to my grief when in fact it came in on day four and I have bonded with all of my babies.
Rather than judging each other and turning Breastfeeding Awareness into a them vs Us, let’s embrace and nurture each other and be supportive of everyone else decisions. Let’s remember one thing, the most important thing in life is for our children to feel loved and nurtured.
Nothing else matters.