Breastfeeding can be a beautiful yet challenging journey that is unique for every mother. It's often only when we open up and share our stories that we realise just how many other women have faced similar difficulties. From childhood dreams of motherhood to the unexpected twists and turns, this is the story of my personal breastfeeding journey.
Ever since I was a little girl I knew I wanted to be a mother. And I knew that I wanted to breastfeed. I was so confident that it was just a natural thing that would come to me and if I set myself up for success with a relaxing pregnancy and a drug-free, physiological home-birth then why would my body not be able to produce milk for my baby?
And yet I remember that day so clearly. It was day 4 of my son’s life. I called my midwife and told her that he had been sleeping all day and that he wasn’t interested in breastfeeding. She asked me how many wet nappies he’d had in the past 24 hours and I suddenly realised with horror that it had only be 1 or 2... not the 6-8 that is the telltale sign your newborn baby is getting enough milk. She told me that I needed to get my husband to go right away to the nearest chemist to buy some formula. I remember handing our baby boy to my hubby, going into the bathroom, looking at myself through black rimmed, sleep deprived eyes and thinking ‘Jessica… you have failed your baby”.
There I was thinking the introduction to formula meant the end of breastfeeding. And in my naivety thought that not breastfeeding meant I was failing as a mother. What followed was 7 weeks of lactation consultant appointments, nipple shields, receiving donor milk, buying milk from a milk bank, giving donor milk top ups through syringe feeding and line feeding, eating all the lactation cookies, drinking all the lactation tea, taking brewers yeast, taking huge doses of fenugreek and blessed thistle supplements and finally getting onto domperidone (the milk-making drug). It was the hardest thing I had ever worked for in my life. But I was so determined to continue trying that I just kept setting small goals for myself- just get to 2 months, just get to 3 months, just get to 6 months… And now 2 years later, my big, healthy toddler is still breastfeeding and I can't quite believe that we got here.
What I learned on this journey was this:
1. The Power of Support
Most people around me wanted the struggle to end and were desperate for me to surrender and give up. I 100% support a woman's decision to stop breastfeeding whenever she wants and whenever it doesn’t feel right. But I am so thankful that I had a handful of people who weren’t encouraging me to give up but instead were encouraging me to push through because they could see this was what I ultimately wanted. Find the care professionals and support team who will stand by you and say I know this is bloody hard, but I believe you can do this and I’m here to support you to make it happen.
2. Breastfeeding is Not Black and White
Breastfeeding is not black and white. You don’t have to choose breast or formula. You can mix feed. You can supplement feeds with donor milk or formula top ups. You might supplement because you don’t have enough milk to meet your baby's needs. But you also might supplement just to help look after yourself. I know friends who have chosen from the start for certain night feeds to be bottle feeds so they are able to get more sleep; Or certain feeds in the day are bottle feeds so they are able to be present for an older child’s activity that clash with that feed. There's no one perfect routine, it's about finding a balance that feels right for you and your family's health and wellbeing.
3. Persistence Pays Off
Just because breastfeeding seems impossible in the beginning doesn’t mean it won’t ever work for you. There are so many great strategies that can make a world of difference. See an amazing lactation consultant. If you really, really want to breastfeed- don’t give up. Get the right support people around you to try everything you can.
4. Educate Yourself Before the Birth
It’s worth seeing a lactation consultant even before you give birth.I was seeing a chiro during pregnancy and she suggested that I see a lactation consultant before I had the baby. I left the appointment thinking, well that’s crazy to expect I'll have issues. I wish I had listened. Everyone's nipples and breasts are different and there are specific techniques that work for different people that you can learn before you are up to your eyeballs in sleep deprivation.
5. No Right or Wrong
And the most important of all – there’s no right or wrong. It's so interesting how harshly we can judge ourselves or create expectations for ourselves that we would never place on anyone else. My advice to any woman who is navigating the decision around feeding your baby- do what is going to nourish you the most- not what you think you “should do”. If you don’t want to breastfeed, then don’t, if you really want to and it's going to take effort then put in the fight to make it happen.