When it comes to breastfeeding, no two mum’s experiences are the same. And as the birth of my third child nears, I know this time it could be different to the first and to the second. I have mixed emotions when I think about the early stages of breastfeeding. I remember how much I loved it once I conquered those horrible initial hurdles. It was such a beautiful feeling, I felt so blessed to be able to give my baby milk, it was triumphant and very satisfying. But before we figured it out, before it started to feel natural it was a nightmare and I must admit, thinking about those first few weeks to come terrify me.
I was lucky enough to breastfeed both my girls until they were 11 months old but it wasn’t easy and I completely understand why some mums cannot continue with breastfeeding. For some it comes naturally, others have to work at it, some prefer not to do it and some just can’t do it for medical or complication reasons. We are all different and so are our babies but what we all share in common is; we are not alone in our struggles.
In fact, according to a recent breastfeeding survey by Medela Australia, of 4000 mums surveyed, nine out of 10 mums experience breastfeeding challenges with 90% citing issues with milk supply and sore nipples as the most popular problems. Despite challenges, most mums persevere with breastfeeding for the health benefits to the baby but 52% say they feel pressure to continue breastfeeding – most putting pressure on themselves to breastfeed, as opposed to feeling the pressure to breastfeed from others. Don’t we know that’s true when it comes to everything we mums do; we are our worst critics!!
I am a firm believer that we must always do what works for us and for our babies. For me, breastfeeding was something I always wanted to do but there were many times in the beginning of both experiences when I came close to throwing in the towel. Times when my toes curled, I breathed through clenched teeth, my nipples were cracked and bleeding for weeks, tears streamed down my face, I screamed during overnight feeds and anxiety gripped me as feeds approached.
I got multiple bouts of mastitis and I felt frustrated I couldn’t breastfeed with ease. Sometimes I got angry, sometimes I just cried and sometimes I felt like I resented my child. It was horrible in first few weeks. But for reasons I can’t even remember now, I somehow found the will to continue, and I got lucky.
I stubbornly pushed through each painful feed, I applied nipple cream, I visited a lactation consultant on a regular basis, I tried nipple shields, gel pads, watched YouTube videos, I barely slept thinking and stressing about whether I should stop or not. Then I stressed about the stress I was causing to my baby and the whole family because I was obsessed with persevering. I became a raging lunatic. Somehow (we never actually found out why) after weeks of difficulty trying to feed Annabelle (number 1), it gradually got easier for me and for Annabelle and we continued.
The second time round with Penny I was so nervous with the same worries but I was determined to try again. Surely my nipples were tougher than last time and my boobs knew what to do? Unfortunately I hit the same hurdles early on. Only this time it was much worse. She wasn’t latching properly, I got blocked milk ducts and mastitis, she was constipated, in pain and losing weight. At the six week mark I bought bottles and formula and started to prepare to wean but as a last ditched attempt for advice I went to a lactation consultant again and asked for help one last time.
She thoroughly checked penny’s mouth and low and behold she found a lip tie. Something I had had myself as a child and perhaps could have been the reason why my mother couldn’t breast feed me (Mine was discovered at 14 years old because it was interfering with my orthodontic work). The lactation consultant recommended a dentist and two weeks later I found myself lying on my back on a dental chair with my baby strapped to my chest in my arms while a dentist burnt the skin between her top lip and gums. After the 20 second (but kind of traumatic) procedure, Penny latched properly instantly and I cried with relief in the waiting room of that dentist. We got ourselves a second chance.
After those hurdles, breastfeeding became a beautiful and easy experience for me. I grew to absolutely love it. Oxytocin ran through my veins and as the girls drank, I was producing copious amounts of milk (often accidentally spraying it all over the lounge room when they unexpectedly came off!) and as I fed them, I connected with them and felt all my stress melt away. It was the ultimate drug for me and I enjoyed it immensely until they were almost a year old and I headed back to work (plus, admittedly, I was ready to ditch the maternity bras, less than sexy breastfeeding clothing options and was keen to back on the wine with my friends!).
Now, as I enter my 36th week of pregnancy with bub number three, I’m feeling just a little bit frightened of the unknown but confident about the task ahead. I know there’s going to be challenges and I am prepared for them. I know I want to feed this baby like I did the other two and give it this liquid gold I am lucky enough to be able to produce.
But I also know that if I struggle this time and things don’t work out the way I want them to I won’t let it cause so much stress, I will seek help and I won’t put so much pressure on myself to succeed (some advice I probably need to apply to other areas in my life too). I know I’m so lucky to be able to breastfeed and I hope I can do it again, and get through any challenges I might have this time (and of course let you know how I go in another blog!).
Most importantly though, I hope by sharing my next breastfeeding journey as it unveils, that I can help empower and remind other breastfeeding mums that they are not alone, we are all mums going through similar challenges, putting the same ridiculous pressure on ourselves. We are in this together.
For breastfeeding information, education and support from Medela Australia visit www.mymedela.com.au to download their free app or head to their blog www.medelabreastfeedingblog.com.au or Instagram page, @medela_au.
Mama loves to share has written this blog in collaboration with Medela Australia but all opinions expressed in this article are 100% our own words and thoughts.