Every new mother dreams of breastfeeding her baby. Holding that sweet little bundle close to her breast, and feeling that magical connection we’ve all heard so much about. Perhaps white light shines upon them as she gaze's lovingly down to her new most-loved being. Hair falls in waves of soft locks around her smiling face and everything is simply…
Newsflash, this is often not the reality at all. Feeding can come with many of its own challenges that aren’t openly talked about. And when a mother finds herself unable, or worse yet, unwilling, to endure the struggle, she usually piles mountains of shame and guilt over the top.
I’m going to share with you the truth about my breastfeeding story. I do so in the hope that it will ease any less-than-perfect experiences you’ve had yourself (or may have in the future). It is also my intention that this story inspires you to judge mother’s less, and to support, nourish and understand them more.
I had every intention of lovingly feeding Isaac, my first born. I was almost a qualified nutritionist, and I knew that breastmilk was the only option for my child.
But holy hell did it hurt. It hurt SO freaking much. And it didn’t get better. I struggled through the first six weeks, at which time loads of my friends told me it would get better. But it wasn’t getting better, it was getting worse.
After a feed, my hubby had to take Isaac off me. Holding him against my body to burp him was so damn painful that I couldn’t bear it. I remember being in my local Coles, I was grabbing some groceries and my arm brushed over the top of my nipple. Well, over my nipple, the breastpad, the padded nursing bra, and the nursing tank top I was wearing. Still, I winced in pain and started to cry.
During a feed, I would liken the pain to someone holding a lit match about 1cm from my nipple. As the feed went on, it was like they brought it closer, and closer, until the flame was actually touching my nipple. I would sit sobbing, feeding my gorgeous baby, unable to even look at him.
I would dread every single feed. I would sit jealously watching other women feed their bubs with ease and hate that this wasn’t my reality. I would cry after Isaac had gone down at night, because I knew I had to get up and do it all again the next day (and probably throughout the night again, too). The pain – it sucked. The monotony – it was lonely and felt like groundhog day and I started to wonder if things would ever get better.
I saw different nurses and lactation consultants and they all said the same thing – the way Isaac fed was perfect. We were doing everything right. Nothing was wrong. But shit, something was wrong. I felt so numb. Like I was no longer part of the real world.
I didn’t realise just how bad it was becoming at the time, but I had developed both Post Natal Depression and Post Natal Anxiety, and I couldn’t see life getting better. If hubby was five minutes late home from work, I was almost hysterical, having catastrophised in my mind that he had been killed on the road or in a workplace accident.
Eventually I went to see my local GP. And my god, was she a lifesaver! She diagnosed me with Raynauds, a circulatory condition that usually affects the extremities. I’d had it in my hands many times before, but it can also happen in the nipple, especially when breastfeeding. I finally had an answer for what the hell was going on. I tried to continue breastfeeding, but in the end I stopped because of the toll it had already taken on my mental health.
I needed to get me back again, so I could be the mum I wanted to be.
I introduced bottle feeding and added some probiotics (which breastfed babies would normally get from breastmilk). I began to form the magical bond with my son that had been strained by holding on so tightly to breastfeeding when it wasn’t working. I was still ashamed that I wasn’t feeding and felt I had to justify my actions to other people, but I felt the fog start to lift. Those days at home with Isaac were some of my happiest.
I fell pregnant again when Isaac was only eight months old. Unplanned, of course. At first, I was so scared - how was I going to do this again?! As my second baby grew inside me, my excitement grew too. And soon enough, there I was with another newbie in my arms. This time a beautiful baby girl, Isla.
Like Isaac, my milk didn’t come in until day five again. I was a little stressed, but was also armed with knowledge and experience. I had breast warmers to wear day and night (even though it was the middle of summer). I had magnesium and omega 3 supplements, and tips from the lactation consultant in my back pocket.
I spoke with the nurses on the maternity ward, explained my situation, and asked for some formula on day two. With my previous experience, I was determined to keep my nipples intact. That meant I was NOT going to cluster feed for 5 hours straight and head home looking like they’d been attacked by a cheese grater again. I wanted to save myself a little, in the hope that it would help me continue breastfeeding longer.
I won’t forget the way I was made to feel, like I was a terrible mother and ruining my chances of breastfeeding by giving 10mls of formula. It was awful! But you know what – it was THE BEST decision I could have made. I trusted my instincts, my mothers intuition and my experience, and it saved my breastfeeding relationship with my daughter. Because she got what she needed, I got some rest, and so did my poor nips!
I went home breastfeeding and offering a small top up of formula after each feed. Sometimes Isla took it, sometimes she didn’t. I also had a home visit from a private lactation consultant (Linda Walker from Breast Success: https://www.breastsuccess.com.au) who gave me some extra tips and was an absolute angel. This time, I felt much more ready for the battle ahead.
It still hurt like hell, but as we approached the 8 week mark, things slowly started to get better. I still wouldn’t say I had the angelic breastfeeding experience that some of my friends describe. My journey was definitely a lot harder and grittier, but I got there!
After week 2, Isla was actually exclusively breastfed. (Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, nurses!). We continued until Isla was 14 months, at which time she was beyond distracted. I decided I’d achieved my goal, and we weaned.
So here I am now. I have two gorgeous toddlers in my life. My nipples are intact. Mentally, I'm back to me again. And most importantly, I have with me now a no judgement policy on motherhood.
Through my journey I learned a ton about ways to support and nourish my body during breastfeeding. You can learn more about this in my blog post Nutritional Support for Breastfeeding.