Kerryn Boogaard Kerryn Boogaard
Beverly Goldsmith Beverly Goldsmith
Zoe Bingley-Pullin Zoe Bingley-Pullin

The very breast of friends:

It’s one baby related topic on which everyone has an opinion. Science tells us it is best for our babies, and for our bodies.
By Jen Dobbie
Date: April 26 2012
Editor Rating:

It’s presented to us in antenatal classes and the press as the most incredible thing we can give to our babies; renewing the life we created with every feed.

We are told it generates an unimaginable bond between mother and child in the moment of the feed, and has been shown to result in happier, healthier, more balanced children - and even have positive physiological and physical impacts into adulthood.

Ultimately it’s what many of us see as the purest expression of our love for our new child. Immaterial of the medical and media noise, it’s certainly what nature intended. So, what happens when you’re not able to breastfeed?

Having realised I could not have full control over becoming pregnant, how my pregnancy progressed, or how I gave birth, the only thing I felt certain of before giving birth to my daughter was that I would breastfeed her. I didn’t know for how long, and I fully intended to mix breast and formula at some point, to allow more flexibility and freedom.

I knew from talking to family and friends, and from my antenatal classes, that it was not always an easy, or even pleasurable experience at the beginning. But it didn’t scare me. I’d push through, and use my body as nature intended; to provide food for my baby.

Once the morphine from the birth wore off, and I began to feel pain when I was breastfeeding, I understood. Everyone who warned me how hard it might be was right. Added to that, we were told our daughter has an unusually strong sucking reflex, so I had absolutely no margin for error latching her on.

If I got it wrong, within a couple of minutes, I’d be producing more blood than milk. It was very, very far removed from the relaxing, beautiful experience we were aiming for. It was scary; and actually quite brutal, to have a starving hungry baby desperately trying to latch, and to be in screaming agony when she did.

I am lucky enough to have an amazingly supportive husband, and to be surrounded by family and friends who all told me to simply do what felt right. But the truth is each time I said I intended to keep trying to breast feed rather than any alternative; I could see the relief in their faces.

So, we practised and practised until we got it right, and when we did, it was a gentle, lulling joy. The speed with which it went from horror to happiness was incredible. Within a few days, the two of us were wrapped in a blanket of love. The times we got it right, it was incredible to be so close to her, to be creating food for her - to be at one with my baby and my body in the way nature intended. Perhaps because I had an emergency caesarean, it felt particularly special to be able to somehow right the balance by breastfeeding her.

And then I got mastitis. Severely enough that I had a high fever and was readmitted to hospital. I ended up spending more time in hospital with mastitis than I had recovering from the emergency caesarean. It was a hideous and invasive time. Already tired, with the hormone and drug high of birth wearing off, despite the lovely staff in the ward, they were some of my darkest days. And perhaps as a result of the infection and resulting antibiotics, perhaps as a result of the mental trauma from the hospital trip, my milk started to slow. When I got home, the only option was to express, because I was too damaged to feed, even with a shield. So I expressed, and where there wasn’t enough, added a bottle of formula when it was needed.

Over the next week or so, despite expressing after every feed, my milk stopped. And in doing so, it broke my heart. I was shattered to discover that I couldn’t do this treasured thing for my little girl.

But, as with anything sent to try us, it meant I had to once again reassess my beliefs. What is the most important thing? And that’s when it all became clear. It’s not essential to breastfeed. It’s not essential to bottle feed. We become so entranced with whichever view we hold, that we can lose sight of the bigger picture. The only essentials are surely good food, much love and a warm shelter for our kids, from a mother who is healthy and happy enough to sustain those things.

I decided it was time to cut myself some slack. Immaterial of the wishes and beliefs of those I love, mine were the strongest expectations. But I realised that being a mum, especially a new mum, is extraordinarily demanding. It’s a very fragile and vulnerable time, when we question everything we thought we knew. So now, my thought is this: Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could be there to support, not judge, each other on this very personal matter. Before we even open our mouths to ask about breastfeeding, stop for a minute and think that the most likely scenario is that each mother is doing the very best they can. Which is all that can be asked of any of us. 

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Olivia Bartrip says: 2012 04 26

Excellent article, i think the most important things are that your baby gets the right nutrients, that they feel safe, and that they’re loved and nurtured. some people feel a sense of failure if they cant breastfeed and others choose not to breastfeed for personal reasons. its an individual choice, well done for trying! Sorry to hear that you were so ill xxx

Zoe says: 2012 04 26

I myself went through a lot of guilt over breast feeding , after 3 weeks of trying and failing to breastfreed , seeing and talking to various special ish and hospital staff i, it just wasn’t happening . I felt like a failure . I had so much milk but baby just wouldn’t lach on. I gave in to formual and expressed a Little till I ran out.  Finally my baby was full and happy.
We later found out that that baby was tongue tied and was unable to lach on . The pressure to breast feed was massive , mostly place on me by myself . But what is important. Is what works for baby and you .happy mother equals happy baby x

Hannah Roy says: 2012 04 26

Excellent article Jen, it took me back to the early days of breast feeding my first. I too had been warned it could be hard and had secretly thought “it’s a natural thing, how hard can it be?”. Well I found out when I had almost every breastfeeding problem under the sun. It started with a baby who wouldn’t open his mouth wide enough to latch on properly, causing horribly damaged nipples. Then when my milk came in came the worst was to come as I had really bad oversupply. My rock hard boobs lasted well beyond the initial “engorgement” stage and I found myself having to express at least 100ml at each feed before they were even soft enough for my son to latch on. Then I got mastitis as well. Horrible. It got to the point that I dreaded my son waking up as it meant I had to feed him. It was definitely affecting my relationship with him in a negative way, rather than being the positive experience I had always thought it would be. Everyone told me to stick to it, that it would get better at about the 6 week mark. So the girl who had vowed to feed my child from my breast until the 12 month mark made herself a vow.I said I would feed to the 6 week mark and if it hadn’t improved I would give up. Luckily at 5 weeks and 5 days it started to click. It certainly didn’t become amazing over night but it certainly stopped being the nightmare it had been. I still got mastitis twice again, but this time I recognized the symptoms straight away and got antibiotics before it got too bad. In the end I fed him until 19 months. I think after I got through those first horrific weeks I was reluctant to give it up! Now when anyone talks of breastfeeding during their first pregnancy I am the one warning them that it might not be easy. I never judge anyone on how they choose to feed their child. In the end all that matters is that you give them love. Whether they get their nutrients from your breast or a bottle is irrelevant. P.s. this time around its been much easier!

Mel says: 2012 04 26

I seriously can’t believe that people want to read about something so personal. Just deal with it. No need to tell the world.

Jane says: 2012 04 26

Thanks for sharing Jen. I like to hear how others have dealt with breastfeeding difficulty (which I also experienced) and know I’m not alone.

Claire says: 2012 04 27

Congratulations to Jen for talking so openly about a topic that affects just so many women! I think it’s great to share our motherhood experiences and gain strength and understanding from each and every one we read.

I also experienced breast feeding challenges soon after my daughter was born. I moved to formula early on to top up my feeds and expressed the limited milk I was producing.

It was a mentally, physically and emotionally charged time but I decided to find all the positives in the situation to maintain my motherhood happiness, general wellbeing and confidence. Ok, the skin-on-skin contact between mummy and baby was no longer going to happen but the ‘positives’ came flooding in when I reflected on the situation. I was sharing the feeding responsibilities with my partner so much more. One of my happiest memories was seeing the bonding time my partner had whilst he fed our daughter a bottle in those early days. As with every man on this planet, he was the proudest and most in-love man on these occasions. He was also so involved in helping out with those night feeds when I felt like my head would never leave the pillow.

I also appreciated being able to measure the quantity of breast milk and formula my daughter was receiving each day. I knew exactly how much she had consumed and could ensure she’d had a good feed to last through those long nights.

I’m a strong advocate for the ‘do what’s right for you & your baby’ approach, as expressed by Jen.

A wise man (my dad), once said “parents often make the mistake of not prioritising their own needs when they become new parents. In those early days, you are just as much a priority as your newborn. Babies thrive from parents who are happy, comfortable and enjoying life – never forget to look after yourself”.   

Valentina Borbone says: 2012 04 28

To Mel in above comments - if you really thought that, then why were you reading the blog in the first place?

To Jen - I wanted to call you straight away and say thank you, for your honesty and sharing your experience. I too had some problems breastfeeding both of my children and it crushed me to no end the first time around, the feeling of failure was immense and to fail the pressures of those around me was devastating. Your experience made it one step closer to be ok and normal in so many ways, that it isn’t as easy as we’d all like to expect, and we all try so hard to give our children the best of everything we have to offer.

I find so many women only talk about the beautiful things and hesitate to admit to perhaps not doing so well and not finding it at all beautiful and emotionally satisfying, so thank you for being one of those women not afraid to say it out loud and help us all accept that our outcomes are ok.

Big love for your courage.

Lucy Kelly says: 2012 05 03

Great article Jen. Through all you learn about breastfeeding prior to having your baby, not one person seems to mention how incredibly emotional a subject it is & how hard it is to have the courage to make a change if that is ultimately what is best for you & your baby. I too struggled with feeding & simply did not produce enough milk - well, not unless I fed for about 20 out of 24 hours, which of course I did for a while as I love my little girl & wanted to give her the best. Breastfeeding counsellors told me to keep going. It took a Dr to sit me down & make me see that perhaps I have another option. But my goodness how guilty I felt & how tough it was to make that decision. But I did. And I’ve never looked back. Was such the right decision. Rosie is now 9 months, so happy & thriving.

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