Fed is best

I’m not sure how to start this article or if I should write it at all. After all, breastfeeding is such a contentious subject. But here it is – I really struggled with it. I want to make it clear that I am not advocating for bottle over boob. I’m not necessarily pro-bottle. But I am pro-happy mum which equals happy baby and family so please keep this in mind if you choose to read on.

Before having Arabella, I never really cared about what people thought of me (aside from, of course, good friends and family) but after becoming a mother, and struggling with feeding, I was consumed with guilt and what people would think. Would they think I was a bad mother? Not only did I struggle with feeding (more on that later), I struggled with the guilt around it and what people would think about me if I stopped feeding.

I always intended to breastfeed but, for some reason when I was pregnant, I sensed that I was not going to find it easy. Mother’s intuition? And no one could prepare me for how hard I would find it and how upset I would become because of it. The birth was the least of my worries. As I would discover, I would take giving birth over breastfeeding any day of the week.

Right from the get-go, breastfeeding hurt. It felt like someone was slicing my nipples with glass. I spoke with nurses and friends and they all assured me that this was normal and it would get better. So I persisted, continuing to cry through the pain of every feed, hoping it would get better.

It wasn’t only the pain that made it difficult, there were logistics to deal with too. Having double HH breasts added another level of complexity. I needed to wrap a tea towel under my breasts to lift them up, have a breast-feeding pillow attached to me and use nipple shields because Arabella found it hard to breathe while she was feeding (these also helped a little bit with my cracked nipples).

After two weeks it still wasn’t getting any better. I would speak to my friends who would tell me that, “Yes it’s hard and it hurts but it does get easier. Just keep pushing through it”. As you will remember from my last article, in those first few weeks I felt good body wise and in regards to my energy levels, but I was seriously struggling to LOVE breastfeeding. I couldn’t understand why I found what was meant to be the most natural thing between a mum and baby so unnatural for me.

It made me sad. I thought I was weak. I told myself to keep going, after all, everyone else did. But then I started to get angry too. Why didn’t anyone warn me how difficult this could potentially be? Why doesn’t anyone talk about it? Is it OK for me to quit? Will people think I am a bad mum? These thoughts coursed through my mind. It was tough.

But now I realise why no one talked about it, why no one voiced their struggles with feeding. It was the same reason I wasn’t talking about it. We’re afraid of being judged. And when you are a new mother, sensitive and perhaps (OK probably) tired, you feel that judgement tenfold. It was one of the most surprising things I found about being a mum. The judgement. Everyone has an opinion and it’s hard not to feel judged. But as soon as I had Bella, the two same questions kept popping up.

  1. Did you have a natural birth?
  2. Are you breastfeeding?

I would think to myself, ‘Why does that even matter to you? Why aren’t you asking me how I am doing? Is your baby healthy?’ It doesn’t matter how the baby came out or how it is being fed as long as mum is healthy and the baby is feeding. I certainly altered my behaviour towards other new mums and the questions I would ask them.

Three weeks in, I would cry before I had to feed. I felt awful from both the pain and the guilt. I thought, ‘This is supposed to make me bond with my baby,’ but instead it was making me feel the opposite.

Then I suffered from a serious case of mastitis. Now folks, this ain’t no laughing matter. At the risk of sounding dramatic, I thought I was dying. I was shivering, then sweating with the worst fever I have ever had. If you have never had mastitis before, picture your worst cold/flu symptoms and double it.  Mum had to carry me to the shower to get some hot water into my chilled bones at one point. I was too far gone to do the old cabbage on the boobs or a bit of panadol to relieve the pain, I needed the doctor to come to the house and give the antibiotics which revived me surprisingly quickly.

So what next? I thought I’d start pumping. This was a good solution I told myself. I would pump a bit, then breastfeed a couple of times a day. But I wasn’t thinking properly. I didn’t realise what this would mean long-term. When I wasn’t feeding, I was pumping and when I wasn’t pumping, I was feeding. I was chained to the couch all day. I was a virtual dairy cow.  It was really isolating. I would spend days and days at the farm and not leave the house. It was a lonely time.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and I was a wreck. It was at about week seven and it all hit me. I was exhausted, both physically and emotionally. The adrenaline had worn off and I just wasn’t coping. I felt insecure as a mother and I now realise it was the breastfeeding that was making me feel this way. I kept asking myself, ‘Why isn’t this getting any easier?’ And with every new bit of advice from well-meaning friends and family, I felt more and more like a failure. And even though Bella was now starting to not latch onto my nipple, I persisted.

I had two lactation consultants visit the farm. They both explained that she was becoming lazy because she was drinking more than half of her feeds through a bottle. So when I would put her onto my breast she had to work harder than she did with the bottle and she didn’t want a bar of it. This was another blow. I thought I was so stupid to even have started this method. Now she won’t take my boob.

After many tries we got her latching on again. The only way this would happen was for her to be lying down and me hovering over her placing my boob into her mouth. Crazy right? It was so awkward and uncomfortable. I asked my consultant how I was meant to do this when I left the house (mind you I was barely leaving the house at this stage). She told me I could put my car seat down and hover over her in the car. I cried.

One more case of mastitis and I was done. DONE. I had a great woman in my life who recognised early signs of depression in me. I wasn’t suffering from depression but I was headed that way. She told me to put the pump down, put your breast away and just feed your baby with formula and a bottle. A weight had been lifted. Suddenly life was brighter. Tom could help. I was happier. Arabella was happier. Everyone was happier.

It was a big decision and one I didn’t take lightly, but it was my decision and it worked for me. I stopped listening to other people and worrying about what they thought. My only concern was what worked for my family. And you know what? I immediately felt stronger and more confident as a mum. It was a game changer.

As I mentioned earlier, I want to make it clear that I am not advocating for bottle over breast. But I will say it again, I am pro-happy mum which equals happy baby and family.

I would have loved to have breastfed Bella for longer but it didn’t work for me and I am OK with that. I see a healthy, happy baby in front of me and I know I am good mum. Next time I will try breastfeeding again and I really hope it works and that I’ll love it but if it doesn’t and I don’t, I am OK with that. I would advise any other new mother to think the same way. I hope sharing my experience with you will empower you to make the right decision for yourself.

Let’s take the judgement out of this conversation. Let’s talk about these issues and let’s support new mums to find solutions that work for them. Not what society thinks should work for them. And let’s just enjoy this time with our little bubs, which is so precious.

Written By Emma Hawkins.

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