Moms' stories: Diary of a breastfeeding mother
I always planned to breastfeed my children. My two sisters fed theirs. Even my mother, who started having children in the mid-1960s, fed hers.
And my mother-in-law did too, as did her own mother. In addition to this, I was a journalist and editor working for a magazine for mums-to-be and had been writing about the benefits of breastfeeding for years before I gave birth to my first child in 2005.
I thought I had it sussed. Any doctor or midwife who asked me if I intended to breastfeed was met with a resounding “yes” and a smug grin of someone who, of course, wouldn’t think otherwise.
When I gave birth to my son, he didn’t latch on straight after delivery, as I had planned. Nor did he take a feed when I got to the postnatal ward. I was assured this was normal and after a sleep, we could both try again. Still no joy. Finally, on the next try, he latched on. And fed for a few minutes. By the end of the following day, I finally thought things were in proper working order. Midwives would enter my room and I would assure them all was fine. On day three, he was weighed before his bath. Now, I must point out here that there was a miscalculation in his recorded weight – which was discovered much later – but because it was believed he had a severe drop in weight, he was given formula and his electrolytes were tested (to their confusion, his electrolytes were normal). Because of this panic, the hospital breastfeeding co-ordinator was assigned to visit me before I was discharged the next day. She was a dream. Her soothing voice and reassuring words put me at ease and I felt empowered to go home and feed my little man the way I intended.
"Every baby is different. And things don’t always go according to plan. The only thing we can do is go with the flow..."
Still, he’d feed for half an hour on each side and I didn’t feel he was taking in all that much. My sisters kindly gave me a high-quality breast pump and I expressed after every feed. I topped up each feed with – the breastfeeding co-ordinator’s tip – just 10ml of expressed milk to ensure he was gaining enough weight and I started freezing any left over (you should have seen my freezer). My little guy happily switched from bottle to breast, and back to bottle. But he just didn’t seem like a strong feeder. And I was in a lot of discomfort – cracked, bleeding nipples became all too common and before they had a chance to heal, it was time to feed again. I remember thinking – and voicing this to loved ones – if I didn’t really want this, I could see myself giving up and giving into the bottle. But I did really want this – and so, cracked nipples and all – I persevered.
The public health nurse each week pointed out that he wasn’t gaining weight the way he should. But I still kept at it. It wasn’t until we went on holidays (he was eleven weeks old) – it must have been the heat, or the sunshine, but he finally got very hungry. He fed day and night (my mother kept passing me on the couch wondering if he would ever stop). I was delighted. And couldn’t wait to bring him into the nurse’s office on my return for a weight check. She couldn’t believe the scales! I was bursting with pride, but mostly thrilled we got there and he was healthy and happy.
I kept feeding him ’til his first birthday. Over a year later, when he was two, I noticed something about his mouth (I can’t remember whether he was laughing, crying or eating) … his frenulum (the bit of skin that attaches from the bottom of one’s tongue to the base of the mouth) seemed very tight. I pointed it out to my GP and he confirmed it – my little boy was tongue-tied. No one noticed it before and so it was never diagnosed as being a cause for the difficulties he had in feeding at the beginning. Years later – when he was six – we had it removed through laser treatment (he felt no pain and missed only one day of school in addition to the surgery date – this was a huge relief, as my husband and I were torn as to whether to go through with it).
My son is very healthy to this day. And we have a very close bond. I am grateful to myself and all others who supported me through the difficult weeks in order that I could fulfill my plan to feed my baby.
My second-born – a daughter – came three years after the first. She latched on in the delivery room (and refused to let go that whole first night!). She wouldn’t even take a bottle (expressed or otherwise) ’til she was nine months old. Every baby is different. And things don’t always go according to plan. The only thing we can do is go with the flow (excuse the pun). Just relax, do your best, and be grateful for every moment you have with your little one. Breastfeeding should be a joyous experience (but it’s no picnic either, at least not at first – but that will soon pass).
My advice to anyone wondering whether or not they should breastfeed is to keep an open mind, and give it a try. It is so worth doing.