Every mother’s breastfeeding journey is unique and fraught with its own set of challenges. For some, it’s as easy as breathing while for others, it’s a constant uphill battle. Some don’t end up breastfeeding at all and some just get by. Let me confess what my breastfeeding journey was like.
It all started when just an hour or so after my c-section, the nurse brought my first born to me and said,
‘Feed your baby.’
It took a fair bit of time for me to even digest those words. I had barely come to terms with the fact that they had just ripped my abdomen apart and pulled this little being out, and now I was supposed to be producing milk for it, akin to a cow.
I could even hear a cow mooing somewhere at the back of my head, I kid you not.
Now, you might already have started actively judging me by this point. But that’s ok because I’m here to tell you, quite candidly, what my breastfeeding journey was like. I was a clueless 27 year old, looking at my son in my arms, trying to figure out how exactly I should carry a newborn, let alone feed it.
Another part of me was wondering why I did not feel those overwhelming emotions that I was supposed to feel the moment I met my child for the first time. I mean, yes, I was incredibly happy that I had just become a mother but no, I wasn’t feeling my heart swelling and my eyes brimming with tears of joy.
Don’t get me wrong. I was truly excited about becoming a mother. I had wanted my son with all my heart but somehow, I just wasn’t one of those mothers who read up extensively about pregnancy and how to go about being a mom. So I took things as they came, one step at a time.
I was completely clueless about breastfeeding. It wasn’t something I had thought about at all.
I was clueless about how to go about breastfeeding!
And I want you to know that not everyone has their breastfeeding journey all planned out. If you’re anything like me, and don’t have so much as an inkling about breastfeeding, that’s fine.
I mean yes, it is a good idea to be a little bit more informed and have things planned but I assure you that even if you don’t, you will get by. And if you do, remember that it doesn’t necessarily mean that everything will go according to your plan.
Ok, let’s get back to my breastfeeding journey. I was trying to get the hang of carrying my son, and I found it almost hilarious how he was bobbing his head from side to side trying to latch on. It was starting to look really cute and while I was trying to capture those moments to store in my heart for the rest of my life, someone barged in, drew the curtain and asked, “Do you know how to feed your baby?”
I was mortified really. I mean, there I was, with my boob hanging out, with an infant trying to stuff my nipple in his mouth, and my boob to his face size was largely out of proportion and in all of this, someone just walked in and was staring straight at me in a state of undress!
And no, it wasn’t a nurse! It was a relative with the audacity to just walk in on me when I was trying to breastfeed my child for the first time.
It didn’t end there. I had a whole lot of people visiting me. Yes, it was thoughtful of them and I appreciated their concern. But what I didn’t appreciate was everyone walking in and trying to force my breastfeeding journey into the fast lane.
I really didn’t enjoy people walking in on me when my breast was in full view!
What I did not appreciate was people, who weren’t even mothers, telling me what I should and should not do.
I certainly did not appreciate everyone having a full view of my boob as and when they pleased. I respected my privacy and expected that they did the same!
At some point I felt that I had enough. I called for the nurse and told her to bottle feed my son.
Just give him formula milk. I’ll breastfeed him when I get home.
I know that the nurses disapproved. I did end up feeding him a little bit, but for the most part of the 3-day hospital stay, he was formula fed.
When I returned home, I tried to resume my breastfeeding journey, which I had temporarily halted. It didn’t seem that impossible, my son was latching on like a champ, and I felt triumphant that I was finally getting the hang of things.
But alas, I didn’t feel that way for long. Soon enough came the infamous episodes of nursing for what felt like an eternity, only to have the baby crying when he was put down. Predictably, I became frustrated. I started wondering if I was producing enough milk.
It didn’t help that the people around me kept telling me that my son was crying because I wasn’t giving him enough milk.
I felt rather disconcerted that he kept crying and that I hadn’t the slightest clue how much milk he was taking in. Then it occurred to me that maybe if I expressed the milk, I would be able to keep track of things and get the feedings more organised.
Along came the pump and I started expressing milk. I hated expressing milk. It was tedious and boring and made me truly feel like a cow. Moo to that!
Knowing how much milk I was producing made me feel a little more at ease.
On the other hand, the fact that my milk supply was anything but low was comforting. I seemed to have milk flowing in abundance and I started to bottle feed my son the expressed milk, and felt more settled knowing how much he was taking in each time.
But that didn’t stop him from crying, especially at night. Little did I know that this was normal, and did not necessarily mean that the baby was hungry! And Google gave me a myriad of conflicting information.
It didn’t take long for opinions to get in the way, as they always do. The people around me constantly tried to convince me that my son was crying because he was hungry. They told me that I wasn’t feeding him enough and that if I wanted him to sleep well at night, I should formula feed him. I tried reading up but it was beyond my ability to discern the right information.
I introduced formula milk and I guess that marked the beginning of my breastfeeding journey going downhill. Soon, I noticed that the formula feeds started getting more frequent. When he woke up in the middle of the night I would try to latch him on, but no amount of latching seemed to satisfy him for the moment I put my son down, he started bawling.
I called in a lactation consultant, not once, but twice, to check if I was doing things right and if my milk supply was sufficient. She kept reassuring me that my milk supply was plentiful. I couldn’t for the life of me fathom why I could not satisfy my son.
Maybe he had just gotten too used to formula milk, and I only had myself to blame.
Formula milk seemed to have taken over my breastfeeding journey.
This went on for a bit and the final deal breaker came when I returned to work. At that point in time, there was absolutely no one who was expressing milk at my workplace, and the idea, to me at least, was unprecedented. I never expressed milk at work. You can only imagine what havoc that would have wreaked on my milk supply.
To make matters worse, my son stayed with my parents and I would visit him after work before heading home. He only stayed with me over the weekends. I can safely say that just about shy of 5 months, my breastfeeding journey became history.
In hindsight – I wish I had known a little better and I had tried a little harder but I don’t beat myself up over it. I did what I could and that worked. My child was happy and healthy. In fact, he was thriving. I was happy. I was sane. And that’s all that matters.
I guess that no one’s perfect, and especially when we first become a mother, we have a lot to learn. I learnt what I had to about breastfeeding and managed to successfully breastfeed my second child. It’s been over two years, and the next breastfeeding journey came with a completely different set of challenges. But I’m glad to say that we pulled through, and currently I’m tandem nursing my second child and my four-month-old baby.
I guess I came a long way from not wanting to breastfeed to tandem nursing!
As for my first boy, every now and then I look at him and a tiny part of me wishes that I had breastfed him a little bit longer. Nevertheless, we are incredibly close, and I’ll always consider our breastfeeding journey as one that was beautifully imperfect. It may not have lasted long but I am proud of it!
So to all mums who are struggling with breastfeeding, do your best but only do what you can. Breastfeed as much as you can for as long as you can. But if things get a little much for you, don’t ever feel any less about yourself. And don’t forget to treasure every moment of your breastfeeding journey however long or short!