As a long-term breastfeeding mum, many people assume that breastfeeding came naturally to me. It so didn’t.
My eldest daughter, Kaitlyn was a terrible feeder. She just would not open her mouth wide enough to take the nipple in. She was like
a gold fish. Some people said it was because her mouth was too small to open properly. My midwife visited me at home every
day to try and help improve her attachment on the breast. I even saw lactation consultants. I was a member of the Australian Breastfeeding Association and would often seek the support of the local breastfeeding counselor who ran our meetings. But all this didn’t make any difference.
Pushing through the pain
I was determined to breastfeed her for at least a year, as this is what all the research at the time suggested would be best. But it was so hard! I would sit on the lounge and curl up my toes in pain. I would clench my fists and had finger nail marks on the inside of my palms. I had constantly cracked nipples which developed into staph infections on a couple of occasions. My mother-in-law could see how painful it was as the tears rolled down my cheeks. I would confide in her that I thought my baby would grow up thinking I didn’t like her, as I couldn’t look down at her while I was feeding and smile. It just hurt so bad.
Then we both got thrush! Kaitlyn’s tongue was white from it and it was in my nipple. I was planning to go back to work from my maternity leave at 6 months and my husband was going to be the primary carer during the day, so we decided to try expressing and giving her a bottle of expressed breast milk so she would get used to it. I remember the first time we tried this she was 3 months old and it was on Christmas Day, so I could have a glass of wine. However, sure enough, she would not take the bottle. So, I just had to give the glass of wine a miss. Over that next year she would rarely take the bottle of expressed milk. Instead, she would wait for me to get home from work and then constantly feed throughout the night ‘til I went to work the next morning. I was exhausted on a daily basis.
Time to give up?
Lots of people told me that I had given it my best shot and that for some women it just doesn’t work. They suggested I just give up, but I really am a determined person and when I set my mind on something I give it my all. When Kaitlyn was about a year old we went on a family holiday to New Zealand. I don’t know what changed, but on that trip, it was like a light bulb went off in Kaitlyn’s head and she worked out that if she opened her mouth and got as much of the breast in there as possible she would get a lot more milk. I went from constant feeding throughout the night and even the day if I was home, even though she was now on solids, to feeding about 10 times a day. It was such a huge change. I felt normal finally. Whatever normal is!
I continued to feed Kaitlyn until her third birthday, when I explained to her that it was now time to stop her ‘side’. She called it side because I would ask her if she wanted the other ‘side’. This came in handy as we traveled overseas as people thought she was asking to go outside, rather than to be fed. So I would simply take her outside and feed her. I prepared her a few weeks in advance by telling her it was going to happen on her third birthday. I fed her for the last time the night of her third birthday, which was sad, but as I was co-feeding her 6 month-old sister at the time, it was something I needed to do. I would feed Tiegan, my youngest daughter, first and often throughout the day. Kaitlyn was really just comfort-feeding at this stage and liked to feed when going to sleep.
Getting my body back
After I stopped feeding Kaitlyn I would lie with her until she went to sleep to comfort her. She would still occasionally ask for it, especially if she saw me naked. She would look like a kid in a candy shop, wanting mummy milk again. There’s no doubt about it, it can be hard being a long-term breastfeeder. I know for me, it got to the stage where I wanted my breasts and my body back. I made a commitment to feed my youngest until she was 3, so she got the same benefits as her older sister. Tiegan was a great feeder right from day 1. I only ever had a cracked nipple once with her. I even fed her on just one side for a year as it seemed to be her preferred side and I still had some damage to one of my nipples. My midwife suggested this and at first I was horrified, thinking that one breast would be bigger than the other, but it wasn’t. No one else could tell.
So on the night of her third birthday I fed Tiegan for the very last time. No more ‘Milky’. We had even taught her sign language for milky before she could speak, so she did both the actions and the words for a few years. Five and a half years of making milk and feeling like you are a cow is definitely an achievement. I have some beautiful friends who have breastfed for longer and my hat truly goes off to them. I kept my subscription going with the Australian Breastfeeding Association for nearly a year after this and continue to buy their raffle tickets every year, as I really value the support and friendships I gained from my time with them.
Why it’s all worth it
Breastfeeding is such a beautiful way to bond with your baby and it has so many amazing benefits for them, from immune support to jaw development. There is even research about how good it is for brain development and of course, attachment. My girls are amazing eaters and I believe a lot of this is because they developed the taste for all different kinds of foods in the breastmilk. I often see mums-to-be in Facebook groups saying that they would like to breastfeed, but if they can’t, then they won’t beat themselves up about it. Not everyone is going to be as determined as me and I accept other mothers’ rights to choose what is right for them and their own babies. I feel that half the challenge is believing that you can, rather than even considering that you won’t be able to. But I want to encourage you to really give breastfeeding a go. I believe you can do this. You’ve got this, girl!!!
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If you are in Australia and need support on your Breastfeeding journey please contact the Australian Breastfeeding Association as they are there to help you. Phone: 1800 686 268 or go to their website www.breastfeeding.asn.au