On breastfeeding

Way back when I was younger and ignorant, I didn’t want to breastfeed. I thought it was an odd thing to do. You can simply blame that I was in my early twenties and deeply stupid.

When Hubs and I started to talk about starting a family, (although we thought we were a family with just the two of us, apparently this is not true until you have a baby), I decided I wanted to be as informed about pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding as much as possible. I’m apologising in advance, I’m going to have to blow my own trumpet a bit here, I’m sorry.

I’ve got an uncanny ability to retain information. Mostly useless, I’m good on quiz teams for things like the flagship of the English Navy (The Victory), or Colin Firth films but occasionally I will surprise, even startle, myself at what I’ve managed to retain from studying at the school of life. Pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding being subjects I seem to have absorbed by osmosis through TV, college and the births of friends’ children. I’ve written before about how some of the ladies in our ante-natal classes didn’t seem to have a clue, not knowing what vernix or meconium was, or the different stages of labour. Me being me, brought lots of books to arm myself with as much information as I could retain about how newborn babies work. I’ve got a stack of them on the coffee table that I dip into when I need to, all marked up and flagged with post-it flashes. When I’d finished going through them, Hubs then dipped into them reading the highlights, asking me questions and reading up on things for him.

My main reason? I am on my own with our son for around 11 hours a day. While I’m endlessly tweeting (sorry about that folks), and I’ve got a great bunch of friends with my Yummy Mummies from the Maternal Child Health Nurse centre, and am in a forum with 12 other ladies, due to emigrating from the UK to Australia, I don’t have that village around me it takes to raise a child. I wanted the baseline of knowledge somewhere in me to stand me in good stead for when he’s screeching and there is only me to calm him down.

Mostly it’s worked. We’ve only called for help once, and that was after seven hours of solid crying. There are also days when I will give him to Hubs as soon as he’s walked in the door, because I just cannot hold him any longer. I love Peanut dearly, but he is in my personal space for the majority of the day, it’s a lot of closeness and sometimes, it drains you.

It’s one of the things they do not tell you about being a new Mama. That the cycle of care is unrelenting. You can’t not change his bum, because you don’t feel like it. You can’t not respond to his crying, because you don’t feel like it. You made the choice to have a child, you now have to step up and look after him. Look after everything. From bathing to cutting fingernails, from feeding to poopslopsions, from washing his clothes to keeping his room and the house clean. It does not stop. You do not stop. I was ironing at 9:30 one night, because that was the only time I’d had to frickin do it.

But there is one time I get to sit down. Watch a bit of TV. Or read. Or just enjoy my little man, it’s when I feed him. A feed can take between 8 to 30 minutes. I’ve fed in cafes; in Federation Square while we *Yelled for Cadel*; at a school sports day; at my brother in laws house; in various parents rooms in shopping centres, some more salubrious than others. Us girls in the forum have also agreed not to cover ourselves up any more, we’re a 13 woman mission to bring feeding out into the open, particularly when one said that her cousin’s children had no idea babies were supposed to be fed from a boob, as oppose to a bottle.

Breastfeeding and breast milk is amazing stuff, it can contain over 400 different ingredients. When I smother his chubby cheeks in kisses, it tells my body what my boobs need to give him. When I’m feeling run down and poorly, my white blood cells flood his system to protect him too. As he grows and changes my body’s chemicals automatically change and adapt to him. He’ll feed more often and longer when he needs my supply increased during a growth spurt. It is a wonderful, fantastically amazing process that I’m in awe of.

I am fully aware that there are women who simply can’t breastfeed. I was lucky, I stayed in hospital for five days after I had him, so came out with feeding established. We paid a lot to have private medical care, but it was invaluable. Imagine if I’d been sent home on day 3, just as my milk was coming in and I didn’t have a midwife who could stay with me for 20 minutes in the middle of the night to help him latch on? Or help me through the cluster feeds when he expanded his tummy from the size of a marble?

I’m also fully aware that there are women who don’t want to breastfeed, full stop. I’m not one to bang on about it and make you feel guilty. You do what is right for you. But I am one to bang on about the perpetuating misnomer that formula is better for your baby, when the World Health Organisation say this is the order they want you to feed:

1. Your breastmilk, from the breast. 2. Your breastmilk, expressed, from the bottle. 3. Another woman’s breastmilk. 4. Formula.

Yup, at the back end of the list. But that doesn’t stop formula companies pushing it as an easy alternative, and paediatricians wanting us to supplement breastfeeding to get him sleeping through the night…

I find the formula companies and paediatricians more infuriating than anything else. Particularly when I got told at his six week check by the paed that I was feeding him too much, I had to cut it down to every four hours. Well, I don’t eat and drink every four hours, I graze all day, drink all day. And six months down the line with at least one solid food meal a day, he still is on the boob about every 3 hours. Simply because he’s hungry or thirsty. Have you tried entertaining a screeching baby who’s thirsty or hungry, because the clock is telling you it’s the wrong time to feed them? I can only assume the paediatrician hadn’t, because he wouldn’t have suggested it.

I was also told to offer Archie both boobs at every feed, but then I was cleaning up vomit after every feed, because his tummy doesn’t hold that much. I can tell when he needs both boobs, and it ain’t that often. I can tell you this because we’ve been practicing. For six months and thirteen days, Archie has been exclusively breastfed, he’s thriving with fat rolls, a happy grin and lots of giggles. Because while I’m breastfeeding him, we are also raising him trusting our instincts with what is right.

He’s a happy, social, chatty baby who will go to anyone, play happily on his own at our feet, or in his bouncer, or play with our faces standing up on our legs, making deep eye contact as he gurgles at us. He’s not been left to cry it out to get him to sleep through the night, because babies have been taught that if they cry, no-one will respond, so they may as well sleep. He will sleep through when he’s good and ready, until then, we’ll muddle through, although his pattern allows me three to four hour blocks where I can sleep at night. And because I’m breastfeeding, I have to grab a dressing gown, stagger to his room, sit in a reclining chair, feed him, stagger back and within 10 minutes I’m asleep again. I don’t have to heat a bottle up, or if I’ve forgotten, make a bottle up. Yay for boobies!

Pregnant first time mamas to be, give it a go, you might surprise yourself. But you do need a support network to help you through the first couple of weeks, so don’t be in a hurry to get out of hospital, unless you have someone who can show you how to feed when your milk comes in. All the baby knows is how to suck, they need practice, and so do you. And believe me, those first two to three weeks are HELLISH as you both muddle through trying to figure it out. There are also great videos online that help with latches too. Push on through if you can, go on.

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