To celebrate World Breastfeeding Week (August 1st – 7th) I thought that I would share my personal experience of breastfeeding my son. I consider myself fortunate enough to have been able to breastfeed him until he turned 20 months old. However this does not mean that it was easy or intentionally planned that way. Below you will find a brief summary of my story followed by some additional thoughts and experiences on certain topics that I encountered.
Those first few days were a beautiful time and then came the pain and the mastitis. I’m not going to lie – those first few weeks are painful. I continued on and eventually it all became a bit easier. The first six months were probably the hardest (although filled with loving moments), the next six felt much more settled and routine and the last eight months were a long journey of weaning, growing up and letting go. And after that last beautiful feed two days later I had a painful lump of blocked milk that took 24 hours to clear – a true representation of my time breastfeeding. So what else did I encounter……?
Mastitis and other pains:
Oh, the pain of mastitis. This was a huge issue for me as I had mastitis four times in four months, two of those requiring hospital stays. The first one was the most severe and I was admitted to hospital when my boy was only 10 days old for four nights. Thankfully he was allowed to stay with me and stayed with me again when I was admitted for two nights when he was four months old. For me the effects of mastitis happened very quickly and often the telltale red rash didn’t appear until much later. My recommendation is to get to a doctor as soon as possible if you suspect mastitis and to utilise the Australian Breastfeeding Association helpline or website for tips and advice – you can find them here.
I continued to have painful lumps throughout my breastfeeding journey, on and off. I also had multiple cases of nipple damage. We appeared to be in a cycle where we would feed beautifully for weeks, have a “bad” feed resulting in damage and then a week of healing before returning to “good” feeds. I had his latch checked and was observed several times and never got any answers as to why this was happening. I personally used hydro-gel discs when it was really bad and in the first few months I also used a shield due to the damage done at the start. Many times it was suggested that it was ok to stop breastfeeding and many times I set a date in my mind and then something else would inspire me to keep going.
“Excuse me, why are you talking about formula in a breastfeeding post”, I hear you ask. Formula made a brief appearance early on to help supplement his feeds during my first time of mastitis and to let my breasts heal. They were so damaged (and he was ingesting my blood each feed) so it was recommended I pump for a couple of days however I could never get out enough to fill his belly. I cried and felt like a failure however without this use of formula I may have found myself in a position where I had to quit breastfeeding completely. Thankfully I was able to return to exclusive breastfeeding soon after. I now know that I hadn’t failed, I had done exactly what was best for my baby who was kept healthy and fed. To any Mother out there who has had to use formula (even exclusively) – well done for doing the best for your baby.
Other people judging
I spent a lot of time worrying that someone would say something whenever I breastfed my baby in public. I would practice comebacks in my head. They never did say anything although I got the occasional look. Similarly if I used a bottle in public (even if it had breast milk in it) I would worry about judgement. It was a waste of time. If you receive any just ignore them (oh easier said than done, I know). Once my baby turned one I started to get a few comments when I mentioned that I was still breastfeeding (“oh but isn’t he one now?”) that made myself a bit uncomfortable and I would find myself explaining that all my problems with mastitis meant that I had to wean slowly. I found myself justifying it and while that was one of the reasons another was quite simply that neither of us was quite ready to let go of that bond. I later discovered that the World Health Organization recommends “continued breastfeeding up to 2 years of age or beyond” so remember that the next time somebody asks why you are still breastfeeding once your child turns one.
Teething and biting
At six months old my baby got his first tooth and I cried thinking our breastfeeding days would be numbered. Wrong! Some research assured me that with the correct latch he shouldn’t be able to bite down. We continued on as normal. Around 11 months he started to let go and then bite and I would just end the feed and put him in his cot. Sometimes he went to sleep and other times he got upset and we would re-start the feed with no problems. He stopped the biting and only started doing it again towards the end. Some nights he wouldn’t let go and I’d have to distract him with something else so he would stop. I knew that our days were numbered and thankfully our last feed was a beautiful one, no bites, no pain!
At 12 months old my boy was having four feeds in 24 hours (first thing in the morning, mid-morning, mid-afternoon and bedtime). The first feed to go was the afternoon one thanks to my return to part-time work. This took a few weeks to completely stop and as a consequence his sleeps moved to just the one, longer day sleep. I could have moved straight into dropping the next feed however I was missing him and he would still snuggle in looking for it so I waited a bit. Eventually we dropped the mid morning feed and then dropped the morning feed as he had a healthy appetite for food. I spent about six weeks dropping the final night feed, which at first required some help from my husband to get him to sleep as he wouldn’t sleep if I was nearby (he would try get my milk). Generally I would skip a feed, then feed three in a row, then skip. I would then spend some time working my way down until we were feeding on alternate nights. I would then start building the amount of nights we went without a feed, until I was only feeding occasionally. I had to do this as I was dealing with a lot of blockages and pain whenever I went too quickly. Pumping just did not work for me at all in those last months. I know some women have just completely stopped within two weeks. My body never gave me that option and in hindsight I’m really thankful for all those extra moments.
Benefits and that beautiful connection
I originally wasn’t too sure how I felt about breastfeeding, I just knew it had a lot of benefits and that I would try my best. I had no idea just how strong of a connection I would experience by feeding my little boy, the hours spent watching his face, how he would calm and drift off to sleep, how later on he would catch my eye and grin as he fed or how he would make funny noises as he drank away. I am so thankful that we had such a good connection in those first few days (even with the pain that followed) as I probably would have quit at that first experience of mastitis if we didn’t.
When he was five months old I caught a cold and was so worried that he was now going to get sick. He didn’t and the local Child and Youth nurse told me it was because I was breastfeeding – that was motivation to keep going! Obviously it doesn’t quite help when he catches something from someone else but over the months he was hardly ever sick at the same time as me – unless I had caught something from him. Being able to provide him comfort and provide him with his nutrition was also a lovely reassuring benefit.
A quick read on the World Health Organization’s website led me to find that breastfeeding can also provide protection against “gastrointestinal and other infections” in babies as well as being “an important source of energy and nutrients in children”. It also stated that “longer durations of breastfeeding also contribute to the health and well-being of mothers: it reduces the risk of ovarian and breast cancer.” There are many additional benefits to breast milk and you can read more on the W.H.O website here.
Tell me yours…
If you can believe it that is my shortened breastfeeding story. Breastfeeding is a highly personal experience and we all have our differences. Please feel free to leave your stories below in the comments or any questions you may have.