I am a breastfeeding champion! Well, I thought I was when I had my son, but things have been a little different with my daughter. In recognition of World Breastfeeding Week and in support of normalising breastfeeding, here’s my experience with being a 24/7 milk bar.
When I was 21 weeks pregnant with Boy Wonder I started leaking colostrum. From then on I had to wear nursing pads day and night, which was kind of annoying, but it was at that point that I figured that I would probably have a pretty good milk supply. And that’s an understatement! After he was born, I brought Boy Wonder up onto my chest and he latched on perfectly. He stayed there sucking for a good forty minutes. I looked up at Informed Papa and queried him about when I should change sides, as if he would know! I then switched him over and he kept sucking away happily. I don’t remember any day or moment when my milk came in, and was confused when people kept asking if it had happened. I do remember that those first few weeks were incredibly painful, and breastfeeding felt like I had razor blades pushing into my breasts.
Boy Wonder fed every 2-3 hours for many months… until he was well established on solids. He did drop a night feed some time before then, and I remember crying about it and thinking that he was growing up and didn’t need me anymore. On my first night home from hospital he fed hourly. Alllll night. It wiped me out completely, but I knew it was normal in helping establish my supply. Not that I needed any help.
I remember every time I had a shower just standing there and watching the milk pour out. Then I would step out to dry myself and have to be super quick putting on my bra and nursing pad before I made another big mess. There were quite a few nights in those early months where I got so full and engorged that I would up in the middle of the night expressing just to get some relief. I could pump 200mL in 8 minutes or less. I also made quite a mess of the walls in our room, our bed, various furniture etc. as my milk would shoot out for metres when Boy Wonder would unlatch. I wore nursing pads day and night for over seven months, at which point I started just wearing them in the day. In the first three months I also wore some gel cooling pads to help ease some of the pain. It felt heavenly to put them on and I’m sure they are the reason I never experienced cracking or bleeding.
I found with both my children that I couldn’t eat chocolate. They would both scream their little lungs out following the next couple of feeds, and it just was not worth it. People tried to tell me that this would only last until 12 weeks when a baby’s digestive system was a little more mature. I tried a number of times to have a little nibble of chocolate and always had negative reactions up until around the 7 month mark with both kiddies.
With Boy Wonder I loved breastfeeding. I loved everything about it (except the pain and discomfort from sitting down on hard chairs so often). I did get a bit of back, neck and shoulder pain which I am still working on fixing, and I found using a special breastfeeding pillow in the first few months was useful (I used the My Brest Friend pillow which has lumbar support).
Is there anything more lovely than a milk drunk baby? When Boy Wonder was two weeks old he got a little cold, and sure enough my body created the antibodies he needed and he got better quickly. I didn’t realise how fortunate I was to have a baby who loved his feeds – he didn’t care if it was directly from me or expressed milk from a bottle. He also didn’t care if he had -gasp- formula, which he did on the odd occasion.
When Boy Wonder was about ten months old I felt ready to start trying for another baby. Of course that wasn’t going to happen because my cycle hadn’t returned due to breastfeeding so often. I was torn because as much as I wanted him to wean, the thought saddened me. I also wasn’t prepared to force him to wean, as I believe in following a baby’s lead.
My cycle did eventually return (just once) and I fell pregnant straight away when Boy Wonder was 13 months old. At 14 months he was having a sometimes morning and an always evening breastfeed, but he decided to self-wean. I’m not sure why, and can only assume that it was something to do with a change in my milk due to the change in hormones of my pregnant self. It was a bizarre experience to suddenly not have this little person relying on me in that special way. I had thought he would keep feeding until he was around two, but I just went with the flow and followed his lead.
Fast forward to Sunshine Girl’s birth. I hadn’t leaked any colostrum during her pregnancy. I also barely needed nursing pads except in the first couple of weeks. She latched on fine most of the time, but sometimes it was a bit of a struggle for her. Unlike when I had Boy Wonder, this time I knew the moment my milk came in. I also knew when she had drained me empty, which seemed to happen pretty regularly. This was such a strange experience for me, as I always had more than enough milk when I was feeding Boy Wonder. Sunshine Girl also rejected me a few times, which was a little difficult for me to accept.
I tried expressing a few times in the early days and after half an hour I could only get 20mL or less. That was frustrating and annoying. Consequently she never took a bottle, and still at 10 months age will refuse to drink anything from a bottle. It is as if she doesn’t know what to do with it – she plays around with it in her mouth but never sucks on the teat. She will drink water from a sippy cup, but that’s all. I have tried many times to supplement with formula, using every bottle, teat, sippy cup, straw etc. known to mankind. This girl knows what the good stuff is and where to find it, and she won’t accept any substitutes!
I used to think that if a baby was hungry enough that they would eat and that mothers who said their baby wouldn’t take a bottle were just being ridiculous. And then along came Sunshine Girl. At five months of age she went eight hours between feeds because I wasn’t around for some reason, and she refused any kind of substitute – even expressed milk. I worked so darn hard to get that milk out, and it killed me to come home and find the bottle still full, and to have to tip it down the sink.
I’ve also found my attitude to breastfeeding this time around to be different. While I soaked it up with Boy Wonder and cherished the special bond at feeding time, I have moments with Sunshine Girl where I just resent her feeding and wish she would wean. I am sure this is all linked to hormones because I wouldn’t ever actually force her to wean and I want her to feed as long as possible. Plus, she’s a biter and she latches on very tightly. I have bite marks after every feed. Sometimes she cries after a feed because I’ve run out of milk and she wants more. Talk about a massive difference to my experience feeding Boy Wonder!
Speaking of Boy Wonder, I have offered him a breastfeed several times since Sunshine Girl has been around. Once he sort of brought his head close and put his mouth on me, and then laughed and pulled it away. He is completely disinterested and always declines my offers.
At this stage, Sunshine Girl is having anywhere from 4-7 feeds every 24 hours. Sometimes she only takes one side, other times she takes both. She always feeds overnight, usually once around midnight and sometimes more than that. I’ve never forced either of my children into any kind of feeding or sleeping schedule. They are clever little creatures who can regulate those things themselves.
To sum it up, this is what I love about breastfeeding:
- The convenience. The right stuff at the right temperature no matter where we are. No lugging around bottles, no washing and scrubbing teats, no having to heat milk up. Being a cosleeper it also means I can just roll over during the night and meet my baby’s needs, rather than have to get up to prepare a bottle.
- The bonding. Many times with Boy Wonder and a few times with Sunshine Girl I would get a huge gush of feel-good hormones while feeding, and would be overwhelmed with love for my child. I have been accused of having post-natal elation.
- The weight loss. In both cases for me, I have lost a ton of weight while breastfeeding, despite eating huge amounts of food. This is not a huge deal for me as I have always maintained a weight I am happy with, but I guess it is a nice bonus.
- No monthly period/cycle.
- The nourishment of my children. Breastmilk is liquid gold. I have given my children the best of the best start in life and on their journey of health and wellness.
Any negatives I have felt about breastfeeding are so petty in comparison that it is not worth mentioning, least of all it would make me sound incredibly selfish. I treasure that I have been able to successfully feed my babies, especially being that I was not breastfed myself. My mother chose not to breastfeed me as she didn’t want my older brother (he’s 15 months older) to get jealous. She has mentioned to me more than once that she is surprised and proud of my breastfeeding efforts. Now that I think about it, I have never really been part of any breastfeeding culture and don’t remember any of my friends breastfeeding their babies in front of me in my pre-children days.
Please know that by sharing my breastfeeding choices and experiences I am not judging yours. I may not understand when people choose to not breastfeed for social reasons, but ultimately it is not my business. As for me and my children, breast has been best.