It’s World Breastfeeding Week and I am filled with bittersweet memories of the short time I breastfed my baby boy. I was in awe of how wonderful my body was to be able to nourish him and give him everything he needed to grow. It was a privilege but I would be lying if I said I didn’t find breastfeeding hard, both physically and emotionally and unfortunately it didn’t last long.
After 9 months of giving my body over to the little human I was making inside of me, I was ready to have my body back. I felt trapped by the constant need to go to the toilet, his head taking up the space my bladder usually occupied. I wanted to wear something other than the few bump-friendly outfits I had on rotation: thick stripes, thinner stripes, multi-coloured stripes. I was desperate for sleep having suffered from bouts of insomnia fuelled by anxiety. It was such a relief when my little human was born, I assumed my body was mine again but I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I was now his source of food, warmth and comfort. I was needed at every cry. He was hungry and I had to help him. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t go to the toilet. But it wasn’t about me anymore.
In the first few days cluster feeding made me feel like a hamster trapped on a wheel. I would wake up from a couple of hours sleep, my breasts full and uncomfortable expected to do it all again. He wasn’t the best feeder and of course, we were both still learning. Each feed was a challenge and nowhere near as easy and convenient as I thought it should be. I feared going out in case he woke up and I’d need to wrestle a screaming baby to my breast in public. I was afraid of what people would think of me. I felt like a I was terrible at being a mother. Breastfeeding is the most natural thing in the world, they had said, so why was it so difficult?
I would spend hours on Google, often in the dead of night, searching for someone to tell me what I was doing wrong. Why was he crying all the time? Why was it so painful? How long was it going to be like this? I felt like for him to be that hungry I mustn’t have been feeding him at all, there can’t have been enough milk, perhaps he wasn't latching correctly. Midwives often said “if it hurts you are doing it wrong.” I googled for answers, but I didn’t find them.
The midwives would come and weigh him and ask how he was feeding. Approving smiles were made when I told them he was “exclusively breastfed.” Michelin star food for babies and I was providing it. It was the very best for him, they said, but it didn’t feel that way to me. I was frightened to introduce formula fearing bottles would confuse him. It would hold us back and I felt like we were making no progress at all. I would hold back tears saying I was finding it difficult, he didn’t latch well, he screamed taking in so much air the milk would often come back up. They would remark how well I was doing; he seemed happy. What I was experiencing was all normal and to be expected. He was gaining weight; there was nothing wrong.
When I first gave birth, I went home with my newborn in a daze, riding a high of unconditional love, adrenalin and hormones, which lasted the next few days. But when the hormones wore off and the adrenalin disappeared my need for sleep was so urgent I would cry at every feed, I knew something needed to change. I gave up after just three weeks.
Knowing now my experience was normal and likely had I persevered, I would still be breastfeeding now but I wasn’t prepared for what it was like and my expectations fuelled my desire to give up. Had I known I wasn’t doing anything wrong and this was just how it was, I wouldn’t have blamed myself as much as I did. I had heard it was hard, but I knew few people that had got through the hardship and out of the other side. There seemed to be two types of people, those that found it easy and those that had given up.
I hated that had given up. It took me some time to come to terms with the fact I was no longer feeding him myself. I had been selfish and wanted my body back. I felt there was a stigma to putting myself first. I denied my baby the nutrients he needed for a couple of extra hours sleep each night and to feel comfortable in my body again. But the truth was I was happier. I was now able to bond with him because I was more relaxed, better rested. I cried less. There shouldn’t be a stigma attached to doing what is right for you and your family. Formula isn’t a bad thing. Looking back now, with a healthy, happy and thriving baby, exclusively formula-fed, (well and solids) I know we made the right choice.