You know when you’re a few days late and suddenly everything around you seems to baby-related? You switch on the TV and all you see is nappy adverts, you open a magazine and there’s a pregnancy test advert staring back at you, you keep seeing pregnant women wherever you go. No, I do not suspect I’m pregnant again but there is an ‘issue’ that I keep coming across all the time lately and I can’t help but write about it.
A few of my friends, all of them new mothers, have been having problems with breastfeeding lately. They all happen to have had their first baby a few weeks apart from each other and while every one of them intended to breastfeed their baby, only two of them seem to have had no problem with nursing their babies. The truth is that breastfeeding is one of the hardest parts of new motherhood but very few people will tell you that when you’re pregnant. There is so much focus on pregnancy and labour but very little realistic information about what comes after the first few blissful hours of motherhood are over. Nobody wants to be the wet blanket warning a pregnant woman about the confusion that will hit her a few days after she takes her baby home or about the incredible discomfort (or, in most cases, pain) she will most probably be in four or five days after she gives birth and her milk ‘comes in’. Nobody wants to discuss cracked nipples and pain that knocks the breath right out of you every time your baby latches on the first couple of weeks you are nursing and the reason why is quite obvious. If expecting mothers knew just how hard breastfeeding can be the first few weeks, nobody would even bother trying. What we are told is how beneficial it is, both for the baby and for the mother. I won’t list all the benefits here because we all know what they are but I will write about the ugly side of it.
When I had my first baby, I was hell-bent on breastfeeding her. Everything was rosy the first five days, until my breasts became engorged and I was crying down the telephone begging my gynaecologist to let me off the hook. Sure enough, he gave me his blessing and told me I could stop whenever I wanted and not to feel guilty because at least I had tried. Being the type of person who refuses to be told what to do, I became even more determined to get over this hurdle. I almost gave up every single day but I kept pushing myself. There were nights when I expressed milk from one breast while Maia fed from the other. There were many other nights I felt so helpless I cried with my daughter as she struggled to latch on to an engorged breast. She was a hungry baby, feeding for an hour every couple of hours. I was exhausted and doubted myself all the time. There’s no doubt that the fact I knew I would be raising this child alone had a lot to do with my lack of self-confidence. I was also surrounded by people who had never breastfed and who didn’t really believe I was producing enough milk to satisfy Maia’s hunger.
The turning point for me came after about a month…a month of milk-soaked clothes, hyperventilating while nursing and supplementing with the occasional formula feed. By this time I had proof, from the amounts I was expressing, that I was producing more than enough milk. My daughter was growing very well and she had learned to latch on properly, making the whole experience pain-free. I started believing in myself and trusting my body more and that’s when it all became easy. I finally realised what was so special about the whole experience. I no longer had to stifle screams of pain throughout the feed, my breasts didn’t feel like two rocks attached to my body and my daughter was a lot calmer during feeds. All I had to do was to trust nature and its perfection. My body was designed to do this job and I was finally allowing it to do it. Because what nobody had told me before all this drama had started was how important it is for the mother to be calm and confident, something which is almost impossible for a new mother to be. In the end I breastfed Maia for eight months and only stopped because my body had practically stopped producing milk when she started eating more solid food.
With Robin, it was a completely different story. She latched on properly from the beginning, I knew to wait a couple of weeks before the pain would start to subside, I kept calm and trusted my body to do its job and brushed away comments from well-meaning relatives and friends who doubted whether my baby was drinking enough. This time round my only ‘problem’ is balancing the time spent nursing with that spent with Maia even though Robin only feeds for ten minutes every two hours (she’s a very fast drinker!).
I am not trying to convince anyone that breastfeeding is the only way to go. I guess what I’m trying to say is that people should be better informed about the difficulties they might (and probably will) encounter when they decide to breastfeed. That way they can be better prepared for what lies ahead. Having said that, deciding to breastfeed is a commitment that not everyone is in a position to take and that is fine too. After all, what really counts is providing our children with all the nutrients they need and with a happy, calm environment. If using formula means that mum is happier and calmer, then that’s the better choice.