If you had told me two weeks into being a new mum that I’d still be breastfeeding my son on his first birthday, I’d probably have burst into tears. Tears of joy, tears of misery? I don’t even know! At that time I wanted so badly to give up. It was a bumpy road in the beginning but here’s how we made it to one year of breastfeeding…
It’s hard to say how I felt about breastfeeding before my baby was born. I suppose I didn’t “feel” anything at all, because like many things about motherhood, you can read the theory all you like but until the baby comes you don’t really know what to expect.
I had definitely planned to breastfeed, and I booked an NHS breastfeeding class. They talked about the recommendations of the WHO and attitudes to breastfeeding all around the world, they handed out knitted boobs and baby dolls to practice with. And to be honest I walked away exactly the same as I walked in, just with a few extra facts under my belt. I still didn’t have any idea what an emotional journey it was going to be.
The journey really began in the hospital the day after giving birth
My son was born at around four in the afternoon. I hadn’t eaten for nearly 24 hours or slept the night before, so when the nurse asked if we wanted to spend the night in the hospital to “get some extra help with breastfeeding” I accepted. I didn’t really think I needed the help but I definitely needed a bed and a complimentary dinner!
We went to a ward and shared a room with four other new mamas. By the grace of god my little bundle of joy slept, wrapped in a blanket in his little hospital bassinet next to my bedside. I got some rest and by the next morning I was ready to go home, but it had been explained to me that we couldn’t be discharged until a nurse was able to see that we were getting on ok with breastfeeding.
Put the baby to your boob and let them get on with it, right?
I thought it was no big deal, put the baby to your boob and let them get on with it, right? (Just like I did with the knitted boob and the doll) I tried it and called the nurse over to check us. Nope, not right she said. “Keep trying and I’ll come back later”. The second time, the third time, no. “The latch doesn’t look right, try this, I’ll come back again next feed.”
By this point, other mums were being discharged from the ward with their babies with praises of “Yep, everything looks good, you can go home!”. I wanted that to be me. I was exhausted, full of hormones and high emotions – it was starting to get to me, bad. I was starting to feel like a failure already. Starting to resent the notion of calling different hospital staff to come and look at my breasts when I’d had every inch of my most personal parts stared at and touched and stitched up already.
At one point the senior midwife came and hand expressed colostrum from me and fed it to my son with a syringe. I felt so useless. I just wanted to go home. It got to about 9pm and every mum from the shared room had gone except me. I kept asking if I could leave and eventually they said yes, but it was reluctant. I was under strict orders to call the ward if it seemed like the latch wasn’t getting any better. At the moment it was just ‘OK’.
At one point the senior midwife came and hand expressed colostrum from me and fed it to my son with a syringe. I felt so useless.Mel
It wasn’t long before I started to feel self-conscious about breastfeeding
I’ll be honest and say I remember having a sense of dread every time I got the pillow out and set up for a feed. I didn’t like anyone watching or looking at me, because I felt self-conscious about looking like I didn’t know what I was doing. I felt shame that it didn’t just come naturally to me.
I’ll be honest and say I remember having a sense of dread every time I got the pillow out and set up for a feed.Mel
Over the coming days health visitors said everything was fine, he gained weight, but I was still finding it all pretty hard. It was painful, I was feeling raw. Glued to the sofa for hours, cluster feeding throughout the evening, all through the night. It was tough.
I remember reaching out to friends on Facebook for help
I got some truly kind and supportive responses. “Keep going. It will bet better.” When what I really wanted was for someone to say “just give up and switch to formula and don’t feel bad about it!”. The overall result from reaching out seemed to be that whatever I chose to do, it was ok. People would support me either way. So the choice was down to me.
Somehow I found the resolve to press on. Mainly because I had read that breastfeeding reduces the risk of food allergies for babies. Having a severe food allergy myself that affects my life daily, I really didn’t want that for my son. It was the motivation I needed to keep at it.
After two months I started to feel myself again
At around two months after the birth I was starting to build up a schedule, healing was going well and I was feeling somewhat myself again.
I don’t know the exact date but I do remember sitting down one day to do the first-morning feed and looking down at him. He put his little hand on my breast and held me while he fed. The rush of love was unbelievable. For the first time, I was really just enjoying the feeling of feeding my baby, the connection it gave us, and the ease at which it was happening now.
From that moment on there was a shift, I never felt inadequate again when it came to feeding. It wasn’t difficult anymore and I was actually glad that I didn’t have to deal with bottles and sterilising and expensive prep machines, etc. And with everything that I was going through (the breakup of my relationship with my son’s father) maybe breastfeeding and the bonding hormones that come with it were actually saving me from becoming depressed. The happiness and the growing love I was feeling for my son got me through every day.
With everything that I was going through (the breakup of my relationship with my son’s father) maybe breastfeeding and the bonding hormones that come with it were actually saving me from becoming depressed.Mel
It turns out I never needed the formula lying in the cupboard
There were still moments where I wished I had more freedom to leave the house or let somebody else do feeds without me having to pump. We had some struggles with CMPA and I had to change my diet, which wasn’t ideal, but we managed.
There were definitely times when I flirted with the idea of stopping altogether. For about six months I’ve had formula in the cupboard just in case, and he has the occasional bottle of that when it’s practical. But as we approach the one year mark, I feel sincerely emotional about the fact that I’m still breastfeeding.
I honestly didn’t think I’d make it this far. It fills me with pride that I never gave up.
One year on!
I’m beyond excited to celebrate my son’s first birthday! The day will be all about him and I can’t wait to see his little face take in the decorations and the candles and cake. But I’ll let you in on a little secret, when those candles get blown out I’m going to take a personal moment of celebration for myself, reaching one year of breastfeeding, one year of motherhood, one year without a full night’s undisturbed sleep. All survived. A silent little pat on the back to myself to say “well-done mama.” Things that are hard are almost always worth the hardship, and this definitely was.
An earlier version of this story was first published on just-us-two.com. You can read the original article here.