I never gave much thought to Breastfeeding. I guess in the back of my mind I always just assumed I would do it. As far as I was concerned that's the logical way to feed a baby. It's the way evolution intended. There it is, the perfect substance on tap, free and easy to access (or so I thought). Even during ante-natal classes, when they suggested everyone attend a Breastfeeding class before giving birth, I thought "how bizarre, what could you possibly learn without the baby in your arms". Besides, the only class on offer was on my birthday. I dismissed the idea, knowing I had read the breastfeeding chapter in my baby book, and I would be fine. Bub would be born, I'd put her to my breast, and all would be well for the 6 or so months I planned to feed her.
Oh, how wrong I was......
Breastfeeding wasn't easy. To spare you too many details, it was many sleepless nights, many tears, cracked and bleeding nipples, two visits to the emergency room when the munchkin was swallowing blood from my nipples and causing her nappies to look very black and sticky (we suspected she was swallowing blood and had to rule out that it was coming from her. As soon as they realised it was me, they said go home, take a panadol, you'll both be fine).
The wookie used to have to push my shoulders down when feeding to make me relax. It was an affair that involved numerous pillows, curled toes, an inability to move my arms or body once feeding. We could never get attachment right, I couldn't work out the right hold, I once spent 48 hours exclusively expressing milk to give my nipples a break. I sat alone in a room for hours at a time trying to get milk for my baby, who was in the other room crying and wanting to just be with me.
A few things got me through those awful first six weeks. One was an innate stubbornness. This thing would not beat me. I was born to me a mother, and that meant, to me, breastfeeding. I'd be damned if a lot of pain and discomfort would stop me doing what I thought I should be doing. I read and re-read all the information I had about breastfeeding, much of it provided by my home visit midwife. The more I read, the more I was amazed. My body was creating this perfect substance for my child. Not only was human milk intended for human babies, but MY milk was made for MY baby. It changed according to her age, the time of day, the antibodies she needed at certain times. Human milk is so amazing they still have no idea what is in it.
Every night, tired and exhausted, getting up to feed my newborn anywhere between 2 and 7 times a night, I would decide that tomorrow I was giving up. I would sit alone, in the dark, for up to an hour and a half feeding her, unable to fall asleep in the chair as she was so tiny and fragile, wondering why I was putting myself through this. We could be bottle feeding. I could be sharing these tired nights with my partner and my Mum.
I decided I would make it to one month. One month came, and I set my goal at three. Many times it seemed unattainable. It was too exhausting. I was always thirsty. I was cranky. I was lonely. I needed a break.
People told me to wait until the first six weeks passed. This magical six week mark kept coming up in conversation and in books, as well as many times online in articles and on forums.
Six weeks came. Same thing.
At seven weeks, a few things happened at once.
The munchkin got more head control, and I figured out the cradle hold (traditional style hold if you think of breastfeeding). All of a sudden I had a free hand for magazines, books, remote controls. Breastfeeding, especially at night, was far less lonely.
She started to sleep longer than two hours at a time. Sometimes five or six. Gradually eight. At 8 weeks she was sleeping about 10 hours. Without the torture that was sleep deprivation, I felt much better and was less depressed (oh yes, I realise now that I had a bad case of the baby blues, although I wouldn't admit it at the time).
I decided to abandon mother's rooms and just feed wherever I was. Not having to extricate myself from a group of friends or family at a restaurant, or party or out shopping, meant I didn't feel any anger about breastfeeding. I fed in Cafes at first, and eventually moved onto park benches, book shops, trains, furniture displays in Ikea, at the dinner table. (Last week I fed the munchkin in the back of the car at 110ks an hour on the highway. She was in her carseat, I had my seatbelt on next to her. A hungry baby makes all kinds of things possible.) Apart from a few male friends who found it weird (their problem, not mine), everyone was supportive. Other mums got me glasses of water. The older generation frequently smiled at me. Once, at a Japanese restaurant, 3 or 4 waitresses cooed over the 3 month old munchkin as she fed, stroking her hair, playing with her hands and feet. I realised a lot of my perceived breastfeeding prejudice came from two places. One was shyness. I thought everyone would stare at me - they don't. Sometimes you get a disapproving glance, but not very often. Most people think you are holding a sleeping baby. One male friend once admitted he tried to see a flash of boob as I got the munchkin attached, but he saw nothing. We both laughed so hard the baby stopped feeding to see what the fuss was about.
The other thing was a reluctance to offend my bottle feeding friends. Like most parenting choices, breastfeeding is an issue I have to skirt around gently at times. It's hard to feel pride and joy at my own breastfeeding journey without inadvertently offending some people. I have friends who chose to never breastfeed. I respect these women for their decision and their lack of guilt. I certainly do not judge them. Parenting is a bloody hard job. You have to do what's best for you. I have other friends who stopped breastfeeding for one reason or another, some at 2 days, some at 2 weeks, some at 2 months. Nearly every one of these ladies feels guilt, or believes she "gave up". I'm sad for them that they beat themselves up. All of them are wonderful mothers and have happy, healthy children. It's hard to get the message across sometimes that just because I am pro-breastfeeding, I am not anti bottle feeding. There are many ways to be an excellent parent, and breastfeeding your baby is just one of them.
So now, here we are at 13 months, still breastfeeding. The munchkin feeds at about 6pm, 9pm, 12am and 4am. All day she drinks cows milk, eats everything she can lay her hands on, drinks lots of water and sometimes juice. She also feeds if she is feeling sick, bumps her head, sees me after being babysat for a few hours, or is getting tired but doesn't want to go to sleep. I feel like a magician sometimes, the way that breastfeeding can instantly calm and soothe her, send her to sleep when she is overtired, make any bumps and bruises forgotten straight away. I enjoy those quiet moments together in a busy day; the look she gives me when feeding. The way she rubs her head with joy, plays with her feet, sticks her hands in my mouth or plays with my hair. It's a connection, and a fairly amazing one at that.
Weaning is in the back of my mind. I wanted to feed until 12 months, but when we got there, like all my other goals (1 month, 3 months, 6 months), I realised I didn't mind going longer. We might meet the WHO (world Health Organisation) recommendation that babies be breastfed for at least 2 years "Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond." She might self-wean before then. I might fall pregnant, or wake up one day and decide I've had enough.
I've met women who breastfed twins, women who breastfeed for months (and years) after they go back to work, expressing milk in their lunch breaks. I know women breastfeeding 3 and 4 year olds, women who have breastfed exclusively from one breast after losing the other to Cancer, women who have breastfed with implants, through pregnancy, co-nursed a newborn and a toddler. I've seen women breastfeed through mastitis, through cracked nipples, women breastfeed who have post-natal depression. I know women who express and donate their milk to friends and milk banks, women who breastfeed at age 17 and in their mid forties. Pretty much every group of women you might have heard can't breastfeed - I know them. They are all my friends and heroes.
When I was a new Mum, I wasn't sure where to turn for breastfeeding advice. I knew friends who had breastfed their babies, but I had never once initiated a conversation with them about it, not even while I was pregnant. We don't live in a society where breastfeeding is rejoiced or respected. I'd love to see that change. I believe that if more information was out there, not just for new mothers, but new Dads too, and extended families, and teenagers, and all members of society in general, then breastfeeding would be more common. I'm not saying everyone should breastfeed their babies, but if women saw their friends feeding their babies in public, at parties, barbecues, at the Christmas table, if they knew the extraordinary benefits and connection for both mother and baby, then perhaps more women wouldn't feel that they had "given up". They would have more places to turn, feel comfortable calling a friend or sister with a booby question. Feel confident in their knowledge of normal newborn behaviour, as well as confidence in their own body to feed their babies, and not doubt themselves in a sleep deprived moment. It's a fine line between shoving information down people's throats and making sure friends know they can come to you when they need help. I hope I'm walking that line well.
So yes, we're still breastfeeding. Sometimes in public, sometimes in private. I don't know how long we'll keep going, but don't expect me to shut up about how much I love it anytime soon.