The Breast Time to Stop
If I were, to sum up, my breastfeeding journey in a sequence of words it would be fear, followed by elation, then pain, emotional, joyful and then sadness. I have a fairly addictive (some might say obsessive!) personality, so somewhere along my journey into motherhood, I decided to throw every single piece of me into the breastfeeding journey, putting an immense amount of pressure (rightly or wrongly) on myself to make it work. For me, it has been like a bit of an addiction, strangely. The highs and lows – enjoying the feeling of providing my baby with natures source, mixed with the lows of wondering when the pain was ever going to end and wanting my body back, but then again never really wanting it to end. It was the one thing I wanted to stop yet wanted to keep on doing. It may sound like every other Mum cliché but I can only describe it as the hardest yet most rewarding thing I have ever done. Rewind to 3 years ago, when my first daughter was born. After a somewhat traumatic birth, which ended in me being separated from my newborn for the first week, I was more determined than ever to breastfeed….as some sort of challenge, I placed on myself for her being given bottles of formula whilst in ICU (as I was in no place to be able to feed her). After a week apart it was quite possibly the only thing that enabled us to bond. It wasn’t easy, hell it wasn’t easy. But through a lot of sweat, engorgement and tears and after 6 months of exclusively breastfeeding her I decided that my job was done. Thereafter I switched her to a bottle (again with a bit of hard work and a lot of determination!), and that was the end of our amazing and challenging breastfeeding journey. So when daughter number 2 came along last year, I was hoping that I would be able to do the same 6 months of breastfeeding and see how things progressed from there. If I was able to produce milk and was enjoying the experience then I would just see where the journey took me. I had the first 2 days of pure newborn bliss in the hospital lying next to my baby. I know it sounds terrible but I wasn’t even too upset when my husband and daughter had to leave after visiting hours to go home. Of course, I had the “mum guilts” of wanting to be near my firstborn but I was genuinely excited at the opportunity to bond, have those snuggly first cuddles and to explore the opportunity to feed her myself again. Unfortunately, I was in a huge amount of pain following the C section and the aftercare wasn’t that great in the night, so I was struggling to even get out of bed to pick her up for feeds. Only having been through the experience before did I know to go and ask one of the midwives to stock me up with a whole pile of syringes so that I could at least hand express and feed her that way. So that was the way we operated for the first 48 hours; me hand expressing every 2 hours so that there was always a full syringe of food ready to go for the little lady. Thereafter was 12 weeks of graft, hard work, sore boobs, sweat, tears, lack of sleep and resentment towards my husband. Even though it was my choice to keep feeding I couldn’t help but look at him in his lovely peaceful sleep and think about the torture of having to wake every 2-3 hours out of my deep sleep to feed our baby. I can't tell you how many people at that time saying “maybe its time to give her a bottle”. And whilst that may have actually brought me some sanity and eased the burden, for some reason my usual stubborn-self wanted to prove me wrong. My firstborn also slept through from 7pm-7am at 12 weeks (fairly rare for a breastfed baby?!) so I kept telling myself that if I could just get through those tough first 12 weeks all would be well. How wrong was I! She wasn’t doing more than a 3-4 hour stretch at that point so whilst all my other bottle Mums were able to have their husbands help with the 11pm feed or 3am feed, through no choice but my own it was all on me. I very much leaned on my Mum friends who were also EBF to rant and moan about how tough it was on us and how we just wanted it to end. At 4 months when she still wasn’t sleeping through I decided it was time to take some action and bring out the breast pump – that way I could express enough milk for my husband to give a bottle, I could get some sleep and all would be well. Worst idea ever. With my firstborn, I had the luxury of being able to whip out the electric udders whenever baby went for a nap. Virtually impossible with a toddler in tow! So I got into a rut of pumping at night before I went to bed and it really messed with my milk production. My boobs suddenly became painful and completely engorged. I am not usually one to throw money at a situation but at that point, I was at rock bottom. Not only could I not get any respite whatsoever and was functioning with a toddler and a newborn on no sleep but I now couldn’t feed my baby because my boobs were so painful. I, therefore, reached out to a private lactation consultant named Wendy Lever, who was quite honestly just what I needed at just the right time. I was so sceptical about the whole thing, firstly having to pay for someone to tell me how to feed my baby seemed pretty alien to me. But secondly was she going to be some sort of hippy-dippy women with ulterior motives telling me “breast is best”. Well, she was neither of those things. She came in totally non judgmentally and sat with me for a good couple of hours while I tried to feed my baby. She got to know me and my situation and genuinely was interested to know why I was putting this additional pressure on myself to pump milk for the sake of one feed. She wanted to know how important that was to me versus my sanity and when I actually thought it through I knew it was a ridiculous thing for me to try and do at that time. More hassle than it was worth, and really deep down I didn’t want her to take the bottle just yet, I just wanted to god damn sleep. She also said something to me that completely resonated at that moment, and something I hadn’t considered before. That the feeding is a two-way relationship and that its just as important for me to be comfortable, happy and content as it is the baby. And if that isn’t happening then something needs to change. At that moment I decided that I had to make a decision – commit myself fully to breastfeeding or start her on the bottle with formula. Either way, I knew the pumping had to stop. And after I while I discovered that actually breastfeeding was something I wanted to persist with. And persist I did. Month 4, month 5, month 6, still not sleeping fully through the night. But the gap was starting to get longer and I was able to grab some decent sleep here and there and every minute of extra sleep made me more grateful than ever. By the middle of month 6 and with a bit of sleep training I was able to leave her from 7am to 7pm. That’s when the game changed for me, and something so exhausting and mentally and physically draining became something really quite special. Digging that bit deeper, deeper than I've ever dug before seemed to have paid off in full. And we both knew where we stood in our breastfeeding relationship. A mutual relationship, just as Wendy had described. The fear and pain had turned to joy and content. As I looked down at her through every feed I knew I was providing for her and that gave me a real sense of achievement and satisfaction. I was so proud of myself for making it that far and decided that because it seemed to be enjoyable that I would continue for as long as I felt I wanted to. The months passed and the weaning upped its game. She was enjoying every mouthful of food and I was delighted. But suddenly, as if from nowhere the fear and sadness then started to come back into play when I realised I had to then think about dropping the day feeds. And with every feed that I stopped, I had an overwhelming sense of not wanting to let go, yet I was also so excited to have some freedom. In real terms, I hadn’t left my baby's side, not even for a haircut, for the first 10 months of her life. So again whilst some of my mum friends were able to have afternoons “off” or days out to treat themselves I couldn’t be more than a breast away! But that’s the choice I made and although I wouldn’t have had it any other way I still felt a little hard done by. Which seems crazy when it was my own choice!! In any case, both the day feeds went, and then we were down to just the 7am and 7pm feed. As I looked down at her during both morning and night feed I kept thinking that this could be the last time. In fact just the other night I came to feed her and she simply looked up at me as if to say “I don’t fancy it tonight mum”, then fell straight to sleep on my lap. Part of me was so happy that she was becoming slightly less dependent on me and really coming into her own. Yet the maybe selfish part of me was so incredibly sad that I wasn’t required anymore. I know I am so incredibly lucky to have been able to exclusively breastfeed for almost a full year of her life, and I have achieved something beyond my wildest dreams. I have however decided to stop feeding her at 12 months as I would now like to try and get my own body back and enjoy as much freedom as a Mum of 2 can (some hopefully!). The control freak in me would also like to stop on my own terms, and not have the heartache of her “turning me down” as she did a few nights ago!! The thought of stopping fills me both with a huge sense of sadness but also a huge sense of pride. I never thought with my above-average 36F bosoms that I would be one of those breastfeeding Mums, genuinely! But it really is the breast time to stop. A large proportion of my friends have struggled at varying points on their feeding journeys and there simply isn’t enough emotional support out there for those Mums who really want to carry on breastfeeding but simply can’t see a way forward. And sadly some Mums who have wanted to breastfeed but simply haven’t been able to because of the pain, stress, discomfort or lack of milk production. I also know Mums who have chosen to not breastfeed their babies and some who haven’t felt comfortable enough in their own skin to attempt it. And I say so long as both Mum and baby are content and enter into their breastfeeds/bottle-feeds/mixture of both as an equal partnership, fully committed then that’s all that matters. Happy Mum, happy baby right! Everyone's Mum journey is personal to them, but all our children grow up to be the same in the end. So whatever choices you make along the way make sure you do it wholeheartedly and without regret.