Friday, January 27, 2012

The babe that wasn't breastfed and why I became an advocate for breastfeeding.

I'm not writing this post to highlight the differences between breastfeeding or formula feeding, nor am I writing this to fan the flames of the mother of all arguments. Instead, I'm writing this post in a bid to show the world that breastfeeding advocacy isn't synonymous with a disdain or fear of formula for many of us.

The Bug & I, when she was a wee 4 months old.
My passion for breastfeeding and my breastfeeding journey with the Boy has been well documented on this blog.

There have also been times, more on social media than here on the blog, that I have gotten in heated discussions with other women on the topic who would tell me that I was "lucky", that breastfeeding must have been "easy" for me and my favourite, that I "don't understand what it's like to have to reach for a tin of formula."

I do though. Understand, I mean.

I wasn't always a breastfeeding advocate and if you had told that I would be 4 years ago, I would have told you to put the crack pipe down.

The Bug and I, you see, had a very short-lived breastfeeding relationship and she was formula fed from 3 weeks of age.

The beginning

I had always planned to breastfeed and I don't think I ever contemplated not doing so.

I remember proudly telling the Midwife that I planned to breastfeed when she asked at my 20 week checkup.  "Good for you," She said "Alot of girls your age think they were given breasts just to look good in a tank top." I nodded, and vowed to not be one of those girls.

The birth and the first daze

The Bug & I shared our first breastfeed when she was about 90 minutes old and I remember feeling overwhelmed by the whole experience. Breasts were meant to breastfeed, mothers were meant to feed their babies breastmilk so why wasn't this whole breastfeeding caper coming naturally to us? Shit, I mean wasn't this what I was designed to do?

Having had a caesarean, I stayed in the hospital for 5 nights and was lucky enough to be transferred to a smaller, quieter hospital where the Midwives were more than happy to lend a hand to a new Mum, struggling to feed her baby. My breasts were engorged, my nipples were cracked and bleeding and I cried every time the Bug wanted to feed. My midwife hooked me up to a Lactina electric breast pump that I affectionately nicknamed Big Blue and I began to express to give my nipples a break.

When we got home, I went out and hired a Big Blue for myself and continued to milk myself like a jersey cow for a few more days. Upon Big Blue's return to the community health centre, I invested in a pair of nipple shields and rejoiced in the fact that I was actually able to put my hungry baby to my breast without dissolving into a flood of pained tears.

Trouble in paradise

One night at around 3 weeks, we just could not settle our little Bug. She screamed all. night. long. Literally, all night. We walked around the house, paced, bounced and bopped to no avail. At 4am, we were desperate and loaded her up into the car, planning to pay a visit to the hospital. No healthy baby could possibly fight sleep and scream for 8 continuous hours for no bloody good reason! 20 minutes down the road, she fell into an exhausted sleep and we wearily turned the car around, agreeing to phone our maternal health nurse in the morning.

"She's lost weight in the past 5 days," Margaret, our nurse informed us the next morning "How often is she feeding?" Often. "It sounds like your supply is low." Fabulous, I was starving my baby! Margaret left that day, leaving me with the instructions to demand feed and to visit my GP for a script for some Motilium.

I was left feeling confused by the whole situation and I didn't know who to ask. Though she had breastfed us and offered me her full support, my Mum didn't know much about supply issues and the few girlfriends with babies I had that had back then weren't able to successfully breastfeed or chose not to. If there wasn't enough milk there, how on Earth was putting my screaming baby to my breast more often going to help her or me? It just didn't make sense! "I'm weaning her," I announced afterwards "This is supposed to be natural but I just can't seem to get the hang of it. If I did and it was meant to be, I wouldn't have supply problems!" As far as I was concerned, Margaret's diagnosis of supply issues was permission to give up.

Later that afternoon, I went to Woolworths and bought a tin of formula.

You tried, I cajoled myself as a wave of guilt swept over me while making the Bug her first bottle. You tried and you didn't make enough milk for her, I repeated as I fed her. She hungrily gulped down that bottle and just like that, I had weaned my daughter.

G is for guilt

There was so much more to be a loving and nurturing mother than just breastfeeding and yet, I could overcome the insurmountable guilt I felt from weaning my Bug. I loved her in every way I could but I still felt like I had failed her. I could not look at a "Breast is best" logo without feeling offended. I despised breastfeeding advocates. I couldn't look at a mother breastfeeding her baby without feeling a pang of something that I later realised was jealousy.

I was mourning the premature end of the Bug and my breastfeeding relationship by shooting bitter venom into the direction of anyone or anything that uttered the word 'breastfeeding', it represented my failure as a mother.

What I know now that I didn't know then

I often wonder if I would have weaned the Bug if I had been more informed. I had no idea of the mechanics of how my breastmilk was made or how a caesarean delivery or the absence of skin to skin after baby's birth can have a negative effect on milk production. No one told me that using nipple shields can have a detrimental effect on a mother's milk supply nor did anyone tell me that breastfeeding was a skill to master, both for Mum and Baby. Ahhh, hindsight!

What I do know however is that not breastfeeding has not affected my daughter in any foreseeable way. She is healthy, intelligent with an amazing sense of humour and a definite future in acting because she is a drama queen! While I struggled for a long time with my perceived failure, I am thankful for it because it made me search to connect with her in other ways and it provided me with the pig-headedness I needed to perceive the second time around ...

The second time around

In the early weeks after giving birth to the Boy 21 months down the track, I became obsessed with researching the ins, outs and inbetweens of  breastfeeding. I was determined to give it another try and I wanted to know everything there was to know about breastfeeding so at least if I failed this time, it was not through a lack of knowledge. I enlisted the help of the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) and despite wanting to wean every single day, I rode out those stormy first 8 weeks until nursing became second nature to both of us, The Boy and I. He ended up nursing until he was 14 months.

Why I am a breastfeeding advocate

I advocate for breastfeeding in little ways. A gentle nudge to dispel a myth here, advice offered when called upon there, sharing of an evidence-based article or a positive blog post or tweet. Mainly though, I advocate through the ABA where I'm training as a Breastfeeding Educator/Counsellor. The main role of a BC is to volunteer on ABA's Breastfeeding Helpline, a hotline that I rang many, many times during those first few months.

Remembering I have fed my babies every which way and in between, I am not interested in judgement or making anyone feel inferior.

I want to help Mums to ensure they know how their bodies work to feed their babies and so if they do make the decision to wean, they make an informed decision which will hopefully see them not struggle with the overwhelming guilt that I did. If she can go on to have a positive breastfeeding experience, no matter how long or short, then to me, it is all worth it!

 

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