Did your breastfeeding journey go tits up? Same! Here’s what I wish I knew
I’m just going to put it out there — my boobs were made to breastfeed! With both of my daughters, I didn’t get one cracked nipple, my milk came in quickly and my flow was strong — all the foundations were there so I was confident we were going to have a long and prosperous ride on the milk train.
What I didn’t realise was that breastfeeding is the ultimate collaboration, you’re working in tandem with a tiny human fresh out of the womb, who is adjusting to the big, wide world after nine months tucked up in the safety of a dark cocoon all the while a nipple is being shoved in their mouth. When you think about it from their perspective, it’s no wonder it can end up a struggle! Just because your boobs are good to go, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be a walk in the park.
I stupidly stocked up on all the gear (hot tip: do not spend a small fortune on the feeding paraphernalia until you know for sure you’re going to be feeding for more than a few weeks) and set myself a short-term goal of reaching six months with a stretch target of 12.
Both of my girls started strong out of the gates. Despite being happy chuckers, they latched well and were showing early signs of being milk lovers… but then it all went tits up, quite literally, when they decided they loathed the boob around the six-week mark.
“Jinxed it by telling our neighbour this arvo how great Tilly has been at feeding. Nek minute she’s rejecting my boob like it’s a stinky dead rat,” I texted my sister one afternoon.
“It’s giving me awful flashbacks to when [my firstborn] Edie did the same thing,” I lamented.
When my oldest daughter Edie started getting fussy on my boob around the six-week mark, I was determined I would push through it and get back on track. I tried just about every trick in the book — feeding her in a dark room with no stimulation, feeding her right after a sleep, feeding her right before a sleep, feeding her with a dark blindfold over her eyes so she wouldn’t get distracted, feeding her as I sang soothing lullabies, feeding her with a bottle first then quickly swapping to my boob. You name it, I tried it (probably three times).
Throughout this laborious troubleshooting process, I was also pumping at every feed to keep up my supply. It was beyond draining and I could notice my mental health was suffering as a result.
There was absolutely no downtime because every feed was taking double the amount of time with her rejecting my boob, I’d then have to make up a bottle of my milk, warm it up, feed it to her, and then pump as I bounced her in the bassinet with one foot and held my pumps in place with my hands (thank you to my partner for buying me a hands-free pumping top! The one piece of gear I didn’t splurge on that I needed most).
And as every mum knows, our downtime between feeds while the baby naps is oh so precious! Sure, we might just scroll on Instagram or binge a trashy Netflix series but it’s these small breaks that are literal sanity savers in the early stages of parenthood, which can often feel like Groundhog Day. When you strip that away, you feel like a 24-7 milk machine.
And yet, I kept going. I don’t know why. I guess I had nothing to compare it to and had subliminally absorbed the breast is best messaging that is so deeply embedded in our society (seriously, it’s everywhere — from daycares to the pamphlets we get given in hospital) and thought I should just push through. But mixed with the sleep deprivation and the absolute dread that filled my stomach as every feed approached, I could feel my headspace tipping to a dark place. Edie would scream bloody murder at my boob and I would sit there trying to implement all the strategies the lactation consultant had told me to try (good in theory, impossible when you have a screaming, hungry baby shouting at your boob).
I have a video of one of these episodes and it haunts me to this day. We wanted to film Edie as she screamed her lungs out at my boob so we could show the lactation consultant and the look in my eyes is heartbreaking. I wish I could tell that exhausted, broken and fragile new mum that it’s OK to just call it a day. Right now, for you and your baby, breast is so far from best. Formula is your friend!
Indeed it’s often the process of making the choice that’s the hardest part. The umming and ahhing. The ‘maybe if I try this’? Or thinking ‘surely it’s just a phase, she’ll grow out of it.’ But once you finally decide to move on (and I’m not calling it quitting because we still gave it a red-hot go), my god it is LIBERATING!
Sure, I would have preferred to have had a seamless breastfeeding experience and to be one of those women who can just whip out a boob and peacefully feed her bub. I bow down to those people and celebrate the fact that they can feed with ease. But that wasn’t meant to be. So instead I focus on the positives — I get my body back! I can have a few glasses of wine and not have to pump and dump! I can outsource the feeds to my partner and get more sleep! We are so lucky to live in Australia where we have some of the best formulas in the world!
Another benefit? The second time around when history repeated itself with my youngest daughter Tilly, I had the experience and knowledge under my belt to know that there was no chance in hell I was going to put my mental health on the line and try to ‘push through.’ To hell with pushing through! We’d already made it six weeks, that’s an achievement in itself. And she’d gotten loads of my colostrum, aka liquid gold, in those early days. Another win!
So when Tilly started to reject my boob, I gave it two days not weeks, before I made the call to move on to formula.
If you’re feeling triggered this World Breastfeeding Week, I get it. Nothing makes my blood boil more than seeing a #BreastIsBest hashtag — it pays no attention to the intricate nuances of trying to feed your baby and it can be a really damaging message for those of us on the other side of the equation.
Of course, we all know the benefits of breastfeeding but like so many things in parenthood, things don’t always go to plan. Maybe your supply didn’t play ball, maybe you had a traumatic birth and you’re still recovering, maybe you had twins who were in NICU so they needed to be bottle-fed, maybe you just didn’t want to breastfeed or maybe you physically couldn’t due to medical reasons… Here at Kiindred, we’re strong believers that #FedIsBest, whatever that looks like for you and your bub.
And I’m pleased to confirm that both of my bottle-fed girls are happy, healthy, and thriving.
So this World Breastfeeding Week, if you’re scrolling through socials and beating yourself up because you didn’t get the breastfeeding experience you longed for — just remember, mum’s mental health comes first so do whatever you need to do to look after yourself.
The Australian Breastfeeding Association National Breastfeeding Helpline: 1800 mum 2 mum (1800 686 268)
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Bella Brennan Follow +
Bella is a writer and editor with over a decade of experience in women’s publishing and digital media. In her spare time, she loves making up dances to the Wiggles with her two little girls, swimming in the ocean and trying to sneak away from her family for a cheeky nap.
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