Sunday, June 26, 2011

on perseverance

Breastfeeding. Natural, beautiful and instinctual right? Maybe. I guess it looks that way at a glance, contented baby snuggled into mumma, mumma smiling serenely at her adorable little one. When I reflect on my breastfeeding journeys, this is the image that pops into my mind. Sometimes.

Also popping into my mind are my first little man, super skinny from being underfed. Just persevere, I remember being told, after finally getting the courage to call for help. When my beautiful mum came and rescued me and my boy I surrendered, knowing that he was hungry and needed a bottle. But the bitter taste I got from watching his dad give him that first bottle still hangs around, and I feel sick looking at those skinny photos. And now he is a strapping six-year-old, skinny like I was, and strong and healthy.

Then the next little man. My exercise in perseverance. If perseverance is what it takes, then persevere I shall! Cracked nipples in hospital? Persevere, the night nurse will just milk you at 2am while you try to make chit-chat. Contract swine flu? Persevere, just wear a mask, constantly sterilise your hands, don't touch the baby other than feeding and don't take any medication as it may go through the milk. Beloved grandmother passing away? Persevere, hospital hallways, although bright, cold and uncomfortable, are a fine place to feed an infant. Develop kidney stones? Persevere, you'll just need to pump-and-dump the first feed after you wake up from surgery, the anaesthetic might get through to the baby. And so I learned to persevere, and the little guy and I got to ten months, supported with a couple of courses of drugs to build milk supply. Apparently supply is hindered in times of illness and stress, who knew?

And now the baby girl. I have a different kind of attitude now. I know that my milk supply is not as generous as I would like it to be. I have a determination to feed my baby, because I love it. I love the connectedness and the satisfaction at the end of a feed. I love that enough to persevere through the afternoon witching hour, when the milk isn't the greatest and I'm well and truly exhausted. I love it enough to look after myself, and acknowledge that I can't do this part of mothering unless I am well fed and well rested. So far we have been going well. I have sought lots of information, and do my best to keep my diet plentiful...I found a balance of biscuits and instant coffee just wasn't doing it for me! I have stocked up on Sustagen Hospital formula, to boost protein, have got some Blessed Thistle and Fennegreek supplements, and will go in search of some Goats Rue this week. I am feeding on demand, and trying to rest as much as possible in between...which turns out to be ten minutes on a Thursday when the big boy is at school, the little man is at kindy and I sit down and watch half a Grey's Anatomy rerun. And I find myself turning to the strategies I learned in my Prenatal Yoga classes. Turns out, in a two-hour labour I didn't get to utilise the full gamut, so I get to put some into practice with feeding. I am breathing in, I am breathing out. I can feed my baby, I am feeding my baby. I have determination, information and I will persevere.

5 things they don't tell you about breastfeeding:
1. It hurts. It hurts your nipples before the milk comes in. The baby is hungry and that mouth is bloody powerful. After the milk comes in, the let-down reflex hurts. And the after-pains in your womb, they hurt too. Blocked milk ducts hurt, chafed, grazed or cracked nipples hurt.
2. Nothing in your wardrobe 'works' for breastfeeding. Not only does nothing fit properly after nine months of growing a baby, now you have to find items which provide easy, and modest, bosomy access. Good luck with that one.
3. Expressing milk so that you can go out or return to work is a tricky business. Thank goodness for the new law requiring employers to provide a space for feeding/ expressing. I have red-faced memories of expressing in a library store-room and being sprung by a male colleague looking for equal-arm balances. And literally crying over spilled milk, when I knocked over a precious 30mls.
4. The is no suitable conversation to have with a nurse who has milked you at 2am when you run into her a few weeks later taking the kids to swimming lessons. Best to just avoid eye contact and move on really.
5. Breastfeeding is not linear. Four-hourly feeding is a load of crap. Babies are like us. You know, human. I myself wake up starving and want a great, satisfying breakfast. In the afternoon I like to snack, every hour or so. Funny that my babies are much the same. Give up notions of 'stretching them out' or getting the baby 'into a routine'. Because even once you start to see some semblance of a routine and feel like you might have this thing under control, it all changes again with a growth spurt, or illness, or teething, or something.
6. When you reach the end of your journey, no matter how long or short you feel it was, or how successful or unsuccessful you felt you were, you will feel sad knowing you are going to miss it. And you should give yourself a hug and congratulate yourself, for doing what it takes for your baby. Whether that's breastfeeding for two years, or feeding from a bottle from day one, or some combination of those. I firmly believe, and understand from my very different journeys, that every mumma does the very best she can for her babies.


  1. what a wonderful post. I just let my toddler run crazy while i committed myself to reading it. You are a strong woman. One of my dearest friends is going through exactly this with her first newborn.

    thanks so much for sharing so openly
    xo em

  2. I am very glad that you stuck with it. I did this with my first-born (when one has the time and the stamina still left! We managed to get going after about 3 months of hard slog and did well for 15 months) but not with my third-born (who I did try very hard with, but only for six weeks and then I tossed it in and put her on the bottle and I never looked back). My second-born just got on with the job. x



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