Just like Gabby’s first birthday sneaked up on me, so did our 1 year breastfeeding anniversary.
I was one of those people who didn’t know where to look when faced with a breastfeeding mother. I was one of those people who thought people who breastfed their babies beyond 6 months are weird. I was one of those people who tried to breastfeed and gave up after 3 weeks. I was one of those people who thought breastfeeding hurt. I was one of those people who wanted to breastfeed purely for the possible weight loss benefits. I have walked through the looking glass and now I’m on the other side.
Going to La Leche League and finding a strong support structure got us to where we are today. I was too scared/shy to go to a meeting alone, so I roped a friend into going with me. I started attending meetings once a month, 3 months before I was due. I only fit in two meetings before my baby was born, but at that point I had already bonded with my La Leche League leader, Kim, and had her on speed dial.
It wasn’t easy. It was hard. Our journey got off to a rocky start facing jaundice and pediatricians who wanted to pump her full of sugar water and formula to get rid of the jaundice. She also stopped pooing for days at a time (up to 10 days sometimes!) in those early weeks. Kim came to see me at home after Gabby was born. She checked our latch and said everything seemed fine. I needed the reassurance (not all leaders do home visits, but some do and they don’t charge). When Gabby was 3 weeks old I faced exactly the same scenario as I had almost 3 years prior and was on the brink of quitting. I was literally sitting breastfeeding Gabby and sobbing at the same time. My husband said ‘Just put her on a bottle then!’ – never one to deal well with a crying woman. I reached out to Kim and she uttered words of wisdom that I will never forget: ‘Never quit on your worst day’. Repeating that mantra to myself over and over got me through that day and you know what? The next day was so much better! If I had quit on that particular day, I would not be telling the same story today. At 3 weeks we were battling with Gabby’s weight gain and she just wasn’t picking up enough. I didn’t want to supplement. I didn’t want to take that route, for fear of it ending our breastfeeding journey abruptly. I was going to a very pro breastfeeding clinic for weigh ins all the way in Panorama. The nurses there were kind and gentle with me, which didn’t help for the tears. They showed me different positions, they weighed her before and after feeding. They were dubious about her weight gain, but supportive at the same time. I went to a different clinic for vaccinations and the nurse there also commented on her weight gain. The exact same clinic I took Elijah to. The exact same scenario. They weren’t 100% happy with the weight gain. All of them squinted at the charts, supportive or not. This was the point where my confidence was at its lowest and where it was easy for me to doubt myself and the path I had chosen for me and my baby. I solicited the help of an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) through La Leche League who also came to check our latch at home and to see if Gabby was transferring milk well, which she was. I pushed through. At our 6 week pediatrician check up I was sent home with a prescription for Eglynol which I gladly accepted, just to make myself feel like I was doing everything I could. That meant the end of my rapid weight loss dream, but I was willing to let go of that in favour of my breastfeeding goals.
For weeks after that I agonized and worried about Gabby’s weight gain. I continued to doubt myself, because doubting yourself is much easier than believing you can achieve your heart’s desires. I kept on breastfeeding and doing everything I could to keep us going. I attended La Leche League meetings every month and kept in contact with Kim about any questions I had (and there were many!). She really was an amazing cheerleader. Always ready with answers and a kind word. Just what I needed. For 12 weeks I had a baby permanently at my breast. It was frustrating at times. I couldn’t do things, but luckily I realized that nothing was more important at the time. So we lay in bed and fed. I watched series while feeding and napped when she did. Bliss! At our 4 month pediatrician check up I held my breath and waited for the pediatrician to tell me he thinks we should top up with formula. It never came. I walked out of that appointment on cloud 9. I finally felt comfortable and decided not to agonize over it anymore. I also found support from other mothers at La Leche League who had small babies and worried about weight gain.
At 5 and a half months I had to go back to work and discovered that I am a terrible pumper. My body just doesn’t let down for the pump like it does for my baby. I expressed twice a day at work and managed to get out about 100 ml. This meant I wasn’t able to produce enough milk for Gabby’s feeds for the next day. I was forced to resort to mixed feeding. I cringed at the thought and didn’t want to ‘contaminate’ my baby with formula. Obviously at this point I had been completely transformed into a pro breastfeeding type person. Duh. I raised my son on formula from the age of 3 weeks and he is totally fine! I was forced to make peace with it. I was only two weeks shy of my 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding goal, but the first rule is feed the baby. I gave the day mother all her days with instructions on paced bottle feeding and not feeding the baby too much. We even had a fight about it. Both the day mother and I are non confrontational to the extreme and us having a tiff about this was actually a big deal. In all the time she had Elijah we never had such a disagreement. I was so worried that my milk would no longer satisfy Gabby if she was being overfed with formula or that she would start preferring the flow of the bottle to my breast. Still I persevered.
She gained a lot of weight on the formula and suddenly I started getting comments (from family) about her being too fat. Clearly nothing I did was going to make everyone happy. It took a lot of restraint to keep my mouth shut. I was told to give her rooibos tea instead of milk at night so she didn’t gain too much weight. This was when she was 9 months old. Effectively this ill informed family member was telling me to reduce my baby’s calorie intake. Put my baby on a DIET. Was she KIDDING ME? Ok. Clearly I’m still a little angry about that. *deep breath*.
I’m still a terrible pumper. In fact, now Gabby is refusing my expressed milk (which is normal for babies from a certain age) and the time has finally come for me to wean myself from the breast pump so that I can stop expressing during the day. I must say expressing has always been a chore for me, especially since she isn’t drinking my milk and it feels like a waste of time. I’ll be sending my freezer stash to the day mother for her to attempt as she generally has better luck getting Gabby to drink milk than Rudi does. I built up the freezer stash freezing the fruits of my labour when she was drinking formula at the day mother. I would send some frozen milk with her if she was sick to help her get better, so I don’t have much as she would deplete whatever I sent in a day or two. Sometimes 2/3 weeks worth of expressed milk. Poof. Gone.
I may not have lost a radical amount of weight while breastfeeding, but it has definitely stabilized my weight and prevented me from gaining. I am a couple of kilos below my pre-pregnancy weight and didn’t even really gain over the festive season. Not all women dramatically lose weight when breastfeeding. Some lucky ones do.
That aside, it has been so utterly rewarding. It is the most amazing relationship I have ever had with another human being. I absolutely love how she is immediately comforted when she latches on, no matter what has happened. Even after she fell off the bed and hit her face on a wooden chair on the way down, she latched and it was over. She was howling because she was overtired, she latched and it was over. She lost her balance and knocked her head on the hard tiles, she latched and it was over. She got a big fright and started crying when her brother accidentally bumped her, she latched and it was over. I used to struggle to comfort Elijah as a baby, no dummy could ever comfort him the way my breast comforts her. I have gotten so much more sleep with her than I did with him too. Co-sleeping and dreamfeeding have been a Godsend sleep wise.
Here we are. A year later. I finally feel like I’ve done it. I finally feel like I have conquered breastfeeding (better late than never) and now I’m the weirdo who wants to let my child self wean. On this journey I have also managed to encourage and support a friend who has now been breastfeeding for two months.
If you are contemplating it, know this: You are not meant to be able to do it alone. You need support. You need help. The saying ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ didn’t come from nowhere. Reach out. Get help. YOU CAN DO IT! Also, ‘Never quit on your worst day’! La Leche League is a great group of like minded moms and it is free. They will do anything to help you breastfeed. You may even make some friends.
We are entering a phase of breastfeeding which will have its challenges. We will face adversity, judgement and criticism as society frowns upon toddlers breastfeeding (despite the World Health Organization recommending breastfeeding up to 2 years). I will persevere! I’ve become more and more comfortable with breastfeeding with other people around and nursing a toddler is very different from nursing a newborn. Here’s to the next year!