Before my child was born, I decided that I was going to breastfeed, but I also told myself that I wouldn’t beat myself up if I struggled or if it didn’t work.
After my child was born, my desire to breastfeed eclipsed the sun. I did struggle. It took a few days for my milk to come in, my baby lost weight, and we had to top him up with formula. I was expressing milk like a demon to try to increase my milk supply. It’s an up hill struggle when you start topping up with formula. You need to express as much as you are giving in formula, but without the assistance of the hormones triggered when a baby latches onto your nipple you have to work twice, maybe three times as hard. I nearly gave up on numerous occasions. I did it though. By six weeks I was breastfeeding exclusively. I know that not everyone can do this. This is an achievement that I am really proud of.
Those first six weeks were really hard. I felt like a failure. That feeling of failure to feed the person that has been growing inside you for the last nine months and who you have the most overwhelming, primal, feelings of love for is horrendous. I dreaded going to have him weighed by the Health Visitors. The Health Visitors were nice. He was putting on weight. He could have been a bit bigger but they said that they had no concerns at all.
The same could not be said of my ex partner. He was worried about our son’s size and weight. He read a lot on the internet. He checked various growth charts. He downloaded i-phone apps to track our baby’s weight. Although his actions were well intended; he wanted to be sure our son was healthy, he exacerbated my feelings of failure. I felt like I was constantly being appraised.
It would have really helped me to have a partner who was supportive of my desire to breastfeed. A male friend of mine maintains that his wife and their baby cannot get the latch right without his assistance. I am personally not sure about this; I suspect that they do just fine. What is important though is that he is totally bought into the breastfeeding relationship between his wife and their baby. He has said that he thinks that a woman’s body is amazing: it can grow a baby; a woman gives birth and then she produces milk. When she breastfeeds, in fact all of the time, he looks at her with admiration.
My ex partner didn’t find the breastfeeding experience amazing. He found it embarrassing to have a partner who breastfed in public. It wasn’t like I was stripping off in public, I always covered myself with a scarf or muslin. I suspect this embarrassment came from his mother who insisted that I breastfeed alone in the spare bedroom rather than in the sitting room partaking in conversation with everyone else. I think he found it awkward to see a baby latched onto his partner’s nipple, hitherto nipples had been sex toys. I don’t know whether he was jealous, or just prudish, but it was damaging.
Some breastfeeding truths:
1. Some women find it really easy to breastfeed, I envy them, others really struggle. For me, the first six weeks of breastfeeding was the hardest thing that I have ever done. It was my greatest challenge, but is now my greatest achievement.
2. Just because it hurts doesn’t mean you are doing it wrong. A friend’s baby was ill recently. Rather than waking her baby up to feed she let her baby sleep for an extra hour or so. When the baby woke she was ravenous and latched onto my friend’s face. My friend had a love-bite / hicky whatever you want to call it on her face for at least a week. A baby’s sucking reflex is really strong. If a baby can leave a love bite on your face, it is no wonder that your nipples, a much more sensitive part of your body, hurt.
3. Your body is better at producing milk when you are relaxed and rested. Evolution has clearly gone wrong here. You will probably never feel less relaxed or less rested than during the first six weeks postpartum when your body is establishing its milk supply.
4. Some babies aren’t that bothered about eating. Now that my baby is on solids, he still isn’t that bothered about eating. That’s just the way he is.
5. A baby’s birth weight is as much a result of the efficiency of the placenta than an indication of the weight that a baby is genetically predisposed to be. I think we get too hung up about weight charts and graphs. A mother knows when her baby is happy and healthy.
6. The postpartum period is really tough, we have a responsibility to support the mother whatever her decision around breastfeeding may be. Breastfeeding is such an emotive issue. Everyone has an opinion on it. Ultimately though, I believe it should be the decision of the mother whether to breastfeed or not. Our role as partner, family or friend should be to support her whatever her decision may be.