some thoughts on breastfeeding

by jenn on August 2, 2012

Last week I read two blog posts by Kate Young that made me stop and consider my prejudices. I like Kate a lot. She is smart, funny, kind, generous. She writes brilliantly. Also she happens to practice attachment parenting and she’s happy for her children to decide when they’re ready to stop being breastfed.. Aah breastfeeding. It’s featured pretty heavily in the media of late.

This fairly sensational cover of Time Magazine made waves in May this year. Is it extreme? Probably. Does it encourage discussion and personal reflection. Absolutely.

Before Charlotte was born I decided that I would breastfeed our baby; and Tom was 100% accepting and encouraging with this choice. We decided that we would allow our baby to ‘breast crawl‘ – essentially instead of putting the newborn on the nipple after birth you just have skin to skin contact and within about 20 minutes the new babe fossils about, the rooting reflex does it’s thing and voila, baby finds her way to the nipple purely through instinct. We weren’t sure if it would work but we wanted to give it a crack. It was SO amazing that our tiny little wonder found my nipple and latched on.

The plan (all going well) was to breastfeed for twelve months. After our stella beginning I found breastfeeding really difficult. The midwives, whilst all well meaning, all gave slightly different advice. The one thing that they were consistent with was this ridiculous theory that if it hurts you’re doing it wrong.

I couldn’t understand how we could be doing it more ‘right’ – chest to chest, chin on breast, Special K lips… we had it all going on. My breasts were ENORMOUS, engorged, painful, sensitive. I was taking panadol every 4-6 hours to try and manage the pain. My nipples felt cracked, although I couldn’t see any cracks or blisters. Every feed was agony. I persevered. Eventually things settled down for a while. I knew I was doing the best for my baby by breastfeeding her but I was getting a bit jack of my body not being my own. I had no desire for intimacy with my husband because my breasts were otherwise required and I couldn’t see how the two could co-exist. Just one year.

No more than one year.

We’d talked about those people who feed their children for too long. My theory was that in third world countries it made sense to feed as long as your supply was maintained as it meant one less mouth to feed, but that here where food is plentiful, if a child could ask for breast milk it was time to stop. I had visuals of the Little Britain ‘Bitty’ skit.

Twelve months, max

Then at around four months of age Charlotte went through a stage where she wouldn’t take my left breast. I felt my supply dwindling on that side and started taking Fenugreek and making lactation cookies to improve supply. Even after the supply improved it took a while for her to take to the left side again. A couple of weeks after that settled I got a blister on my right nipple. Then a few lumps, which thankfully I was able to massage out and never turned into mastitis. Then an unexplained severe pain in my right nipple that felt like it was being pierced with a hot needle. For a while there it was just one thing after the other and if it wasn’t for the cost and inconvenience of formula compared to the free and easy nature of breastfeeding I would have given it up all together. I was well and truly over it and really just taking one for the team.

When I eventually saw my doctor, she prescribed dactarin gel for thrush even though both Charlotte and I had no sign of the infection. It didn’t make any difference. Sometimes it hurt SO MUCH when I fed that I thought I was going to vomit. Eventually one of my Tweeps (oh, how I love thee, Twitter) suggested that it sounded like vasospasm. I looked up the signs and symptoms of vasospasm and they seemed a good fit so I made an appointment with a lactation consultant. It was amazing how one appointment with someone who really knew what she was talking about made all the difference in the world. Within the first couple of feeds the pain almost completely disappeared and Charlotte and I finally had our feeding mojo on. Simply amazing.

In the last couple of weeks we have begun introducing some solids. All of a sudden I found myself wishing I could feed Charlotte forever. How do I know how much ‘food’ to give her whilst breastfeeding? How do I know what flavours are best to begin with? Whose advice do I take from the multitude of ‘expert opinions’ out there. I know that she can’t be overfed breast milk. I know that I don’t have to remember anything more than a couple of nappies and a change of clothes when we leave the house. How easy would it be for me to just to stick to the breast.

Of course even those people who feed their kids, like, practically, forever introduce solids.

And then I read Kate’s post on breast feeding. She used to be a teacher and she swears that you can’t tell which kids were breastfed how long. She points out that as early as toddlerhood her kids stopped feeding in public, on their own accord. And she reminded me that as parents we make decisions every day, to try and do the best thing for our children.

It really got me thinking. Sure, it was probably (sadly) only because I like Kate so much that I actually read beyond the fifth paragraph. But it made me think about my prejudices and where they had come from. I was bottle fed from 6 weeks. My first brother was bottle fed even earlier. Even though my youngest brother was breastfed until 9 months of age I don’t remember it. Was it the lack of exposure that made me think that extended breast feeding was wrong? Or was it the family friend that continued to breastfeed her son until he was four so that he couldn’t do overnight or weekend visits with his dad when the marriage ended? Possibly. Was it just that society tells us that breastfeeding a toddler is weird and it is easier to just go along with the crowd rather than have an unique and informed opinion of my own? I’d say that’s most likely it.

It was Kate’s post over at iVillage called This is how I parent my children. Get over it. that humbled me the most. I hope she doesn’t mind me stealing a couple of quotes.

Since my son was born nine years ago, I’ve worn many labels. Attachment Parent. Permissive Parent. Instinctive/Natural Parent. Hippy La La Parent. Lazy Parent. Undisciplined Parent. Here is the label I assign to myself these days: Parent.

“I wonder sometimes how much of the discomfort people feel with some attachment practices is due to our cultural hang ups about bodies. A breast being used to nourish a walking talking child, a baby in a family bed… We’re constantly bombarded with images telling us that breasts must be aesthetically pleasing rather than functional. That the marital bed is for adults because SEX might happen there (we’ll not get into the argument about whether co-sleeping parents ever have sex. I have four children, and more than one room in my house. Have a little imagination.)”

I like to think of myself as a good person. An honourable citizen of the world. I embrace cultural differences, I support gay marriage, I give to the needy. I even support you if you choose not to vaccinate [so long as you have made an informed decision and not read any of that vaccination = autism crap].  And yet it took two articles about parenting from someone that I respect to make me realise that I had been harbouring breast feeding prejudices all this time!

It’s funny you know, now that I am actually enjoying breastfeeding, this twelve months is flying by. It’s interesting that it took someone else’s words to make me sit back and reflect upon my belief system, and that as a result of that reflection I have allowed myself to consider the possibility of breastfeeding longer. Or not. Whatever works for us at the time. I’m certainly not going to cut cut the apron strings (or bra straps?) bang on twelve months anymore.

So are YOU mum enough? I say if your baby is loved, clothed, sheltered and fed – by whatever means you choose – then yes. Hats off to you.

Thank you Kate; for being such an awesome writer, for alerting me to my prejudices, for reminding me that different does not equal wrong. Thanks for sharing your stories.

Have you ever read something that has changed your view on a matter so profoundly? 

 

 

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Kylie August 2, 2012 at 11:15 am

What a great post!

I am the same as you, in that it’s only recently that I’ve realised that I held my own breastfeeding prejudices. I too relaized at 6 months when it came time to introduce solids, how much I love breastfeeding and don’t want to stop. Just about everyone I know has stopped at 1 year old, and I thought I would be the same, but with less than 4 months to go till that milestone, the thought of stopping makes me feel sad and I’m questioning whether or not to continue. I think at the very least I would like to keep a night feed happening beyond 12 months, even if she doesn’t have any other feeds. But I will admit there is also a small part of me that does kind of look forward to having my body back, so I’m swinging back and forth. But your post has made me more aware that in the end it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about it, the decision should be made in the best interests of Mia and I and no-one else.

Just popping by from Kate’s link up (first time I’ve participated and it won’t be the last!).

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jenn August 4, 2012 at 9:25 pm

Thanks so much for visiting my blog! I’m really looking forward to getting my body back too!! Mostly I’m just looking forward to wearing nice bras again :)

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Maddi August 2, 2012 at 11:29 am

Equally there are judgements made against those of us who dearly wanted to stay breastfeeding “exclusively” to 6mths, but had to start using formula top ups due to low supply/over exuberant piggy babies!
I’ve had more than one eyebrow raised when it has been revealed I starting adding formula to my bf regime at 4 months.
I just choose to not discuss my child with anyone anymore … Friend or foe

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jenn August 2, 2012 at 12:05 pm

It’s sad that it comes to that isn’t it? So long as your baby is loved and looked after it doesn’t matter how you parent or what brings you to those choices. You can’t please everyone and nor should you try. I know you know that though! xx

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workingwomenaus August 2, 2012 at 12:29 pm

I heard a saying many years ago that has stuck with me: it’s not right, it’s not wrong it’s just different. It would serve many people well to remember that.

We’re all so quick to look at that image of the boy breastfeeding and talk about how ‘wrong’ it is, but why is it wrong? It may be different to our way of parenting or feeding, but there’s no harm in it.

I love the fact that the very clever Kate can shape people’s opinions. She’s quite a wonderful lady, hey?

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jenn August 5, 2012 at 3:04 pm

Your comment landed in my spam folder! Glad I spotted it before doing a bulk empty :) I like that saying a lot – thanks for sharing!

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Kelly @ HT and T August 2, 2012 at 2:11 pm

There are so many breastfeeding posts lately. I saw Kate’s too and I agree, she is a very insightful writer. It’s ridiculous how we feel like we have to defend our chioces. Did you see Kerri Sackville’s post ‘Each to her own – Say NO to Sixty Minutes’? It was along similar lines, and it was awesome.

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jenn August 4, 2012 at 9:26 pm

No I haven’t read Kerri’s post yet – will add it to my list, thanks!

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georgieandthree August 2, 2012 at 3:47 pm

Hi Jenn
After having a not-very-successful and quite short breastfeeding relationship with my first, when my second was born I didn’t even think about when I would CHOOSE to stop – I just wanted it to go smoothly. It wasn’t entirely smooth but we were able to persevere and when he got to 6 months and then 12 months I thought why on earth would I cut him off when it feels like we’ve just got it going smoothly! I can much more understand the desire to wean when they are small and BFing is still a struggle. He gradually weaned after I got pregnant with my third when he was 19 months old, had a few feeds after she was born when my milk was abundant again, but wasn’t that fussed either way. My third was always much more of a night feeder than daytime and so once she FINALLY slept all night at 2 years old, she weaned not too long after that. As an AP-leaning mama I know lots of children who have breastfed to 4 and 5 years of age but really I only know that because their mums told me – when the kids were all playing together the older breastfed kids would really only want to breastfeed if they were hurt or upset or needed some time out. They were also, in the most part, perfectly happy to spend an overnight with a separated parent or other family member/friend, because breastfeeding an older child is very different to breastfeeding a baby.

I try to find it funny, not hurtful, when people say “oh God those freaks who breastfeed toddlers” – my appearance is very mainstream and quite conservative – and I pipe up with “I breastfed mine until two” and it tends to make them stop and think – my youngest in particular, who’s now 4, is super-independent and confident, and I think we go against their stereotype of full-term BFing mamas/families.

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jenn August 5, 2012 at 3:07 pm

Two years before she slept through? Oh, Lordy… How many years of broken sleep was that all up? I love it that you can frame peoples’ judgements so that you find amusement rather than offence in them and I love that you shared your story with me here. Thank you! x

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georgieandthree August 2, 2012 at 3:49 pm

Oh, and you know what really sucks? The first time they get ill when they are no longer breastfeeding – whatever age that may be! I was so used to having an instant source of comfort plus a clear fluid that would keep them hydrated and also nourished.

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Miss Pink August 2, 2012 at 4:31 pm

Kate is such a wonerful person. The kind I wish was right around the corner.

I breastfed Bluey for three months. My biggest regret was weaning him. We had no problems other than his reflux and his feeds rarely exceeded 10 minutes. He was tiny but thrived on that little milk. I was 19 and in the middle of full time study, and returning to full time work when he was 3 months old. I lived with my MIL for those first 3 months who hated that I breastfed and put a lot of doubts and worry in my head. Mr Black was nothing but supportive. I had a good support network within my family including my Aunt whom I am close with who has been a midwife for 25 years. I couldn’t express. With either of my kids. With a pump or with my hands. I just never got anything. So when I returned to work, even though Bluey was with me (I worked in childcare) my boss said I couldn’t feed him as needed and so we chose bottles.
Biggest mistake. For me. It’s not for everyone. Sometimes that switch brings about a deep relief and the bond grows stronger, but I quickly spiralled into an ugly place because I wanted to breastfeed but I had a contract I couldn’t break and I had work committments. It happens.

I breastfed Greenie until he self weaned at 22months. My goal was 2 years. I was close, and because he self weaned on his own accord I am ok with it. With an older baby you find their habits change. Greenie hardly ate solids. But he still got something from the homemade food we made him that he dropped feeds. He was an hour long feeder, every 3 hours like clockwork. By his first birthday we had a food allergy diagnosis which made breastfeeding easier (as he never reacted through my breastmilk), but he spaced those feeds out to 4 times through the day and then cluster feeding at night. By 18months I tried to settle him without offering the breast through the night and it eventually worked. He was only having a feed before going to sleep which he eventually refused. Feeding a toddler isn’t like a baby, they’re too busy, they ask for it, and are off again before you know it. And it’s usually as a way to unwind.
And for what it’s worth Greenie could ask for a breastfeed (using baby sign) from 6 months of age. That’s an age I personally wouldn’t think most consider too old to breastfeed at all.
I think as a whole we need to shift our thoughts to “Are mum and baby happy? Then whatever they’re doing is good.”

And yes, breastfeeding is painful for EVERYONE at some stage. I think the notion of “it’s painless” isn’t really sending the right message. It shouldn’t be so painful that you’re writhing in pain. I think that before checking out of the hospital/midwives program, those who are breastfeeding should have a trained midwife sit with them and just check things like latch and talk about how it takes time for your nipples to toughen up, and about the kinds of pain that indicate you should see your GP, or other health professional for extra help. It doesn’t come naturally to everyone, and each baby is different.

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jenn August 5, 2012 at 3:59 pm

Sorry for the super delayed response. I agree re seeing a LC/breastfeeding specialist midwife before you are discharged from hospital. I went home 24 hours after charlotte was born and my milk hadn’t yet come in. The midwives that checked our feeding at the hospital all had slightly different opinions which became confusing.
I’m very keen to learn baby sign – will start with food and bed and take it from there!
Thanks for sharing your bf story with me xx

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katesaysstuff August 2, 2012 at 7:48 pm

Jenn thankyou. This post has honestly made my day. If you’d told me before my eldest was born that I’d be one of those long term feeding types I would not have believed you at all. It’s funny how things change ;)

I really appreciate your thoughts here :)

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Kim-Marie August 2, 2012 at 8:22 pm

Loved this post! Loved it!

Breastfeeding was easy and natural for me and my baby. I needed some help to work out when to swap boobs as he stopped when the hind milk started, so he was only getting watery foremilk and no good filling hindmilk. Too hungry to sleep, too tired to feed. So frustrated that I had to pay a lactation consultant to discover this. All the midwives wanted to know was if he’d latched. My Ob saved me and shamed the midwife into helping me.

Sadly, my breastfeeding career was shut down early due to him losing his latch from swollen gums from teething. So I expressed for months. Worked out well, as I wound up in hospital with a severe infection on very strong antibiotics and was unable to breastfeed. Thank the gods we’d already gone through the hell of switching to bottles and partial formula!

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jenn August 5, 2012 at 3:35 pm

Thanks for your kind words!
Didn’t you have access to a pubic lactation consultant? Such a shame that many midwives don’t seem to be as educated in breast feeding issues as would be helpful. Each one has their own thoughts and theories and many seem to be off the mark. I suppose their job is pretty much done once the little baby arrives! (BTW I loved my midwives for the birthing part). Lucky you had expressed milk, we are fortunate that Charlotte takes EBM from a bottle – it took a fair bit of practice but it meant I was able to go to NNB2012 by myself!

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Bree @ Twinkle in the Eye August 2, 2012 at 8:48 pm

Your boobs owe a big thank you to Twitter! I was open to feeding longer but my little boy fairly well weaned himself at 12 months. He was showing little to no interest in feeding, only biting – because biting is funny – not :-( We tried to transition him to formula for awhile and he had an awful reaction, he had diarrhoea and horrid nappy rash, neither of which he had before. We put him on cows milk and he hasn’t looked back. So my child chose – and he did so sooner that expected.

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jenn August 5, 2012 at 3:36 pm

Yes I am super grateful to my tweeps! Some things we can’t control no matter how hard we try :)
Thanks for sharing your story xx

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Cassandra August 3, 2012 at 9:02 am

I have to admit too… I was bf predudice before Hannah came along. To tell you the truth, I had no plan whatsoever to bf Hannah. Emily (who’s now 11) was formula fed from day dot. I grew up in a family where formula feeding was the norm and had pretty much no exposure to breastfeeding. I ummed and aahhed about going to the breastfeeding classes during my pregnancy as I didn’t want to go and listen to the “Breast Feeding Nazi” nurses preach. but for some reason, I went, but still wasn’t convinced. The only thing that changed my mind a little was watching the :breast crawl” video. That was the coolest party trick ever! lol.
So… Hannah was born, she was placed on my tummy & Tony and I watched in awe as she shuffled her way up and latched on. That truly is the most amazing thing ever!!!
From that point on, I haven’t turned back. I’ve been really lucky that bf’ing has come quite easily to us. Sure I’ve had my moments where all I’ve wanted was to have my body back… for those first 10 weeks it bloody hurts (toe curling hurts for a minute or two) when bub first latches.. but I learnt that that is pretty much just our poor nipples being stretched like they’ve never been stretched before! But you’re right.. it’s so much easier than having to worry about bottles and sterilizing and all that stuff.
So… Hannah is now 16 months and we’re still breastfeeding! She has never taken a bottle of expressed milk… I tried, she refused:-/ Much to the disapproval of my family and friends, she’ll wean when she’s ready. I never planned to be an AP.. it’s just kinda happened. And I have to send apologies out to everyone that I have judged previously for their parenting style choices… I have a new theory on this now.. what ever works for you and yours, whatever makes bub happy and Mumma happy… at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.
Sorry for the novel! :D Great post Hun xo

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jenn August 5, 2012 at 3:48 pm

Thanks for the novel – I love it! And great theory too :)
xxx

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Naomi August 3, 2012 at 11:53 am

Thought I’d add my opinion to the mix, wrote a post on this too :)

http://www.writeaboutme.com.au/lifes-shades-of-grey-breastfeeding/

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jenn August 3, 2012 at 9:22 pm

thanks for sharing your link! :)

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Kylie @ Octavia and Vicky August 5, 2012 at 2:15 pm

I had a shitty time with breast feeding Pebble (I wrote about it here – I can’t read it without tearing up! http://www.helloowl.com.au/2010/09/guest-post-boobs-baby-and-me). I’m not sure what we’ll do next time around. I feel like I need to give any siblings the same benefit as I did with Pebble – at least 7 months of breastfeeding. At the same time, I don’t sacrifice my own mental health and the attachment with my child for the sake of getting breast feeding right.

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jenn August 5, 2012 at 4:08 pm

oh I love your post and the courage that it must have taken to write it. I think it’s wise to hope for the best next time but accept the reality if/when you’re faced with it. Like you said: your mental health and relationship with your baby is more important than the act of breastfeeding.
Thanks for sharing xx

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