When I found out I was pregnant for the first-time, a lot of things ran through my brain.
For starters, I was elated but wary.
Having had a miscarriage two months earlier, I knew that despite those miraculous two lines it still didn’t guarantee a baby. I tried not to get my hopes too high.
But as the weeks rolled on, I did start thinking about what kind of mum I’d be; what I wanted to instil in my future son or daughter (transpired the former) and what kind of approach I’d take: Would they be allowed screens? Where would we live? Would I apply a sugar ban? Where would they go to school? What would I teach them?
One thing that I contemplated very hard, was whether or not I’d breastfeed.
I know there are some people that feel very strongly about this subject, but my position has always firmly been: Do what works for you.
Prior to having my baby, I was aware of the documented benefits of breastfeeding, but I could also see significant shortfalls. One of the main ones being the obvious restriction on my time.
Women are often told that breastfeeding is not only best but also free. But that presupposes that women’s time is free, which is frankly ridiculous.
As someone who runs a business, the prospect of being physically latched to my baby at all times (especially in those earliest of days) didn’t fill me with a whole lot of joy.
Despite my reluctance, I let the subtle influence of some of my friends, family, and internet allies reshape my perspective. I was new to this parenting schtick, maybe my worry was unfounded. I’d give it a try and see…
Then I was a mum…
Within minutes of giving birth I remember being wheeled into an adjoining room and my seemingly ravenous baby placed firmly on my right nipple. It felt weird but not altogether horrible. He latched easily (thank goodness) and he was in no hurry to be taken off.
For hours after that, he was stuck to me, sucking furiously and with each passing minute the experience became less wonderful and more painful. By day two I was in agony.
To make matters worse, he wasn’t getting anything out of it. My milk hadn’t come in and I was producing barely any colostrum. His blood sugars began to plummet, and he was put on supplemental formula.
Every three hours the midwives would come in to prick my tiny baby’s foot to check his sugars were picking up and I felt terrible.
By day three, I was in utter despair. When the midwife came in to check I’d maintained my scheduled feed, I started to cry. I told her I couldn’t do it and that she needed to find another alternative for me.
The midwife was kind but wasn’t folding without a fight. She returned half an hour later with what can only be described as an industrial grade breast pump—two at the same time and as loud as my old (and much beloved) 1986 Corolla.
When my partner came back from a coffee run and found me hooked up to the groaning pump, I joked feebly: “How the mighty have fallen.”
A few weeks later
Ultimately though, my midwives were right. At least, in part.
The breastfeeding did get physically easier. My milk came in (in a big way) a couple of days later, and my baby was getting more than enough.
Mentally and emotionally though, my experience with breastfeeding was more complex.
While I did come to cherish those quiet moments, lying on the couch with my tiny little human, I also found it acutely difficult being his sole life force for all those months.
I wanted my partner to have more of a hand in this part of the experience, but of course that’s limited even with a breast pump and bottles.
I struggled because it badly altered my emotional state. There’s an under-researched condition called D-MER which I’m certain I had. (more on that at a later time).
I struggled with the lost flexibility which is already such a huge adjustment as a first-time parent.
I struggled because I couldn’t sleep. He’d be up three times a night, feeding for an hour each time. An experience which triggered and exacerbated a year-long curse of insomnia.
I struggled because it didn’t always feel comfortable. Often it hurt, and I would wince and feel resentful.
I struggled because I felt guilty for feeling resentful.
The basic gist? There were things I loved about breastfeeding, but it was never a black and white equation. And if I end up having a second baby, it’s likely I’ll do things differently.
I’ll follow my gut, rather than the well-intentioned advice of others. Because while breastfeeding is wonderful, so is formula. And the best approach? Is what’s best for both of us. Simple.