I always feared that I wouldn’t be able to breastfeed. I knew logically that there was no reason why I wouldn’t be able to; I think part of me was perhaps preparing myself, so that the blow wouldn’t be as hard if it didn’t work out. Breastfeeding was something that I always whole-heartedly wanted to do. I did as much as I could to prepare my body for what was to come, I bought all of the products and I began hand expressing colostrum at 36 weeks with the blessing of my care providers. Much to mine, and anybody around me familiar with breastfeeding’s surprise, I expressed almost 200ml over 5 weeks. While I knew that antenatal colostrum supply doesn’t reflect how successful breastfeeding will be, admittedly this gave me confidence.
Fast forward to 41+2, I made a very thoroughly thought-out decision to consent to an induction of labour, which was the best decision for our family given available research and evidence. Knowing that induction of labour can impact the initiation of breastfeeding, I was committed to making sure I was doing everything in my power to help my body with milk production. I birthed my baby after a long labour, my husband bringing him to my chest where he stayed on my skin for an amount of time that I can’t even estimate.My team knew and respected my wishes, and all assessments were attended to while he laid on me; his warm, soft skin against mine, filling me to the brim with oxytocin (and a tiny bit of disbelief that this beautiful baby was mine).
My son came into the world hungry. He cried for the first 10 minutes of his life. I remember thinking, surely he isn’t crying because he is hungry already? I guided him gently and before I knew it, we had worked together to initiate the first of countless breastfeeds. I remember feeling so proud; we did it. Just me and you. As a midwife, I felt confident in the initiation of breastfeeding. I knew anatomically how breast milk is produced, how to achieve an effective latch, how to recognise signs that attachment isn’t quite right; but the doubt came seeping in. “What if I’m not doing this right? What if the interventions I had in labour impact my supply? What if I just can’t do this?”
This was the first scenario that on reflection, having the right support put me back on track. Our wonderful midwife who was with us all night while I laboured and helped to welcome our baby into the world, reminded me of all these things that I knew as a midwife. And she knew that I knew them too. She figuratively ticked all the boxes for me – his attachment was decent, I was feeding frequently and on demand, I had an abundance of colostrum; I just needed to take a breath and trust the process. Sometimes a gentle reminder of the knowledge you already hold inside, is all you need to reaffirm that what you are doing is right.
In the following days, I was seen by an International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) to give me further reassurance that I was doing everything right. She loaded me with support and information, while we tried to get on top of ever so slight ridging of my nipples after feeds. I was discharged with an abundant supply, and more confidence than I anticipated. I had my trusty Silverette cups in tow, helping me to heal the mild damage that I accumulated from learning the ropes of breastfeeding for the first time.
I fed my baby on demand, night and day. We cuddled, we contact napped, and we slept close. A continuous, rhythmical cycle of our bodies listening to each other. My beautiful husband made certain that I was fed, had water for the intense thirst that hit with each letdown, had the TV remote in reach, my phone charger at hand… everything you could think of. He continues to do this to this day, 8 months down the track. True support does not wane once the tumultuous early days of parenthood have passed.
He surpassed his birth weight by a week old. With each visit to Maternal and Child Health, his weight went up and up. He showed all of the signs of being a very well-nourished baby. So why did I still hold such heavy doubt in my abilities? Why was I convinced that I would just wake up, and have no milk? I accessed our community IBCLC on a couple of occasions, who later identified that my baby had a posterior, and upper lip tie. We discussed our options; I had no nipple damage, a settled, happy baby and an abundant milk supply. With there being minimal studies on the long-term effects of tie releases, I opted to leave his restrictions undisturbed, so long as neither of us were being negatively impacted. The four-week growth spurt hit. He was unsettled, he would spit up, he would cry. “Am I overfeeding? Should I just stick to 3 hourly?” I stopped demand feeding, stopped trusting myself, stopped working with my baby. I felt like my supply had dipped. I got on the breast pump… nothing. No milk came out. Cue the tears. Here came to the rescue for the first of many, many times, our wonderful local Australian Breastfeeding Association Counsellor Kristin (who happens to also be a special friend of mine).
This was uncharted territory for me; sure, I knew how to initiate breastfeeding. But beyond that? Long term? I didn’t prepare nearly as much as I thought I had. My beautiful friend gently educated me, talked me down and empowered me. I learned more about cluster feeding, demand feeding, normal infant behaviour, the unrealistic expectations of “feed, play, sleep” in the context of breastfeeding. Kristin has continued to be an enormous source of support, reassurance and education for me, she’s the reason I learned to trust my body and my baby.
My husband hugged me while I cried, my Mum came to visit the next day and hugged me while I cried. The three of us spent the day talking about and planning how I was going to boost my supply. They both made sure I drank plenty of water, and they helped me bake lactation cookies* and keep my stress levels low. With each developmental change, growth spurt, anything…
The doubt came creeping back in again. “My breasts don’t feel full anymore. He hasn’t gained any weight in two weeks.” Once again, Kristin brought me back down to earth with gentle reassurance, validation and education. I learned about supply regulation and that it was normal for my breasts to feel soft now. I learned that infant growth isn’t linear, weight gain is not the only factor. She continued to and continues to come through for me regularly when I begin to doubt myself, and I am forever grateful for this. In following months, I did a lot of research into the effects of oral restrictions, beyond feeding difficulties. I wondered if I had made the right decision to leave my baby’s undisturbed. I had been taking him to a local Osteopath to have body work to assist in the management of his ties, and it was here that I was seen by a visiting Advanced Paediatric Osteopath who specialised in oral restrictions. He was around five months old at this stage, and I had previously been told that he had a posterior tongue tie, upper lip tie and a high/sensitive palate. He was assessed by the visiting practitioner who deemed his “ties” more as “restrictions” and that they were mild and very unlikely to cause any developmental or functional issues besides maybe gappy front teeth (who doesn’t love a sweet little gap-toothed smile?) His high palate had resolved and thanks to the treatment he had been having, as well as implementing the use of specific teethers that can be useful to help desensitise a sensitive palate, this issue had also resolved. It was the final confirmation for me that I had made the right decision to leave his restrictions.
It took me until about 5 months post-partum to stop weighing my baby at home. It took me until 6 months to finally trust myself. To trust my body. It’s not lost on me that not everybody has the support that they deserve. My heart hurts whenever friends share stories with me about comments, ridicule, judgement and everything in between that they receive around both feeding (regardless of the mode), and their parenting choices. Every mother deserves support to feed their babies how they wish. Every mother deserves access to the wealth of knowledge that is IBCLC’s, and ABA counsellors. Every mother deserves to have access to the education that they need to succeed in feeding their babies.
I am so grateful to be surrounded by friends and my family who support me in my choices and trust my judgement. My friends, some of which desperately wanted to breastfeed their babies, but couldn’t for various reasons. They support me and celebrate with me, even though their hearts still hurt a little. My parents, who make me feel so comfortable to be the parent I want to be. My Nan, who doesn’t bat an eyelid when I feed my baby, and reminds me that it has been normal for many generations before me to sleep with their babies close by the way that I do and that she did. My brothers and their wives, who not only make me feel safe to feed my baby anywhere, but normalise it in a way that all of my nieces and nephews watch in awe, and not a single one of them is bothered. And of course, my husband. My number one supporter. He forever makes me feel safe, listened to, validated and trusted. And it also helps that he brings me an ice cream every night while I feed our son to sleep. If it weren’t for the collective support of the amazing people in my life, I truly do not know what path my breastfeeding journey would have taken. I am forever grateful for these people, and the services that I have been able to access.
*Worth noting, is that recent studies have found lactation cookies to have little to no effect on milk supply