Little Sunday story time by Claire
I've had a really positive breastfeeding experience, though it hasn't always been without its challenges. I really benefitted from having lots of resources, support, and community around me. It was partly luck and partly intention that I have had those things, but, in any case, I don't think my breastfeeding experience would have been so positive without this support network.
I was lucky to have the birth I had hoped for, and I felt like a superhero afterwards. I was on a high! However, I think because the birth went so smoothly and because I had shared with midwives that I had done antenatal classes, I didn't get a lot of help in the birth centre with getting breastfeeding going. I think midwives thought I knew what I was doing, and were letting me get on with it. But despite all the antenatal classes and reading I had done, reality is a whole different beast! I wish I had really demanded more help whilst in hospital. We didn't really realise that we needed to be feeding her so often, even if she wasn't crying, even if she was sleeping. She was and is such a chilled baby - hardly ever crying - so we just didn't think she was hungry that often. As it was, my daughter lost slightly more than 10% of her body weight by day three, and I think if we could have avoided that if we knew better and really encouraged her to eat more frequently.
With her weight loss, we had to go back into hospital. The worst part was, my milk had just come in that day and we really were going gangbusters with the feeding. Once in hospital, I was a wreck. I felt like a failure, my hormones were all over the place, I was worried about our baby. I didn't want to feed her formula, but at that moment, it felt like the inevitable outcome of hospital intervention. But in fact, the doctor did everything she could to support us in our breastfeeding efforts, sending us home under "hospital at home" care, in which weren't technically discharged but we could carry on with breastfeeding at home and be seen by a nurse the next day at home. Our baby put on LOADS of weight over the next 24 hours (had to wake her up and keep her up for feeds), so I'm actually quite grateful for the kick up the pants.
From there, breastfeeding was easy sailing. I enjoyed the spontaneity of it all, and how flexible our lives could be, so long as baby and boobs were close together. I learned how to breastfeed in the sling, which was AMAZING. I would highly suggest finding a local sling library - I brought my dad once, and it made such a difference for him to have a conversation with the sling consultant about attachment parenting. He really got on board with all the parenting choices we were making, and that kind of support is key for breastfeeding mums. Also, we bed shared with our baby from very early on after midwives suggested it. It was a game changer - we were all actually getting very good sleep, which made those early days so much easier. The Safe Sleep Seven rules are good places to start to learn more about safe bedsharing.
Unfortunately, when my daughter was about 7.5 months, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. At this point, my daughter wasn't taking bottles at all, so that was a real stress. And I was so sad that breastfeeding would have to end as it was such a massive element of my positive relationship with my daughter and of my self esteem. I felt like the best version of myself through birth, my daughter's infancy, and breastfeeding, so it was a massive loss. Breastfeeding was my super power, how would I mother without it?? We had about a week or two of trying/failing with bottles before my daughter kind of went, "oh, so THAT'S what this thing does??" I think what made the difference was actually me giving her the bottle, and (pretend) sucking on the bottle myself - then she was interested in what mummy had! I was also very lucky to have supportive family to help during this time.
Once I knew she WOULD take a bottle, I let us just enjoy "normal" breastfeeding for the few days before chemotherapy started. One morning, it was just me and baby while dad slept in. Sunshine and a breeze came through the windows on a beautiful morning, we read books and played, then she just crawled into my arms and nursed and slept. It was beautiful and easy, and I just knew that was our last nursing. I took some pictures to always remember that time.
From there we effectively emergency/abrupt weaned, just about when baby was 9 months. It really helped to have my husband and family and friends around to hand baby to, as physical proximity to me just made her want to nurse more. Also, we had to take a break of a few days from babywearing and bed sharing, as those were so boob-related. For my own comfort, I just expressed a little bit for comfort in the shower using a suction/Haakaa pump and drank peppermint and sage teas. (I was also starting on some hormone therapy at this time as part of my cancer treatment, so that may have helped my milk dry up faster.) It wasn't long before we were on a new bottle routine, and baby's been getting on with solids better since, too.
Now, bottles are going absolutely fine, baby is happy as ever (and she really has been the whole time!), and we've really readjusted well, I think. Nights are a mixed bag - I'm relearning how to sleep without the hormonal assist of breastfeeding, myself (plus the stress of my disease!); and I just wish I could stick a boob in her face and we could all just get straight back to sleep. Plus, I think nights are just tricky at this age, breastfeeding or not, as teeth and crawling/walking/exploring take up so much energy. Oh well! We are learning as we go, which is true for all new parents.
I really miss the special connection we shared through breastfeeding, but I also enjoy the bit of extra freedom I enjoy now that it's a little easier to leave her in others' care. At the moment, I hope I'll have another baby and I hope I can enjoy a positive breastfeeding experience with that little one, but I know circumstances change and that my own ongoing treatment may affect things. To anyone going through something similar, my best advice is to be kind to yourself and accept and seek the loving support of those who care for you and your family.