I fed them everywhere: restaurants, supermarkets, pubs, cinemas, art galleries, parks. I never once had a negative remark or look. I never hid away but I equally didn’t do it in people’s faces. Maybe I was lucky but honestly I never gave a damn about what people thought and I never felt for a minute that people gave a damn that I was feeding my child in public. It never crossed my mind. And life reflected this back to me and left my babies and I to do what is completely natural and normal.
Apart from the topic of childbirth, breastfeeding must be the next great topic of conversation amongst mums. Whether new, expecting or a mother of 5, when someone starts talking about their experience with breastfeeding it seems to open the flood gates with everyone having an opinion or story to recall.
Instead of writing a “how to” guide or prescribing must do’s, I’m going to share about what worked for me, what helped and what didnt. I am a 41 year old mother of three – daughters 11 and 10 years old respectively, and a 2 year old son. I breastfed all three of my kids for varying lengths (my first daughter for 12mths, my second for 18mths and my son was recently weaned at 23 months). This is what worked for me:
Preparing myself for birth and breastfeeding while pregnant:
During my first pregnancy I read widely and kept a very open mind when thinking about what type of birth I might have and why I wanted to breastfeed. I come from a family where my mother breastfed my three siblings and I for at least 12 months each and I grew up around breastfeeding women in our circle of family friends. Breastfeeding was the norm I guess you could say. When I researched options for where to have my first child I decided upon a birth centre attached to the maternity wing of the women’s hospital in Sydney. Through the birth centre and hospital I was given information on breastfeeding and also had the opportunity to attend free breastfeeding classes run by midwives. I also attended with my husband private prenatal education classes with Marie Burrows at Birthing Rites in Sydney (http://www.birthingrites.com), a natural birth and breastfeeding advocate. I read widely, particularly books by Ena May Gaskin, made sure I kept an open mind, educated myself on optimal breastfeeding techniques, and attachment.
Breastfeeding as soon as possible after the birth:
I had water births with all three of my children and as soon as possible after they were born I placed them on my bare chest. All the literature I read at the time led me to believe this was the best place for them to attach to me. In the moments after their births it was where I wanted them to be – on me, touching me, snuggling into me so I could hold them as close to me as possible and marvel in their existence. After removing myself from the birth pool and toweling off I then lay propped up and put each of my babies to my breast where they seemed to naturally open their mouths and attach. And then not let go for between 20-45mins. I sincerely believe that breastfeeding all my children, two of them within minutes of being born – and for my son who had the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck three times and was born bright blue, he was put to breast within minutes of stablising – within moments of their births started us all off on the road to happy breastfeeding. My children attached to me and me to them in those first few moments and ever since I have associated my body with being able to give my baby what it needs and I believe my babies have expected that my breast would provide what they needed too.
Breastfeeding on demand:
I am not going to lie. In those first couple of sleep deprieved months of infancy I was exhausted and especially so when I had two daughters under 20 months. I fed when my baby cried and I thought they were hungry. I fed when they woke up. I fed them to sleep. I fed them while walking around the house, answering the door, on a bench out the front of the supermarket, in the front seat of the car, at bootcamp on a towel on the grass. On planes, trains, boats. You name it, Ive probably breastfed there. I had an ample supply of milk as a result. I have never conformed to a feeding schedule but rather fed when I thought my child was hungry. And that was sometimes very often, every 1-2 hours some evenings in the case of my first daughter who would cluster feed between 4-10pm every day but then sleep through the night until 8am from the age of 8 weeks old. But sometimes my children would go 4-5 hours between feeds. Like you and I sometimes their appetites were greater or less than other times and I had to be flexible and go with what they demanded. I am very lucky that I had the time and flexibility to be able to do this and I would advise that the one thing you must be as a parent is flexible, not just with breastfeeding.
As my babies grew older, from around 4 months old, I would then try to establish feeding every 3-4 hours but again I was flexible in their demands. As soon as I introduced solids around 6 months of age I would then try to feed on a stricter 3-4 hourly schedule so that the feeding was not interfering with the amount of solids they were taking in.
Yes, with my first daughter I had sore nipples. Not excruciatingly so, but they were raw at times. I soon learned from my midwife (I discharged myself from hospital between 12-24hrs after each birth and the local midwife would visit me daily at home for the first 8-10 days after the birth, a service I found invaluable) that this was because the baby was sucking too much on the nipple and not on my breast. I feel for those women who tell me they found breastfeeding too painful and gave up as a result. I believe if someone had physically shown them how to attach the baby correctly within the first couple of attempts of breastfeeding that this pain could be avoided.
When the baby attached to the breast I went with the advice given and aimed the baby’s chin for under the dark areola. With their chin hitting the area below the nipple first, they naturally open their mouths wide in the expectation of food and as a result take a large mouthful of nipple and areola into their mouth. By taking this larger area of breast tissue into their mouths the baby does not then suck only on the nipple which seems to cause most of the pain, blisters, cracking, etc. They suck more deeply with their tongue palpating the surrounding tissue as well and this allows the breast to empty how intended. I have taught this technique to many friends who have asked for advice and given talks and demonstrated this technique while feeding my son to groups of pregnant women to help explain how correct attachment really is the key to successful breastfeeding. Try googling ‘breastfeeding attachment diagram’ to see how this works.
Introducing bottles and dummies/pacifiers:
With my first child I was very keen for my husband to participate in being able to feed my daughter. Once she was around 8 weeks and established breastfeeding I would often pump at the end of a feed and have milk available for my husband to feed her at different times. My daughter took to a bottle no problem and never seemed to confuse the bottle with breast. She also had a dummy and loved it – so much so that Santa had to take all her dummies at age 3 and replaced them with some toys that Christmas. My second daughter was not as keen on the bottle so we never really bottle fed her and my son flat out refused any type of artificial nipple (my mother in law when visiting once bought 35 different types of dummies and bottle teats in the attempt to find one he like but alas never did). He has gone directly from breast to drinking from a cup. I guess the point Im trying to make is that every child is different even if you think you have done exactly the same thing with each child. Some will feed easily from the breast and bottle; some will refuse the breast and only want the bottle. Do what works for you and your child.
Using breastmilk as an emolliant:
I didnt use nipple creams when my nipples were sore. Instead at the end of a feed I would rub some of my own breastmilk into my nipples and leave to them to dry (when I could) before putting a breast pad in my bra to help absorb any leakage. This seemed to help keep them moisturized and also did not introduce any chemicals from creams to my baby when I then breastfed. But I do know many women find relief in many different forms and I would advise to keep trying until you find what works for you. Lanosil works for some, others prefer heat packs or cool packs, particularly if engorged or with the onset of mastitis.
I can only remember how two of my children weaned. My first daughter when she was 10 months old one day went from feeding 4 times per day to suddenly dropping two feeds in one day. I offered the breast and she refused it. The next day she dropped another feed and would only feed at the end of the day when she was tired and ready for bed. Not long after this I discovered I was many weeks pregnant with our second daughter and my doctor put it down to the fact that my hormones had probably changed the taste of my breastmilk and that was why my daughter had suddenly weaned herself.
We moved from Sydney to Hong Kong when my second daughter was 18 months old and I cannot recall how she weaned. Having just struggled through weaning my son at the age of 23 months I can say this has definitely been my hardest and longest slog at trying to wean. He just loved my “boobies” and nothing seemed to settle or reassure him more than lying in bed, snuggling and having a feed. I loved that time together feeding too. It took months to get him from three feeds a day down to two and then another month to down to just an evening feed before bed. And even then I used my fathers retirement dinner and family reunion in Australia which required me being away for 4 days as the impetus to get him to give up the final feed. Luckily it worked but it was emotionally heart wrenching and I do miss the time I used to spend, just him and I, quiet, together, nourishing him, growing him.