Breast is an Option

I have no idea how long this blog will be, but I am just going to go ahead and apologise. I have a feeling it’s going to be mammoth. Much like my bras. And that, ladies, is my hideous segway into the hot topic of breastfeeding. Whether you’re a mum with a hazy memory of your own breastfeeding experiences, a scared mum with a newborn trying to latch said newborn to your monstrous boob as you read this, or a woman who might be on the fence about breastfeeding your future child – this is all for you girls, and I salute you.

Breastfeeding is a topic that divides mothers much like sleep (lol) and screen time (bigger lol). Much like anything to do with us girls, every one of us will have a varied experience. Some will have fond memories of their breastfeeding, while others will still feel the pain of chapped nipples or mastitis. Some will have no memory because they chose that breastfeeding wasn’t for them, and that is okay, too. I want to preface what I am about to say with the disclaimer that this was merely my experience, and no one gets a medal for breastfeeding or bottle feeding. Whether you breastfed or not, you are a warrior.

My breastfeeding journey started in hospital, a few hours after Henry was born. I struck gold the day I gave birth to him, because the midwife on my ward was super supportive, helpful and patient with helping Henry and I to learn to breastfeed. She showed me what a breast crawl was, and when Henry performed one on my left breast, rolling and flipping down from my neck to latch on, I knew then I wanted to continue. Breastfeeding went well while I was hospital for those two days, recovering from my Caesar. I felt like when I got home though, without a button for a midwife to appear magically, the wheels started to fall off. My milk had come in at home, and my breasts were literally like two pointy bowling balls. My nipples were beginning to bleed, and he was feeding every hour through the day. I remember crying through the pain, confidently claiming it was worse than labour, and totally panicked as I didn’t want to starve him, but I really wanted to be able to breastfeed him. The next day, I sent Josh out to get a pump, bottles, nipple shields and formula. I remember calling my mum beside myself because I was also battling some intense ‘baby blues’.

Mum came over and cleaned our place and assured me that I was doing my best job and not to stress. I got straight onto the nipple shields before opening the formula, and I felt instant relief. He began feeding for longer, and it was comforting seeing my milk coming through the shield. I can honestly say, those nipple shields saved my breastfeeding journey. I bless the chemist who suggested them to him that day, wherever she is, thank you so much. They made a huge difference to the pain, and because the shield would fill with magic breast milk, I was finding my nipples were healing fast. I visited the free breastfeeding clinic in town the following Monday when Henry was 6 days old. They assured me the shields were fine to use and were ecstatic with Henry’s weight gain. I was so relieved. They did tell me however that Henry had a substantial tongue tie which was contributing to the pain I had felt. They arranged an appointment at a clinic to get it snipped, which was no trouble at all. He was feeding like a champ and our breastfeeding was progressing well.

Then it hit me like a brick wall. It started with me saying to my Grandma and sister who were visiting me at home, ‘is it cold in here, or is it just me?’ on a balmy November day. Three hours later I was in bed, shivering like crazy, feeling like utter garbage. I wished for labour pains over the flu-like feeling I had. The next day I rang my mum (I must have rung her every day within the fourth trimester!) and she asked me if my breasts felt sore or lumpy. Upon inspection, I had a red lump on my left breast. My mum suggested it may me mastitis, and I should go to the doctor to get onto antibiotics. Feeding was painful again and I was feeling like I was failing, quickly. We fed through the pain, and I was surprised and how fast the antibiotics cleared up the lump. This helped me feel more confident and I decided to keep on pushing through.

In the next 5 weeks, the dreaded mastitis came back two more times. I was so annoyed and felt like I was doing breastfeeding wrong, even though Henry was thriving and gaining weight more than adequately. I got in touch with a lactation consultant based in Melbourne and she talked me through the next steps on recovering from mastitis and how to avoid for next time. She also mentioned phasing out the shields may help the mastitis not return, as well as taking a probiotic. For me, the shields didn’t cause any further problems, and I didn’t stop using them until Henry was around 7 months. He was harder to wean off them as expected but he got there in the end and preferred going ‘bare back’! We breastfed for another 6 and a half months after this, and it became like second nature. It was our most useful tool on our long-haul flights to and from Canada, the most peaceful way for him to drift off to sleep and bonded us so strongly.

Henry decided when he was 13 and a half months he was done with breastfeeding. We had all come down with gastro, and from then on, he just quit. He literally shoved it away with his hands. It worked out in a way because we were loosely planning on falling pregnant in the year after and I was fearful of getting my total boob guy weaned as I wanted a break to give the girls a rest. It was a blessing in a major way, but I felt a bit sad that I didn’t choose it. In that moment I took me out of the equation and felt thankful I didn’t have to tear him away from me crying and begging. Or fall pregnant and have him notice the change and get upset and confused. I changed my perspective and was glad he made the choice on his own, even if he was persuaded by nausea.

Breastfeeding is hard, girls – well it was for me at least. Not always hard, but it is an art and takes practice. I know very few women who have had zero breastfeeding issues, with challenges like weight gain, low or oversupply, nipple damage, tongue or lip ties, and reflux being very common among the girls I know. I also know many awesome mums who decided that breastfeeding wasn’t for them and their baby, and I just want to say this to those girls: if you were ever made to feel lesser, terrible, guilty, like a failure, traumatized or unheard I am so sorry. I wish someone told you feeding your baby a bottle is an excellent choice. I wish you went into bottle feeding informed and confident, not shunned. I wish someone listened to you and didn’t attempt to know your baby better than you. I wish you were supported.

Breastfeeding is an amazing experience for some, and that is amazing if you fall into that category, but we need to keep in mind that many women don’t. I personally really enjoyed it after we got into our groove but was also content with where it ended. It is far more helpful to support a woman’s choices as she journeys into motherhood than spam her inbox with solely pro-breastfeeding advice to make her feel even more stressed and confused. Being informed of both options is key of course, but let’s let each other decide for ourselves.

My breastfeeding survival guide will be available for you in a fortnight if you are after some more practical tips, products and resources to help you along on your own breastfeeding journey. If you’re in the thick of the hard, I encourage you to be strong and trust it gets exponentially easier, quickly. If you have just switched to the bottle, I want to say you are an absolute queen, too.

Caitlin x