I would love to tell you that breastfeeding is easy, full of love and tender moments. My husband said “Where is the joy?” in the first few days after birthing.
We had this image of a sleepy baby, quietly feeding in her mother’s bosom and the mother lovingly smiling.
My reality, and I’m sure I’m not alone, is different.
Does it have to be this way? I am sure it doesn’t.
Why do I breastfeed?
When I was pregnant I read about the science and benefits of breastfeeding and I watched these videos.
I was convinced I wanted to breastfeed and I was convinced it was the best gift I could give my daughter: a gift of love. I was determined to do my utmost in spite of everything. That is what has carried me through all the pain, the tears, the pulling and poking.
Breastfeeding is my Kilimanjaro.
It goes through stages. At every step I found out I have to push through the resistance and keep going. First three days went OK. I’ll explain why in some future post. The night she was born she slept through and we all slept a lot. I only fed her twice.
After day 3 breastfeeding became really challenging.
I was told by the doctor turned midwife, who assisted me at birthing, to feed on demand. Feeding on demand basically means giving the baby the breast as much as she wants to. Well, I couldn’t cope with the level of demand. She wanted it all the time. I would feed myself spoonfuls of food while breastfeeding her. I didn’t have a minute to myself.
Dr Nils Bergman says that the right way to breastfeed is 2 minutes of every hour. The stomach of a 3 kg baby takes 20 ml to fill, feeding every hour, which is the time it takes to empty the stomach and coincide with their sleep cycle. Unfortunately I didn’t know that at the time. That is doable.
She wanted half an hour of every hour. After 15 days I couldn’t take it anymore so I tried spacing feeding time to 3 to 4 hours. This practice although very extended is not based on any scientific evidence. She kept crying and my husband would take so that I could sleep a bit for the first 3 hours of the night. I feel guilty now thinking I could have done better. She was probably stressed. We thought maybe she was colic.
At the time, I was in Spain and I rang up a breastfeeding support phone line run by mothers called La Buena Leche (the Good Milk), who somehow got me through it all. I went to one of their meetings. We were 4 mothers in a circle talking about our experiences and asking questions while breastfeeding our babies. I left the place with a renewed sense of being on track, a few tips and a 100% natural nalonin cream for my sore nipples.
After month 1 it got easier: my nipples were not sore anymore.
At month 3 she started to breastfeed more and I felt strained again.
At month 6 she went through this burst of breastfeeding more that really knock me down. Every time, I felt like a climber. At that time she had became curious about food. She had started to eat a lot more solids and really wanted to explore food. I could see clearly that she was not digesting food properly. (It basically comes out whole at the other end). I thought that was it, the end of breastfeeding. But then, she reverted to breastfeeding with more intensity.
When I was pregnant I thought: six months and that’s it. Now here I was, at the 6-month mark and no sign of stopping.
After that, I found out that there are these bursts of growth she goes through every six months or so and she breastfeeds more. I really have to work through the resistance: to go from “I can’t take it anymore” to “this too shall pass”.
Somehow, I made it to year one.
One step at a time.
I made to year 2.
I’m in my way to year 3.
Now it’s funny because she’s talking. She had a phase when she kept on saying: “they’re mine, they’re mine” (referring to the tits). I said “they are not yours, they are mine; you are just using them”. I need to tell her to be gentle with the tit that is giving her the milk, not to bite it just for the craic (an Irish expression that means having a laugh, for a laugh, for the sake of it).
Yes, babies do bite. And it’s no laugh to breastfeed with a cut in your nipple. Sometimes it’s just a small bite, ranging from it’s not too bad to a howl on my part because it’s unexpected and the sheer pain. I remember one particular occasion in which I decided I was in too much pain ( I had a severe cut) to breastfeed her and I started to get sick because I had too much milk. I bought a pump to try to get rid of the excess milk. I quickly learned not to do that again.
She’s becoming more aware of my needs as well. She’s willing to wait a bit more. She says “I’m hungry” and eats an apple instead. By the way, she eats a lot, small bites all day long. She’ll wait, but the minute I’m finished she always wants the breast milk.
You would think that she would be eating more food now, which she does, but she also has stages in which she breastfeeds a lot.
People ask me how long am I going to do it for?
The answer is
“I don’t know. Until…”
Originally, after my readings, I had set the intention that my parenting style was going to be child-centred, also called attachment parenting: to allow her to make her own choices, when she is ready, I was not going to push her.
Apparently, a time comes in which it is biologically difficult for toddlers to latch on and they will decide themselves that they are ready to let go of breastfeeding. This time varies with each child ranging between two and seven years old.
In reality, I have lost it many times, angry, raging I have said “I can’t take it anymore” but she demands it and she’s not going to let it go until she is ready.
People say: You’ve done enough.
Amazingly, while on holidays in the Canaries I found a very chatty and funny waitress who spurred by the sight of my breastfeeding told me her story quite casually. I’ll say she was in her 50s. She had breastfed her three children, the first one for 3 years, the next two were quite close in age so she breastfed them at the same time until they were 4 and 5. She said they would both jump on her and she would just give up: “Me rendí”.
She said that the children grow up very healthy when they are breastfed and lamented how her daughters-in-law didn’t want to do it.
I treasured her story; a message from the universe when you are faltering. It counteracted the rest of the world who said:
“It really takes a lot from you.”
“Yes, it does”. People are concerned about my wellbeing.
“You are not a hero. There are no heroes” I was told in day 3; basically the gist of it being stop complaining, just give up.
“Don’t let her suck more than 30 min.”
“She only uses it as a soother.”
“She is not really feeding.”
One thing I learned is that as a mother you really need to eat extremely well in order to breastfeed your baby because she feeds so much in these growth spurts. I would have felt weak at some point, feeling lightheaded.
I was recommended to overeat in order to have more reserves. I was continually drinking especially made herbal teas, just a combination of herbs that support milk flow. At six months I gave up on my no-meat diet (lamb, beef) and started to eat lamb to increase my iron intake as well as dandelions and nettles.
In order to start and continue breastfeeding you need determination and knowledge. One feeds the other.
You also need support. The more support the mother has, the more she can give to the baby.
What does support mean?
Support is to help, not hinder.
To ask “how can I help?” rather than barge in and do what you think it needs to be done.
To understand that you may not agree with everything the parents are doing but you quietly support them in their choices. Not to voice your opinions. Everybody seems to have an opinion.
Lessons from breastfeeding
I learned about the miracle of life. Up until 6 months she was exclusively feeding on the substance my body was producing. The realisation of “I am growing this baby” really hits you. My body is growing this baby. Hands are growing. Head is growing. The realisation of how amazing life really is, the whole process really: My body, her body.
I also learn to trust the intelligence of my body, to trust the process.
She already knew how to latch on the minute she was born, she knows what she needs and how to get it. I try not to interfere with this process as much as I can, to learn from her because I think she intuitively knows and I am trying not to tamper with her intuition, to allow her to make her own decisions and choices.
Breastfeeding in the western society
I was born and raised in Spain in the 70s and I have been in Ireland for over 15 years. I have travelled a bit of Europe.
In all my life I could probably count with my hands the number of times I have seen a woman breastfeeding. It is simply not standard practice. It is not done.
In Spain women tend to breastfeed up to 3 months. Ireland currently has the world’s lowest rate for breastfeeding according to The Growing Up in Ireland study.
I was breastfed for a few weeks after being born. I remember being about 6 years old and I saw one of my cousins on the breast. I remember a feeling of love and tenderness so intense that I couldn’t hold my tears back. This is one of my early childhood memories. It is possibly the reason why I breastfeed today.
Because breastfeeding is not seen it is becoming strange for children to see it as normal and to even know that it is even possible, to know that this is the way it is meant to be. This is the case because this is the way nature intended. We have 2 breasts to feed mankind. Otherwise, we would have been extinguished a long time ago.
The way we have the current society set up does not allow for breastfeeding or supports it.
We are bringing up people with other perceptions about life and I’m sure breastfeeding doesn’t make it to the top of the list of priorities.
I could not have done it if I had to go back to work. I’ve seen mothers give up at 4 or 6 months to prepare the baby because they are going to creche. The baby has not the gut developed enough to start taking solids resulting in bloated stomachs, vomiting and sleepless nights.
One thing I learned is that they are born with the systems not developed at all and everything starts to kick in when they are born. It takes a long time to have those systems working well in the body. The digestive system is the same.
My baby didn’t burp, didn’t vomit.
Hard one way, easy another. Sleepless nights 0, interrupted sleep plenty. Every hour and a half. Then, every 3 hours wake up to feed.
As she got older she started to sleep longer. Yet there were times when she didn’t. Sleeping hasn’t been one of my big problems. Before pregnancy I loved my sleep and my husband thought I wasn’t going to be able to cope. In practice, I slept when she slept and I have coped admirably with 6 hours sleep, give or take.
Passing on the knowledge
The chain is broken. In other times, women would have passed on their knowledge to their daughters and to other members of their family and their community.
My mother did not breastfeed me enough for her to learn and pass on knowledge, only fears.
Her mother, my grandmother, had 6 children at home. Did she breastfeed and if so, for how long? I don’t really know.
My husband tells me his granny did not breastfeed. Yet, his mother breastfed the last two of her children because they were told that it was good for the babies.
Wherever you are in the world, whether you are a man or a woman remember this:
Breastfeeding is the one of the most revolutionary acts in our current society
because it has the capacity of transforming our world into a world of love.
Much like climbing, breastfeeding takes its toll on your body, making demands, pushing you to your limits.
When my daughter was born she was constantly on the tit. I had to feed myself spoonfuls while feeding her. Somebody has to feed the mother so that she can feed the baby. I remember dragging myself of the bed to go for a 2-minute shower while hearing her constant cry because I was not there, even though my husband was holding her.
Before getting pregnant I would have heard and read the adage take care of yourself first, your child second. I had a complete change of mindset once I delivered my baby. I realised it is simply not true. A baby demands your absolute attention. They need as much hugging, holding, feeding as you can possibly muster. A baby is going to stretch you to your limits. Before giving birth I watched this video a couple of times and now I find it to be so true.
For the first 6 months I was sleeping when the baby was asleep day and night. I didn’t cook, I didn’t clean. I practically didn’t leave the house until six months, in which I dragged myself to do a couple of courses in an attempt for connection. Forget about exercising and getting into shape. I had a small routine for keeping my back going. All my yoga and meditation went out of the window. Breastfeeding made me feel weak at times.
She hardly got sick. Visits to the doctor 0, worries 0, time spent weighing her 0.
Breastfeeding after one year, after two, after….
It is not a popular choice. I can now fully understand why women don’t do it without judgement. We are led to believe it is almost an anti natural thing to do when the opposite is true.
We fear that the children are too dependent on us and we are not teaching them the right things in life. It feels counter-intuitive but the reality is, science tells us, that children who breastfeed are:
- More independent, with a sense of self.
- More secure.
- More intelligent, articulate and caring with more connections in the brain; studies have shown effects spanning up to 18 years old.
One thing is for sure. The amount of touch and contact that she’s getting is constant and she still wants it. If I have stopped breastfeeding her at year one she would have missed over a year and a half of physical touch.
Those muscles in the mouth and jaw are really working when she breastfeeds.
Breasts are amazing. They feed the baby with colostrum first, then milk. They produce exactly the amount of milk your baby needs.
The milk supplies the baby with everything s/he needs. The baby in turn knows what s/he needs better than you.
The milk changes its composition continually to suit the needs of the baby, as for example when she is sick.
I have heard people saying this: formula milk is like breast milk.
This is simply not true.
Check out the studies. Formula is powdered milk with add-ons to give it some nutrients but it cannot mimic what Nature does. Nature works at many levels with huge complexities that we probably don’t fully understand, in perfect harmony.
Breasts not only offer food for survival but much more.
Breasts are her toy. Every time a baby is pulling and stretching your nipple and kind of playing with it, what she’s really doing is increasing milk flow for the next stage.
As she grows she becomes more aware and touches them in different ways. She’s fascinated by them. Sometimes she makes me laugh, the things she would come up with.
Breasts are her comfort. Every time she’s upset she runs to the comfort of her breast.
Breasts are her medicine.
If you want to breastfeed
Do not give the baby soothers or any other kind of artificial tit like bottles. Science says the baby will prefer quick milk flow given by the bottle and will soon stop breastfeeding.
There it is: Other people feeding the baby is out of the window. It is more work for the mother.
What the baby is getting though is constant contact with the mother.
In fact, as I found out most practices implemented in hospitals go directly against breastfeeding, not giving the parents up-to-date information according to the latest scientific studies.
If you don’t give birth naturally, if you have been administered artificial oxytocin or had an epidural your body does not produce oxytocin.
Oxytocin is the hormone that helps with bonding and milk production among other things (it also stops pain after 4 cm dilation)
As you are giving birth naturally your body is preparing for the next stage: breastfeeding the baby.
The benefit nobody talks about
When you are breastfeeding you are in nurturing mode, not in reproductive mode. Nature allows for this and you may not have your period for a certain amount of time. I didn’t have mine for 18 months after giving birth.
And for the future…..
If we want a harmonious society we must ensure mothers are giving real knowledge and support to be able to breastfeed.
We must support fathers as well so that they are able to support their wives/partners/women in their lives.
They say there is no work. There is plenty of work to be done, plenty of opportunities to build a more caring, peaceful society.
Time to ask yourself: Am I working in building a new society or am I supporting the old structures? Am I working for or against breastfeeding………
…..with my ideas, my beliefs, my perceptions, my judgements,……….?
If you are a woman who believes you cannot do it
I want to let you know that
You don’t know what you are capable of. Life will surprise you and show you.
You are not the same after you give birth.
Birthing is a rite of passage
that transforms you
INTO a FIERCE MOTHER.
A tiger will not allow anything or anybody to hurt her cubs.
A tiger will not allow anything or anybody near her cubs.
Birthing naturally brings you into your power
How long should I breastfeed for?
I found this article explaining some of the benefits at each step of the way.