In the beginning it was like Groundhog Day with tits. Every single day would dawn and I would have a silent conversation with myself of ‘just one more day’.
As a pregnant and clueless first time mother-to-be I’d hoped I’d be able to breastfeed for six months. That had seemed like a sensible amount of time. Until he arrived that is. In those first few days I was dubious whether I’d even make to six days. I’d so badly wanted to breastfeed. So badly wanted to be Earth Mother with my child suckling peacefully and contentedly whilst my body produced this amazing life force.
Nothing, I repeat, nothing had prepared me for the relentlessness of breastfeeding.
After a long labour with pain relief and epidurals failing to work, my little baby erupted into the world through an emergency caesarean, and from the minute he snuffled against my chest he was a boob man. There were some early issues with latching, and several days of losing all sense of shame as the nice midwife essentially ‘milked’ me and wrestled my nipple into the little bird’s starving mouth. Nursing was soon his lifeline. He was never content without being attached to me. Wouldn’t sleep, constantly screamed heartbreaking screams and furiously nursed like he may never see a boob again. A diagnosis of silent reflux helped explain his behaviour but when I say he was on me 23 out of 24 hours a day, I am not kidding.
My milk was painfully rubbish and I was even more shattered trying to express which ultimately didn’t help my supply. But I still so badly wanted to feed. My friends called me tenacious. Honestly I think it was more stubborn, sleep-deprived old cow syndrome. I was definitely verging on manic and slightly bonkers in this sleep-deprived, obsessed with feeding blur of the first three months but I gritted my teeth and took every single day at a time.
After five weeks of surviving on roughly two hours broken sleep a night, we embraced a degree of co-sleeping. We also added in one bottle of formula to help him gain as he was ‘failing to thrive’. I have never felt mum-guilt like it. Survival was the name of the game and we did whatever we could! Co-sleeping, however suggests there is sleep involved for both parties. Oh the irony. Funnily enough sleep is quite hard when you have a small person attached to your nipple all night.
I’d learnt that this was very common in the beginning and I’d accepted that.
But every day was the same for month after month. I was not that yummy mummy pushing her pram around with the baby angelically sleeping. The baby hated the pram. In fact I could barely get off the drive without having to pick him and nurse him. I remember standing in an alleyway in my village having scooped my red-faced screaming baby out of the pram after another failed attempt of a nice walk together. Stood there alone, nursing him, shushing him, anything to stop the crying, probably looking like the wild-haired, wild-eyed, sleep-deprived person that I was. A woman walked past me with her content newborn sleeping in the pram. I shrugged and smiled knowingly at her. She barely raised a smile back. She may have had her own world of issues going on but in that moment, rejected by the stranger who I thought may understand I felt so very alone.
Hardly another person could so much as give my little one a cuddle without him kicking off. Car journeys were cut short with my constant pulling over, hopping in the back and nursing to stop the screaming. I was an expert in eating every meal with a baby on my boob. I spent an entire wedding with him tucked under my pashmina. It was relentless.
People said it would get better after about six weeks when baby settled into a routine. He didn’t settle into a routine and it didn’t get better.
But somewhere around five months it did start to get better. We were advised to wean a little early due to the reflux. So all of a sudden my baby did not spend the entire day attached to me. He was exploring new things and the whole world was suddenly an adventure. Slowly he was getting more and more content day by day. Feeding was at last a pleasure and all of a sudden we had made it to that aspired to six month mark.
And with that achievement started the comments of ‘it’s time to give up now’.
It’s funny how people have different views on how long it is acceptable to feed a child for. Personally I’d always wanted to give up before my child could speak and verbally start demanding milk. Everyone is different and nursing is an individual choice but I’d set this six month mark at a kind of goalpost. The thing is, once we’d made it to six months I didn’t want to stop. I didn’t want to give up. I was loving this precious time with my baby and he was finally thriving from the milk I had produced. I’d only just got bloody good at it and I did not feel ready to give it up. I agonised over and over this and then one day I had a realisation that the only opinions I really cared about were my little family’s and daddy, baby and I all said let there be milk. So on we went.
Every month I told myself I’d give up but I didn’t. Not due to the comments but more because I had wanted to give up before I went back to my crazy busy job when Joseph reached his first birthday. 11 months arrived and my baby starting sleeping through the night and I was down to one breastfeed a day, first thing. Partly because it meant I could lay down for a while longer but mainly because I couldn’t bear to lose that cute little body snuggled up to mine in that quiet early morning time. His soft little hands reaching for my face and his puppy dog legs kick kicking against my tummy.
I loved that time more than I can put into words.
12 months came and I took voluntary redundancy from work. The goal posts had moved again. I didn’t need to give up that morning feed as no longer was I returning to work. My baby was a happy content little toddler and so that one special time together continued. I continued to deal with people’s opinions on my continuing to feed but it matter less and less to me. I had waited my whole life for this little person and I knew when he and I felt ready we would give up, not when someone raised an eyebrow that I was still breastfeeding a toddler. Somewhere around 15 or 16 months I suddenly felt a calm come over me about stopping feeding. A part of me could have gone on forever but something in me thought this is the start of the next stage.
I actually don’t remember the ‘last’ feed.
Honestly I must have had so many what I thought were my ‘last’ feeds but somehow there was always one more. As the days between each feed grew more it seemed less and less sad that we were coming to an end and all of a sudden our breastfeeding journey had ended. I could cry now thinking about it but equally I am so happy that I have a happy, healthy strong little boy and he’s begun the next stage of his little adventures.
Sometimes when I’m getting dressed or out of the shower and he catches sight of my top half he will start the hand wave, whining noise that signals he wants something and occasionally when I carry him upstairs for a nap he slips a sneaky hand down my top to get a handful. There has been the odd occasion where he’s face planted my chest and sought out his target. Once he realises the milk bar is empty or he sees some other exciting distraction like a train, a dinosaur or an open Tupperware drawer he’s off again, the boobies becoming more and more a distant memory.
If I was to have a word with my fresh first-time mum self I wish I could have told myself to stop all the agonising on how long I should feed for. All that time wasted worrying about what was wrong or right. Looking back I had a tough start and it may have taken longer than most, but once we found our feeding mojo I absolutely loved it. In hindsight I can be nostalgic at the memory of crying on the sofa over the relentless nursing. Although my head says ‘man that was hard!’, my arms, my boobs and my heart still ache for that special time. Time that really is so short in the great scheme of things. The 6 month target became an amazing 16 months plus in a blink of a eye.
Sometimes I feel a little saddened by the judgment of people even close to me on feeding a baby longer than those infant months. Feeding and comforting my baby is not ever something I could ever regret so I’m very tolerant of people’s opinions and ignorance. It doesn’t make them bad parents or people they are just different opinions to mine.
Breastfeeding is without doubt one of the toughest things that I have ever done and hats off to every mother who manages it whether it’s one feed or a thousand feeds. I am so grateful that I was a stubborn cow who hung in there and got to experience every step of this feeding journey.
They say breastfeeding is a wonderful gift to give a child but honestly I feel the gift was as much, if not more mine to enjoy.
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Liz is a first time mum hurtling towards her late thirties. Once surviving a high-power career on a mixture of caffeine, adrenaline and Sambuca-filled Saturday nights she is now one year into her new-found path as a mummy to Joseph and still trying to pretend she’s cool whilst watching Peppa Pig far too much. You can read her blog