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Thursday, 6 October 2011

My Year as a Milk Machine

Before becoming a mom, I was relatively indifferent when it came to breastfeeding.  I was a formula fed baby but I had no big ideals that swayed me one way or the other.  I figured I’d give it a go but if it didn’t work out, we’d switch to formula. At the end of the day, it was about finding the best way to give my baby the sustenance it needed.

My little girl was just minutes old the first time I breastfed her.  It wasn’t magical and no sparks flew. However, I was amazed that by mere instinct, two novices were able to get things lined up right so I was actually feeding her with something from my body. 

It absolutely blew my mind.

It turned out things weren’t quite so perfect that first feed and I ended up sore for days because of it.  While I was in the hospital, I asked a midwife for help every time my daughter needed to eat.  Usually a modest person, I stripped from the waste up and let them show me what to do.  It was still awkward, but by the time I left I was relatively confident I could continue with breast feeding when I got home.

Then came DAY FOUR.  The day my milk came in.  I was exhausted and an emotional disaster and at some point my daughter forgot how to latch on.  

I sent a text message to my sister and she called with some life (sanity) saving ideas. 

Within five minutes, baby was eating like a champ.  I will be forever thankful for that phone call.  I am also grateful it worked out that easily for me.  Feeding problem solved.

(Day four was one of the worst days of my life. Someday, when I am ready, it will likely form its own post)

But it was tiring. While I had figured out the basics of breastfeeding, each session still took several attempts before she was actually eating.  According to my birthing class, feeding time was best for forming the bond with my new child so I spent each meal watching my daughter, trying to memorize her face, feeling her tiny little fingers, stroking her cheek to wake her when she dozed off.  My body did seem to instinctually respond to this.  The more I engaged my daughter, the more milk I seemed to produce. Her meals often began with milk spurting uncontrollably out of me like someone had stuck a pin in an over filled water balloon.  She’d stop, sputtering and coughing, turning her head away. It was frustrating and humiliating to have to sit there, with a cloth clamped to my nipple until it calmed down enough for my daughter to continue her meal.

I’d wake up in the morning, my breasts so engorged they didn’t look or feel normal anymore. I’d have to hand express a bit before my lady could start her morning feed.  I felt completely out of control of my own body. My entire existence seemed to be to make and to deliver milk. 

I began expressing milk when my daughter was six weeks old. If anything, this reinforced my feeling that I was nothing more than a milk machine because now, when I wasn’t feeding my daughter, I was pumping. Sterilizing bottles, labelling freezer bags, defrosting the next night’s feed, and rotating the ‘stock’ was added to my daily routine.

It was monotonous and exhausting.

As the months rolled by and the routine began to feel ‘normal,’ switching to formula seemed like it would just add more work. I was battling insomnia and exhaustion so sacrificing precious moments of rest to prepare a morning bottle sounded like hell.  I decided I’d rather sit in my zombie state for the twenty boring minutes while she ate.  Plus, it was saving us money. It was months after my “must return to work” date, and I was still job hunting. It seemed silly to add an extra expense as long as my body was instinctually producing what my baby needed. 

I also felt I had an obligation to my daughter to feed her for the first year.  It was no longer about me finding a connection with my baby but just trying to do one thing right for her. If for some reason, I wouldn’t be around for a feed, I made sure to express, worried that my milk would dry up if I skipped just one time.  I would express at night for an hour or more, just to collect (my skewed definition of) a reasonable amount of milk.  There were days when I had little or no appetite and my milk production would suffer. I’d beat myself up for it, crying at the measly amount I’d managed to collect.  Clogged ducts were disgusting and painful but I expressed my way through several of them, determined to have everything in working order for my baby girl.

This sense of obligation was bordering on obsession and part of me knew it but couldn’t stop.  If a friend of mine had told me she thought her child would wither and die if she were to have formula instead of breast milk, I would have laughed and shook my head at such nonsense. Yet I was certain this is exactly what would happen if I my girl were to miss out on the nutritious gold top (as my health visitor chose to describe it) my mammary glands produced. I was so consumed with guilt over not connecting with her that I felt the least I could do was continue to breastfeed.

I can honestly say I didn’t enjoy breastfeeding, even if I did give her breastmilk for a year. Expressing was a lot of work but in a lot of ways it was easier for me than feeding her. I was happy to give the bottle to anyone who wanted to feed her and I was relieved that she couldn’t care less who held it as long as she got her milk.

I felt tremendously guilty for this and tried to make up for it when actually breastfeeding.  For a long time I clung to the fact that we were connecting on a primal level even if I couldn’t feel it consciously. I needed that.  Providing nutrition for her was my way of saying I was sorry for not being the mom she deserved. Health visitors and counsellors kept telling me it showed strength that I was still breast feeding. I didn’t believe it but I wanted it to be true. Stopping wasn’t an option. 

I started weaning little miss at about ten months.  By a year we were down to just the morning feed.  A few weeks later, I stopped breastfeeding all together.  The bottle was gone a week after that.  It’s been cow’s milk in cups since.  All in all, it was a painless transition. I was so happy for that chapter to be over.  It was like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

I don’t feel like this now. I’m glad I managed to feed her for a year, but I wonder why I felt the need to put that pressure on myself when I was dealing with so much.  I have not once felt guilty about weaning her when I did and I can’t help but wonder what took me so long.  I wish I could have recognized that the world (or my daughter) wouldn’t crumble if I’d stopped. 

There is more to motherhood than milk. 


TheBoyandMe said...

I breastfed for 3 weeks until I was blocked and told to stop by my doctor (there's a post on my blog, I'm not going to rehash old ground). He went onto formula at 3 weeks and I have never been more grateful for anything in my life. He's healthy and strong regardless of what he had as his milk in the first year. Too much pressure is put on mothers to breastfeed or they are failing. It's ridiculous.

SandyS125 said...

Hearing it was easier with number two is refreshing! I'm not sure what kept me going but forging on with the one thing you enjoyed through PPD is an amazing bonus. No wonder you stuck with it! You're one of the warrior moms you know!

SandyS125 said...

I definitely agree! When I was in the maternity ward, I was lucky enough to overhear a midwife giving a new mum some great advice when it came to feeding her newborn son. "You may think breast is best but if it's not working, he's hungry, and you're too exhausted and emotional to be the kind of mum you know you can be..." She proceeded to explain the ins and outs of bottle feeding. I know from other stories I have read that this is not always the case. I've got a brother and a sister and all three of us grew up healthy too.

SandyS125 said...

I'm glad it was a good experience for you, despite the bumpy start! I agree, it does seem that once breastfeeding stops, the support does too. Some of the reason I never formula fed is I had no idea where to begin when it came to the brand that was the most beneficial without breaking the bank and how to figure out portion sizes when I was used to letting her drink until she was done. It would be nice for the info to be balanced so we could make informed decisions, whether it be breast, formula, or some combination of both.

SandyS125 said...

Thank you!

SandyS125 said...

Thank you! I am proud of making it the full year though, so you're right, I certainly wouldn't take that part back. However there is so much about the first year that I wish had gone differently, it would have been easier had the pressure to continue something I didn't enjoy for so long been replaced with a few more words of reason..

SandyS125 said...

oooh, exciting. Popping over to have a read...

MsXpat said...

Hiya! Jus sharing a post I've done that you inspired

Littlesheep said...

Well done for getting through it - it's always interesting looking back though because on the other side of the coin if you had stopped earlier would have have been happy with that too or would you have been left with lots of niggles about whether you had done the right thing?

Kathleen said...

A really refreshing honest post on breastfeeding. I BF one baby and not the other (my first birth was traumatic and BF just didn't get going). I don't feel their development has been any different. Like you say there's more to motherhood than just milk!

MsXpat said...

I think that society, and the healthcare professionals make it hard your a mom to decide to either wean early for not breast feed at all. Its lucky that you and your daugther figured it out together, but sometimes if you are having difficulty and feel that breast feeding's not for you, its feels like hundreds of wigging fingers, shaking of heads and disgusted looks are all directed at you. I didn't think I'd like breast feeding and when I said as much (before baby came) sometimes the disapproving comments were a bit much. However, as it turns out even though it was hard going at first (baby was not latching properly) I did enjoy breast feeding and did so for 8 mths! I was very pleased with myself for that :0)

Christina Thomas said...

Great Post! I am also guilty of putting pressure on myself to BF. In the early days of my PPD, the advise I often got was "its so much easier to use formula, wean him and you will start to feel better!" If it was only that simple! Looking back, the only thing that I enjoyed about those early dark days of motherhood was breastfeeding (once its stopped being painful). If I stopped, what would I be left with??? I too struggled with oversupply and clogged ducts. I even came down with mastitis, which was more painful than natural child birth. Yet I forged on and nursed Philip for 1 year. My Breastfeeding experience ended on a positive note, and baby#2 was much easier.