Breastfeeding is beautiful and natural (they say) but not always that easy. Actually, for most new mums, and sometimes experienced mums, it’s far from reality. It’s not all Insta-happy images of bonding with your baby, but can be. It can also be late nights, cabbage leaves and tears. It can be the most fearful thought in your head and also the most enjoyable, all at the same time.
In honour of World Breastfeeding Week, we’re sharing some breastfeeding stories from a few of the mums here at Cake. We know it can be difficult, and while we’re breastfeeding advocates, it’s also totally okay if there’s some bumps along the road, or you choose not to at all. You’ve just got to follow your gut and do what’s best for you and bub.
“Breastfeeding was hard and painful at times, but I eventually found my rhythm and successfully breastfed for 1 year—something I am very proud of.“
Like most new mothers, I had decided that I was going to breastfeed early on. To be honest, I didn’t really even give it a second thought and just assumed that because it was natural that it would come naturally to my son and I.
The truth is that it did not come naturally to me.
Breastfeeding was hard and painful.
I had little understanding of the technique required. I hadn’t attended breastfeeding classes nor had I done any research prior, so I was hitting the ground running from day one.
I listened intently to the nurses and midwives in the hospital as they tried to explain the technique and positions required to successfully breastfeed post-birth.
It all seemed very easy and made a lot of sense when they were in the room. The cold hard truth for Ethan and I was that it took time and lots of practice to get it right.
My breasts were sore and swollen for weeks. I used cold cabbage leaves inside my bra to try and help relieve the pain. I also used a manual breast pump to help relieve the engorgement. I was so focussed on my breasts during this time, and would try anything to relieve the discomfort.
My nipples were also very sore. They were heavily cracked and bled after most feeds. Latching was painful to say the least.
To top it all off, I also suffered from mastitis.
My mother was staying with me at the time. I had a fever and a large red painful lump on my breast (I didn’t know what was wrong at the time). Mum encouraged me to see my doctor. I took a course of antibiotics which worked immediately to help relieve the fever and infection.
Breastfeeding during this time was still possible, however I did find myself pumping more, to give my nipples and breasts some time out.
The good news is that breastfeeding did get easier. As Ethan’s latch improved he became a more efficient feeder, which meant I was feeding less. This was a welcomed change, as I had felt like a milk machine prior.
I eventually found my rhythm and successfully breastfed for 1 year—something I am very proud of.
Today Ethan is a strong and healthy 15 year old, with a fantastic appetite and a healthy relationship with food. We have a beautiful bond and a great relationship, which I credit to breastfeeding.
6 years later I had Carter, my second son. My breastfeeding journey was strangely similar. My breasts were sore and engorged, my nipples were cracked and I got mastitis again. It was like my first time all over again.
I was, however, more relaxed about the time it took to get things rolling. Having experienced it before, I knew that it was only a matter of time for my body to settle and for Carter to get into the groove.
Carter is also a healthy, active child. At the age of 9 he has a great love for food and is willing to try anything. I have a special bond with Carter too. He is very open and honest. He loves cuddles and is very giving.
“Breastfeeding came very easily to me with my first baby, Edith, and we continued until she was 17 months. My second, Olive, was a different story, however, as she came 2 months early. But with some perseverance we made it to 12 months.“
Baby Number 1 — Edith
At about 7 months, my midwife asked me if I was producing any colostrum yet. I didn’t know how to express and she showed me and low and behold, there it was. I was blown away and in awe of our bodies and what they are capable of.
Breastfeeding came very easily to me with Edith. As soon as she was born and placed on my chest, she was nuzzling and suckling and looking for milk. I didn’t have to do too much, actually, as she was on her own mission. In those first few hours, a lactation consultant helped me guide her for a correct latch and boy, did she latch. It was difficult to pry her off!
I stayed in the hospital overnight and when I came home I had a shower. I’d taken my bra off for the first time, looked in the mirror and said ‘hi’ to my new Pamela boobs that were so sore and heavy. I was crying in the shower because of the engorgement and the pain as the warm water washed over me. I was told to express but they were so sensitive that each water droplet felt like lava.
I immediately fed Edith and then had more contractions, which were so painful. My mum was there and she had to hold Edie while I dealt with the pain which seemed to be much worse than labour. I was annoyed (to say the least) that no one told me about the contractions post-birth while breastfeeding. This, combined with my milk coming in, engorgement, let down and a dyson-like suck, was overwhelming.
I went to work on day 2 and was lucky because I bought all the wrong size bras. I thought I’d go up 1 to 2 cup sizes but actually went up 5.
I started breastfeeding thinking I’d time it every 4 hours and spend 30 minutes on each breast. It didn’t work out this way. Edith would drain each breast in about 15-20 minutes and be hungry for more, way before the 4 hours was up. So we quickly changed to on-demand feeding. This worked out heaps better.
She had such a strong demeanor about her and her nuzzle was more like a head butt. I’d have to hold her head so she didn’t hurt her little button nose or my boob.
She didn’t sleep through until she was 11 months old. The day she did I woke up and thought I’d been stabbed and was soaked and sore. I breastfed her for 17 months, so I was proud of that.
Still to this day she hoovers down her food and is a happy, healthy girl.
Baby Number 2 — Olive
Olive was a different story as she was born 2 months early. My milk didn’t come in for 3 days and even then it was such a small amount. My body didn’t register that I’d had her yet, so I was only producing tiny amounts of colostrum, which were fed to her through a syringe in a tube that led to her stomach. The doctors in the NICU ward were very dismissive and encouraging me to ‘give her the best start’ by signing a form that allowed them to give her formula. I didn’t want this and knew from experience that I would produce milk. They told me otherwise and I started to doubt if I would or could. She was only consuming about 1mL every hour and I was only just producing this.
I was determined. I pumped, or at least tried to pump, every 3 hours. As we were in the hospital, this was quite an ordeal. I would make a cup of raspberry leaf tea and maybe a snack (I had some olives too), head on down, poke my head in and see Olive in her incubator with all the other babies. My room was on level 3 and she was on the ground floor. Then I went off to the pumping ward, hooked myself up to one of the machines and tried to get something out. I would persist for about 40 minutes and then have to sanitise everything, see Olive again and then try and get some sleep. Most times during the day, I would nap in a chair in the NICU ward to be close to her. This was encouraged with lovely kangaroo care cuddles.
I had one job to do and that was to make milk, I was going to do it. I felt I’d already failed her by booting her out 8 weeks early.
On day 3 I was producing about 5mL, but most of this was wasted in the tubes of the pump.
On day 4, it was 150mL.
I continued to pump every 3 hours for the next 3 months.
Olive wasn’t able to breastfeed solo until she was 5 weeks old. This was the task she had to complete before we were both able to head home. As I was making so much milk, I fed her and then would have to pump the remainder. She was so gentle compared to Edith that I wasn’t sure if she was actually getting any milk.
There were other women at the hospital who were not producing enough and therefore had to give their babies formula. It was so disappointing to see my excess of milk in the freezer next to their allocated empty shelves.
I knew she would never consume it all, so I made some batches of soap and also fed my 2 dogs (fur babies).
I fed Olive for 12 months. I went on a work trip at this stage and when I returned she refused to take my breast again. I pumped for another month and fed her this way but my milk production from pumping wasn’t what it used to be.
Olive is happy and healthy today, and funnily enough, loves olives.
“It’s hard to know where to begin, but when I reflect on my breastfeeding experience I am full of mixed emotions and feelings. I am the proud mum of 3 wonderful kids, who are now 20, 17 and 13. Each child had a very different journey…“
It’s hard to know where to begin, but when I reflect on my breastfeeding experience I am full of mixed emotions and feelings. I am the proud mum of 3 wonderful kids, who are now 20, 17 and 13. Each child had a very different journey…
When my first son Travis was born, like every new mum, I was filled with a new wave of love that I didn’t know existed. It is just so pure. I wanted to do absolutely everything right and whatever was best for him. And of course this included breastfeeding my new baby. Right from the get go things weren’t easy and didn’t go smoothly. I had a tiny little 2kg bub who couldn’t latch on and did not require the amount of milk my body was producing. I was told to be patient and persevere. So I did. Even though I was in pain and healing from a Caesarean, I kept trying because I really wanted it to work. It’s meant to be the most natural and easy thing to do, right? I can do this. Things improved, and although I left hospital using shields, he was feeding well and we got into a good routine together. However, within a few weeks I was struggling. I couldn’t get Travis off the shields and he wasn’t gaining enough weight. So some tough love was called for. I finally got him off the shields with the help of many hours at the clinic, and it felt amazing and things were looking up. I was like a fountain of milk every day. I would feed him in the middle of the night and my poor husband would get a lovely spray all over him! Then I would have a shower and my little fountains would be spraying all over the glass. It was hilarious!
But unfortunately my poor little baby boy couldn’t drink it all, and I would have to express to ‘take the top off’ my supply. This, in turn, led to a vicious cycle of too much milk being produced and in no time I had my first spell of mastitis. Oh my goodness the pain! A course of antibiotics knocked it on the head, and we were back on track for a few weeks. Then bam! It was back again… and again. The third time was a trip to the hospital. I was so sick. They literally had to pump my breasts till they were completely empty, and hit it with antibiotics as well. Weeks passed and feeding was back on track. Travis then developed silent reflux which added a whole new dimension to feed time. We had to try different feeding positions, and my husband would carry him around after the feed like a little possum on his forearm with his little legs dangling. This would become his favourite position as the warmth of my husband’s arm on his little tummy helped soothe him. Somehow I made it to 7 months. It’s a bit of a blur how I muddled my way through, but I just wanted to give my baby boy the best possible start. It all came to an end when I, yet again, got severe mastitis, and was advised it was time to give up for the sake of my own health. The transition to bottle feeding him was horrible, and he was so stubborn he refused for over 24 hours. The clinic nurse kept assuring me I needed to stick to my guns and that he would eventually take the bottle out of shear starvation. I was a wreck and I couldn’t hold him because he could still smell the milk. My husband persevered for nearly 2 days and finally, success. My milk dried up and we had the happiest most settled little baby boy from that day forward.
I had so many beautiful moments breastfeeding him that far outweighed the problems I endured and I will always treasure that wonderful experience.
So when baby no. 2 was on the way, I was super keen to give it another shot. My 2nd gorgeous little boy Blake arrived by, yet again, C-Section. Fortunately he was a bigger baby and was very grateful for my abundant supply! This time I even donated some of my milk during my week at the hospital. Within no time at all, Blake was feeding beautifully and latched on really well. Hooray! No shields this time. I left the hospital on cloud nine with everything going so smoothly.
Unfortunately that’s about where the good stuff ends. When Blake was around 4 weeks old, along came mastitis. Once again, I was producing too much milk. A course of antibiotics and cabbage leaves in the bra for a few days, and my condition improved. A few weeks went by and I was enjoying breastfeeding again. That was until around 8 weeks. I knew the signs — fever, nausea, body aches and pains… It was back again. Except this time I had developed an abscess and was seriously ill. I was rushed to hospital where I spent 2 days treating it. I had drips in both arms, and somehow managed to try and feed Blake through it all. In the end, sanity prevailed. My obstetrician and the midwives both said enough is enough. You have 2 young children to care for at home, and you just cannot be this sick. I was heartbroken but I knew they were right. I was given tablets to dry up my milk and, as if he could sense my fear, Blake transitioned beautifully to the bottle. I treasure the 8 weeks I was able to breastfeed him and those precious moments we shared.
Then baby no. 3 came along! I was, yet again, having another C-section. I was strongly advised that I should consider not breastfeeding at all. My health was the most important thing to consider as I would be going home to three children to care for. I knew they were right. It’s hard enough recovering from a Caesarean without the pressure of desperately wanting to successfully breastfeed. In my heart of hearts I knew it was the right decision, but it was also the most painful choice I have ever had to make. A beautiful little girl had come into our lives, Chelsea.
While waiting in post op, I was given the tablets to stop the production of milk. By the time I arrived back to my room, my husband was sitting in the chair feeding our new baby girl. I was overcome with joy and sadness at the same time. It was so beautiful for him to experience this very first feed, but I felt guilty I wasn’t doing it. What if my baby didn’t connect with me? Am I failing her as a mother? I was so overwhelmed with so many emotions. However, with the support of my wonderful husband and my family, I got through it. She was the happiest and most settled of all my babies and I knew I had made the right choice. Her two brothers, who were 7 and 4, got to enjoy feeding her too, and she was our little treasure that we all got to share and enjoy.
It took me many years to let go of my feelings of guilt, shame and disappointment. I didn’t give birth naturally, and I didn’t breastfeed successfully. But it doesn’t matter. What matters is how much I love my children. I would do absolutely anything for any one of them. I know I’m a great mum and my children adore me. For that I am proud, and grateful every day they are happy and healthy. What more can a mum ask for, hey! I just love my kids.