I was really naive in thinking that all mothers knew how to breastfeed. I had read up on the stages of pregnancy, labour, birth options, and parenting but hadn’t read up, let alone spoke to many mums, on breastfeeding. Big mistake!
Rosey fed from me straight after labour. She fed for a whole hour and I remember thinking “Praise be to God! She’s here! And she’s feeding without a problem!” Then we went to sleep and upon waking up Rosey wanted another feed… and that’s when it hit me! I found myself in a strange place of feeling tired, ashamed, and inadequate.
After the first sleep post labour I was finding that:
- There was soreness and pain from my own tiredness that having a little baby start to take energy away from me started to make me doubt my ability to mother.
- Pretty much all the elders I spoke to in the initial days were swaying me onto bottle feeding. In their words “your milk isn’t enough” and when Rosey would feed for more than 30 minutes it would be like I had committed a great sin and I would get exaggerated comments like “Is she still feeding? We’ve not seen her all day!”
I understood God gifted me milk to give to Rosey and the importance of giving her her right. However, when it came to actually feeding Rosey I found my self in a state of “I’m drained. Let’s feed you another time” or “I really can’t do this”. Thankfully, The Hubby knew what I was thinking and sensitively supported me through each feed. It was painful, long and I was sore. Rosey, it seemed, wasn’t latching on properly; my lack of self confidence wasn’t helping the situation; and the fake smile I adorned whilst there was a continuous rush of visitors didn’t, in hindsight, help me recover from my tiredness.
What I really wanted, but couldn’t say, was Rosey to tell me where we were going wrong (sounds silly doesn’t it?!) and visitors to say the magical words:
Just dropping into say ‘Well done’. Do you need us to do anything for you? If not, it’s okay, we’ll leave and let you rest with baby. See you another time.
I also wanted some super person to show me how to breastfeed properly instead of the many midwives who kept giving me different guidance according to the “Health and Safety Regulations”; and then I wanted to just sleep a very long sleep.
Thankfully, when I got discharged, my midwife who had seen me throughout pregnancy came round. She reintroduced herself as the Breastfeeding Lead for our city and identified my main areas of concern… my prayers were answered! I remember crying to her about how I really wanted to breastfeed but was fearing every feed that came. She was really clued up with getting Rosey and I better at breastfeeding and supporting me through my first 6 weeks of being a mother. I didn’t know much about expressing breast milk, feeding a baby through a cup and not a bottle, or that babies can have a strong suck reflex which can make the breastfeeding experience painful for a mother. When I realised why Rosey wasn’t feeding properly, I was able to work with her instead of battle with her feeds. I also in those moments realised how dependant Rosey was on me being strong and patient. She needed a thick skinned mother, as she didn’t know herself what she was doing, and needed me to take the lead… sounds obvious but I think when a person is sleep deprived and highly hormonal it’s logical to say that they will become illogical!
Then gradually as we conquered the breastfeeding together, I started to get the continous comments from community members on how I should stop breastfeeding and give formula because either Rosey was getting too chubby and “Asian babies who are skinny when their young remain skinny when their older” or because I simply couldn’t have enough milk in me. Yes I wanted to physically hit the women who said these things because all their comments weren’t helpful and were down right rude! Educating them about how breastfeeding works and how a breastfed, chubby baby just shows she’s thriving on the milk she is getting didn’t seem to work.
Over time, the comments started to feel like a battle not worth getting into. Instead I did my best to ignore them and happily carried on with the journey Rosey and I were taking together. The breast milk God was putting in me was for Rosey and it was sufficient enough. I didn’t need to substitute it with formula to “top her up at night so she sleeps longer” or give her a bottle filled with breast milk because my “body wasn’t the right shape”. I simply (and yes this part is simple) had to believe in God and the instincts He places in a mother for her child. I knew when she wanted a feed, was capable of feeding her for longer than 30 minutes, and had enough God given milk in me to feed another baby if I could (I know this because I had lots of expressed milk)!
To conclude, it surprised me that I was battling with my daughter on one end to get our feeding right and then battling unnecessarily with “well wishers” (also known as “the ‘you really don’t know what you’re talking about’ people”) on the other end. If I were to do it all over again, what advice would I give to myself first before giving to others:
- Take it easy in the first few weeks. Your body has to recover. If you’re tired and want to rest then do just that. Seriously drop everything and nap when your baby naps. Everyone else can wait outside the door or just go away to come back another time. This is probably the only time you will have to regain your strength so ask your husband to be your body guard and nap when your baby naps.
- Expressing is a life saver! You don’t have to go buy a lactating machine either! Ask your midwife if you can borrow one of the community machines and use that whilst you’re sorting out a better breastfeeding technique. It’s good to get your midwife to help you to understand breastfeeding and expressing so that you can feel confident in what you’re doing. If, however, your midwife isn’t helpful then I’d highly recommend Dr William Sears’ book on Breastfeeding. It sums up all the concerns you may have as well as the know how on how to overcome any problems that arise.
- Remember that your baby is learning how to adjust out of the womb. You both just need to bond and get your foundations sorted. Breastfeeding takes time for some women. Take that time and don’t rush yourself or your baby.
- Set a reminder on your phone to eat(!). I was having to deal with a lot of other issues outside of my mothering, so often I forgot to eat. This in turn delayed me getting and feeling better.
- The only types of visitors you want in the initial month are those who will cook/clean/offer actual support rather than offer negativity or isolate you all together. Neither do you want the visitors who come just to say your baby looks like your partner rather than you… sounds petty, but when your hormones are already high comments like these can really trigger the tears. Make a list of all the people you know who will actually help. Give this list to your partner so he can remember who he should allow to visit straight away. Of course there will be people you can’t say “no” to because doing so will cause more harm in the long run. However, try your best to limit the time they are around you. You seriously do not need their negativity.
- If anyone says your breast milk isn’t enough then ignore them. 9 times out of 10 if you ask these women about their experiences breastfeeding their child(ren) you will find that they either gave up after the third day or never tried… so seriously, how on earth do they know any better about a subject they didn’t even try or know about?!
Finally, I’m not looking down on any woman that gives their child formula or breast milk in a bottle. It’s your choice what you do and how far you go along with your decision. If I did look down on you then I’d be sitting in the ugly boat with those women who look down on me breastfeeding… a boat I simply don’t want to waste my time on, let alone sit in!
It was my decision to exclusively breastfeed Rosey and cup feed her expressed milk when ever I was sore. Yes, I struggled but I’m glad I went through that struggle as it helped redefine the inner strength and determination I had. May God facilitate me in my intention to breastfeed my children till their 2nd birthday and place baraka in every drop of milk given to them. Ameen.