By Mummy Contributor Tarah (@harrisonandwillow)
I love breastfeeding and I dislike it all at once.
Breastfeeding seemed like the most natural way of feeding my child when I was pregnant with my first baby. I thought it would feel so wonderful and natural to me, like you see on those commercials where she is effortlessly breastfeeding her baby while they look lovingly into each other’s eyes.
If anyone asked If I would be breastfeeding, I would always answer "yes, I will be". I remember watching my sister and aunties breastfeeding and thinking how beautiful it was and is. But as my breastfeeding journey with my second baby came to a close on his first birthday just recently, I wouldn’t say that I LOVE breastfeeding.
What I didn’t realise about breastfeeding is that there is this whole EMOTIONAL, hormonal and mental side of it that is just as important as the physical one. And that it doesn't always feel NATURAL.
Physically, I am fully able to breastfeed. I don’t think I’ve ever had any supply issues that I am aware of. I did get engorged both times when my milk came in and hurt like a Mofo, I've had mastitis and I've had to use nipple shields when the pain was unbearable, lots and lots of mothers do. I have definitely gone through periods where the boys have been jumping on and off the boob in a screaming fit and I've had times they felt really empty. I also have a painful let-down. But I guess looking back I just pushed on not really knowing what it was at the time. Maybe there wasn’t enough milk; maybe it wasn’t coming out quick enough, maybe it was coming out too quick, I don’t really know, I guess I just kept feeding through it and it kind of sorted itself out in the end.
Emotionally, though, is another story and particularly so with my first baby. I felt like I didn’t have control, I felt really hormonal and out of whack. I felt awkward and uncomfortable. I wanted to see what he was drinking, I wanted to know how much he was getting. I never thought I would be like that.
I pondered regularly how the baby would survive if something happened to me. I felt this huge weight on my shoulders that I was solely responsible for keeping this child alive. I also felt incredibly uncomfortable and awkward feeding in public or around others. I felt so conscious of others and how THEY felt about ME breastfeeding. It wasn't even something that I was consciously aware of until recently. And because of this, breastfeeding has felt restricting and isolating for me. I felt annoyed that I couldn't just feed on the go and that I lacked the joy of it that mothers speak of, instead feeling like an awkward, hot hormonal mess.
And there is a lot of research to prove that women are not alone in feeling this way. Studies have found that postpartum women who have low levels of oxytocin while breastfeeding (the love hormone) feel less happy, more agitated, irritated and overwhelmed. I am definitely someone who has marked anxiety, horrible HORRIBLE mood swings (my husband will certainly vouch for this!) and increased agitation from the third trimester through until cessation of breastfeeding, so this research made total sense to me!
So why didn't I just stop? Intellectually, I know that formula is a great method of feeding also. I’ve done enough research and spoken to enough paediatricians and doctors to know that formula-fed babies (in industrialised countries) are at very little disadvantage despite what you read online or are told by some. My mum also didn't breastfeed my sister and I 30 something years ago and formula has come along way since then. I also know from my own personal experience as my first baby mixed fed from around four/five months and by eight/nine months he was mostly formula-fed until I switched him over to cow's milk at around eleven/twelve. Both of my babies are two of the healthiest happiest babies you will meet despite being fed in two different ways.
What kept me going the second time around though was the knowledge that I wouldn't feel this way forever. I finally understood that one's success with breastfeeding was not always just solely based on her love for it or her ability to physically breastfeed. The moods swings, the agitation and irritation did get better as time went on (from about six/seven months) and once weaned at one year things for me are back to normal as usual.
From breastfeeding two babes, I've accepted that I certainly didn't love every aspect of breastfeeding and that this is ok. That even though they say that it's not supposed to hurt in the beginning and it should come naturally, sometimes it does hurt and sometimes it doesn't come naturally but the pain will stop and both you and baby will get the hang of it in time, so just hang in there.
And I've learnt that sometimes, for some women, it's not an aspect of motherhood that is always filled with gushy wushy lovey dovey feelings. Talk with friends, talk with your doctors, be open about how you feel, because like everything, you are not alone!
Wishing you the best on your feeding journey.