Sunday, 22 March 2015

Six months making milk

There's something of a beautiful continuity in this mothering journey - in the space of nine months, my body grew a living, breathing baby of 6 lbs. 5 oz. from just a few cells....

So tiny, skinny and floppy

... and in the six months after that, my body continued to nourish and grow her from that to almost 20 lbs.

Added some healthy baby fat rolls!

I stand amazed at the fact that my body alone grew, and sustained, this human being all the way to today - and beyond, I can reasonably expect. She has gone from cells, to bean, to plum, apple, and various other fruit sizes, to a tiny skinny squish out in the world... all the way to a chunky, alert and communicative baby. I think that is humbling.

The journey didn't begin smoothly: while she was able to feed very soon after her birth, I just could not get her latched on without help for the 24 hours I spent in hospital after her birth. When I left, the discharging midwife said I was free to stay longer if I wanted (hah! - all I could think was LET ME OUT!) and when I declined, left me with the helpful thought that I'd be back soon anyway when baby lost over 10% of her birth weight and was hospitalised again. Thanks, lady.

She didn't lose 10%. Not even close. When we got home, in our own environment, we figured it out together, and she loved her food from the start.
It's a superpower, alright

But then the pain came.

In the first few weeks, the pain caused by her feeding grew, but it increased gradually so that - like the frog in boiling water - I kept going and didn't seek help until I finally broke down one day and said to Mr. that I may need to take paracetamol before each feed just to get through it. By then, my nipples were in serious and near-constant pain. Any touch was agony. Showering hurt; towelling off after a shower had to happen with a very small towel so that I could control exactly where it went, because anything like that touching my nipple would have sent me through the roof!

Baby was latching as well as I knew how, and health visitors said they could see nothing wrong there. But the pain, the pain! The day I decided I needed painkillers to survive each feed was when I finally realised I needed to do something. I could not wait this out. I was not tougher than this. I needed help.

I first went to a breastfeeding support group, the leader watched me feed and said she could see nothing wrong. But she referred me to a lactation consultant. She watched me too, and saw very little wrong; a small adjustment here, a little differently there. Nothing to truly change things. But she gave me one helpful piece of advice - I could cut down the time each feed took by squeezing milk into her mouth (breast compressions) which would limit the amount of time I had to deal with the pain.

Did I consider formula, you ask? No, I didn't. Unless it was for baby's sheer survival, if it came to that, I was not going to go down that route. I was going to feed my baby. So I hung in there, pain and all... and mere days after I finally saw that consultant, things did begin to look up. Today I know that the problem was simply that my daughter was very small when she was born, hence she had a very small mouth, which meant she could not get as much tissue into her mouth as was necessary to make it pain free for me. As she grew, the pain went, and I've been pain free since.

So I've exclusively breastfed my baby from birth to now, six months, and I will continue to breastfeed her until further notice - we'll start introducing her to food when she sits unaided, which isn't yet the case.

So the above is my journey, the facts of it. I'd like to talk about attitudes a little now.

There's a phrase I've seen used, again and again, that kind of bugs me: "Mothering through breastfeeding."

I don't "mother through breastfeeding".

Feeding to sleep?
Yeah, we do that too.
I mother through loving, cuddling, holding, babywearing, bedsharing, cooing, singing, chatting, caring, and a million other things... and breastfeeding. How can a thing as big, as all-encompassing, as motherhood be reduced to this one thing?

I'm as passionate as anyone about giving my daughter the best, and most natural, food for her - breastmilk. I have never given her formula; I have never given her a bottle of any kind, she's only ever had fresh milk direct from me. No expressing. No dummies. Just me and my milk when she wanted it. So it's safe to say I'm committed to breastfeeding. But that phrase still gets me on the wrong foot. How can all I do be reduced to breastfeeding?

Yes, breastfeeding is much more than a nutritional choice; it's comforting, bonding, tangible love. But I comfort, bond with, and tangibly love my daughter in a million other ways. My husband obviously doesn't father through breastfeeding: yet his parenting as a father is still equally valuable to my mothering, even without that one thing. (For example he's much better than me at comforting her through rocking, which is sometimes far more effective than shoving a boob in her face again). We could not do without one another in this.

So I'm not proud. I'm not proud to be a breastfeeder; I'm not particularly proud to have made it through the tough start either. It's just what was necessary to do the normal thing. I was, if anything, a bit disappointed that something so natural should prove so painful and difficult, but then again, birth is perfectly natural and still is painful for most women! And yet most of us choose to feel the pain to gain the reward, and for the sake of our children.

So I feel that I just did what I needed to do.

Today I enjoy the closeness, the connection, that feeding on demand - without schedules, bottles, or expectations - brings, and I look forward to the next six months when my little girl learns about all the tastes and textures the world's foods have to offer... but my milk will still be there for her, a safe choice whenever she wants it, a known quantity, nourishment for body and soul.

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Thanks so much for sharing!