In honour of Breastfeeding Awareness Week (19th-25th June 2011), I am sharing my breastfeeding journey so far. I would love to hear your stories too. Please share your breastfeeding related posts in the comments feed.
Photo: Matteo Bagnoli
Once you got past the first couple of months people talk about things falling into place and this was certainly the case for me. I was very lucky and the small one slept a good 7 hours a night from about 7 weeks old, so I was less sleep-deprived than a lot of my friends.
I was finding the daily routine of nappies, naps and nursing more manageable, and I was loving watching my daughter develop day by day.
Breastfeeding was well-established and by this time, I had recovered from a bout of mastitis with antibiotics and heavy application of warming/cooling packs. I even got through the cracked nipples thanks to Lansinoh and the much-maligned nipple shields (I do understand why nipple shields aren’t recommended, but if they give you a short term solution to stopping feeding entirely, they can’t be all bad!). What’s more, I had finally stopped waking up in puddles of milk…
But for me, this partial return to normality sparked complete panic. I had morphed into a mumsy, stained nursing t-shirt wearing frump. All of the time I had been staying at home, completely focused on my baby it didn’t seem to matter, but suddenly I was talking about going to baby groups and meeting new people or worse, seeing people who knew the pre-baby me, and I had a real crisis of confidence.
Everyone seemed to be coping better than me. I knew from people I spoke to at the baby weigh-ins that it wasn’t really the case, but I felt useless, unable even to lift my daughter properly because of SPD.
Breastfeeding was my saviour. It was the one thing that I had planned that I was actually managing to do. And I was doing it well. As the weeks went on, most of the mums I had met stopped breastfeeding, but we continued, and it gave me a huge sense of achievement, not least when I realised that some of them actually envied me.
It did have it’s downsides. As more of my mummy friends converted to formula, many started extreme diet and exercise programmes to lose the baby weight. I wouldn’t have felt comfortable dieting, but as a marathon runner, I felt very jealous of those who were starting to tone up and fit into their old clothes again.
I was the antithesis of yummy-mummy – my boobs had ballooned and I no longer fitted my maternity clothes, let alone anything else. I lived in boring nursing t-shirts.
Nothing I liked seemed to work for breastfeeding, but I had to wear something so I just bought whatever fitted. Shopping was difficult and joyless and I ended up focusing on practicality rather than style. I felt like I had a stranger’s body dressed in someone else’s clothes. For someone who uses clothes as body armour, it was a massive issue and affected every aspect of my life.
For me, mastitis was minor compared to my fashion and body issues. Feeling comfortable in my own skin again gave me the confidence to continue breastfeeding and I am convinced that discovering that I could feed through the sleeves of a certain H&M batwing jumper dress was the turning point in my breastfeeding journey!
It took me a long time to find my breastfeeding style, but it has given me real confidence to feed wherever and whenever I need to. As a result of my frustrations, I set up MilkChic, a directory of breastfeeding-friendly high street clothes and was overwhelmed by the number of people who told me they felt exactly the same way.
Lots of fuss is made over the physical hurdles to breastfeeding, but the practical and emotional issues are ignored. Once you are past the first couple of months, the mechanics of breastfeeding get easier but social pressures and other issues can get harder to deal with. Only a mum can know what works for her and her lifestyle and it is vitally important that all mums are supported to find their comfort zone if longer term breastfeeding rates are going to improve.