We often talk about breastfeeding and it’s benefits for the baby but it’s important to also focus on a mother’s health during breastfeeding.
Being a first-time mother I know how confused and vulnerable a new mom can feel at times, especially when it comes to breastfeeding. In the first few months after having a baby, woman’s physical and mental health is particularly fragile, as she goes through a phenomenal transformation, which requires her to adapt to the new role of a mother.
I’ve been breastfeeding my son for 20 months now. At first, it was exclusive breastfeeding, then combined with solids and now its an addition to the main solids based diet for my son. I’ve faced a number of challenges throughout my breastfeeding journey. It’s fair to say that I have a love-hate relationship with breastfeeding as it has come with a lot of pain & challenges both mentally and physically.
Why did I carry on?
I was fortunate to have milk all this time, but in the beginning, the supply was inconsistent. It was difficult, especially when my son was about 2 months old I suddenly stopped producing milk. I was so worried about it that I was ready to give up, however, my son refused every formula we’ve tried, and trust me we’ve tried them all! He refused every bottle, every teat, every dummy, he refused it over and over again. So, that was the reason for me to keep on going and pushing myself to continue with the breastfeeding.
Inconsistent milk flow
Pumping and warm showers helped with the pain when the milk supply was too high. This can be rather painful. So it’s good to release the pressure by pumping, but don’t pump too much or too often as you may create a false demand for your body to produce even more milk. Warm showers were my best pain relief.
In addition, Pumping also encourages the flow when it’s too low. I had days when I felt like I was pumping all day long and all I had was just a couple of drops of milk. However, it has helped as well as soft massages.
Talking about breastmilk pumps. I’ve tried several pumps, the one that I found most comfortable and pain-free was Philips Avent. I absolutely love this pump.
Cracks, sores and irritation
My son used to be constantly latched on. I tried to have scheduled feeds but I quickly realised that it wasn’t working for my son. So, I fed upon demand. Sometimes he would stay latched on for a just about an hour, and I would find myself brushing my teeth, putting makeup, cooking, cleaning, with my baby breastfeeding. All my tops had to be loose and easy to pull up or down so that the access to the desired food wasn’t obstructed. I often referred to myself as a kangaroo or possum mother with her baby constantly attached to her chest. This, of course, has to lead to sores, irritation and when the teeth started to cut a lot of painful biting to the point of bleeding.
The best nipple cream to help me with sore pains, cracks and in my case bleedings, was by Lansinoh and Mama Mio.
In addition, Mama Mio butter helped me to prevent and get rid of most stretch marks.
It also helped to stay topless for short periods of time and let the skin absorb the cream, have a breather and heal faster. (make sure your curtains/blinds are shut).
I’ve never had an impressive chest so I used to wear t-shirts bra-free, but now my nipples turn the corner before I do.
It took me a while to come to terms with my post (still going)-breastfeeding chest. It’s affected my confidence. It made me feel really self-conscious, as well as made it very difficult to feel myself in the clothes I loved.
I struggled to accept the evident disfigurement and major breast asymmetry (about a size and a half difference). However, finding a comfortable and hiding the difference bra has helped me tremendously. It helped me to find the confidence to wear the tops I wanted again. Yes, the difference is still there, however, it’s not as obvious as it used to be. I didn’t purchase a special bra, although I know there are many different kinds to help with my issue, my choice fell on a simple seamless bra from Uniqlo. It’s simple design, shape and fabric has given me a great support and hid the asymmetry I’ve been left with.
Another challenging for mother factor about breastfeeding is, of course, public feeds. People stare. I’ve had my share of positive and not very pleasant experiences but all I came to realise is that it didn’t matter that someone would give me ‘the look’, I did what I needed for my son. I stopped paying attention to everyone around me. Sometimes I’d cover up not just my chest but my head as well, look and smile at my baby, instead of people around. I always saw that as my little hideaway, where all I could see would be my son.
It’s about you. There’s no place for judgement
My son is twenty months old and I’m still breastfeeding. He eats solids well but he comfort feeds sometimes during the day and at night. Also, he feeds more when he’s unwell. I’m proud of how long I’ve lasted, but sometimes I avoid sharing this with moms that are judgemental. I can’t be bothered to explain why I still continue to breastfeed to moms that are not willing to listen or learn about my story and are just there to compare and judge. For some reason, such moms don’t seem to understand that it may simply be a natural choice for me and my son.
My son’s never used a dummy so I am his mummy dummy instead! Hence I’m his comfort and I don’t mind as it works for him. I can see that he’s started to self-wean, so I let him do it naturally. I feel, that the end of my breastfeeding journey is near.
Moms go through many challenges to breastfeed, therefore their health becomes more fragile and needs care. Its been 20 months so it’s been tough on my body that’s why I’ve started to take vitamins.
It’s important to support breastfeeding mothers as they put themselves through a tremendous amount of efforts during emotionally vulnerable times. It’s so important to let them know that it’s okay! Everything they are doing is absolutely fine and they just need to carry on doing what they feel comfortable with and what they see right for their babies. It’s okay to feel confused and have moments of doubt, it doesn’t mean you are doing something wrong! just remember you are not alone and if we talk about our experiences a bit more open and share with each other, we will help more breastfeeding mothers to find the answers they seek and something to relate to in the moments it matters the most.
This is not about whether you should or should not breastfeed, everyone’s story and circumstances are different. I simply wanted to reach out to all mothers out there and tell them that they are doing a great job and that Mother’s health is very important, regardless if she breastfeeds or not.