"Fiona, Gut is a piece of Truth you need to listen to"
- Vivienne MM, a counsellor, wise woman, and dear friend.
I want to write this post for several reasons.
Firstly, I think reflective practice is both enlightening and refreshing. I want to encourage myself through looking back on the journey I have made thus far and I want to spur myself on in full awareness of both reality and emotion, thought, research and... plain and simple gut.
Secondly, I have been encouraged by many wonderful cheerleaders along the way who have in times of joy and in times of need shared enough of themselves to aid me in understanding the beautifully challenging, wonderful, bizarre and brilliant experience of breastfeeding. Therefore, to friends about to embark on this journey, I gather my thoughts together here also for you... because ultimately I can say this: I'll willingly be your cheerleader if you need one.
To be honest, I always wanted to Breastfeed and was fairly sure I was going to be able to. That was my first gut feeling in the process. I'll even admittedly say this: I had a bias. 'Breast was best' in my mind and though my reasoned brain was careful in preparing me for any eventuality, I was pretty determined that I was going to make it work whatever the odds.
I did have hesitations though. At one of our Ante-Natal classes, the midwives had us in groups list the pros and cons of breast Vs. bottle. I was off to a flying start, probably too eagerly assisting the group in writing all the wonderful 'pros' of breastfeeding. However, my bubble started not bursting but deflating a little, if you will, as others were similarly eager to write all the 'cons.' Sure I had thought about the fact that breastfeeding could be difficult or even embarrassing in public, that it could hurt, that you could have all sorts of issues like blocked ducts, over or under supply..even end up with mastitis. But suddenly, in the midst of a room of heavily pregnant women, I had one of those, "oh yeah but this is happening to you," moments and then the 'cons' felt a little heavier to carry.
...In fact, I may have even swayed towards the 'bottle' side of the debate for a minute as I also remembered comments from friends who used bottles, saying things like, "but won't you be sad when we're all hanging out and you have to leave the room to feed, because I know you are reserved and are uncomfortable with the idea of feeding in front of anyone."...
In truth, I simply had no idea what to think. I had a gut - Breast is best!... though new thoughts were niggling into my mind... still, I found I was continuing to be pretty set on giving it as good a go as any....
The first few moments:
One of the things I vividly remember out of Eleanora's whole birth story is this: the moment I first fed her. I'm even quite teary thinking about it now. It was only a short while after she had been born that the midwife gently said to me, "are you ready to try a feed?" I looked up and simply said 'yes,' filled with a mixture of excitement and nerves, doubt, determination, and gut....and it just. happened. For a split second I had a sort of out-of-body glance at the situation and yeah, I though - 'this is a bit bizarre'... but my gut? My gut was crying out 'this is good'.. and it was one of the sweetest moments of my life.
( don't worry, I am NOT going to give a play by play of every week.. I've even stopped counting where we are in weeks!!)
The first three days were a bit blurry and to be honest, so much was going on emotionally, physically and in my mind with new thought processes forming that it would take pages of reflective writing to get it all out. However, a few things stand out:
- I was in a hospital ward of 6 and only 2 of us were breastfeeding. By day 2, I was the only one. As a result I got a little encouragement from the midwives on the first night, but then there was no-one else really to talk to. Hospital visiting was only open to your spouse or partner because of the winter Norovirus epidemic, so neither my mother, mother-in-law nor any close friends who were breast-feeders could visit for encouragement... as far as I knew it was going well but I was dying to just keep 'checking in' with someone to know... I mean, how could I know if I was doing it right? All I had was my gut... and terribly emotional thoughts!
- Eleanora was checked for jaundice levels twice and the second time they were pretty high and she had to have a blood test and that was my first 'sinking stomach' mother moment. Breastfed babies are pretty prone to being jaundice but in my competely emotional state, here entered the first negative thought as a breastfeeding mum - "she's not 100% and it's my fault."
As the week progressed, I got home, took my time firstly just enjoying Eleanora and then studying her... and studying me! I experimented with feeding positions and holds, timing it and not, and balancing thoughts of joy and concern. Joy because Eleanora seemed to take to it like a duck to water. Concern because though it seemed as if everything was going well, I was sore and for the life of me I just didn't know... was I still simply recovering from labour? was I exhausted from being awake so frequently? was I emotionally wiped and having a physical reaction because of that? was it just my milk coming in? or was breastfeeding actually hurting me?
I had a gut that something wasn't right but I didn't follow it until it was a little too late. Two days later Eleanora and I were readmitted to hospital because I had a severe case of mastitis. Yep - one of those 'cons' on the list?.. I had checked it already. I was so disappointed and all I could think of was, "I mustn't have been 'doing it right' to get mastitis and end up in hospital with it." And yes... it hurt and it was soul-destroying to end up back in hospital after being home as a new family for only a few days, and yes, I was on a drip which was my worst nightmare revisited....
However, I can truly say this now.... it was absolutely a blessing in disguise. I had wonderfully helpful and encouraging midwives who were very pro-breastfeeding looking after me. I had the lactation consultant visit and give me specific pointers, unique to my body... and I got rest... mandatory, do-nothing-but-breastfeed-rest. Something that left to my own devices I would not have adhered to very well. On top of all of that? Eleanora and I were in tandem. Feed, Eat (me), Sleep (both of us.) It was great.... and finally I got it....That's what breastfeeding really had to be about.... being in tandem. You and your baby. Connecting and experiencing together...
The Journey continued...
After the first few weeks, we got into a good rhythm. Eleanora was on a pretty good schedule for feeds, she fed well and we were both pretty happy. I had oversupply issues but with cheerleaders and information from brilliant resources (see below) at the tips of my iphone fingers during nighttime feeds ... I was able to work through any issues that arose and things evened out and turned around in due course...
I invested in a breastfeeding cover because though I admire the mothers who can feed any time any where around anyone, being discrete was always and will always be a part of me. However, I was hesitant because I also didn't really want to be a 'statement' breastfeeder. Again, I admire the women fighting the cause for all of us who need and want to feed in public without judging eyes... but my inner goody-two-shoes and etiquette-shaped mind knew being a 'bold' breastfeeder with an all-singing-all-dancing cape on that covered most of my body like an apron just wasn't me either. So, I found a few options and purchased a cover from an Irish company "Bubí Bainne" (trying to support local business) and a well-known brand "Bebe Au Lait." Both I have found excellent and BOTH come in discrete colours.... in fact, I will say that wearing a black nursing cover and a black top, I have had a few funny moments where someone didn't know I was feeding until I noted it in conversation... at which point followed a few particularly awkward moments...
Both covers have a ridge at the top which sits out from your collar bone and you can see down to baby and baby can make eye contact with you during a feed, without others being able to see anything. ( I will say at 4 months, this is becoming more of a game for Eleanora and chances are I may be writing a post soon about the perils of feeding in public, given my own battle with being discrete and having a baby who can fling a cover off with one excited swoop of an arm!!)
Resources that have helped me:
- First and foremost FAMILY and FRIENDS..particularly my Mum, mother-in-law, good friend Susan and... my loving husband. Get your cheerleaders out and if you need one, I'm here. You will have down days. you will have times when it is both physically and emotionally overwhelming.. you will potentially face issues of over and under supply, blocked ducts or mastitis and you will need encouragement. Your baby may also have issues like reflux or colic and that too will take its toll on your motivation to carry on... so find the folks you can talk to and let yourself talk.
- http://kellymom.com/ A great website for everything from basics to specifics on different issues you may face and with a wealth of articles and research for further reading. A favourite of mine during nighttime feeds in the first few weeks!
- http://www.lucieslist.com/7-feeding/ This lady is pretty funny.... certainly colourful in her writing... but funny. So if you need information delivered in a light-hearted way... click this link and enjoy. Particularly notes on postpartum days...not so much breastfeeding specifically but the whole rounded experience...
- Midwives, public health nurses and lactation consultants etc. Basically, the professionals exist to be experts and can help... get to know yours and how you can be in conversation with them.
Probably the biggest most surprising resource? Me... and that means for you, I hope, you find that it's you. Amazingly our bodies, minds and hearts simply just know sometimes and I've found that when I listen to that truth things tend to fall together pretty amazingly. You can do it because within you, you know.
Well, I'm thinking breastfeeding is pretty much all that's on the agenda for now.
Last week I thought Eleanora was ready to move on in her experiences and start some solids despite having studied the research about waiting for 6 months, but after a few awful days where she and I were very out of sorts, I listened to my gut and knew I was wrong. The truth was, at the moment, breast is still best for both of us... again pointing me to this: "Gut is a piece of truth you need to listen to." My gut. (I've written gut a LOT now and it's tarting to sound funny or just vulgar... apologies...) My gut was the truth I needed to always listen to. Breastfeeding was in me to do and yes, it has been a journey and yes it has been confusing and hard and it hurt... but above all it has been wonderful.. and I hope to continue and then eventually (steady on) doing it again!
**A talented writer and friend recently wrote all about Baby Led Weaning on her blog, somewhat I think in response to my dilemma about putting little E on solids. She shares her experience of this next step here: http://cravingsimplicity.blogspot.ie/2013/04/introducing-solids-adventures-in-baby.html also including a lot of great information on the 'pros' of breastfeeding! Check it out!!**