What I’ve learnt about breastfeeding

Like any new mum, I had a lot of preconditioned ideas in my mind about breastfeeding. I don’t think you can really know what its like until you are doing it. I thought I’d want to cover myself, that I’d prefer a schedule and that I’d be anxious about it. But I couldn’t have been more wrong.

While we didn’t have the easiest start, and I certainly struggled a little with having enough milk in the NICU at all times, I actually had an OK supply. Keeping your supply up with just pumping is hard, I’ve tried to pump at times during Ripley’s nearly 7 months and I really struggled to get enough, knowing that he was definitely feeding more than what I could pump.

Some of the things we are conditioned to think are just so wrong. It’s really unfair that women are subjected to such negative messaging, doubting their abilities and making them doubt themselves. I love magazines but recently I’ve started to really question the ones I buy because the advertising is so blatant. I mean, I worked in advertising for 5 years, and I have worked in and studied marketing and communications my whole career, so I know all about consumer behaviour, how marketers target potential customers and the types of strategies they employ, but even someone with that experience can be influenced.

When we were in the hospital still, meaning when Ripley was still in NICU, the midwives said to buy a tin of formula just in case, so I would feel less anxious. I remember having read somewhere that supplementing was a slippery slope and that it was actually pretty rare to need to do it, that there were so many things you could do before you actually needed to use formula.

I have nothing against formula, it’s fine. But if you are only using it because you think you don’t have enough milk, you’re not doing yourself any favours. The more you feed, the more milk you make. So many women don’t like demand feeding, true demand feeding, because it is draining and leaves you with little time not attached to baby. I have tried to make peace with it. Having a reflux baby means frequent, smaller feeds are the reality, so we are still feeding every 1.5 hours during the day, even at 7 months. I’m OK with it because he seems happy. If he’s happy, I am definitely better off.

I know some women really don’t make enough milk, and there are medical reasons for it, but I’ve seen first hand through mothers in mothers group, or friends, or other women in NICU, just so anxious that they aren’t making enough, that they start supplementing. It is a supply and demand system, you have to demand of your body to make enough. If you don’t, it will make less, so it’s a vicious cycle when you mix feed. I’m sure many women find it works, but when I was so exhausted at one stage, Ben suggested we give one bottle of formula per day, and it made it worse. I started producing less milk, and Ripley was getting annoyed. So we stopped. No formula in three months now, something I’m proud of, and it’s actually easier on my body.

I found Meg Nagle, the Milk Meg, a few months ago and love her articles. She is pro breastfeeding and is really clear about the whole supply and demand thing. But she’s also really pro using breastfeeding to settle, to sleep, to comfort suck and more. I found early on that breastfeeding was the number one choice for settling Ripley. So many books and people say ‘you’re making a rod for your own back’. But when I really examined the issue, I found that the only reason books and magazines say not to feed your baby to sleep is… you’ll create a sleep association and always need to feed your baby to sleep.

Obviously your teenager is not going to breastfeed in order to go to sleep, so it’s going to stop sometime. Am I happy to breastfeed or bottle feed my baby to sleep? Yes! I love it. But to make sure he’s not completely dependent on it, we also pat his back, sing to him and use a specific teddy. So if I’m not here or we don’t have milk available, he can easily be settled, but the quickest way is definitely on the breast.

It makes me sad that women are given so much information, presented in a ‘don’t question it, this is fact’ way, and so many women are so anxious to be the best mother, they don’t question things enough. I’ve found that the ONLY way I can parent is to use my intuition. I try not read books or blogs, I just use my best judgement and if I’m really not sure, I ask an expert.

Of course, I’m not an expert, and these are only my thoughts. Just my perspective. But one of the biggest things I’ve learnt is that every perspective is unique. I know, that if I hadn’t use my intuition, and keep persisting, I may have weaned Ripley onto formula by now. Again, I say, there is nothing wrong with it, not at all. But I’d be missing the bond we share through breastfeeding, and it would be costing me a lot of money.

4 comments Add yours
  1. I just wanted to say congratulations on following your instincts, I don’t think mothers are encouraged enough to block out the noise and go with what feels right. Unfortunately, the less we use our instincts, the less we trust ourselves to know what to do and our modern lifestyles don’t really support it.
    We also forget that our babies have an incredible instinct to survive so when I’ve felt a bit lost, focusing on what my little one wants has helped.

    1. Thank you mumma Renee! It’s interesting to go back and read my thoughts over 1.5 years ago. I am still breastfeeding 20 months later ! Yikes! I think our babies know exactly what they want and need, we just have to surrender to it. Modern society doesn’t really gel with it, so it has become unnatural to demand feed until natural weaning and a whole lot of other things. That makes it hard for women to ‘follow their instincts’ because there is little out there as a guide. I hope to play a small part in changing that.

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