This is going to be a long post – it has been a long journey after all, but I hope you’ll stay around to read it. It wasn’t easy for me to re-live everything again in my mind to write this post.
I breastfed my daughter for 47 months, and I’m still breastfeeding my almost 2.5 year old boy.
I haven’t stopped breastfeeding for a single day since my daughter was born in July 2008.
I hear you. I must have a screw loose somewhere for wanting to breastfeed for so long. For not wanting my boobs back to me, myself and I.
But I never really set out or intended to breastfeed for this long. I never intended to go on a marathon. I’m not breastfeeding for this long because I’m trying to prove that my boobs are all-powerful or better than others for that matter. And I’m not saying that breastfeeding this long is necessarily suitable or feasible for everyone.
I’m still in this breastfeeding gig for almost 6 years because… breastfeeding is fulfilling, for me and my children.
I must have had it easy No blocked ducts, swollen, cracked and bleeding nipples, a baby with a good latch, powerful suckle, and topped with lots of emotional support.
Honestly, I wish that was truly the case. Sometimes, I half-suspect the reason why I love breastfeeding so much is simply because I had such a difficult time in the beginning.
I had a prolonged labour of 3D2N and eventually I had to go for emergency c-section. Half knocked out by epidural, I was almost delirious. But I remembered distinctly asking someone in the resting room after the operation if I could breastfeed my baby. I had gone for antenatal classes and had read up so much about breastfeeding. I knew that I had to capture the golden moment. But that moment, I don’t know, never really arrived.
I was told by that person, that because of the anesthesia used, I couldn’t breastfeed my baby. In my weak physical state, I couldn’t probe further and I remember I felt light-headed and nauseous, but all the time wondering why I couldn’t breastfeed when I had been taught otherwise.
Because I had given birth in the late evening, it wasn’t until the very next morning at 7am that the Lactation Consultant came over. And much to my gynae’s horror, she found out that I had been given the wrong information by the person in the resting room and told me that I could have breastfed! So much time wasted when I could have started to breastfeed through the night. Much of the hospital stay after that revolved around people coming to ask me to identify who that person was.
Anyway, thereafter, my nightmare started. All I had envisioned – the perfect latch, the natural sucker – didn’t happen.
My daughter couldn’t latch. She would cry her lungs out, cry herself purple as she fought at the breast. We tried so many positions, but the end result was always the same. She gave me sore, cracked nipples and unimaginable pain. After a week, my nipples didn’t resemble anything like nipples anymore. I even forgot how nipples were supposed to look like. I attempted, in my desperation, to google ‘how do nipples look like’. You know, normal nipples that haven’t been gummed on, tugged and mangled by both baby and the breast pump.
That was nothing like what I had learnt about breastfeeding.
It was supposed to be natural. It was supposed to be fulfilling. It was supposed to bond us.
The one question in my mind that drove me insane was ‘WHY?’
Why me? Why couldn’t I breastfeed like everyone else? Why couldn’t my baby latch on like all other babies that I knew?
And it certainly didn’t help that my mother-in-law stood there watching me during each breastfeeding session with my boobs hanging out (I hadn’t mastered latching so to keep anything that could potentially cause me to fail, I went completely topless), sweating buckets (from the pressure of being watched, from fighting to keep my daughter in place at the boob), and asking the question that I had been asking myself 24/7. WHY? Why is she crying? Why can’t you get her to drink from your breast? Why?
It was the darkest period of my life. I felt like a complete failure. I felt that I was abnormal. I felt like a lousy mother. I felt like a zoo exhibit, being watched, scrutinised and criticised.
In the midst of all that pain (from both the c-section wound, the mutilated nipples and the engorgement), the crying and the questions, I became an exclusively breastfeeding-pumping mom. I would pump every 2-2.5 hours religiously to make it for the 3-hourly feeds. And because I pumped for every feed, and did all the feeding, burping (I had to hold her for 15-30minutes after each feed if not she’d regurgitate quite a bit of milk) washing and sterilising the equipment on my own for most of the time (I didn’t hire a confinement nanny, and apart from myself, only my hubby could be trusted to get the equipment clean after each session), that left me about a grand total of less than an hour sleep each time. And I hardly could catch any rest because I would jump out of bed to check on my girl if she stirred or made a sound. #woesofafirsttimemom
In short, I was a walking zombie.
My mum told me to stop breastfeeding if I couldn’t handle it. I grew up on formula and I’m perfectly fine. I told her I was fine and told her to leave me alone. Of course I wasn’t fine. And I think everyone else knew I wasn’t either (maybe with the exception of my mother-in-law who continued to hound me with questions). But I wasn’t going to give up without a fight. I applied nipple cream, and my breast milk to my nipples, and my hubby even helped to cut holes in t-shirts for my boobs to hang out at some times of the day because they were so painful being in contact with fabric. We couldn’t help the part that they were painful just being in contact with air so he did what he could.
Before my nipples could recover, I suffered from another type of pain. Sharp shooting pain. I thought it was natural. It isn’t – and I refused to admit that my rock-hard boobs were a sign of blocked ducts and not just plentiful supply. Eventually, I called and made an appointment with a lactation consultant to check out the pain and I realised that the pain while clearing those blocked ducts gave pain a whole new meaning. After my tears flowed down my cheeks as much and as fast as my milk did into the bottle (that’s the description my hubby gave of the situation), the lactation consultant taught me to latch again. This time, I succeeded. Finally! But that initial success was short-lived and when I reached home from the hospital and tried to latch her again, I met with the same resistance. But I never gave up my dream of having a baby suckling at my breast.
Each time I wanted to try latching, I would shut my room door (yup, I got bolder and stood up for myself, my privacy and my boobs even if no one else would). I would ignore the irritating and persistent questions outside my room door and concentrate hard on the latching. Eventually when my daughter was 5-6 weeks old, she got a hang of the latching and she would rather starve than drink from that thing she used to love. The thing called a bottle.
To cut the long story short, I emerged from the pain and depression, a stronger person. The one thing I’m truly thankful for – in that turbulent time, where I was always in two minds whether or not to give up, while I cried uncontrollably just thinking about giving up while holding my daughter, my husband always respected my decision. Of course he couldn’t bear to watch me in such pain and depression, but he knew I had to make this decision myself. I’m thankful that he walked me through those dark days, never once suggesting anything counter to what this crazy woman insisted. What still sticks most in my memory is this one thing that my close friend said to me when I was depressed – Your baby needs a happy mother to thrive, not a breastfeeding mother.
Due to all the obstacles I faced in the beginning, you can understand why I hold breastfeeding dear to me. It wasn’t an easy journey and so I decided that I’d let my children self-wean.
Even when I got unexpectedly pregnant, and she didn’t want to wean, I read up on tandem breastfeeding and went ahead with the decision to continue breastfeeding through pregnancy as I had no previous complications, but I limited breastfeeding sessions to short sessions so that it’d be comfortable for me and still satisfying for her.
Eventually the best gift that my daughter gave to her brother was an immediate abundant supply of milk the moment he was born. I couldn’t wait to latch him this time and made sure that I got to feed him as soon as possible. I also couldn’t wait to try out the tandem breastfeeding positions that I had spent so much time reading about prior to delivery.
Everything worked out pretty well except that I still got cut nipples due to improper latching due to bad positioning of my daughter in my eagerness to get both to my breasts. And even though he was hospitalised for jaundice, I continued to tandem nurse as we all managed to room in together.
I continued to tandem feed for 9 months before my daughter eventually self-weaned, 3 weeks prior to her 4th birthday (i.e. 47 months). So that about sums up my breastfeeding journey with my firstborn. Though tandem breastfeeding has ended, my breastfeeding journey hasn’t ended, and yes, I’m letting him self-wean too.
I just want to finally add that it doesn’t matter whether or not you manage to breastfeed in the end, or how long you kept it up – and don’t judge me because I’ve been on this road longer either, unless I’m breastfeeding a teen. 🙂 Everyone is placed in unique circumstances and everyone’s different. But we have one thing in common for sure – we all love our kids, breastfed or not!
Tomorrow Sarah will be sharing her breastfeeding story. Sarah is not just a Wonder Milkmaid. She is also Teacher, Writer, Storyteller and Play Advocate. Being Wife and Mummy are her two favourite roles because she gets to be Little Miss Do-It-All. Join her tomorrow on The Playful Parents as she regales her milking journey that has gone past the 4-year mark without having her udders dust the floor, not yet anyway.
This post is part of a Blog Train hosted by Madeline at MadPsychMum. Head on over to read the other breastfeeding stories by Singapore Mom Bloggers!
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