Confessions of a Breastfeeding Mother `
As I come to the close of my second breastfeeding journey and stare down at my beautiful son at my breast, I notice a little swell of sadness in my chest. It’s the end of an era. I am left with a healthy boy and a beautiful bond built and the feeling that yet again, this is something ‘they’ don’t tell you; that there is a moment where we as mothers need to mourn and process the end of our breastfeeding journey with each child.
This and a hundred other feelings, both positive and negative have washed over me during my time as a breastfeeding mother. These feelings spurred me to write this article, sharing some of the deep and maybe even embarrassing truths that I have learned during this time. One thing I know, is that we as mothers, are the most flexible and courageous of creatures. Our bodies change to completely serve and nourish another, our emotional state changes to achieve the highest level of sacrifice and our psyche changes to see things through the eyes of an infant.
I, like many women, looked up to the other women in my life and watched them effortlessly breastfeeding and didn’t realize the deeper mental aspect to it, the sacrifice and the joy that make up the many mixed emotions I would come to feel during my own experience.
My experience went a little something like this, I fed my daughter for 10 wonderful and excruciating months and hung on to every day, wanting so bad to make it to a year. I felt incredible guilt and self-doubt every time she went on a nursing strike or dropped a feed. I clung so tightly to the model that was set up for me by the women I looked up to that you should breastfeed your child for at least a year, not taking into account my own body and my own individuality. Later, I fed my son for 8 magical and enlightening months, swearing to myself that I would trust my body and ‘go with the flow’ so to speak. I wasn’t completely free from the ideals that I held but I knew that after taking steps to increase my supply, I would need to give myself the permission to follow the cues my body and baby was giving me. Now, standing here at the end of our journey. I can look back and say I did all that I could to hold on and also prepared myself to take the all-important step of letting go when we were both ready. Here are some of the mental roadblocks I encountered and how I traversed them
Disclaimer: This is an article based on my personal breastfeeding experience and beliefs as a mother of two. I am not a lactation expert of any kind. I realize, with respect, that every experience is unique and each perspective is valid. But I hope my experience will help normalize the many facets of breastfeeding and comfort anyone in the throes of having their own experience and wondering if what they are feeling is normal.
Are these really my breasts?
I’ll begin with the most uncomfortable aspect of it all for me. This particular emotional and mental shift caused me some anxiety and embarrassment, I feel that many mothers silently experience this and, like me, sit with their feelings, wondering if they are normal for experiencing them. I’m talking about the internal change in perception of your breasts from what society tells us are sexual objects to the source of food for your child. This shift happens so fast that it’s as if we are not supposed to even acknowledge that it’s happening. For me, it brought on tiny moments of body dysmorphia, I had feelings that these weren’t my breasts and I had feeling of guilt if the feeling of a suckling baby felt bad or good. I didn’t know what I was allowed to feel and was often left confused wondering if I was normal for questioning whether breastfeeding was for me. Along with these feeling of confusion, I felt love and connection and fulfillment, but the negative or uncomfortable feelings had an impact on my mental health and left me feeling isolated.
I want to tell mothers out there that are conflicted, that what you are feeling is normal and this shift, while not often discussed, is important to. address. Its ok to talk about it with your partner, its ok take it slow, its ok to feel confused. Just don’t let it make you give up. One thing that helped me was to try to educate myself about the body and better understand the hormones that play tricks on us. This ultimately taught me a deeper love and respect for my body through the acceptance of change and built up within me the willingness to embrace things exactly as they are in the moment. Treat yourself with kindness and patience and above all a very open mind.
Do I have enough Milk?
This is probably the most common and burning question amongst mothers, particularly first-time mothers, because it’s so hard to accurately quantify how much milk your body is producing and the natural instinct to satisfy your baby is so compelling. What’s important to remember is that the baby is way more efficient than your breast pump at removing the milk so the amount you pump is not an accurate representation of how much milk your baby receives. On top of this, some babies are more efficient feeders than other and some mother’s milk flow is faster than others so even measuring time at the breast can vary. All this left me feeling more than a little confused and while this question weighed on me, I found that I had to embrace the periods when my supply was good and my baby was content and gaining weight and accept supplementation when my supply wasn’t sufficient. This acceptance allowed me the freedom to walk my own path when it came to nurturing my baby.
One thing that helped me physically was to find ways to boost my supply with lactation cookies and teas. The delicious and effective treats prepared by Lactacare Kenya, paired with drinking lots of liquids was incredibly helpful.
I also strongly recommend speaking to a lactation consultant who knows how to ask the right questions and bust common myths around breastfeeding. Getting the right information during this time can be a huge game changer for new mothers. This is where Lactacare came through for me again with detailed tips and tailor made plans that help mommies get their production up and support their journey.
I can’t believe this is what a let down feels like?
Ouch! Oh, the relief! It burns! What did you expect your let down to feel like? No one told me that it felt like pins and needles. It felt like putting my ear to the ground and feeling the vibration of the deepest flowing waters. Indescribable. But as someone who always struggled through supply issues, this feeling also came with a great relief. A mother deals with so many completely new sensations and we can be naturally inclined to label them as good or bad. Opening your heart and mind to these sensations and experiencing them ‘as is’ without judgment and letting them come and go is the key to getting through them.
How long should I keep breastfeeding my baby?
I have heard almost any amount of time from different moms. I know moms who have breastfed their child till four years and moms who are lucky if they can make it to 3 months. I believe that the amount of time you breastfeed your child is ultimately a personal decision and that every moment you spend breastfeeding is precious and worthwhile. I hold the belief that breastfeeding is an incredibly important part of your child’s infancy and that the nourishment, immunity and stem cells your child receives at the breast is not near replicated in formula. The World Health Organisation advises breastfeeding your baby exclusively till 6 months and emphasises its importance in your child’s growth, weight regulation, immunity, brain function, feelings of security, and early social skills. Breastfeeding, for even a short amount of time is something worth fighting for, even if you have a terribly hard start or you have circumstances that make it difficult. That being said “fed is best” and if you are unable to breastfeed your children for specific reasons don’t allow anyone to make you feel insecure.
My experience was that I had to find an amount of time that worked for my body and my wellbeing. It was important to come to a place mentally where I would allow myself to follow my body and instincts instead of following what I thought I needed to do according to the expectations I was placing on myself.
Overall, this is what I would advise, truly finding your own personal comfort levels by speaking to a professional, tuning into the needs of your body and then following through with conviction and confidence. When you get help if you need it and learn to see yourself as an individual, you can enjoy your journey and appreciate each step for its uniqueness. And if you do struggle at any stage, acknowledging your limitations with kindness, will be the antidote to guilt. A happy and relaxed mommy is what your baby needs more than perfection! Happy feeding!
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