Finding Flow With Breastfeeding by Kristin Shorten
Before becoming a mama, I had no idea breastfeeding – this natural and seemingly straightforward process – could be such a struggle. I’d researched, while pregnant, about how to breastfeed but I didn’t absorb the information until after my daughter arrived.
I love breastfeeding for the bond, closeness and intimacy it allows me to share with her and, of course, the convenience. I cherish the hours I spent snuggling with my newborn while she fed, then slept, on my lap or curled into my body on our bed. I took refuge in her and those long, peaceful, quiet blocks of time alone together when she was tiny – especially when I felt overwhelmed or we had extended visitors. I love that I can always soothe her with my milk and a cuddle.
Sometimes – even now that she is almost six months old – I still feel a small relief when she is hungry because it means that I can take her somewhere quiet, where we can relax, snuggle and I can perform the one parenting task that I’m completely confident about.
As my baby’s grown, breastfeeding has changed. Feeds are now shorter, faster and more frequent. And she often just helps herself. They’re less relaxing as she squirms, kicks my arms and scratches my chest. She’s now easily distracted, pulling off my breast if her dad walks by or she senses I’m not giving her my full attention. Needless to say, I can no longer sip cold cups of tea while nursing. But despite these shifts, I still love breastfeeding and all that it offers us. Just as she needs me for nourishment, I still find solace in nourishing her. But it’s been a bumpy road to breastfeeding bliss.
The first few weeks were excruciating as my nipples had been damaged while we learned the correct latch. I winced and took deep breaths through each dreaded feed while trying to seem relaxed for my baby.
When she was 11 days old I was back at the hospital with suspected mastitis after waking up – on a public holiday – with an engorged, rock hard, red and sore breast. The obstetrician believed it was blocked milk ducts and cautioned against antibiotics. Instead he instructed me to continue breastfeeding and pumping to empty the breast and avoid infection.
A couple of days later, after no improvement, my GP diagnosed mastitis and prescribed antibiotics which quickly cured the condition but depleted my milk supply. The result was one hungry baby and a distressed mama.
I contacted a midwife from the hospital who was also a highly recommended private lactation consultant and – as it turned out – worth her weight in breast milk (she helped with many things besides breastfeeding). She assessed my desperate, emotional and sleep-deprived state and advised my husband and I to supplement breastfeeds with formula while we worked to rebuild my milk supply.
The relief I felt when she gave me the permission I, due to false preconceptions, needed to use formula was indescribable. Not only was I then able to adequately nourish our baby, but also my husband could sometimes give her a bottle during the night and grant me a few hours of precious sleep.
From there, we continued to predominantly breastfeed and supplement with formula once or twice a day. Just having that tin of formula in the pantry for if and when we needed it – and knowing our baby would now never go hungry – was reassuring and comforting. And my husband relished being involved in feeding and giving her a bottle.
But throughout the first couple of months there were a lot of tears (mostly mine) as I, often unsuccessfully, tried to manage pumping between feeds. It was hard because bub never wanted to be put down but we just did our best, even if it meant sometimes pumping only once or twice a day. It was also often depressing because I’d get hardly any milk.
I was also advised to hand express milk, but this – despite watching endless YouTube demonstrations – took a while to master, as I was really uncomfortable with it in the beginning. (A well-meaning midwife at the hospital told me to toughen up!)
In addition to pumping, my lactation consultant prescribed Motilium – an anti-nausea drug, which just happens to have the side effect of boosting milk production, and the herbal supplement lecithin.
Eventually the effort paid off. After a few months, my milk supply had increased enough that my daughter no longer needed much formula and I could stop pumping. We’d achieved a kind of flow.
Then, when she was about five months old, I got mastitis twice more. But I recognised the symptoms early and got straight on to antibiotics both times.
Throughout the last six months, I have at times wondered whether the pain of breastfeeding, the inconvenience of pumping and reluctantly taking drugs was worth it – and felt tempted to quit. I’m now glad that I persevered – and grateful that I was able to breastfeed for at least six months – but I don’t judge anyone who doesn’t for any reason.
This is only my experience and I’m not qualified to give advice but if someone asked, I’d say that if you want to breastfeed, get as much help as possible from the midwives in hospital and then, if you need support when you go home, seek out a private lactation consultant. And be gentle on yourself because breastfeeding can be a lot harder than it looks.
Kristin is a new mama, wife, journalist and Day for Daniel ambassador. Her daughter and husband are the lights of her life. Loves yoga, books and podcasts. Obsessed with sleep and food. Lives for lattes but believes that a cup of tea fixes everything. She is currently in Darwin, Northern Territory, where she spends her days leaning into motherhood while fantasising about having more time to bake.