Breastfeeding is one of the most challenging yet rewarding experiences of my life. Despite feeling very insecure about my breasts, I just knew that I wanted to breastfeed my children, the way nature intended. When my son was born in 2012, I was simply not prepared for the challenge that breastfeeding would present. I thought it would come naturally and that he and I would know exactly what to do. This could not be further from the truth as I embarked on the steepest learning curve of my life.
My son was born with a tongue tie. For the first few days it went unnoticed and I endured midwives hand expressing colostrum to give to him in a cup because he was having trouble feeding. I felt humiliated and annoyed that my body was still being touched by strangers after the experience of giving birth for the first time. But I was also relieved that I had help, and I am thankful for this in hindsight. Just before we left the hospital to go home, a midwife noticed the tie and suggested that could be why feeding was difficult. She gave us a list of specialists who perform tongue tie releases and off we went.
Once home, despite trying to feed often, my son was not able to get any milk from my breasts. Feeling desperate I called my good friend, who is a midwife, to come over to help. Once again I found myself with hands other than mine on my bare breasts trying to help my baby latch correctly. There was no such thing as personal space in those early days, and my body felt like it no longer belonged to me. My friend was patient and loving and offered kind words when she saw how bloody and raw my nipples were. She could see there was no simple solution while his tongue was still tied. She suggested I express and bottle feed for now. This advice saved me, I felt immediate relief and my son was finally able to drink my milk. I will never forget what she did for me in those early days and I am so grateful.
When my son was 5 days old his tongue tie was released. Naively, I thought that would be the end of our problems, but this was not to be. What followed was a difficult and emotional journey and I was challenged way beyond anything I thought I was capable of. It was hell on earth. His tongue still had limited movement, was fork shaped and made a clicking sound when feeding. After every feed my nipples were squashed and battered, raw and sore. He was finally able to get milk but I was paying the price. Before each feed I found myself becoming increasingly anxious at the thought of the pain I was about to endure. I wondered why the hell women said breastfeeding was such a beautiful and bonding experience. I absolutely hated every minute. I decided to express and bottle feed most of the daytime feeds and try to continue him on the breast at night. Although pumping was definitely not fun, it was those nights that were the hardest of my life; I was anxious and filled with dread. I would sit up in bed feeding my son every 2-3 hours in a quiet and dark house, with tears streaming down my face. I have never felt so alone. When day broke I was relieved knowing my nipples could have a break from the relentless trauma.
I saw two lactation consultants and although they were supportive I felt as though they were at a loss, and that I was a bit of a “lost cause”. Again I felt humiliated and uncomfortable with strangers touching my breasts. Nothing we tried seemed to correct his latch or ease the pain. Instead of giving up, I set little breastfeeding goals. At first my goals were to get through each day, and then a week and then a month.
During this time my mental health suffered and I became increasingly anxious, had trouble bonding with my son and was grieving my old life, identity and freedom. I missed having my body to myself and I felt incredible guilt that I was not enjoying my new found role in motherhood. I reached out to my husband who encouraged me to seek help. My psychologist was amazing and over time helped me work through my issues and learn to adjust to my new life.
Still desperate for help, I reached out to a kind mumma on a breastfeeding support group on Facebook. She had just been through a similar experience with her son and she assured me that eventually it would get easier. It was just what I needed to hear when I was so close to throwing in the towel. And she was absolutely correct. Finally, when my son was about three months old, we somehow just worked it out and I was able to breastfeed pain free. I gave up pumping, put him on the breast every time and eventually my nipples just toughened up. The bond and love for my son grew stronger and finally I could see what women were saying about how wonderful it is. We continued our breastfeeding journey for about nine months.
When I became pregnant with my second child in 2014, I was overwhelmed with the anxiety of establishing breastfeeding again, it terrified me. Thankfully, although also born with a tongue tie that was snipped early on, my daughter has been a champion feeder. Our bond and love was immediate and I am enjoying every moment. Of course it has not been without its own challenges. At ten weeks old she was diagnosed with hip dysplasia and placed in a brace. It only took minor adjustment of our feeding position and she has been completely fine using a breastfeeding pillow to support her legs. Feeding in public with the brace is extremely awkward, but we manage and it certainly doesn’t stop us. I plan to continue breastfeeding my daughter for as long as we both want.
I am so proud of my breastfeeding journey and I am thankful every day that I didn’t give up. I hope my story can inspire others who are having difficulties to stay strong, seek support, keep learning and most importantly be comforted by the fact that it does get easier eventually.