Mama, breastfeeding looks different for different women
Breastfeeding: My story – by Ziggy Makant
I delivered my son on a busy day. The public hospital didn’t have any beds available for me so the midwives let me do skin-to-skin and helped me latch for while we waited in the delivery room for a space in the postnatal ward.
Those early moments were heaven! I was so confident.
I called on the lactation consultant every time I nursed and she commented on how well I was doing – but mentioned the baby didn’t seem to have a deep enough latch which could make it harder for him to get the milk out, and leave me with sore nipples and breasts. So between feeds, I expressed my excess colostrum – I was getting so much I fully filled syringes.
But I felt I had things under control.
We were sent home on Christmas Eve and ventured out for a family Christmas lunch the next day. I realized I hadn’t packed enough nappies, clothes, and still didn’t know how to breastfeed. Luckily, my graceful, experienced sister was there to help me latch and burp my baby, she let me nap and let me cry about how overwhelmed I was feeling.
Anxiety struck me. What was I thinking?
That night my real milk came through and I cried again and again: I couldn’t hand express a drop, and giant lumps were forming – the bags of frozen peas and warm compresses were little help.
But, thank goodness, I had a breast pump! It quickly became my saviour, and I found that it was much faster to feed my son that way. It was my saviour when I experienced bad latches, bleeding and damaged nipples, and it was my saviour in the sense that I could still feed my son from me without having to directly latch.
My life became pump, feed, sterilize on repeat.
I struggled to feed myself as I was so focused on feeding the baby. Luckily my friends were sending boxes of home-cooked meals around to my house every few days.
My first month of breastfeeding was me attached to a breast pump while holding my son, who had reflux, upright for at least 30 minutes post-feed. I felt anxious and unsure if my choices were the best for him or for us as a family.
But I really wanted to breastfeed.
By week eight of exclusive pumping, every 2 hours, 12 feeds per day and through the night, I couldn’t see how the process would get any easier. A critical moment came when I ventured out with my son but hadn’t pumped enough milk, and forgot to bring top-up formula.
He was screaming in the carrier, clawing at my chest, and I just wished I knew how to feed him. I rushed back home trying to calm him down, knowing that he just needed milk.
But I wasn’t confident enough for us to try to latch, especially not in public.
My head filled with doubts. What if he was so agitated he wouldn’t even try to latch? What if the latch was bad and left me bleeding again? Hadn’t we passed that magical six-week-mark that meant breastfeeding was impossible if you hadn’t managed it by then? Once home I desperately defrosted my stored milk while my son wailed, feeling so stressed and alone.
And that was the defining moment when I vowed I’d breastfeed directly again.
We didn’t have a lot of money, so I couldn’t afford a private lactation consultant. I didn’t even know where to begin to help him learn to latch properly, he was so much bigger than that tiny newborn I had cradled in my arms. Luckily there was La Leche League and a local breastfeeding clinic, where I sought the help of experienced women and realised getting him to directly nurse would come down to these three things.
Would my son take the nipple…Yes!
How was my supply? …Fantastic, because I’d been neurotically pumping every two hours.
How badly did I want to nurse?… For me, there was no other option
I found in these breastfeeding groups help at some of my bleakest breastfeeding moments, support and empowerment, and of course the wisdom of generations of nursing mamas. So I am sharing now, the best advice I got:
Skin-to-skin: Spend time just cuddling your baby, topless and letting him be near the nipple. Offer him the breast every few minutes and just let him suckle for as long as he wants to.
Forget about the schedule: Pumping/formula is very schedule based because you can see quantifiable amounts. Feeding on demand is trusting your baby and letting them guide you. Just keep offering the breast, never forcing the breast.
Set yourself a time limit: Mine was 20 minutes – if my son genuinely wouldn’t latch or feed for 20 minutes, but was trying to, I would pump my milk and then feed it to him. Or, I would walk around, calm him down, sing and bounce until he was settled, then attempt to offer the breast again.
Believe in yourself
In those early days, I couldn’t see myself exclusively pumping beyond three months but I ended up nursing him well into toddlerhood – we had a successful direct breastfeeding relationship until he was 20 months old.
I’m so grateful for all the women who supported me in whatever means they could, whether that was feeding me or just sitting with me while I breastfed. It really takes a village and they loved me at one of my lowest points and helped me learn how to love myself again.