More than 5 years on, Kate Mercurio Mestre looks at the evolution of her breastfeeding days and how it became a parenting superpower
The latest in our series of life lessons from nursing:
PHOTO CREDIT: Radhika Rao
I remember the early days of nursing.
It’s the same story I have heard over and over ever since. I was 27 years old and, dare I say, pretty clueless. Nothing could have prepared me for the demands of nursing around the clock, the cracked nipples, the mastitis, the pumping.
During this time, I was only looking as far ahead as the next feed.
Even the following day was too much to comprehend. I'd tried to breastfeed my baby on a schedule which a lot of parents believe is necessary because it's often what we are told in ante-natal classes or at the hospital. But actually it just caused a lot of unnecessary worry and stress. A few weeks into it with my first baby, battling a raging infection and exhausted beyond anything I could’ve imagined, I was ready to give up and formula-feed.
How could anyone carry on like this for weeks, months?
Some days I was in despair at what I believed I was facing. The pain of infected and engorged breasts, the isolation, the boredom of pumping, the leaking, the inability to do anything normal like showering or eating.
Surely nobody would choose to do this for a year or more?
But I was told ‘no’ by the lactation consultant, 'You must carry on. You cannot clear this infection by quitting nursing'. So on I went. The antibiotics did their job. I realised that a schedule may be required if you are bottle feeding but with nursing you can learn your baby's cues and nurse on demand. I realised safe co-sleeping can be immensely helpful in the early days, as it means you didn't have to stagger out of bed at 3am to retrieve a crying baby and sit there for 40 minutes trying not to fall asleep while they feed.
Slowly, day by day, things got a little easier.
By six weeks I was out and about, learning to nurse in public. The alternative was sitting at home, staring at the four walls and I was not going to do that! Support makes a massive difference. Support people don't need to be breastfeeding experts, they can be people that can support you (your partner, parent, friend, etc).
I wish I could have had an extended support network.
But I didn't have any family members that could help with breastfeeding and I didn't really have any friends with kids, so I was on my own for a lot of it. I did have access to a lactation consultant the first time around, which was helpful in working my way through the early problems.
The weeks turned into months, and the months became a year.
Nursing a toddler was a whole different ball game. They're easily distracted but do not require 45 minute nursing sessions eight times a day like an infant. I could wear normal clothes. I could leave him for more than 3 hours without becoming engorged.
Nursing became a relaxing and bonding experience.
We carried on until he self-weaned at 2 years old. Then almost two years later, my daughter came along. Right - I was a pro at this. No problems! And granted, I got up and running with nursing again quickly. It was much easier than the first time around. However it was not without its challenges.
Seven months in I suffered a bout of mastitis.
The antibiotics again stopped it in its tracks but then I suffered a yeast infection of the milk duct, which was a whole new level of pain. To make things worse, the GP refused to believe there was any problem and I had to try to figure out how to deal with it myself.
PHOTO CREDIT: Radhika Rao
Despite that small bump in the road, our nursing relationship flourished.
We continued beyond the two year mark that I had reached with my son and into her third year. From year two onward, she nursed once in the morning and at night only. On her third birthday, I weaned her.
Life was made so much easier by our extended nursing relationship.
I could calm my kids on a plane, I could comfort them when they were sick. I could still wear normal clothes, go out, exercise, drink a glass of wine. It felt completely natural to continue nursing and I was never questioned on when I would wean them. It never occurred to me to be ashamed of what I was doing.
As I discovered, the nursing relationship evolves significantly over time.
In the early days, your baby needs you for everything, and it can often feel quite overwhelming. Having a system in place for taking care of yourself, have meals prepared or someone to prepare meals for you, to feed you while you feed your baby, to take the baby for 10 minutes while you shower, to sleep when you need to sleep (and co-sleep if that's what you need to do) and access to professionals for advice, can make all the difference.
If you can get through those first few months, the rest should be much, much easier
As they grow, begin to gain independence and explore the world, extended nursing remains a great source of nutrition and an immune system booster, but it is also more than that. It is a safe and loving place where an overwhelmed or tired toddler can retreat to deal with difficult emotions, or a sick child can be comforted. No matter what, you have an answer for almost every problem they encounter.
It felt like having a superpower.
PHOTO CREDIT: Jill Carter Photography