If you had told me just a few weeks into breastfeeding my son, that it would grow to become one of my very favourite parts of motherhood, I would have not believed you for even a second.
If you had told me that almost 16 months down the line, breastfeeding would be basically effortless – even enjoyable – I would think you were just spinning me a fairytale ending.
Our breastfeeding story is the perfect metaphor of my motherhood experience – it’s been magical but maddening, unrelenting but rewarding.
The first months of feeding were gruelling, as they tend to be for most. But we had some added hurdles to contend with that complicated things greatly - slow weight gain and falling percentiles, diagnosis and revision of lip and tongue ties, ongoing gut issues and a long process to pinpoint food intolerances after reactions from my diet via breastmilk.
I also happen to be one of those women who have had little to no success with expressing – no matter how many different hospital grade pumps I tried, or how much coaching I had from my absolute angel of an IBCLC. I had planned on using the occasional expressed milk bottle to give myself a break – but that wasn’t to be.
Then there was a pesky recurring blocked duct. Oh and let us not forget a severe case of gastro that landed us both in hospital for rehydration when my son was only four months old.
When you list all of these challenges out, it probably makes sense that there were many times during that first six months where I questioned our decision to continue to exclusively breastfeed, rather than stopping altogether or at least supplementing with formula. I was questioned a lot too - by health professionals, and even extended family and friends.
But of all the many reasons I fought to keep going, the most compelling one was the way breastfeeding calmed my tiny son. You see, in his first six months of life, we received scribbled notes from more than one Paediatrician that included phrases like “’High needs’ baby", "Highly alert", "Irritable Infant" – what we now know to be just his nature – destined to be both highly sensitive and highly active, a combination which was not conducive to being a sleepy, relaxed baby.
But when he was feeding? It was a totally different story. Feeding was (is) his calm in the chaos. It's been his place to retreat from an overwhelming world. It's been our reason to sneak away from company when I can see he is feeling overstimulated. It's been our way to reconnect, to recalibrate and regulate his emotions (and often times, mine too).
As most mothers probably do, I went into pregnancy with a willingness to breastfeed, if I could. But I emerged from those first days and weeks of getting to know my tiny son with a sense of determination that I would do whatever I could to continue breastfeeding him. With every feeding challenge we overcame, and every negative attitude we encountered, that determination was only renewed and strengthened.
So much had not gone according to plan in our son’s first year of life, especially when contending with the back-to-back external stresses that 2019-20 has thrown at most of us (‘catastrophic’ level air quality from bushfire smoke in our home and then covid-19 arriving just a few months later). I remember saying more than once to my fiancée “I would really love breastfeeding to be the thing that we hold on to, if we can”.
Thinking about it now, I suppose you could say I became an advocate for breastfeeding by accident – from my unwillingness to let go of the one thing I could rely on to settle my very unsettled newborn.
But I choose to continue to be an advocate. I choose to advocate because from my own experience, I could not help but notice the lack of education, support and empowerment, both prenatally and postnatally, for mothers who do fight to breastfeed. I was very fortunate that I struck gold in finding my way to the right resources at just the right time. I mostly have other breastfeeding mothers to thank for that – mothers I will never meet, but who shared their advice and recommendations on online platforms.
BUT I am excited to see in recent months that the tide really seems to be turning – more and more organisations, resources and brands are popping up that educate, support and empower Australian women navigating their own unique breastfeeding story. OMM Label is one of these brands that is helping to grow a collective breastfeeding confidence – because having access to stylish, comfortable, ethical breastfeeding wear that allows you to feel good about feeding anywhere, anytime – is one thing that breastfeeding mothers should not have to worry about.
Whenever I talk about and celebrate breastfeeding, I always make a point of acknowledging the millions of women who could not breastfeed, did not breastfeed or had reason to end their breastfeeding journey before their babies naturally weaned. It can be hard to speak about the effort, the beauty and the benefits of breastfeeding without suggesting any alternate feeding journey is in some way ‘less than’. The truth is ALL feeding is hard - breast, expressing or formula - all come with a suite of unique challenges and inconveniences. All have their advantages too. But most of all, all are individually beautiful, and all are nourishing.
So whatever cosmic combination of good fortune, perseverance and finding the right support meant that breastfeeding was, and continues to be, the best fit for us – I’m grateful we got here. I only wish I could go back and tell former me that it would be so worth it.
Want more tell-it-like-it-is tales of Mamahood? @saidnomumever launched in October 2020 as a platform to connect expecting, new and seasoned Mums.
Lauren is a Canberra woman, Mum of one and aspiring writer, with an academic/professional background in Sociology + health policy. Through @saidnomumever, Lauren hopes to use her love for the written word to help shift the conversation on motherhood – by calling BS on the swathe of unhelpful commentary + making way for what is really missing from the dialogue.