Who is Milk Meg? People breastfeed toddlers now? There are actual designated breastfeeding rooms at work? And what the f—k is a haakaa?!?
Almost ten years had passed between my first born and my third baby. And yet it felt like an eternity in the world of breastfeeding.
My two older boys were born in an era where Facebook posts consisted of “how are you?” messages, written directly on each other’s walls. Online community groups were non-existent and Instagram hadn’t even launched.
Now with one hand on the baby, and the other on my phone, I can flick open social media channels like they’re my own personal shopper. One search of the word ‘breastfeeding,’ and I can read more information in two minutes than I ever learned in a suite of birthing classes and three pregnancies.
From breastfeeding singlets to a whole range of nip-slip friendly clothes; from timed feeds to on-demand feeding; and from cover ups to openly feeding-friendly cafes – breastfeeding has come a long way from my first baby to my last.
It was nearly eleven years ago, when dosed up on painkillers from an emergency c-section that my milk didn’t ‘come in’ until day five. While my newborn baby screamed with hunger, hospital staff pricked his feet, collecting blood to tell me his sugars were too low. He needed formula ASAP. I merely nodded my head, still in a sleepless and confused haze about his inability to latch correctly.
By week two I screamed I was done, but a lactation consultant suggested trying nipple shields to help with his latch. A few weeks later and still in pain during a night feed, I was horrified to pull my baby off and see the nipple shield filled with blood. So I took the shield off, and miraculously he latched without it. We had finally got the hang of this breastfeeding thing… until I had to be back in the office full-time.
While travelling for work, I pumped in airport toilets because there were no parent rooms. Only the disabled toilets had power outlets, yet I felt ashamed to be using a private space not reserved for breastfeeding mothers like me.
I continued to pump between phone calls and even between conference sessions. By seven months, I was told to, “just stop… it will be too hard to continue.” No one told me how to stop breastfeeding. I just remember the swollen pain of my breasts, the lumps and migraines. And then, my milk was gone.
A couple of years later, my second son arrived. He was tiny, but latched (hurrah!). Back at home I navigated feeding the baby to sleep while his toddler-aged brother played Houdini through the dog door. And just seven short months later, I was back to work full-time, juggling two kids… and back to pumping again.
At that stage I worked in a male-dominated open plan office, so during my lunch breaks for the next six months I would present myself to reception downstairs and ask if there were any spare offices for me to pump in. Sometimes there was, but often there wasn’t.
So on most days, clutching my black medela backpack (if you know, you know!),I would wander through an unfamiliar office of staring people, to a boardroom centered between two offices of male directors.
Once in the boardroom, my routine would be the same. I would pull the blinds down over floor to ceiling windows which faced an outside pathway. I would turn the lights off to sit behind semi-frosted glass. Then, once plugged in, I would push my feet against a door that would never properly close or lock.
Here I would stay, pumping for twenty straight minutes. All for a baby who never really liked the bottle and would instead, cluster feed all night.
Many years later, while wandering through the baby shop aisles and heavily pregnant with my third child, I automatically assumed I would need another electric breast pump, nipple shields and a cover up. But in my enlightened state, I demand feed. My baby is now an 18 month toddler and we’re still going - my 26 year old self would have been horrified. But in today’s world, extended feeding is okay.
Actually it’s more than just okay. It’s amazing. And I wish my 26 year old self had known this. We have persevered through low weight, through my overseas wedding, and even through his epilepsy diagnosis. Our feeding provides a comforting constant in an otherwise crazy household of three energetic boys to raise. It works for us.
And even as I reflect on the ups and downs of breastfeeding through a decade, there really is only one lesson I have learned that matters. Whether you choose to breastfeed or not, whether you choose to stop breastfeeding or to continue, it is the same golden rule for all parenting concerns – listen to your own instincts. You know your own child better than anyone else.
What will breastfeeding look like in another ten years? Who knows! Even though I won’t be feeding, if we keep crusading to normalise breastfeeding and to empower mothers, I am excited for the mothers who will be.
By Erinn Pages - @erinnpages