Amazing and wonderful! But, as I have found with most of the amazing and wonderful things I have enjoyed in my life, there are obstacles. It is the overcoming of these ‘natural’ obstacles that for me has made breastfeeding all the more rewarding.
Breastfeeding was not something to which I paid a huge amount of attention before I was pregnant, unless I include the imaginary breastfeeding of a small brood of dollies when I was seven.
Now I am almost an addict.
I search out other breastfeeders like a lion seeking her pack. I even felt a touch of connection with my sister-inlaw’s nursing cat and kittens, though I promise I’m not a crazy cat lady. I grin inanely at mothers nursing their young. I get a rush of adrenalin when breastfeeding is reported positively in the media. I have researched breastfeeding enough to write a thesis. I subscribe to a breastfeeding podcast and am a member of a breastfeeding group on Facebook. Did I say almost an addict? Perhaps I have gone too far. To say I am an advocate of breastfeeding is an understatement. I am truly a lactivist.
It is our “It’s OK” time, our special time, our time connecting after a busy day
For me lactation is like a drug: it releases endorphins and soporifics in a way better than anything I could get hold of down an alleyway on a Friday night. Its most powerful seduction is the closeness it brings to my beloved daughter.
But my route here was hard. Unbelievably hard.
It began one chilly winter morning when my daughter entered the world. After a birth far from the one I had planned, I was desperate to get this breastfeeding business started. Without any prompting from the midwives, who were busy checking stats, clearing up litres of blood and stitching me up, I put my daughter to my breast and hoped it would happen. It did. Her tired lips nuzzled into my breast and she began some half-hearted suckling. Simple.
Actually, it turned out to be far from simple. By the time my milk came in and my large-to-begin-with breasts had ballooned to a gargantuan size, my wondrous baby had been suckling away for days without being latched on properly. This I knew. All the pictures I had seen, books I had read, showed me how the baby should be attached, and I was sure she wasn’t doing it right.
Midwives told me repeatedly that it was fine and that it was meant to hurt for a while at first. Over the next few days the pain got worse and worse. I religiously applied layers and layers of Lansinoh until my baby’s lips were sheeny after every feed, as if she’d just applied her lip gloss. I called the NCT and La Leche League, who gave me hours of wonderful advice, which I tried to follow over and over again, telephone balanced under my chin, baby balanced at the breast. And still it hurt. Every time I heard that helpless wail from my baby, my toes curled, and my hands went up instinctively to protect my sore, aching breasts.
By the time Christmas came I panicked at the thought that my breasts would not take this abuse much longer, and that I would be left, shops closed, with a hungry screaming infant and broken boobies. Frantically, I made my mum drive me to the biggest chemist I could find and bought every possible nursing and bottle-feeding aid, not to mention several cartons of formula.
I threw away those cartons of formula last week, as they had gone out of date. My daughter would never take a bottle, despite my desperate attempts at expressing milk, hunched over a machine like a dairy cow for hours to get one ounce of this precious ambrosia, only to pour it down the sink later, watching the milk run down the plughole like liquid gold.
After weeks of pain I found a wonderful breastfeeding support group at my local hospital. I kicked myself for not having attended sooner. Within minutes, they confirmed what my instinct had been screaming: my baby was not latched on properly. It took a few weeks, but soon I was able to feed her without crying. I also made some wonderful friends who were equally overjoyed at being able to do the same.
I still have those friends now, ten months along the breastfeeding route. We are all still breastfeeding. I am so proud of us all. Every time we get together (we also have tea and cake: our purpose for meeting has long since gone beyond purely lactating together!), my heart swells.
Breastfeeding is currently getting my daughter and me through a nasty bout of teething. It has supported us through a number of trips and falls and an unfortunate trapped-finger incident. It has long surpassed being the only mode of nutrition for my daughter. It is our “It’s OK” time, our special time, our time connecting after a busy day of crawling, climbing, chattering and learning. It is our “Thank goodness you’re here with me” time. For us both.
I have been lucky to have the support of a network of wonderful women: my mother (who was sad to have only breastfed me for a couple of months and went on to breastfeed my sister for two years), who has provided taxis, information, cuddles, chats and, most precious of all, time to support me. My mother-in-law, who breastfed all three of her children and has given me reassurance and encouragement. Some wonderful friends, who have been shining examples of breastfeeding against all odds, including with twins, with no family support, and through illness. My partner, who is not a woman, but who has shown a positive attitude towards our breastfeeding and has always had confidence in us. And comrades, both in real life and online, who have shared my journey and offered support through their own experiences.
My booby baby is now an independent, cheerful and stunning creature. She has grown into a healthy almosttoddler who is bright and alert and who loves Mummy’s milk! I hope that if she has her own babies she will be as lucky as I have been and will also enjoy the achievement that is the nature and wonder of breastfeeding. I hope our journey will continue for a while yet.
Written by Amy Whitworth Photo by Judith Kuegler
Amy lives in Bristol with her partner and 16 month-old daughter, Niamh. She used to live in London where she was a breastfeeding mother supporter and gave talks about breastfeeding to pregnant mums. Amy is enjoying her last months of being at home full time before she returns to work as an Early Years teacher in the autumn.
This feature is published in JUNO Magazine, issue 21. Find out more here.