“So, have you had any marathon feeds yet?” my friend asked me, as she cradled my newborn daughter. I had no idea what she meant, but I nodded anyway – which was becoming my go-to reaction to any parenting questions. As a first-time mum, I was confused, excited and optimistic. Everything and nothing made sense, including my friend’s reference to ‘marathon’ and ‘cluster’ feeds.
A few days later, I learnt the true meaning of a ‘marathon’ feed when I breastfed my daughter for five hours straight, without even taking a toilet break.
I never thought I’d like breastfeeding. The very idea of it just seemed weird. I mean, a little thing, suckling at my nipples? Yuck. So, I was surprised to find that not only did I have a knack for breastfeeding, but I actually enjoyed it.
I couldn’t take all of the credit, though. To be good at breastfeeding, one needs to have a willing feeder, and my daughter wanted to breastfeed all the time. It seemed as though our breastfeeding sessions were getting longer and longer, and I wondered if it was normal. But I kept going, because my daughter had been born a few weeks early, and her weight was under average.
“Feed, feed, feed her,” the midwives urged me. So, I did.
On the night of the five-hour breastfeed, I was already feeling nervous. My husband had to go to a work-related dinner, and I was worried about being left alone with a one-month-old baby.
I had a plan: I would breastfeed Emmy, put her to sleep, eat my dinner and then hopefully get a nap before she woke for her next feed.
When my husband left for his dinner party, I was sitting on our bed, breastfeeding Emmy. He kissed me goodbye.
An hour into the breastfeed, I figured that Emmy was full, so I tried to pull her off my nipple. But she would suck even more voraciously, while lunging towards me. The message was clear: she was still feeding.
I, too, was feeling hungry. While cradling Emmy with one arm, I used the other arm to open my bedside drawer and rummage through it and locate my emergency packet of Oreo biscuits.
Another hour had passed, and it was past my own dinner time. I’d finished the emergency Oreos, and had now moved onto a Tupperware container full of chocolates and nuts. Emmy was still breastfeeding. Even as she napped in my arms, she could still feed in her sleep. I knew that if I stopped this feeding session, she would start screaming. And her screaming was so loud.
I chugged water, to replace all the fluid I was losing. I was starting to feel uncomfortable. My legs were restless from sitting for so long, and my arms were hurting from carrying Emmy. I lay my head back on my pillows. I was fatigued, and yet Emmy showed no sign of stopping.
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I could definitely see the humour in the situation. I was being held captive by a tiny, helpless being, who was also extremely cute. It was all very sweet and endearing. I wasn’t bored, because I had my Kindle and a few magazines with me.
By the fifth hour, it stopped being funny. I felt like I was going crazy. All I wanted to hear was my husband’s key turning in our door, so that I could put Emmy in his arms and go to the toilet…or run out the front door to be somewhere, anywhere other than the bedroom where I’d been stuck for five hours.
Finally, Jeff came home. He peeped in the bedroom door, and his eyes widened.
“Have you been breastfeeding…this whole time?”
He was shocked. We laughed. Emmy was finally tired and full, and went to sleep in her bassinet. I ate my dinner at 10 o’clock that night, feeling exhausted and worried. What if this kept happening? How would I ever do anything, or go anywhere, if my daughter wanted to feed for hours on end?
A couple weeks later, Emmy and I went for routine check-ups with our obstetrician and paediatrician. She was six weeks old. I told my obstetrician and midwife about my five-hour feeding session, and they were incredulous and amused. They had a lot of questions. Did I run out milk? (No.) Was this happening all the time? (Yes, but never for as long as five hours.) Didn’t it hurt? (No.)
"You must have Teflon nipples!" my obstetrician exclaimed happily. I took this as a huge compliment, especially as he’d seen me at my worst, when I was hospitalised and convinced I’d lose my baby at 23 weeks pregnant. Having 'Teflon nipples' and a good milk supply seemed wonderful to me, even if the long feeds were gruelling.
Next, we saw our paediatrician. He declared Emmy to be in great health, and asked if we had any questions. I told him about the marathon feeds.
"You must stop that at once," he said.
He suggested cutting the feeds down to an hour, as Emmy would have received more than enough milk in that time. Although she was keen to keep feeding, the long feeds were causing her discomfort, with so much milk filling her small belly. The paediatrician said that Emmy just wanted to be close to me, and was using breastfeeding as a way to achieve that.
I never breastfed for longer than an hour again – not with Emmy, or our son, Will, who was born two years later. My marathon days were behind me. I had learnt valuable lessons, such as the importance of cuddles, and that anything to do with babies can become unpredictable and time-consuming. And, most importantly, a spare packet of chocolate biscuits will always save the day.
Have you ever had a marathon breastfeeding session?
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