“I’m so glad I kept going on my breastfeeding journey.”

I never really thought about breastfeeding when I was pregnant with my first child. I mean, I knew that I wanted to give it a go but that was pretty much the extent of things. I was young and without any other mummy friends to share their stories I just assumed that breastfeeding would come naturally.

It didn’t.

In fact none of the aspects of my son’s birth came naturally. I reluctantly checked in to the hospital to be induced well past my due date. After three fun-filled days he still wouldn’t come out. Eventually I was staring up into the glare of surgical lights playing the lead role in an emergency C-section that I never planned on having.

The important thing was that he made it into the world safely. Once he was in my arms the midwife asked if I planned on breastfeeding. “Uh, yeah. I think so,” came my response.

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Except he had not read the baby manual. There were tears and frustrations. His attachment was bad and he wasn't getting enough milk so he wanted feeding hourly. This was torturous because I was in agony, my nipples were cracked and bleeding. I was sporting a set of massive boobs that would make Pamela Anderson jealous but every time I tried to use them we would both end up screaming and crying.

I saw midwife after midwife, who all had different advice, which left me more confused. The way they explained breastfeeding made it seem like it was just so easy. I had strangers squeezing my boobs until I cried, I couldn't wear a bra but I was so engorged that my boobs were leaking everywhere. I hated it, I hated the whole thing and my inability to feed him properly was impacting the way I felt about this beautiful baby.

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I distinctly remember one night about 11:30 pm I had been sitting in the chair with him for hours trying to get him to feed properly, he was screaming because he was hungry and frustrated at me. My husband was on the phone to the breastfeeding association desperate for some help in what we felt was a very isolated position. I felt like a total failure at motherhood and I hadn't even been in the job for two weeks. I was spiralling down, fast.

Trawling an internet forum I came across the name of a lactation specialist that did home visits. Since I came home from the hospital I had been driving from breastfeeding drop-in clinic to clinic, hoping that someone would magically have the answer for me - but each time I went I'd just get some half solution and a reminder to "come back if there are any more issues". I had enough milk but I just couldn't get him to drink it properly. I dreaded each feed.

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So I made the call to the lactation lady not even aware of the time I was calling the poor woman, and amazingly, she answered. This incredible woman calmed by fears over the phone. She told me I was doing a good job and she promised that she would be at my house at 8am the next morning. She was.

I opened the door, a dishevelled mess. I'd barely slept and I was still in my pyjamas.

She sat with me and made me a cup of tea (in my own house). She watched me try to feed my baby and explained what she thought was wrong. She reassured me that I wasn't alone and that breastfeeding for most women didn't come easily. She helped me realise that because I felt so isolated, I had constructed a whole fear and anxiety around feeding which would get worse each time.

For me it was all in the way I was offering the boob to him. I have no idea why no one else pointed this out to me but the penny dropped. I've never been more thankful for a hamburger reference in all my life. It worked and from then he fed well.

Too well! He spent the next 12 months waking hourly to be fed back to sleep (but that's another story). We continued our breastfeeding relationship until he was 13-months-old when he weaned himself. One day he wanted it, the next he didn't. It turned out that I was pregnant.

I had huge anxiety about my second son breastfeeding. My pregnancy was traumatic and my recollections of the early weeks with my eldest made me cringe to think what was in store. He was born by C-section and rushed to special care due to some health complications. As I lay there being stitched up I wondered if I had missed the so called "hour of opportunity" where a baby should have skin-to-skin contact with their mother to establish a good breastfeeding relationship. I'd done a lot of reading, you see, in an attempt to get off on the right foot.

We were separated for several hours, all the while my anxiety about feeding him was growing bigger and bigger. When he was finally allowed to meet me my husband wheeled him in to my room and lay him on my chest. This child was different, he had done his baby prep and fed like a champion from the very first day. No issues, no problems. I fed him until he was 14-months-old and looking back I only have positive memories of our feeding relationship, memories that I will treasure until I am old.

first year with baby

Image: iStock

When my daughter was born I was a smug bastard. I'd done this before. She was handed to me in the recovery room and we tried feeding for the first time. She wasn't much interested but it didn't bother me. She had just been born and she was likely a bit earlier than we thought she was. She would come around, right?

But then it did bother me. She was losing weight and we couldn't understand why. I had a huge oversupply but she had lost more than ten per cent of her body weight and was very lethargic.

I tried everything with her. A midwife sat with me at each feed, undressing her and burping constantly to wake her up. The old familiar self-criticism started creeping back in. I had the milk and she needed it so why was she losing weight?

The paediatrician recommended that I start giving her expressed milk to top her up. I didn't want to. I knew that she needed it, of course but in those initial few days postpartum your emotions are not really in check and things seem a much bigger deal than they already are. I was worried that she would get used to the bottle and that she wouldn't want me. I agreed reluctantly and as my husband sat there with a bottle I watched her guzzle it with tears streaming down my face, thinking that this would be the end of it.

I was determined not to give up. I gave her bottles but I persisted with the breast. To say it was easy would be an understatement but as she started gaining weight she got more energy, which allowed her to feed better. Her sucking reflex got stronger and her attachment improved. We persevered and I'm so glad we did. She is now 11-months-old and still feeds three times a day (and sometimes at night).

Breastfeeding is a hard gig and sometimes it just doesn't work out. What I have learned in my journey is that each child is different and what works for one doesn't always work for another. The same thing goes for mothering. Breastfeeding was something I wanted to give to all of my children and despite it being such a hard journey, I am proud of myself and my babies for pushing on.

Both my first and my third babies challenged me in ways I didn't think possible but I'm happy that we travelled that obstacle course together because breastfeeding has allowed me to have some of the most perfect, beautiful moments of bonding that I could have ever hoped for. There is something special about being up in the middle of the night with a small baby. The world is asleep and there is nothing but still. And there you sit, tummy to tummy, comforted by the closeness of the other. Giving them something that no one else can.

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