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"It’s so intense at the start." What I've learned from a year of breastfeeding.

Last week, I sat down at a café for lunch and mindlessly whipped out a boob to feed the wriggly little gremlin unsubtly pulling at my shirt with his little claws.

I settled into the feed and stared at the menu. When I glanced up, a bright, helpful young waiter was making his way towards me to take my drink order.

Then I saw it.

A moment of outright panic washed over him as he gazed down to see that I was breastfeeding. Finn, at the slight suggestion of missing anything while feeding, promptly unlatched, and looked straight at the poor boy, exposing my now dripping breast, nipple and all.

Watch: Breastfeeding around the world. Post continues after video.


Video via Mamamia.

The waiter recovered like an absolute champ, strode towards me with the kind of pretend confidence that might win him an Oscar, and choked out: "Can I start you off with anything?"

All I can say is, God bless this poor 17-year-old and the mother who obviously taught him to treat breastfeeding like the non-event that it is.

In that moment, it struck me. Without noticing it, I had finally reached the stage that Sarah Thijs, a practising lactation consultant (IBCLC), midwife, and mother of three, hopes is possible for all breastfeeding mothers. She told me that when it is going well, "It’s the most natural thing in the world, and it usually becomes as easy as breathing."

While this sentiment beautifully reflects where I’m at nearly 12 months in, it hasn’t exactly been a walk in the park.

Sarah has worked with hundreds of breastfeeding mothers and has breastfed three of her own little ones herself, so she knows just how daunting an experience it can be for new mothers. 

"It is a learned skill," she told me. "It takes lots of practice, effort, patience, time and support for most mums to master."

And even then, every breastfeeding journey is different. After all, it still comes down to a "combination of luck, the right support and so many other factors."

After nearly 12 months on the job myself, my conversation with Sarah showed me just how much I still have to learn if I ever try my hand at this breastfeeding thing again. I mean, what are second kids for, if not correcting all the mishaps from the first time around?

Here are some things I've learned that I wish I’d known before breastfeeding.

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It’s so intense at the start and I promise it doesn’t stay that way.

You might feel really restricted by it for the first few months. You’re stressed over everything you put into, on, or around your body. You’re dealing with throbbing nipples; it feels like you’re attached to either a baby or a pump 24/7, and you’re constantly wondering, "Am I doing this wrong?"

This is absolutely normal, and it will absolutely change. Try to remember that it will only be this way for a short period. You will soon have hours between feeds, and not have to use your baby’s bottle to measure out exactly one standard glass of wine. (Quite frankly, 100ml of wine is more like two sips than a "standard drink"! Ridiculous.)

Breast-refusal is a thing, and while devastating, it is usually remediable.

Breast-refusal is truly devastating so if you experience it, don’t be surprised if it leaves you feeling utterly destroyed emotionally. For me, it was the moment I realised just how much I wanted to keep breastfeeding. 

At four months, Finn outright refused to drink. He screamed bloody murder at the breast and wailed as if I was asking him to crawl across hot coals with a blindfold at each attempted feed. 

All I can say is, seek help from a lactation consultant. In this circumstance, Sarah says the most important thing is to, "Keep the breast a happy place for the baby." 

I also learned to always stop if the baby is distressed. Attempt feeds in calm, dark environments when the baby is very tired. Either right before sleep or just after waking.

Image: Supplied.

Supply issues are real and very confusing. But there are ways to help.

Many of the incredible women in my life have experienced supply challenges. Most of them were lucky enough to have access to lactation consultants and chose to put up a herculean fight to continue. But still, I watched as their supplies dwindled, their babies grew hungrier, and great relief was found in formula feeding.

Sarah tells me, "It’s normal. I see this a lot. And it’s really hard." The good news is, she had multiple tips to share for women experiencing it. Firstly, it’s about "trying to take the pressure away." She says, "Every single drop you get is wonderful. Do all the basics; skin to skin, relaxation, hydration, nutrition, mental support, and if you can, allow others to take some of your jobs away from you so you can focus more on yourself and the baby." 

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Sarah also touts mixed feeding as a wonderful alternative to exclusive breastfeeding when supply is an issue. 

Listen to this episode of The Baby Bubble, where Zoe shares an experience she had breastfeeding on a plane where she was ogled by a man. Post continues after podcast.

Not all lactation consultants are created equal.

Lactation consultants have such an intimate role to play in supporting you through what can be some of the most emotionally charged moments of your life. It is so important to find the right kind of support for you. As with any medical or allied health professionals, they are not all created equal.

The title of lactation consultant can be used to describe practitioners with varying levels of education and training. Always look for someone who is an IBCLC (International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant®). This is the highest level of education and requires that the practitioner already comes into training from a health sciences background.

For me, breastfeeding has - for the most part - felt like a gift. 

After a very high-risk pregnancy, and ongoing chronic health challenges, I was told to expect not to be able to breastfeed. The fact that my partially broken-down body is nearly a year into nourishing a beautiful, little boy is a miracle I will never take for granted. 

Image: Supplied.

No matter how you end up feeding your little one, always remember that it’s about what works for both you and your baby. And if you do feel lost, there are human angels out there like Sarah ready and able to support you. 

Feature Image: Supplied.

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