Breastfeeding was the picture-perfect bonding miracle I’d imagined it to be. That is, with my first baby. With baby number two I expected it to be even better since this time around I had the luxury of being a stay home mum. I was so excited that this time around I had no pressure to go anywhere and maybe with this child I could go on much longer than six months.
I was in for a rude awakening.
The day my second baby was placed in my arms to latch, she latched on beautifully. I mean poster-child kind of latch… but nothing came out. Nothing. I watched her suckle for what seemed like an eternity but still, nothing.
My heart began to race, she began to cry, probably from exhaustion. I told the nurse attending me that I think the milk isn’t coming out. She reassured me that this is quite normal and that babies can do fine for the first three days after birth without milk.
I gained comfort. For about a minute. Then my emotions flew all over the place. Why was this happening? We tried again later and the more my baby suckled, the more dejected I felt. I wasn’t ready for this and I wasn’t handling it well. The more the baby cried, the more I wanted to cry from helplessness.
On day two after birth, one of the nurses prepared formula and showed me how to feed the baby with a spoon. I was falling apart but trying to keep it together for the sake of the baby. Why was I already feeding formula on day two? This was far from the dreamy bonding experience I was looking forward to.
In fact, I wanted that dreamy bonding moment so bad, I opted to get an epidural for this birth so I would be present for each moment. Especially THIS bonding moment. With my first, I had undergone a general anaesthetic and was half-conscious when my baby first latched. I could barely take in what was happening. So the second birth was my saving grace. Yet there I was, failing from day one.
The nurses were very encouraging. They were there to make sure the baby was latching correctly. And encouraged me to keep trying-that the suckling of the baby would eventually stimulate a let-down. On day three, feeling a little motivated, I watched my baby suckle and suckle. A switch flipped where I suddenly saw her not as a helpless little baby whose mother can’t give her milk, but as my little heroin.
She kept on trying. I worried she would eventually give up on me and lose interest in breastfeeding but she didn’t. She just kept going and in that perfect little moment when my light switched on, the milk let down. I felt such pride, such joy and it was beautiful.
That is how our breastfeeding journey started with baby number two. I wish it ended as beautifully as that first let-down. But what followed was a roller coaster of emotions. There was the unending fatigue, the unrelenting back pain. Hours and hours of feeding and sleepless nights. It took such a terrible toll on my body that my physiotherapist suggested I express and start using the bottle. Then followed the postpartum depression and isolation.
For some reason with baby number two, everyone thought I knew what I was doing, so I had less help in comparison to the first time. It was lonely, it was hard. My baby turned colicky and developed eczema in the third month, and things just got worse and worse. I slept less, stressed more, cried more, produced less milk and I had no idea how to change that. By the fifth month, my baby was more on formula than the breast. I found myself riddled with helplessness, fatigue, and guilt.
That was how my breastfeeding story went. I still feel cheated of a fulfilling nursing experience. But I cherish that heroine moment where my baby kept going when I had lost hope. I still see her as a strong little girl. She’s Mummy’s little fighter. I have watched her struggle with eczema flares and sleepless nights. I see her wake up in the morning with bright eyes and a smile that could outshine the sun!
Not every breastfeeding story goes the poster-perfect way, and that’s okay.
The important thing is we ensure our babies get the nutrition they so vitally need for the first years of their lives.
In Botswana, only 30% of babies are exclusively breastfed for the first 5 months of their infancy (Source: UNICEF)
Support Is Everything
30% is a disheartening number. We can all do better to improve a Mum’s knowledge, confidence and motivation to breastfeed.
The whole aim of having a World Breastfeeding Week is to call on Governments (and You) to protect and promote women’s access to skilled breastfeeding counselling and support. I feel that we can definitely use more resources in postnatal support for mothers to continue breastfeeding after leaving the hospital.
A lot of mums, like me, don’t know what to do when they encounter breastfeeding challenges once they get home. A lot of mums need the support. It definitely takes a village to win at breastfeeding too.
How you can support a breastfeeding mum:
- Make safe spaces for nursing mums in public.
- Make safe spaces for nursing mothers to express milk in the workplace.
- Support a breastfeeding mother in your home. Help her get a break.
- Help her eat well and rest well.
- Normalize breastfeeding.
Follow me @mosalagae for more vlogs on family life and parenting. Don’t forget to share this with a breastfeeding mum, they just might need the encouragement.