I never gave much thought to breastfeeding with my first child, other than I knew it was something I should (and wanted) to be doing, and that it had obvious health advantages for baby. Benjamin was born and I successfully latched him when I returned to my maternity room after being in recovery. The nurses all commented that this surely was my second child. No, I shook my head and just smiled. It just seem to come easy to me – the latching bit anyway.
My milk came in on day three – like clockwork – and I fed my big boy (4kgs at birth) every 3 – 4 hours or so, as he needed it. After a few weeks, and having suffered from typical swelling and unfortunate cracked nipples that was like murder for 30 seconds after he latched, my body recovered and I started to enjoy the intimate time we shared together. There really was nothing like being able to nurse and nourish your child from your own body. I truly marvelled at God’s handiwork and just how incredible this pregnancy, birthing, mommy journey really was.
When Benjamin was four months old, I returned to work. In South Africa, you are guaranteed four months of maternity leave and it really is up to your employer how much (if any) they choose to pay you during this time. I was fortunate to receive 50% of my salary and claimed from UIF, but I know plenty of moms who received not a stitch from their employers. I read up about maternity leave policies around the globe; from the UK to Scandinavia to Australia, everywhere seemed better than here (well, except for the US).
By the time Ben turned one and we embraced all the joys and challenges of toddlerhood, my breastfeeding journey was behind me and I just had lovely fond memories of the times we had together. Then I got pregnant. And I began doing all the research I could around how to be more of an attachment parent the second time round. VBAC. Breastfeeding. Co-Sleeping. Babywearing. Things (apart from the VBAC), I had done with Benjamin, but without much passion or focus. This time round, I reckoned, I’m going to do it all!
Oliver arrived screaming and full of life. After my VBAC dream came to a close later in my pregnancy, I embraced the joys of a gentle c-section and he was placed on my chest in all his gooey glory shortly after entering the world. We latched him in recovery, the nurse exclaiming that ‘this one was hungry’. He knew just what to do, and at 4.1kgs, he tackled the world head-on!
I returned to work with 40 packets of breastmilk in the freezer and a determination to keep this journey alive as long as possible. We succeeded. I continued to breastfeed Ollie in the mornings, evenings and on weekends, while I diligently pumped 1-2 times at work, and even in the evenings before bed. We eventually made 7 months with exclusive breastmilk, but at that point I hadn’t managed to keep up my pumping output with how much Oliver needed, and so the decision was made to start introducing formula. For the next month I managed to keep pumping so that he had just one formula bottle a day and the rest was expressed breastmilk, or he was breastfed.
By the time Oliver was eight months old and fully enjoying his solids, I took one look at my breast pump and told it: “You are done. I am done with you!” I had just had enough with pumping – it had become a draining and frustrating experience for me, not being able to draw out as much milk as I used to, and the stress was definitely affecting it. I then decided to breastfeed in the evenings and during the night, and Oliver would have 2-3 bottles during the day. I was happy. Baby was happy. All was good.
Unfortunately for reasons I can’t quite fathom, Oliver has absolutely refused to breastfeed this last week. I eventually had to provide him with a bottle and he lay on my lap while I fed him, quite contently before being plopped in his cot and going to sleep without fuss. Perhaps it’s just him growing up. Perhaps he just has a new preference. Whatever the reason, it’s certainly affected me. This is very likely (like, 99%) my last baby, and so giving up a very ‘baby’ experience has been quite hard, but I know that the improved sleep is good for all of us.
This entire story has been a way to put down ‘on paper’ just what the breastfeeding journey has been for me. But what it has meant to me, well… there is nothing like sitting quietly in a darkened room while your little one feeds and slowly falls asleep, their beautiful scent permeating the air, their soft hair curling about their ears. You relax from your day, glance down at their little head, touch their smooth cheek and sigh. While I feel bittersweet my breastfeeding journey with my boys have come to an end, I am so eternally grateful that I’ve had the pleasure and privilege to be able to enjoy this with them.