I’m very confused at the world! I can’t understand how something that (without scientific involvement) is essential for the continuation of the the human race, attracts so much controversy. Whether it’s media attention because a new mother was asked to breastfeed her baby in the toilet, or a viral Facebook post about a veteran breastfeeder proudly whipping her boob out wherever she goes for her three year old, there is always a discussion to be had, and everyone has an opinion.
I’ve been meaning to write about my breastfeeding journey for absolutely ages. After the initial struggles, I started to become super passionate about breastfeeding and infant nutrition, as well as helping others with their journeys and this week felt like the perfect time to talk about my experiences – firstly because it was National Breastfeeding week in Wales a couple of weeks ago, and was National Breastfeeding week in England last week. (Don’t ask me whey they have separate weeks), secondly because Luna has just turned two and breastfeeding into toddlerhood seems to be a bit of a taboo in the western world, and thirdly because of the worries that have arisen from my newly single relationship status.
So, from the beginning…
Being breastfed into toddlerhood myself, it was always completely normal to me and something I knew I would do. When I became pregnant, I became ever more fascinated with the science behind it and in true ‘Fran’ style I swatted up on the whats, whys, whens, wheres, and hows. But in the same way that reading a book on how to drive a car would in no way prepare you for actually driving a car, reading the ‘breastfeeding’ chapter of ‘What To Expect When You’re Expecting’ was kind of a waste of my time.
When Luna was born, we were lucky that she latched on immediately. I have lots of beautiful photos and videos of Luna’s first hours in the world, feeding. It was so easy and I thought nothing of it. It wasn’t until the middle of the first night on the ward when my breastfeeding alarm went off that I found out it wasn’t going to be easy peasy. I couldn’t get Luna to latch on so I called the midwife who sat with me for 45 minutes helping me. This was really crucial for me because listening to other mums’ stories, it would be at this point that they would be told to just use formula instead. After trying lots of different holds and positions, we finally managed to get Luna feeding again. At this point, there was just colostrum and no milk as that comes a few days later.
Then the next day, we were allowed home. It’s crazy isn’t it? How do they just let a 24 year old who has never held a baby in her life before take a completely helpless newborn baby home?
Once we were home I was super keen for the midwife to visit to reassure me we were doing things properly. Anyone who knows me will know that although I like to think I am nomadic, I actually love a logical system and a clear process so I know whether something is right or wrong. I needed approval from the midwife that I was following the right procedures. Luckily, during all the midwife’s visits, we were told everything was fine and that Luna was feeding well and putting on weight. She gave me tips on remembering which boob to feed from each time and for how long and encouraged me to write it down each time. But even though things were great, I didn’t trust myself and I would cry inconsolably for hours every day thinking I was doing it wrong. I wouldn’t say there was pressure to bottle feed, but apart from my mum and a couple of other family members, there wasn’t a huge amount of support for my choice to exclusively breastfeed. I was told I was selfish to want to be the only one to feed my baby, that I was using breastfeeding as a form of control, and that breastfeeding was only beneficial for the first 2 weeks and it doesn’t matter too much after that.
I know I was hormonal AF but it made me so angry and upset and couldn’t understand why these things would be said.
Anyway, I’m not usually one to care too much about what people think about me, so it just made me even more determined to carry on breastfeeding to natural-term. It may surprise you that natural-term breastfeeding means allowing the child to NATURALLY stop breastfeeding on their own and this can happen anywhere between the ages of about 2 and 7. To western culture, this is described as strange, weird and even disgusting but to me and millions of mums throughout history and across the world, this is the most normal thing in the world! Breastfeeding is not just about food and nutrition – there are a whole heap of other benefits for the mother and the child.
When Luna was very small (like a week old), I used to use a breastfeeding scarf and sit in the corner of a quiet cafe. I’d even return to the car if we were out shopping or sit in dedicated feeding rooms, but by the time you’ve realised your baby needs feeding, there’s not often time to find a ‘safe’ place to feed your baby and to prepare yourself to do so in a way that won’t offend anyone else. So I just stopped caring. I didn’t care where I was or who was around – I only cared that my baby was fed on demand. After a while, it’s quite easy to be super discrete and as long as I’m wearing the right clothing, you really wouldn’t notice. I can only recall one time where I was ‘encouraged’ to feed in a special room at the back of a restaurant. “We have a special room out the back for that madam”. “No I’m fine here thanks”.
What did surprise me, though, was the amount of women (and a few men) who would come up to me to thank me for breastfeeding in public. They told me of their struggles, the pressure to bottle feed from other family members and how their embarrassment of feeding their baby in public contributed to them stopping breastfeeding before they wanted, and to be honest it used to break my heart. How can society make a women feel so shit just for feeding her newborn baby? This wasn’t just one or two conversations, this was tens of women! And this was what made me decide to train to become a breastfeeding peer supporter which I am hoping to complete this year!
So now Luna is two years old and I’m single, my breastfeeding journey is changing, and I don’t know how I feel about it.
As I previously mentioned, the western world has a strange attitude towards breastfeeding. The UK has one of the lowest rates of breastfeeding in the world, but I definitely think that breastfeeding newborn babies is now seen as ‘acceptable’. But the majority of people still think that after 6 months, and certainly after 12 months, it’s not something you should be doing. I’ve briefly educated my friends and those who are around me a lot about the benefits of natural-term breastfeeding, mainly because I am around them all the time and I completely understand how they might have thought it was weird to be breastfeeding a toddler. But whilst I can’t get my soapbox out and proclaim the benefits every time I’m out and about with Luna, I can ‘do my part’ by continuing to feed Luna in public to normalise breastfeeding.
Being newly single, I’ll admin that I was worried about not seeing Luna every day. I was worried that my supply would change or that I’d end up with mastitis, but it’s actually been fine so far. Luna has stayed away for the odd couple of nights and has just about slept fine. Then the next day when I see her she just makes up for lost milk.
I’m now a bit more confident that although I won’t get to see Luna every single day, it won’t completely harm our breastfeeding journey.