Before I start, I would like to say that this article features my a documentation of my own personal experience. Everyone has different opinions and experiences… and that’s totally ok!
Do what is right for you and your baby.
Breastfeed For As Long As You Can
The short answer is: You should breast feed for as long as YOU can.
Breast feed for as long as YOU can whether that means 1 week, 6 weeks, 12 months, 2 years, whatever.
Just don’t give up too early for the wrong reasons.
In Australia, it is recommended that we breast feed our babies exclusively for the first 6 months and then combined with solid food until the child is at least 12 months. Read this article from the Australian Breastfeeding Association for more information.
The World Heath Organisation recommends at least 2 years and encourages third world counties to continue feeding until 5 years old.
My Learning Experience With Breastfeeding
For me, breastfeeding has been a long learning journey.
With my first baby I just assumed that all babies drank formula. I thought that is “what you are supposed to do”. When I see mums in shopping centers they always have a small container with white powder in it and they put it into a bottle and give it a shake. Yet if I saw a mum breastfeeding in public I would look away, feeling embarrassed and then angry at the mum for not covering up. Surely she should go into the toilets to do that or stay at home with her baby while it’s still breastfeeding… (haha oh boy how my opinion has now changed!)
I had a tin of formula listed on my packing list. People told me to have some formula on hand just in case I didn’t have enough milk when I got home from the hospital.
But then I started reading posts on my mothers group. Lots of people would say “breast is best” and hype up breastfeeding. I started to do more research about it and I eventually decided that breast feeding would be best for my baby and that I did not want to use formula at all.
Antenatal classes confirmed and encouraged my new opinion about breast feeding and I was determined to “exclusively” feed breast milk to my baby.
Has Your Milk Come In Yet?
And then my baby came along. My boobs got sore, I stayed awake all night cluster feeding and I felt both emotionally and physically exhausted. People (doctors, midwives, family, friends, visitors, other mums) would all ask me the same question everyday and it would drive me insane:
“Has your milk come in yet?”.
On day 4 my milk still hadn’t come in yet and I was only feeding my baby colostrum (I think. I don’t know, I was just guessing and nobody actually took the time to tell me the difference.)
The doctors all told me to start using formula.
I totally broke down at this.
I felt like I had failed as a mum.
Breastfeeding was supposed to be this beautiful natural experience that women have done for years and I sucked at it. (excuse the pun).
The head midwife calmed me down. She told me not to give up. She told me to ignore the pediatrician and the OB prescription for formula and just continue breastfeeding if that is what I wanted to do. Then she actually checked my milk for me. To my surprise I did have milk and I was indeed feeding my baby! Yay.
It was all in my own head that I didn’t have milk yet. I was waiting for it to happen but like I said before, I didn’t really know the difference or how to tell when my milk changed.
The midwife sent me off to a free breastfeeding class with other new mums on my final day in hospital – day 5.
This class was life changing.
I learnt so much about breastfeeding in just one hour. The skills I learn in that class carried me right through my breastfeeding journey. The stories from other mums was inspiring and it gave me the confidence to keep on going.
In fact, CONFIDENCE is a word that the lactation consultant used.
When she started the class she said to us all that the number one thing a mum needs to breastfeed is confidence to do so.
To many mums stop before they need to because they don’t think they can do it or because other people tell them that “their baby is not getting enough milk”.
Breastfeeding requires a mum to have confidence. She needs to believe in herself and trust her instincts knowing that her body will do exactly what it is supposed to do.
Breastfeeding is a skill that mums need to learn. It may be “natural” part of our human experience we can’t just put the baby to our boobs and expect it to magically start working. Breastfeeding takes time and patience and persistence and determination and a positive mind.
My Breastfeeding Journey
I went home feeling confident about breastfeeding thanks to that amazing LC and the other mums in that breastfeeding class. I was all set to continue my experience as a breastfeeding mum.
In my head I said to myself I’d be happy to get to six months.
At six months I said to myself I’d be happy to get to a year.
At 12 months I said to myself, I’ll wait for my baby to give me signs that he is ready to ween.
When I fell pregnant with baby #2 I said to myself that I would ween my toddler at least 6 weeks before the baby comes.
When I was in hospital with baby number 2 I was working out a plan to prioritize my newborn and to stop feeding my toddler.
Today I fed both my toddler and my newborn and I’m now officially “tandem feeding”.
I hope that my toddler will stop around the age of two but I’ll wait and see how he goes.
Breastfeeding My Second Baby
I’ve been feeding my toddler for a total of 20 months now. So you could say that I have some experience with breastfeeding.
However when I gave birth to Nia breastfeeding was the most challenging and most stressful experience I have ever had.
Nia was a premi baby. Straight after my emergency caesarean she was taken down to ICU because she could not breathe on her own. I didn’t get to cuddle her or breastfeed her for days. With my first baby, they placed him directly on my chest for skin on skin contact time he found his was down to my boobs and had his first feed/suck seconds after birth. These moments are so important for mother and child bonding and to establish good breastfeeding with your baby. It is a magical experience.
For Nia, breathing was more important than any type of bonding experience. Instead of the warmth from my chest and skin on skin contact, my little girl was warmed in a special heating bed. She had an IV needle in her arm feeding her glucose and I wasn’t allowed to touch her.
That was hard.
Once she could breathe, the next stage of her recovery was to establish feeding. She needed my milk – it was extremely important for her survival and recovery. I had to express colostrum into small syringes and it was fed to her through a feeding tube.
There was extreme amounts of pressure to produce Nia’s milk.
At first I though I’d be fine. I’ve been feeding my toddler for ages… I considered myself a pretty good breastfeeder so surely it would easy to express a few small syringes.
I was wrong.
This was the hardest thing Ive ever had to do.
My body reset itself.
Apparently after the placenta is detached, your body starts to produce the milk required for the newborn.
So my body automatically changed from making fast flowing milk for my toddler to making small amounts of colostrum for my baby. It’s so amazing!
Breastfeeding A Baby In ICU
The difference was, this time I needed to build my supply while sitting in an empty hospital room connected to a big yellow machine that made me feel like a cow, whilst my baby was down in ICU waiting for it so that she could live.
Talk about pressure. Wow.
It took me hours to hand express one little drop of colostrum. Nia’s first feed was just 0.3ml and it was given to her through a feeding tube.
I was so proud of those 0.3mls. I worked really hard to get that. I guess that’s why they call it liquid gold!
Then I continued to express 8 times a day to build my supply and to keep up with the doctors schedule. It was either my milk or a formula top up.
Nia needed her milk every 3 hours and I was determined to give her what she needed.
The doctor increased the quantities each day and so I had to keep increasing my supply too.
It was not easy.
But we did it. In fact, Nia impressed everyone with her amazing fast recovery. We were told that she would need to stay in special care for at least two weeks to establish her feeding etc.
However, together Nia & I kicked all the goals that the doctors set for us and we were home on day 6.
The milk was a huge part of her recovery.
I believe that the reason I was able to get through it all was because I had the confidence to do it. My baby needed this milk and nothing was going to stop me from trying to make it for her. I needed to stay positive and it took a lot of patience and persistence but in the end we got there.
It was friken hard. It still is.
But we are doing it. One day at a time, one feed at a time, one boob at a time.
My Breastfeeding Mantra
This is my new breastfeeding mantra:
“One day at a time, one feed at a time, one boob at a time…”
Inspired by the movie Creed – one step at a time, one punch at a time, one round at a time.
Feel free to make it your bf mantra too!