What’s so hard about breastfeeding?

When I was pregnant, I remember filling in a form for my midwife. ‘Do you plan to breastfeed?’ she asked. ‘I’m going to try,’ was my answer. I’d been warned by people: Breastfeeding is actually quite hard. You’d think it comes naturally but it’s actually harder than you think. Don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t work out. And so I thought it best to be (what I thought was) realistic. It was like planning to cook a fancy dinner for friends but hey, if it was a flop, I could always hit Woolworths. I’ll give it a go, I thought, but I wasn’t too bothered either way.

Then I birthed a baby. Hello, hormones. If you think that hormonal stuff is hard during pregnancy, wait till Day 3 postpartum when your milk comes in. (All the emotions. All of them.) Birth changes you, in numerous and nuanced ways, and motherhood, it turns out, is a mindfuck.

Things that didn’t seem that important pre-baby were now everything. One of these things for me was breastfeeding.

With the right advice and support, breastfeeding is possible for most women, but I’m not going to downplay how hard breastfeeding was for me at first. It was hard. There was lots of crying (from both Reid and me).Thankfully, I didn’t suffer from cracked and bleeding nipples (a common horror), though I did experience nipple blanching due to vasospasm, which I don’t wish on anyone.

I did hate breastfeeding actually. I hated it – everything about it – for three full months, until one day, something changed and I started to feel it: that bonding experience everyone had been telling me about. I was battling with postnatal anxiety and initially, I’d actually thought breastfeeding was making bonding with my baby harder, because breastfeeding itself was so hard and frustrating. But after three months?

Breastfeeding was the best.

So yes, the early days were tough, physically and emotionally, and ‘giving it a go’ with breastfeeding turned out to involve a lot more perseverance than my pregnant self thought would be necessary.

But as it turned out, that wasn’t the only difficult thing about breastfeeding.

One of the hardest things about breastfeeding for me – and not one person warned me about this part when I was pregnant – was other people.

The judgy, uptight, unsupportive people who think that breastfeeding in public has more to do with them than it does a hungry baby who just happens to be hungry right here, right now. Motherhood is really hard enough without having to worry about offending strangers (who, hey, can just look away) when your starving baby is screaming.

The misinformed people who tell you your baby will sleep through if you stop breastfeeding. (Some quick research will tell you that this theory has been debunked.)

The misguided people who ask you when you’re going to stop being a cow. (Um, I have never been a cow. I am a mammal; a cow is also a mammal.)

The nosy people (strangers, sometimes!*) who ask you if you’re breastfeeding your newborn, like it’s any of their business, and nod approvingly when you say yes; often the same people who, a few months later, will note again and again that you are still breastfeeding, not in a ‘You go, Mama!’ kinda way, but like this is new information to you, like you hadn’t realised, and now that they’ve pointed it out to you, you will surely start weaning.

[*When Reid was a few weeks old, a complete stranger in the pharmacy not only asked me if I was breastfeeding, but if I’d had a natural birth. I was too sleep-deprived to point out her rudeness, but as I walked back to the car, I did wonder in amazement what she would have said if I’d said no. Why do people think it’s okay to be so intrusive?]

This week is World Breastfeeding Week. We need World Breastfeeding Week because breastfeeding is not easy.

When I was breastfeeding, I was lucky to get good advice and a lot of support. I attended a breastfeeding support group every single Wednesday for three full months. One Saturday, with stinging nipples and a screaming infant, I was really ready to give up. I emailed my lactation consultant, who responded (on a weekend! What a lovely woman) with encouragement and a sign-off that still sticks with me: ‘Lactationally yours, Laura’. It implied: ‘I’m here to help you breastfeed your baby. You’ve got this.’ I went on to breastfeed for another year because of that email.

Sometimes all we need is a little support. And that’s why we need World Breastfeeding Week.

But while World Breastfeeding Week does a lot to educate moms about breastfeeding and offers valuable support, World Breastfeeding Week is not just for moms. Oh no, it’s for everyone.

It’s about normalising breastfeeding. It’s about showing dads and grandparents and siblings and even strangers not only how to be supportive, but why it’s important to be supportive. (And yes, sometimes ‘being supportive’ means not imposing personal opinions but letting moms develop their own personal breastfeeding relationships with their babies.)

I’m no longer breastfeeding, but the breastfeeding relationship I had with Reid remains one of the most special experiences of my life. I’m grateful that I received encouragement when I needed it. I’m also glad I was able to (mostly) ignore the unsolicited ‘advice’ and unhelpful opinions, although it wasn’t always easy.

So mom friends, wherever you want to breastfeed, whenever you want to breastfeed and for however long you want to breastfeed, you won’t hear a peep from me. Reach out if you need to, but remember, breastfeeding is about you and your baby. You’ve got this.


I am not a fridge

During the week, Reid spends most of his days with a wonderful nanny named Leah. Finding someone you trust to look after your child is not easy, and we were very lucky to find Leah. She not only has years and years of experience working with babies and small children, but she is, undoubtedly, one of the most patient, loving people I have ever met.

Along with making sure that Reid’s physical and emotional needs are met while Mom and Dad are working, Leah does a lot to develop Reid’s understanding of the world. She taught Reid how to clap. She taught Reid how to use a straw cup. Recently, she showed him how to blow onto a hot beverage to cool it down.

Leah and Reid love to sing together, and her repertoire of nursery rhymes is impressively extensive – even if she doesn’t always know all the words. Her mondegreens cause much chuckling from my home-office, where I overhear lyrics like:

If you happy and you know it, clap your hands! If you happy and you know it, clap your hands! If you happy and you know it and dodadodumdo show it, if you happy and you know it turn around!

Boom boom black sheep! Any any wool? Yes, sir. Yes, sir. Three bags full. One for the master, one for the dame, one for the little boy who lives down the road!

Sometimes I wonder if I should be more concerned that Reid may be learning the wrong words to well-known songs. But I’ve reassured myself that once he reaches pre-school, he’ll pick this up from his teachers and peers. And of course, I sing the correct rhymes to him when I can (although truthfully, I prefer to sing Mary Poppins songs than boring ol’ nursery rhymes).

But what was much more concerning to me than Reid learning incorrect lyrics, was Reid learning that ‘mommy’ = the fridge.

On our refrigerator, we keep a few literature- and music-related magnets, as well as magnets from places Ryan and I have travelled to together (Europe, India, Mauritius …), plus a few pics. There are two or three wedding pictures, a photograph of the two of us outside the Red Fort in Delhi, and some photobooth snaps from friends’ weddings and end-of-year office parties.

Leah, with the best of intentions, used these photographs of me to try to teach Reid the word ‘mommy’. She’d say, ‘Where’s Mommy?’ and then point to a picture of me on the fridge. Soon Reid was pointing too, saying, ‘Der!’ in reply to her question. It was all very cute, until I was standing on the other side of the kitchen and when Leah asked Reid, ‘Where’s Mommy?’ he pointed to the fridge and not to me. (Queue mom-sob.) I told Leah she’d better cut the fridge from her curriculum.

And then this week, I was making tea and Leah said to Reid, ‘Where’s Mommy?’ Smiling shyly, he lifted his fat little hand and sent that adorable index finger in my direction. ‘I’m not the fridge any more!’ I burst out.

Leah and I were busting with laughter (because haha, Mom’s a person and not an appliance now!). But as I took my tea back to my desk, I was bursting with joy – because this was one of those parenting moments. You know the ones? The moments when your child starts smiling, starts sitting unsupported (yay, we can give you solids now!), starts crawling, starts walking, starts acknowledging who you are. As incidental as they may seem to some, these moments are significant. They are moments to be soaked up and celebrated.


Sickness and sleeplessness

I started this year in full January-cliche mode – energetic, full of ideas for the new year, excited about all the plans I had. I wrote here about our marvellous Mauritius trip and how I’d returned feeling ‘rejuvenated’.

What a reckless word to use. The thing is, when you’re a parent, you just can’t use words like ‘rejuvenated’, ‘revitalised’ or ‘energised’. Either you’re already lying to yourself, or it won’t last long.

We got back from Mauritius and the next day, Reid was a bit out of sorts. At first, I thought it was the adjustment to being home and the late night he’d had the night before. (Our plane landed in the evening and after the whole passports-luggage-customs thing, we screeched into our driveway after 9 pm with Reid screaming in the back. Yes, Reid can handle new environments, but late nights – no.) Then later that day he sprouted a tooth, and we could see another tooth right under the gum. Ah, teething! More explanations for grumpiness.

But then he got a runny tummy that wasn’t going away and a fever that went away but then came back. He vomited all over me at 2 am, and stayed awake most of the night, not really crying, but just moaning for hours and hours in Mom’s arms. My baby who eats everything (except butternut, of all things) now wouldn’t eat at all. So while the nanny and the rest of the family kept telling me it just looked like bad teething symptoms, I still carted him off to the doctor.

Of course, the moment we arrived in the doc’s waiting rooms, Reid acted like he was cured, turning on the charm for the receptionists and giggling at their fish tank. The doctor ran some tests regardless, and we continued to monitor his symptoms during our no-sleep week.

The test results came back a few days later. Reid not only had salmonella but also E.coli bacteria! I was shocked and horrified. The doc said he likely caught something on the plane – possibly from food he ate, but it could have been something he touched (which had also been touched by someone who hadn’t washed their hands). And Reid touches everything. On top of this, he got two new teeth in the same week. The poor kid.

Sadly (but also thankfully, because yay for medicine), he had to go on his first course of antibiotics. Previously, I’d been so pleased that our fairly healthy baby had avoided antibiotics. But here we were, scratching off another baby first. The medicine’s packaging depicted a grinning dinosaur and stated ‘tasty banana flavour’ so at least there was that.

I’ve tried not to dwell too much on the helplessness I felt – helpless that I couldn’t have protected him from getting sick (short of staying home and not going anywhere, ever); helpless that hugs and boobs and bum-patting were not enough to cure him. But I guess I’m glad that my instincts were right – that I knew it was more than just teething and I took him to the doc – and that despite my own exhaustion, I made it through the horrid week somewhat sane and still conscious enough to comfort him.

Reid is feeling much better now and we have had a bit more sleep this week. I don’t think I’ll be saying I feel ‘rejuvenated’ any time soon, but I can say, without hesitation, that I feel very grateful for my healthy, happy baby. And of course, for the extra zzzs.


Insights for (and from) a new mom

I’m nearly nine months into motherhood. Very soon, my baby will have spent more time on the outside than inside.

There’s been lots of learning in that time – his and mine. But while he’s shoving shoes in his mouth and rolling around in his sleep, I’m still reeling from several sleep-deprived, hormonal, hazy months. This time has been as delightful as it’s been difficult …

As my journey through motherhood continues, I’m going to be writing about my anecdotes, epiphanies, insights and inspirations. For now, I’ll share a few things I’ve learnt so far:

  1. There are many ways to do this parenting thing. Read the books and online articles, listen to all the advice – and then do what feels right to you.
  2. You’re allowed to change your mind. Maybe you researched something thoroughly and chose a route that made sense and seemed sound, but then when you tried it, it didn’t work for you and/or your baby. Good parenting is about flexibility. Have the courage to try things differently if you have to.
  3. You don’t have to love every minute. Babies are like cakes – they’re sweet and everyone loves them, but if you’ve been eating cake non-stop, you will want a break. That’s okay.
  4. Don’t compare your baby to others. Every child is different. Rather, compare him/her to himself/herself a week ago, a month ago …
  5. There are no shortcuts. Whether you’re putting your baby to sleep or feeding your baby or trying to leave the house with a newborn, trying to speed things up is often futile, if not disastrous. It takes as long as it takes.
  6. Babies are not robots. They have good days and bad days, just like the rest of us. If every day is different, your baby isn’t impossible. Your baby is – surprise! – human.

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt about parenthood, it’s that the lessons keep coming. I look forward to navigating this often-overwhelming labyrinth, one step at a time, with you.