Today Luna is 6 months old. Today I have been breastfeeding Luna for 6 months. Today Luna will have her first taste of something other than my milk and the slow transition from milk to solids will begin.
I have wanted to write about our breastfeeding journey for some time, but not been able to find quite the right words. The debates surrounding infant feeding, and the sharp remarks I’ve seen online have made me cautious about what I want to say and how exactly to say it, because the last thing I want to do is to make any woman feel crappy about her experiences, there are enough other people out there happy to do that. And yet I also want to be able to speak freely about what breastfeeding has been like for us; about how much I love it; about how much I understand the passion some breastfeeding mums develop and about how much I want to celebrate the fact that we have made it to 6 months.
For some reason, very uncharacteristically for me, I hadn’t really thought much about breastfeeding before Luna was born. I read extensively about pregnancy, labour and birth, but my brain stopped there. I hadn’t really thought about what came after! I assumed I would breastfeed, but apart from the far-too-brief 5 minutes in our antenatal class, hadn’t really learned anything about what to expect.
And so my journey of discovery about breastfeeding began at baby ground zero: 23rd November 2016, just minutes after Luna was born. Thankfully our birth was straightforward, in the relaxed setting of our home, and no sooner was Luna placed on my chest than she wriggled her way up, nuzzled around a bit and latched right on to start sucking! I’m so grateful that it was that easy to start off with, I have heard stories from many mothers whose babies, for whatever reason, found it much harder to latch on straight away.
Since then breastfeeding has been, it’s fair to say, a HUGE part of my daily (and nightly) life:
I have had to reconsider my wardrobe with only one qualifying question: can I get my baps out in it? (why didn’t I think of that before?!); I’ve leaked, dripped and squirted; we’ve learned what cluster feeding is (oh my haven’t we?!) and worried if she was getting enough; I cried in disbelief and anguish when, even though it felt like I had been feeding literally non-stop for 48 hours, the dutiful midwife had to call the pediatrician because her weight loss was more than 10%; I covered my eyes as my brave little babe had her tongue tie snipped, and gladly welcomed her to my breast again afterwards; I braved feeding in public and in front of people I never thought I’d get my boobs out around; we’ve fed morning, mid-morning, noon, just after noon, mid afternoon, late afternoon, evening and night, night, night, night, night……; I’ve pumped – successfully and not so successfully, and collected a handsome freezer-drawer-full of milk; we’ve done the classic, the rugby, the laid-back, the side-lying and any other position we’ve made up as we went along; I’ve heard multiple opinions and formed plenty of my own; I’ve sought support – not of the underwired type mind – but of the face to face, friendly, over a coffee type (and been so grateful for it); I’ve learned incredible, magical facts about breast milk and breastfeeding – which have literally made my mind boggle in wonder at the human body; I felt pain at the beginning, but thankfully not too much, and the incredible surge of oxytocin as I’ve stared down at Luna and she has stared back up at me; my nipples have been yanked up, down, left, right and any other which way they can (proving that nipples are made of elastic,) my boobs have been scratched by tiny little nails that grow faster than my gnawing can keep up with and my nose yoinked nearly off my face!; I’ve inadvertently flashed my boobs more times than I care to remember and been seconds away from opening the door to the postie with one still hanging out!; I’ve devoured chocolates and Netflix series whilst fixed under my sleeping, feeding, sleep-feeding baby; I’ve finally figured out how to feed her while in the carrier (if only I’d done this sooner!); I’ve witnessed her grow and grow and grow, powered only by me.
I desperately don’t want to take away from anyone who didn’t do it this way, but I also want to acknowledge how amazing it feels to have got to this point. On a personal level it has been restorative. When we were struggling with infertility I felt like my body was letting me down, I lost confidence in it and at times felt resentment and bitterness towards my body for not doing what I felt it was supposed to do. Over time I have made friends with my body again, and when I look at Luna today and see what my body has done, I feel like giving it a high five!
And yet I know that even as I write these words there are so many other women out there who wanted to do this and weren’t able to. I was shocked to find out that in the UK, while around 80% of mothers begin breastfeeding when their child is born, by 6 months only 1% continue to do so, with that number decreasing even further beyond that point. There are so many complex reasons why that might be the case, but I’m sure that one of them is that new mothers aren’t getting the right support at the right time, or in the right way perhaps? The support I have received from other breastfeeding mums has been so important to me over the past 6 months and has given me the encouragement, advice and inspiration to keep going. So now I am training to be a breastfeeding peer supporter, and hope that in the future I might be able to pay it forward and support other women who want to breastfeed.
My breastfeeding journey isn’t over, but as I return to work and Luna starts solids it will no doubt change. My hope is that we’ll continue to share these special moments together for many, many months to come. In the meantime there is so much more I’d like to say about what it has been like for us and what I’ve learned along the way so, in a similar spirit to my IVF series, expect to see a few more blog posts on the topic in the future. Happy boobing!
The beautiful print which I’ve used as the feature image for this piece is from the rather wonderful GrrlGangArt, who you can find on Etsy here. She has so many cool badges and prints, I’m trying hard not to buy them all, but treated myself to this one as a gift to myself to celebrate 6 months of breastfeeding.