Beauty of the Breast
Everyone talks of their ‘breastfeeding journey’; I feel my breasts have certainly been on a journey – they’ve been up and down in shape and size and now I’ve stopped breastfeeding I’m waiting to see where they’re going to end up. Prior to pregnancy, I loved the idea of finally having big boobs but the reality of having to hoist my mother udders into hammock sized bras just wasn’t comfortable or practical. Plus they made me feel fat and heavy, and definitely, definitely not sexy! I know they’re currently shrinking down to two sorry little pouches but they’ve done a bloody good job. (Well done you two, especially the left one which became the clear favourite by the end).
There’s no point in sugar coating it, at the beginning breastfeeding was seriously tough, my nipples were in shreds and bleeding and I’d cry every time Nella wanted to feed. And ALL Nella wanted to do was feed. It was constant; she’d be on the boob for an hour and then 20mins later fancy another go. I was her dummy. (And no she didn’t ever desire an actual dummy, not when she could have the real deal!) I stuck with it through gritted teeth and sheer determination but eventually my nipples toughened up as everyone said they would and breastfeeding was fine. It meant in the early months I spent a lot of time watching TV – thank god it coincided with All 4 releasing the entire Dawson’s Creek series; I got to re-live my teenage angst and still enjoy fancying Pacey at the age of thirty-six. I also spent a lot of time indulging in one of my favourite past-times; eating. Breastfeeding makes you unbelievably ravenous and I wanted, and did eat everything and anything in sight.
The next step for me was trying to get Nella onto a bottle. I was due to go to my best friend’s hen party over in Jersey which I’d excitingly started organising in pregnancy without having the foggiest idea about the reality of attempting to go away and leave behind an exclusively breastfed, three month-old baby for two nights. I didn’t want Nella to have formula (personal choice and no judgement on anyone who uses it) so I started expressing. I passionately HATE expressing – it is so time consuming with all the faff of sterilising bottles, setting up the equipment and then not being able to do anything but sit and express. And then Nella would point blank refuse to take it and I’d have to breastfeed her anyway. It was all so hard. Again, I cried, a lot. In the end after agonising and worrying about the practicalities for months and despite booking flights and helping to organise the hen; I didn’t make it to Jersey. A hen party I never thought I’d miss but ultimately I couldn’t leave my baby daughter. I know I sound somewhat overdramatic here but as a first-time new mum every feeling and emotion feels amplified. Plus you’re dealing with the dawning realisation that your life is no longer yours and it will never be the same again. (Shitttttt!!!!!)
I never did get Nella onto a bottle (except once when I went back to expressing when she was ill with bronchiolitis and couldn’t suck as she couldn’t breathe). I always thought I would but for me there was never a reason to – Nella is with me all the time; I wasn’t going back to work so it was futile to keep trying with bottles when I could just pop her on the boob and be done with it. Even if I had got her on the bottle for some ‘freedom’; there wasn’t any freedom to be had. (Mini violin.) Andy works long hours so I would be the one to get up in the night to feed her, we don’t have any family nearby who could look after her and every trip we’ve made, we’ve made as a family. I don’t know what I imagined before having Nella; continuing nights out with friends perhaps and Nella on the bottle at home with Andy? The reality is by the time Andy gets home from work, I’m in my PJs (lucky Andy) and the thought of heading anywhere other than the sofa is unimaginable. Plus our precious hour or two in the evening is the only time Andy and I get to spend together. So all in all, breastfeeding was by far the easiest option which also meant I didn’t have a big drive to stop.
I envisioned I would only breastfeed for six months but when six months rolled around, I realised Nella still needed either breastmilk or formula (babies eat a lot!) and again it was much easier to continue to breastfeed. Plus it’s FREE, formula is massively overpriced and contains a load of ingredients such as palm oil that I didn’t want Nella having when there was no need. After the six month stage, I always felt the need to justify my reasoning for continuing to breastfeed especially when speaking to mothers who weren’t breastfeeding or friends who haven’t had kids yet. I don’t know why because on reflection, no-one has ever judged me (not to knowledge anyway) but as a mum I’m always feeling the need to justify everything I do.
The World Health Organisation advises breastfeeding until two years old but I’ve always felt that breastfeeding after six months and especially after a year seems to have some strange stigma attached to it. Once Nella turned one, I didn’t really mention I was still breastfeeding to people except my NCT group; many of whom were also still feeding their little ones past a year. (Apparently we’re in the minority as a group.) I breastfed Nella in public when she was little but when she got older, she would get distracted and start biting me (ouch) so I stopped feeding her out and about. This is probably one of the reasons no-one sees older babies being breastfed much which may play a part in it not seeming ‘the norm’. I also think a lot of mothers don’t admit to continuing to breastfeed because they worry about being judged. I’d love for this to change; for mothers not to feel pressured into giving up breastfeeding early or to feel the need to keep breastfeeding a secret. It’s part of the reason I wanted to write this particular blog post and to openly share my experiences.
I stopped breastfeeding Nella a few weeks ago after almost fourteen months. For anyone who read my Instagram story on this, they’ll know it wasn’t through choice but due to a ridiculous bedtime routine a sleep counsellor advised. It confused Nella entirely and I blame the sleep counsellor for the fact my last breastfeeding memory is screaming after Nella bit me. (My nipples may have become hardy but not so hardy they can withstand a good bite from sharp little teeth…and yes I know you aren’t supposed to scream but I couldn’t help it!) After that point, Nella was too scared to breastfeed again which meant we finished our breastfeeding journey on a definite low. We both had a good cry about it. Nella is over it but clearly I’m not. I think this is partly down to hormones and the reduced levels of prolactin and oxytocin in my body which has made me feel a little mournful. I know everything will balance out soon and hopefully I’ll have a lot more energy as I’ve noticed I’ve been flagging and constantly run down lately (although this could easily just be a side effect of having a baby!). On the brighter side now I’ve finished breastfeeding, I’ve booked flights to Jersey for a weekend away to see my friend. I can’t wait to have my very first solo weekend away!
So thank you to my journeying breasts, you’ve done your job well. Now I feel I might need your services again one day as stopping breastfeeding has made me feel broody!! (Please Andy, can we have another one?!)