Friday, August 12, 2011

When it's time to give up, even though you both love it :: breastfeeding.

I think I breastfed for the last time ever last night. I say 'ever' because in fact I thought it was the night before, but my boobs were sore last night so we breastfed as a last hurrah, and it was lovely.
I've enjoyed breastfeeding both my babies. I've been very lucky to do so as with my health problems and complications after their births, it was thought several times that it would not be a proposition. After Jack was born and placed into special care for three weeks, learning how to suckle, I battled through trying to get him to latch on and trying to express (lots of tears, not much milk - oh how I could have fattened him up with the tears I cried!). I then travelling into the hospital daily after I was discharged, to continue the battle of feeding him for one or two feeds whilst dealing with my own painful recovery, dutifully expressing at home with very little luck.

My husband still talks of the haunting sound of the whir and 'prrmph!' of the electric breast pump every 2 hours overnight for weeks, me sitting up in bed resembling a zombie, literally trying to squeeze out every precious drop of milk. Any women who has been in this position of trying to express against the tide of emotional and physical exhaustion can feel this pain! To Jack's credit, I was able to breast and bottle feed him to 8 months, and I only gave up breastfeeding when I developed shingles and the medication was not safe for breastfeeding.

Nellie was entirely different. She was born ready to latch on, and I was able to feed her within an hour of her birth. Even when it was discovered that I'd spent two days quietly haemorrhaging internally and was rushed to surgery and intensive care for 24 hours, we were still able to make it work. Despite the trauma, my milk came in while I was incapacitated with tubes and monitors and catheters. The brilliant nurse who looked after me helped to express, and then got me out of bed to feed Nellie, who was brought to me from the maternity hospital. That we were able to commence feeding after that break from the breast (Nellie had been given formula in the nursery) and from my near-death experience was a wonder but we did not look back, at least for several weeks.

Unfortunately for me, my health has not been good since Nellie's birth, and my weight is scarily low. I have been scaling back the breast feeds from about 8 weeks after Nellie's birth with some pressure from family to think of my health. We started Nellie on regular bottles from about this time, and like Jack, she's been happy on breastmilk or formula. But I have finally raised the white flag and conceded that I've done my best, and that now she is starting on solids, it's formula from here.

As you can see from the photo, Nellie's not exactly starving, but is instead thriving. But for me it is a time tinged with sadness. For all the health benefits of breastfeeding for both baby and mother - antibodies, cancer-reducing etcetera - for me it's that unique bonding time when you can not be any closer, physically or emotionally. I'll miss those little sounds she makes when she is completely in baby heaven, warm and being fulfilled. When she breaks off, smiles at me, and goes back to feeding. When she makes obscene sounds and smells and I have nowhere to run - wait, I won't miss those!. But you get the picture.

We can still cuddle when she bottle feeds. She stills makes appreciative gurgly sounds. It's still motherlove. But it's a further progression of the journey over time of her slowly dissociating from me - first the umbilical, now the breast - as she grows up into an independent person. Maybe it's been karma that I haven't had any of the breastfeeding problems that many women have, like mastitis, that make breastfeeding a chore and a painful burden. Because even though I feel like I've breastfed for only a short time, it's really been a great time.

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