This blog post was written by Dr Marguerite Barnard, who blogs at Surgeon Mommy – the blog was entered into the Ackermans BYY Parenting Blog Awards 2022.
Tonight I ended my breastfeeding journey. I wasn’t ready, I don’t think I’ll be ready for a while. But my daughter is ready, she’s been ready for 2 weeks now. I’m the one that’s been holding her back.
Breastfeeding has been by far the most difficult thing about motherhood. Not the sleep deprivation, not the insecurities, not the labour, not the ICU stay, not the post-baby blues.
Our baby girl was born via normal delivery with a low birth weight. Subsequently her sucking reflex was underdeveloped and we started using a nipple shield.
I remember countless hours on our nursing chair, breastfeeding for 40 minutes with the shield, pumping for 20 and then thereafter topping up her feeds with whatever volume I could express.
She was insatiable, my supply could never keep up.
My Gynae recommended I start Espiride, and I did so three times a day to keep my production up. Its a dopamine agonist, so naturally there’s a lot of hormone shifts happening with its initiation. I’ve even resorted to suppliments like Moringa and Fenugreek as there was weak evidence that it makes a difference. Jungle juice? I’ve tried it all.
Then came the galactoceles, or blocked milk ducts. I had to visit my physio twice for laser therapy to prevent an early mastitis. I remember crying in the shower as I massaged them open. It’s increadibly painful, and your options for painkillers are limited while breastfeeding.
After two weeks of a feeding cycle lasting almost 2 hours, only to repeat itself every 3 hours on the dot, sheer exhaustion lead me to top up with formula as well. I had a lactation consultant come in. Twice.
As a medical student we had a whole module on breastfeeding, and as a young doctor it always looked so easy. ‘Baby to breast’ as soon as baby is out, and they lived happily ever after. Little did I know it was going to hit so hard at home. But still I persisted.
Going back to work resulted in pumping on the way to work and on the way back. It was a super productive time. I listened to a podcast, drove to work, had my morning coffee and, oh yes, by the way also pumped for 30 minutes. A handsfree bra and my trusted Spectra hospital grade pump put in a lot of miles. Government hospitals are not generally kitted out with dedicated breastfeeding rooms so I found myself pumping in my car at work over lunch when I could find the time.
Time is always an issue, with emergency theater patients, overbooked clinics, patients going into cardiac arrest in the ward requiring resus, so the midday pumping sessions faded. But at least I always had our evening feeds together. I can hold her tight and bond.
Then she started rejecting me in the evenings, gladly accepting a bottle of expressed feeds instead.
So it carried on for another 2 months, my daughter rejecting breastfeeding whenever I’ve been on call too often, or had to work late. Weekends were a good time to catchup, I realized if I stressed less she drank more.
Most recently I‘ve had a marathon of calls resulting in her spending less time breastfeeding.
I’m almost at 7 months into my breastfeeding journey, and she’s been frustrated and crying half of our breastfeeding attempts the past week. Other than that, she’s such a happy, content baby. She’s loving the exploration of solids – she happily eats beetroot and blueberries, liver pate’s and egg frittatas. Seeing her thrive on solids leaves me contented in the fact that she’s getting so much nutrients in.
Tonight I attempted breastfeeding again. She denied my attempt with tears but happily accepted a bottle. Then I knew.
I’ve been holding her back.
So I reclipped my bra, held her tight, kissed her on the nose and thanked her for struggling with me for this long. I’m so thankful she got all the best that breastfeeding could give her. Her weight normalized and she‘s gone through the whole winter without being sick. I thanked her for bearing with me as we figured out this breastfeeding thing together, right through until this day.
I also cried knowing this would be the last time we bond in this way, that its a big chapter both of us are closing. Although I‘m not ready, I know she is, and that should be enough for me.
May this serve as a very real life encounter of a difficult but so rewarding breastfeeding journey. I wish it will make a difference to a new mother’s emotions and how real and validated they should be. Breastfeeding is an extremely delicate process. I found many articles dealing with the logistics on breastfeeding, but very few on the emotions surrounding it. I hope this can create a space to lovingly validate and share all the emotions you harbour surrounding your journey.
You can read the original version of this post HERE.