Breastfeeding is supposed to be natural and easy, Right?

So Breastfeeding, there’s a lot we can talk about and I have been doing it for over three years straight now…

Having four kids you’d think I’m an expert right? Nope, my breastfeeding journey didn’t come naturally as a first time mom, in fact it took three tries to get it right!

Ten years ago when my oldest son was born I didn’t really know what I was doing, I didn’t have any breastfeeding moms around me and Facebook was so new that it wasn’t the resource hub and support system that it can be today. Websites and info hubs such as La Leche League have been my life-line over the last few years though, there’s tons of information available and links to the articles if you want to do more extensive research.

So, if you’re a new mom, be so so glad for and use those online support groups and research info.  Oh, and you should definitely get in touch with a breastfeeding consultant if you’re having difficulties, also pay a visit to a post-natal physiotherapist to help with blocked ducts, they use massage, ultrasound and laser therapy and it works wonders.

But back then with my first baby, there was little to no support, and being a first time mom I just made silly mistakes, and I only breastfed Caleb for about two months.  Breastfeeding was something I really wanted to do, so it broke my heart when I thought I wasn’t producing enough and stopped. I realise now, being a little more knowledgable that I mistook his six week growth spurt and fussiness as me not having enough milk for him, also added to that I had developed mastitis at about the same time and to make matters worse the doctor misdiagnosed me as having a viral infection instead, I didn’t even know what mastitis (a.k.a milk fever) was then. One thing lead to another and that was the end of breastfeeding for Caleb.

*Please note: that there is absolutely no shame in how your baby is fed, formula or breastmilk, bottle or breast, fed is what’s best!

In the picture below Jonathan is giving Caleb a bottle for the first time, Caleb is about 3 weeks old here. It was truly a special moment. Although, I have to add that expressing milk to give in a bottle this early was probably one of my mistakes. Instead rather use caution when offering a bottle or expressing too early, it is recommended to wait until breastfeeding is well established (this being around 4 – 6 weeks old, it gives baby enough time to learn to breastfeed well and for mom’s breasts to learn how much milk supply is needed for baby too).

Daddy feeding Caleb a bottle for the first time

My experience with my second baby, Craig, was different, while I still at that point didn’t know about breastfeeding support groups, there was so much more resources at my disposal online, so I had read up and done some research to get tips and I was determined to make it to six months of breastfeeding, that was my goal. I really struggled with latching Craig correctly, I had painful cracked nipples and would often cry in the beginning because it hurt so much, but still I pushed on. After about three weeks it got better but still I had issues with blocked ducts and engorged breasts, I had once again developed mastitis but this time I knew what it was and how to get through it without it being the end of breastfeeding, it passed thankfully. But two weeks later it was back, this time though I went to the doctor and was put on antibiotics and it cleared up. I kept on breastfeeding Craig for a few months more but we still battled with correct latching sometimes which would result in blocked ducts and by the time he was five months old I had developed mastitis for a third time. It resulted in my milk supply dropping and I was battling to express any extra milk to freeze and store. By six months old I decided I had had enough, I made it to my goal and we switched him to formula. I was elated that I had made it to my six month goal, he had just started with solids and we were enjoying that stage in our journey.

We suspect that Craig had a slight lip tie, nothing that needed correcting but enough that it lead to the shallow latch while breastfeeding and probably why I had experienced all the breastfeeding hurdles I had with him. You learn all the time, I am still learning, and all four of my children are so different that my experience in mothering changes and evolves constantly, it definitely is not just “cut” and “paste”.

Craig 2 months

Craig 3 months

Craig 6 months

Third time’s a charm right? Well, almost immediately when we found out I was pregnant with our third son, Joel, I started getting into my breastfeeding research. I now knew what not to do and wanted to know how to avoid, at all costs, the problems that had run into before. I discovered and joined the South African La Leche League Facebook Group, I read everything I could, I asked questions, I spoke to breastfeeding consultants and explained my history. There’s also a cool feature that allows you to search by topic in the group. I was hella prepared and even made sure we invested in a good breast pump so that I could pump and freeze milk later when I returned to work after my maternity leave. When Joel was born he latched perfectly right away, I still insisted on speaking to the lactation consultant and nursing sister at the birthing centre, just to make sure I was doing it right. We didn’t offer him any dummy (pacifier) and I didn’t express with pumps until after 8 weeks to make sure that there was no nipple confusion and to avoid any chance of a repeat of either of our previous two experiences. I must add though, that there are mixed views on offering baby a dummy or not, and on yes/no to pumping or expressing breastmilk early on or not, but for this time and considering my history, I just didn’t want to take any chances. So, I insisted on breastfeeding to first be well, and naturally established before bringing in any outside factors, and it worked for me. I never got mastitis infection at all, and when I got any blocked ducts or engorgement I went straight to the physiotherapist to have laser and ultrasound therapy and used cold compress in between feeds and warm compress during feeding.

Bullseye! For the first time I had absolutely no breastfeeding issues (or none that were significant enough that they caused problems). I had made it! Every month pass six months I jumped for joy! When I got to one year, I was like “YESSSS!”, and we just kept going! I had successfully breastfed Joel, my third baby, for two years and eight months which also happened to be straight through my pregnancy with our fourth baby, our daughter, Taylor. Joel had self-weaned only a few weeks before Taylor was born, but had he not been ready I was intending to tandem feed the two of them for a while.

Breastfeeding 1 month old Joel

Breastfeeding in the bath at 1 year old, my all time favourite picture of our BF journey

Expressing “liquid gold” while at work

Breastfeeding on the go in a carrier

Breastfeeding Joel, 14months old

Taylor is four months old and we have had a very positive breastfeeding experience so far, I haven’t had any latching issues, absolutely no engorgement, no cracked nipples (I think Joel kept them nice and prepped, LOL!). Hopefully we too will have a nice long breastfeeding journey like I did with Joel, I plan to breastfeed her until around two and a half years or three years old, but we will see how it goes and wean when both she and I are ready.

Taylor 3 days old

Taylor 6 weeks old

Taylor 3 months old breastfeeding in Noonoo Pie Stretchy wrap

Taylor 4 months old

It doesn’t matter if you choose to breastfeed or to bottle feed, if you choose to breastfeed for three months, six months or three years, so long as you are doing what is right for you and your baby. If you do choose to breastfeed long-term though make sure you talk to moms who have done it before and ask for advise and tips. I would encourage you to join community breastfeeding groups such as La Leche League, and others. Call a lactation consultant near you, on La Leche League you can look for a consultant in your area and have them come to your home. Another is Breastfeeding Matters if you’re in Cape Town for instance, I just recently went to a breastfeeding chat run by Emma Numanoglu and learnt so much, my point is that there are professionals who can help you if you need it. Use the resources that are available, and don’t make the mistake like I did all those years ago with my first baby, trust me you are not alone, you are not the only one experiencing one breastfeeding problem or another, you’ll be surprised to find out that other moms have been there too.

Happy Breastfeeding! Happy Feeding! Happy Mommying!

Breastfeeding Taylor, 4 months old, on her first visit to the beach.

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