Loren Best, South Africa
Before my little girl’s birth I didn’t really know what to expect from breastfeeding except that it was something I was determined to do. You see, for four years I battled infertility, a heart-breaking journey in which I felt my body had repeatedly failed me. I couldn’t do what nature intended and so when I eventually did fall pregnant through IVF I desperately wanted to nurse the child I had waited so long for, I wanted my body to finally succeed. Everyone said to me “breastfeeding will come naturally” they were right and oh how they were ever so wrong. I had learnt the hard way that every pregnancy is different. I was now to learn that every single birth and breastfeeding story is different too.
At 35 weeks pregnant I went into preterm labour and a week later I had to have an emergency c-section due to severe preeclampsia. My beautiful little miracle daughter was born a month premature and spent some time in NICU, as a result I couldn’t breastfeed her straight away. I knew from my incredible antenatal nurses that I had to hand express colostrum as soon as possible. Overwhelmed by the whole experience of bringing a child into this world, tears of joy streamed down my face when I eventually managed to get out 5ml of colostrum, only for a nurse to walk in to my hospital room and tell me that I clearly didn’t have enough milk and that I should formula feed! Huh? What! All those infertility feelings of defeat came flooding back, and I was crushed. I tell you, it’s a good thing I’m stubborn because I chose to ignore her and listen to the little voice inside my heart whispering strength…my maternal instinct already telling me what was best for my child.
The first time my new born latched was magical, and I will never forget that moment for all of my days but the elation was short lived, for when I tried again she didn’t want to feed. We were just so awkward with each other. I didn’t know how to hold her, there was so much crying (from both of us). Breasts that suddenly seemed so foreign, blankets everywhere, bulky feeding cushions and all the nurses judgemental eyes staring at me. I’m sure there are many wonderful nursing staff that support new mothers and breastfeeding but I unfortunately didn’t meet any during that time. This is where I urge you to reach out to breastfeeding support groups and professionals who will assist not hinder your journey.
When we returned home. I was completely engulfed by the pressure to nourish and grow this new little human. Every day and night the routine was the same…cry (so much), nappy change, feed, sleep (not so much) It was exhausting, hormones all over the place, sleep deprived and in shock. I couldn’t have done it without the support of my husband, mom and a wonderful lactation specialist. It was by no means easy, it took perseverance, sacrifice and bravery.
Two and a half years later our journey has gone from strength to strength. Through everything from cracked nipples, mastitis to anxiety. Each time my daughter feeds I am humbled by the wonder of my body. How profound that a body I once thought of as broken as grown and nourished another.
I had a goal to breastfeed for one year. Once we reached that milestone, it then became two years. Now it’s 3 years or when my daughter self-weans. Extended breastfeeding is something I have become incredibly passionate about, however it is often a taboo subject met with judgement and disapproval. You are praised, revered, made to feel like a super hero when you breastfeed up to 6 months, but then suddenly when your baby turns a year reactions to you breastfeeding go from “wow, you are still breastfeeding” to “wow, you are still breastfeeding?” See how powerful a little question mark can be, insert a whole lot of unspoken shame and unwarranted criticism and you have a mother who prematurely weans her child because it makes society feel less uncomfortable. But what if we were all more knowledgeable about the benefits of extended breastfeeding, did you know that the World Health Organisation recommends mothers breastfeed up to 2 years and beyond! The long term health benefits of extended breastfeeding have been medically proven so surely investing in your child’s emotional, intellectual and physical health should therefore be celebrated?
Sadly, it seems the longer you breastfeed for, the more criticism you are likely to receive. Society is still a long way from normalising both breastfeeding in public and extended breastfeeding. And that is where we can start making a difference. Choose to support women with whatever decision they make on how they want to feed their child. And if they choose to breastfeed, where they want to breastfeed their child and for how long they want to breastfeed their child. Let your support come from a space of love and kindness, free of judgement and shame. I know this is a journey not every mother gets to experience and it by no means makes their journey any less beautiful or rewarding.
I read the most beautiful quote that said “ Breastfeeding reminds us of the universal truth of abundance..the more we give out, the more we are filled up, and that devine nourishment..the source from which we all draw is, like a mother’s breast, ever full and ever flowing”.