World Breastfeeding Week
Today, I would like to share a topic that holds a special place in my heart as a mother of three children – breastfeeding.
The journey I went through in this regard was one of the most profound, rewarding, and vulnerable experiences I have ever had.
If we rewind back to the birth of my first son, I vividly remember how much the actual birth dominated the discussions in the months leading up to it, and how little talk there was about breastfeeding. Perhaps because I imagined and had always heard that breastfeeding is natural, straightforward, and somewhat intuitive. However, it simply wasn't the case in my situation.
The Ultimate Vulnerability
When my son came into the world, it was a magical moment when I first held him to my chest, and he instinctively sought the breast. How amazing is it that this little human, who can't do anything else for himself, can find the breast and the drops that will keep him alive?
It's truly incredible, but that doesn't mean it's easy or instinctual. In my opinion, breastfeeding is not just a matter of whether the mother knows the techniques; it's an interaction between mother and child, and also initially involves the environment.
My son was born with colic, which meant he cried non-stop from the moment he was born until he reached exactly 4 months. There were two things that comforted him: breastfeeding and movement.
This also meant that he nursed at my breast for many hours right from the start. The constant sucking resulted in blisters and bleeding sores on my nipples within a few hours.
My surroundings did everything they could to support and help, but it didn't make much difference because every time he sucked, the sores reopened, the blisters burst, and the pain was unbearable. The breastfeeding guidance at the hospital was inadequate, and I distinctly remember how she looked me in the eyes and said that breastfeeding was a matter of willpower; either you want to do it, or you don't... But it was by no means a matter of willpower, but rather about incorrect breastfeeding techniques and a baby who constantly wanted to nurse. I know that now, but not back then.
When Breastfeeding Turns Into Something Else
The overwhelming pain with each breastfeeding session made me dread each one. For me, the breastfeeding sessions, while they lasted, were almost more painful than significant parts of the childbirth I had just been through. And I was left with the feeling that nobody really understood how much it hurt. This quickly led my brain to associate breastfeeding with pain and fear, and I couldn't bear each time this little guy signaled his hunger. I took painkillers and bit into a towel every time while tears ran down my cheeks. I persisted because I was convinced that he needed to be breastfed at any cost. Anything else would be a failure.
But the crying persisted, and my breast sores got worse and worse, and even with nipple shields and improved techniques, I had to give up after 3.5 months. But in reality, I didn't give up; I chose "us." I chose that breastfeeding should not define our time together, but rather our bond should be defined by the infinite love we have for each other. I realized then that my motherhood and my desire to do everything for this little human had nothing to do with breastfeeding. We found many other moments that were just ours, as intimate and filled with love as the breastfeeding moments were.
In Hindsight Knowing what I know today
I would have fought even harder to get help. When my eldest son was born, there were not as many options for skilled advice as there are today, but I would probably have sought out more help regardless. The realization is that I looked too much inward. I should have sought help instead of being convinced that there was something wrong with me.
My best advice would be to get all the help you can – seek a lactation consultant even before giving birth and discuss the upcoming breastfeeding journey. Get help, support, and techniques – it makes a world of difference not feeling alone in the process and truly getting the help needed to make it work. I now know that vulnerability during breastfeeding initiation is natural, but pain should not be, and with support and assistance, much of the pain can be avoided.
Different Children, Different Breastfeeding Journeys
When I had my second and third child, I was prepared even better and more experienced, but that was never the decisive factor. I know that now… Everything about them was different regarding breastfeeding compared to my first child. They also wanted to nurse all the time, especially in the first weeks, but I prioritized techniques and took better care of my nipples, so they were never as affected as I "allowed them to be the first time." And I made sure to seek help every time problems arose. Breastfeeding became a delightful bonding time that I loved and cherished every time it succeeded, but I never took it for granted. I breastfed my daughter until she was nearly one year old, and the third one loved nursing and continued until well over 2 years old. So, three very different journeys that have taught me so much about myself but also about the infinite love we as mothers have for our children, whether we breastfeed or not.
x Marie Louise, Mother of three and CEO of SoKind