No matter how you choose to feed your newborn, there’s a load associated with it.
If you choose to exclusively bottle-feed or to exclusively pump, there’s a cost of time, effort and money involved.
Since my son was born, I’ve been lucky to be able to exclusively breastfeed. I had great support from the get-go. Watching the mind-blowing breast crawl for golden-hued colostrum, help from the lactation consultants and community midwives from my birth centre who gave me some great tips, my family who ensured I had everything I needed by my side immediately postpartum and not to forget, my hungry little son- I had it all!
So, this may come as a surprise. Here’s something I’ve never said before.
EXCLUSIVE BREASTFEEDING IS HARD.
Like I mentioned, no matter which route you go down, there are obvious challenges. I’ve always seen a very rosy picture painted in support of breastfeeding but not a lot is spoken about the bad and ugly. So, let’s get to it.
[Disclaimer: I’m not trying to discourage people from breastfeeding. 90% of the time, I love it…but then there’s that 10% that I NEED to talk about!]
What exactly is Exclusive Breastfeeding?
When a caregiver chooses to exclusively breastfeed, this means that the newborn receives only breastmilk on demand. They are not given any other water, food, formula or supplements.
Exclusive Breastfeeding is recommended by experts up to 6 months of age, after which the child can continue to breastfeed up to 2 years or longer (if you choose to go down the extended breastfeeding route).
The Advantages of Exclusive Breastfeeding (EBF):
Let’s start off with the Good. There’s so much to be said of all the great things that breastfeeding can do for your baby and you.
- The perfect nutrition with all that the baby needs to grow
- Offers the much-needed immune support to the baby
- Always ready to go- no warming up the milk, no additional armamentarium required!
- Getting the Oxytocin going which helps in uterus contraction and promotes bonding with the newborn
- Protects mother in the long-term significantly reducing the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, diabetes and cardiac disease
- Economical- only if you don’t go crazy purchasing a large nursing wardrobe, like I did!
- Environmentally friendly!
- Delays the re-arrival of the dreaded period (but hey, not everyone’s that lucky)
An additional advantage that I noticed was that it gave me a new-found appreciation and respect for my body. I marvelled at how magnificent it is, producing milk to sustain a human being for the entirety of half a year! Other times I really feel glad that I can breastfeed are when my son is inconsolable with anyone else or when we’re out and I couldn’t be bothered with preparing a bottle.
But, like I said, I feel this way just 90% of the time.
The Load of Exclusive Breastfeeding (EBF):
If I was to get into the bad and ugly of breastfeeding, there are three main aspects that I could eventually boil it all down to.
#1 Physical trouble
If I had to pinpoint the most challenging day in my breastfeeding journey, it would be my third day postpartum. I was sleep-deprived, drowning in a tsunami of hormones and in the worst physical pain I have ever had to endure (childbirth included).
Looking back, I realise that this sharp nagging pain extending from my arms all the way to my chest was just establishing supply but it rendered me in tears. I even reconsidered exclusive breastfeeding. That’s when I received some great advice from a support group on a childcare app: ‘Give it a week. If it’s still not for you, then quit.’ Things got better over the next couple of days.
Other physical challenges one may expect is engorgement or mastitis, which are rather unpleasant.
With exclusive breastfeeding, we never really get a break (even if we have a strong support system). Falling ill, having a migraine or dealing with PMS, there’s still going to be a baby coming to you for a feed every couple of hours.
Don’t even get me started on when the teeth begin to come in! Using the nipple as a teether is sure to leave you somewhat upset, no?
To offer perspective, exclusively breastfeeding a baby till they are 6 months and feeding in addition to solids for the remainder of the first year accounts to approximately 1800 hours of a mother’s time. This figure is not that far from a full-time job. Childcare has numerous other aspects too so it’s the most challenging yet rewarding (unpaid) job you’ve probably ever had.
In the first three months postpartum, my day was divided into chunks of time after long feeds- these intervals were reserved for showering, a sitz bath, eating, doing laundry or basic cleaning. I realised that it was also essential to set aside one of these ‘chunks’ doing what gave me peace- be it reading, painting listening to music, watching a movie or taking a walk.
After the three-month mark, when I did begin to finally step out of the comfort of my home, I would have to consider where I could feed. Carrying along a breastfeeding cover, wearing a nursing dress and bra, using breast pads to keep leaking in check were all essentials. I considered pumping at this stage- the manual pump was exhausting (I commend all the pumping mums- I don’t know how you do it) and my baby refused to take a bottle. So, breastfeeding was still the easier option.
#3 Mental challenges
You know how when you see someone feeding in public and it seems to come so naturally to them. And you just CANNOT relate, especially in those first few months? It’s so difficult- figuring out a position with cushions and feeding pillows. And then there’s them, juggling feeding the baby with a million other things. You can’t help but compare and wonder if you’re doing everything wrong.
The mental challenges in breastfeeding are perhaps the ones that linger on the longest. Added to that, the loneliness of being in a washroom (in those public spaces without dedicated feeding rooms) or up through the night during a feed is unfathomable. Most of the time, it feels great cuddling with your little one as they suckle, but on other nights, it’s replaced by looking at your partner sleeping peacefully with resentment.
Even one year later, now that I’m back to work, it gets a little annoying that I have to break the flow to feed the baby, even if there is someone else at home. On some days, it feels great when you realise that you’re the only one the baby needs but with looming deadlines and submissions, having feelings like this are natural.
Again, the reason for writing this blog is surely not to discourage breastfeeding. It is my intention to shine a light on the challenges that we face and recognise them, so that no-one feels alone in their breastfeeding journey.
There should never be any judgement surrounding how a caregiver chooses to feed their baby- keep guilt and shame out of the equation and do what works best for you and your baby. Whether you choose to continue exclusively breastfeeding or switch to pumping or formula, it is all YOUR choice.
Are you exclusively breastfeeding? Do you relate to any of these challenges?
Let us know in the comments below.