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Breastfeeding: Not as Natural as it First Seems

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As I write this blog I am wondering how much longer I will be breastfeeding my baby. Ethan is almost eight months old and I think I’ve done well to get this far. I’m not sure either of us is ready to stop yet. Sadly, though, the decision may have been made for us.

I have had laryngitis for the past week and was prescribed antibiotics a few days ago to get rid of the infection. While the medication has been slowly working on me, it has also been working its way through to my breast milk, causing Ethan an upset tummy and acidic poo so bad I am dreading the pain-filled cry next time I change one.

I’m feeling a mixture of sadness that I may not be providing my baby’s milk anymore, relief I might soon have my body back and frustration that the decision of when to wean Ethan may have been taken out of my hands. I have been expressing to keep my supply up (even though it pains me to dispose of all that milk down the sink), but I wonder after a week of not having to work for his milk and drinking bottles, whether Ethan will want to breastfeed any longer?

After he was born I had to take a course of antibiotics because I had retained some placenta and it had caused an infection. The medicated breast milk made him sick and so we had to bottle feed him until I was better. While he did go back to breastfeeding, it took several days for both of us to get back into the swing of it. He enjoys having a bottle so much right now, part of me thinks he’ll just want to stick with it.

The decision of whether to wean him or not is bittersweet: it will make my life so much easier not to have to schedule meetings around his feeds as I work full time, but I fought so hard to feed him in the first place I feel giving up now before he is ready to wean himself would be a cop out. Even so, feeding him for almost eight months has not been easy. I still use a breast shield for every feed because his sucking technique causes me intense pain.

I was determined to breastfeed Ethan and had done as much as I could to make it happen before he was even born. I also planned to breastfeed my older son Noah. And I did, but stopped before he was four weeks old. This wasn’t from lack of trying on my part at all. I was sleep deprived, in pain from his constant biting and utterly bewildered. I kept wondering why wasn’t breastfeeding natural like everyone said it would be?

I’d spoken to people about breastfeeding while I was pregnant and my husband Harvey and I attended an Australian Breastfeeding Association seminar on the subject. We were all for it. After all it was natural and the best start you could give your baby. That’s only if it works though. Not once before I was a mother did it occur to me that breastfeeding wouldn’t be straightforward.

I assumed the problem was that so many different midwives and consultants were telling me alternative solutions to my breastfeeding problems – and that I was inexperienced. After a series of visits to the clinic and doctor Noah was diagnosed with reflux and lactose intolerance so we tried lactose-free formula and we had a different baby.

The decision to put Noah on formula wasn’t taken lightly, even though he was much was happier, slept better and wasn’t in so much pain after feeding once we did. It took many days of soul searching, tears and an incredible sense of failure as a mother, before I agreed to formula for all feeds.

This is why I HAD to breastfeed Ethan. So I’ll be waiting to see what happens when the antibiotics are out of my system next week. I might be getting rid of my maternity bras, or adding them to the next load of washing.

What were your family’s experiences with breastfeeding? Did you get help when you needed it, or did you find breastfeeding was natural?

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11 Comments on “Breastfeeding: Not as Natural as it First Seems”

  1. Megan says:

    This is such a very honest post. I needed a lot of help to begin and stick with breastfeeding with my first (and only) baby. We’re still doing it now – he’s 5 1/2 months – but it is certainly not a natural thing in the sense of all the work it takes to keep doing it and not give up.

    You don’t miraculously know how, baby does not miraculously know how to latch perfectly, and subsequently there’s so much pain for something so “natural”!

    I got a lot of help from a few other mothers and lactation consultants.

    It sounds like you have done so well for your children! 🙂

  2. Jenny says:

    I doubt Noah was Lactose intolerant, it is very, very rare, and results in constant weight loss as well as colic and pain. It was probably Bovine Casein (cows milk protein) intolerance, quite similar symptoms, but very different all the same. The bog giveaway is the reflux, lactose intolerance affects the lower gut, not the stomach, cows milk protein intolerance symptoms kick in the second the milk hits the stomach, resulting in vomiting, reflux and pain, followed by colic, wind, explosive poo and often eczema. It is simple to treat, you just cut dairy out of the maternal diet. No vile tasting, expensive immune deficient formula to mess around sterilising and mixing, just an exclusion diet (like for coeliac disease, but you exclude dairy, not wheat/gluten). It takes 10-14 days for all traces of dairy to leave the mother, so results aren’t instant, but worth a two week trial before you resort to hypoallergenic formula all the same! And scarily enough, Lactose Intolerance and Bovine Casein Intolerance seem to confuse many Dr’s and healthcare professionals, and the two are often mixed up and many babies are misdiagnosed with Lactose Intolerance as a result.

    As for the antibiotics upsetting Ethans tummy, he is old enough to take pro/pre-biotics now, and your GP should be able to change your medication for one which doesn’t effect him so much.

    I had to fight to breastfeed my eldest, 3 months of thrush made it painful and frustrating, but we got it in the end, and at 6 years old she is pretty much weaned now. My youngest is Cows Milk Protein Intolerant, so we battled months of reflux and colic etc before finally getting to the root of her problems. The medical profession were very little help, we were told she had a tummy bug several times, and that “some babies are sicky/cryers”. I cut dairy put of my diet on the suggestion of a friend and within a fortnight she was a different baby, I had to stay dairy free until she was 18 months, and then she was able to tolerate it if I ate cheese etc, but nothing would have made me stop before either of them was at least a year old. I have tandem fed them up til now, but soon I shall just be nursing my 3 year old, until she decides she doesn’t need it any more too.

  3. Jenny says:

    (I forgot to mention that I went back to work when they were 6 months old each time, pumping for each of them until they were over a year old.)

  4. Thanks for your comment Megan. After talking to so many other mothers who struggled with breastfeeding I think we need to be honest about how hard it is. I breastfed Ethan knowing I hard a difficult road ahead because I’d struggled so much with Noah.

    Jenny thanks for telling me about the difference between the two conditions. Noah’s symptoms sound like what you describe so you may be right. I did take dairy out of my diet to see if that would help but he still reacted (although there may have still been traces because I tried it for a week, not two).

  5. Sarah Cordell says:

    We, too, struggled with breastfeeding. We ended up taking a two-to-three week break (me pumping, him drinking breast milk from the bottle) when he was about six weeks old because I just couldn’t cope with the pain and everything else going on. I went to a breastfeeding support group and saw a lactation consultant, but that break seemed to be all he needed. By the time we got to the lactation consultant, he had no troubles latching and my pain went away (whew!).
    Good luck with weaning. Mine was ready to wean before I was. Around 11 months, he just lost interest. It was sad, but a relief as well.

  6. Charndra says:

    Hi Johanna,
    you really sound like you want to overcome this challenge and to continue breastfeeding your little boy.
    I’ve linked to a friends wonderful site full of inspirational breastfeeding stories, called http://www.ibreastfed.com
    If you pop over, you can look up the list of challenges mothers have dealt with (including two of my own stories – my latest on BITING!) and I hope you find some key insights and support to help you.
    The lady who runs the site was also a breastfeeding counsellor, and like so many of us, STILL found a lack of support and education among the medical community about breastfeeding.
    Charndra

  7. Danielle says:

    Hi, i tried breastfeeding my eldest son with great difficulty. The nurses at the hospital tried to assist with the whole getting him to latch on without success. Today i now know why he was unable to latch onto the breast. My son was diagnosed with autism and unfortunately the sucking reflex wasn’t natural for him. He still has an elevated tongue which makes it difficult to swallow and eat. I feel there is a lot of pressure on mothers to breast feed their children and i think that you should only breastfeed your child if you feel comfortable doing so. I wasn’t allowed to leave hospital until has was able to latch on but he lost a lot of weight and the nurses made me feel terrible. Fortunately my second son was successful with latching on and he too was also diagnosed with autism. This goes to show that these little individuals are very different.
    Danielle

  8. Sarah that sounds like a very valuable break. Feeding without pain would make all the difference I think.

    Charndra I definitely want to overcome the challenge and keep feeding E. Thanks for the website info.

    Danielle It is such a hard time with no sleep and getting used to the new situation that the last thing you need is to be made to feel bad. I think there should be more support in hospital during those early days when we’re learning.

    Johanna

  9. nerida says:

    You are right, breastfeeding for most mothers is a learned skill. We just don’t see enough mothers breastfeeding and sharing knowledge in our daily lives. When was the last time you saw a woman breastfeeding in public, or did you share a story about your love of breastfeeding with younger women at work? Have you shown a teenage girl how to attach a baby properly or showed your friends that breastfeeding is a beautiful loving experience? Without information and support we all learn by trial and error. Imagine being given the keys to the car at 16 if you had never seen another adult drive, and not having a licensed driver beside you to encourage and guide you on those first lessons. What if you had someone saying “you cant do that, oh, you cant see over the dash, catching a bus is safer and easier, give up now .” How successful would you be. I had sore nipples attachment problems, thrush, small baby… and with information and experienced breastfeeding women around me succeeded to breastfeed into the second year and beyond… as many women do. We just dont see it in public. Most women are discreet and efficient at breastfeeding. If you think that it is the biological normal way to feed a baby then there are ways to get around our hurdles. You can ask for a second opinion on medications, or you can ring the mothersafe info line to check for an alternative medication and google breastfeeding to get support and help in your local community. Thanks for sharing your stories with us.

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