If you told before I became a mother that I would still be breastfeeding my nearly 4 year old son, I wouldn’t have believed you. That’s a bit odd, isn’t it!? To be honest, it’s not really been my choice. Sure, I could have weaned him if I had really wanted to but once breastfeeding was well established, I never had a strong desire to stop and I decided that I’d take Hugo’s lead and let him self-wean when he was ready. I am still waiting for that to happen…
Before I had Hugo I had no great ambitions to breastfeed. I was only breastfed myself until I was about six weeks old, and I thought, perhaps I would do the same. I attended NCT classes which did change my view in that I wanted to try and get to six months, mainly due to the health benefits, but I still didn’t really put any great pressure on myself and I was open to the idea of bottle feeding and had some Cow & Gate formula on standby at home.
After quite a difficult birth, Hugo pretty much latched on to me straight away and we never really looked back. I feel so lucky that I never experienced pain or much discomfort. Sure, it felt a bit weird at first but I soon got used to that. When he got teeth there were quite a few painful instances but they soon passed and we carried on. I also had a very nasty case of mastitis when he was around 6 months old (apparently this is really common as when they start eating solids, they breastfeed less so infection can happen quite easily if you get engorged) Mastitis was horrible. You basically feel like you have the flu, on top of having a really sore boob and, of course, a baby to look after! We got through it though and we kept going and going and going and going.
I am aware that I was hugely lucky to be able to breastfeed my son with little physical trauma. That said, and this is something I don’t think gets spoken about enough, the emotional toll breastfeeding can have on a mother is massive. I basically had no social life for the 18 months. Writing this, it sounds a bit pathetic, self-indulgent even. Isn’t it right that a mother stays with her baby? To an extent yes but I felt, especially during the first six months, so trapped and isolated. I had become a feeding machine. The girl who used to enjoy spending time with friends, going to the gym, running and putting in long hours at work was now pretty much confined to home with just a baby for company. I spent so many hours on my sofa watching various box sets. Again, I feel bad for complaining about this. It probably sounds lovely to a lot of people to have the time to just sit around doing not very much. I remember, when Hugo was about six weeks old, I told my husband that I wanted to go back to work! I was so desperate to get back to normality, and back into the real world. I felt like I was living in a bubble. I felt trapped knowing that I was the only person who could feed this tiny baby (he never took a bottle despite our best efforts). He was 100% dependant on me. I think this was something that my husband struggled with too. He felt side lined and frustrated that he couldn’t do more to help. My husband was amazing though. He couldn’t really help that much with Hugo, other than nappy changes, so his whole focus shifted on to me. Whilst I was busy feeding Hugo, he’d make sure I was fed too. I know that if my husband hadn’t been totally on board with my breastfeeding then I probably would have had to stop ages ago. Plenty of other people encouraged me to stop, including my own mum. Hugo was a terrible sleeper for pretty much the whole first 2 years of life. I’d be up for hours every night feeding and was I completely exhausted. I was told by so many people that the answer was to put him on the bottle. He’d then, apparently, sleep right though. I don’t know why but I didn’t listen, plus I had plenty of friends with poorly sleeping babies who were bottle fed.
I feel I may have lost my way a bit here as I wanted this story to be a positive one. I’ve read so many blog posts and comments about how awful breastfeeding can be and the pressure and guilt that mums face if it doesn’t go well. I wish there were more positive stories as I think so much negativity around it has the power to put a lot of people off even trying.
I can honestly say that if I had my time again, I wouldn’t change a thing and the positives have definitely outweighed the negatives. I think it’s hard to keep perspective when you are in midst of it all; when your tiny baby is cluster feeding around the clock, when you are completely exhausted, your clothes are covered in your own milk and you haven’t left the house in days. As hard as it is though, like everything else when you have a child, it is just a phase. Things will and do get better. I wish there was more information about the realities of breastfeeding. So much emphasis is given to the health benefits (which is obviously a good thing) but I don’t feel like anyone every really told me what really to expect, especially during those first six weeks. I didn’t know what cluster feeding was, I didn’t know about colic or mastitis or that it’s completely normal for babies not to sleep through the night. It was all stuff I learned “on the job.” I honestly think that if mothers were better informed in terms of the realities of breastfeeding and how hard the first few weeks can be when trying to get it established, many would continue to do it for longer. The “getting established” bit is hard but if you can get through that, there are so many benefits.
From my point of view, breastfeeding has been the best choice for me and my baby. I’ve heard some horror stories about how some mums have been treated when they have tried to breastfeed in public. Luckily for me, I never experienced that. Sure I’ve has a few odd looks but that’s about it. I soon realised, that most people don’t really care. They are busy getting on with their own lives. That said, I would never breastfeed Hugo in public at the age he is now as I am sure that would provoke utter outrage. We flew to Australia last year and I breastfed him on the plane to try to get him to relax. That was our last public feed and I have to admit that I felt incredibly uncomfortable doing it. Breastfeeding these days is only ever done at home, at bedtime and in the morning.
The other benefit I found was that of convenience. It is so much easier to whip out a boob than to make a bottle, plus I’ve saved an absolute fortune on bottles and formula! Also, Hugo very rarely gets ill. He has never had to take anti-biotics and when he is unwell it passes quickly. Whether this is down to breastfeeding, who knows. As Hugo’s got older too, I’ve found breastfeeding to be an invaluable tool to help him to calm down if he’s upset. During the terrible twos, I found that a quick feed could completely change his mood. That’s one of the reasons I’ve been a bit reluctant to wean him as I worry how I might deal with a tantrum without my boobs! I also found breastfeeding such a lovely way to bond. I’ve moaned above about being stuck on the sofa for hours when Hugo was small but, on the flip side, some of my most precious memories are of the times Hugo has been in my arms whilst he’s feeding.
So, when are we going to stop? Who knows? I originally said we’d stop when he was 2, then 3, then 4 but now his 4th birthday is looming, I am not so sure. That said, I definitely want to have stopped by the time he starts school in September so I pray that his self-weans by then! Any tips in this regard would be very gratefully received…!