Not that we need a euphemism for “breastfeeding”. But E calling her beloved mama milk “Mimi”, in her raspy-but-soft voice, is the cutest thing ever, really. And right upfront – because I can literally hear you all think “but… how oooold is E again…?” when I write about “breastfeeding: E ist currently 18 months plus a couple of days old. And yes, we are still breastfeeding, and loving it (ever so unfashionably). Against all odds. Some might find “long term nursing” revolting. Other mamas might be inspired. So here’s our story. Captured and supported with some beautiful pictures, curtesy of the wonderful Alex of Glowing Tribe.
To breastfeed or not to breastfeed
Before E was born, I didn’t have a clue about breastfeeding. A handful of my friends were already with babies, and of course I followed their stories, with interest. But you have your own head and own ideas – plus every pregnancy and birth story is different anyway. So you don’t compare and you do things your own way, intuitively. But I guess you still get influenced. And most of my mama friends did (try to) breastfeed, at least for a little while. Some didn’t from the beginning. Or decided, after 3-4 days, that it wasn’t for them. Funny thing is: I wasn’t stuck on any fixed ideas on how to feed my baby, at all. And I was pretty much indifferent towards breastfeeding. I figured if it worked then I’d love to try for a while. No more than 4 or 6 months though, heaven fobid. [Side note: It never occurred to me though that after those 4 or 6 months, baby still needs feeding, and what that actually means if you wean by 4 months…] What does happen after 4 months of breastfeeding? Weaning and formula? I repeat: as with so many things as a new parent, I simply did not have a clue. Not only about breastfeeding or feeding a baby in general, but about babies in general.
Proper help – right after birth
So on that magical day in December 2016 when E was born, I pretty much relied on the hospital’s medical staff, nurses, doulas and lactation consultants to guide me. I did choose the hospital (Unispital Zürich) for it being known as “breastfeeding friendly” and providing “breastfeeding friendly starts”. They briefed me beforehand that they will try to help establish a good breastfeeding relationship for baby and mama, from the beginning (of course with the parents’ consent). Which meant they would be helping the newborn latch on, correctly. And also meant they wouldn’t be giving a pacifier. Nor feed expressed milk from the bottle or, let alone, formula. They called it “nipple confusion”. As little I knew about breastfeeding, I somehow believed in those beliefs – and readily commited to this “no pacifier, no bottle, no nipple shield” strategy. Maybe a bit too religiously even, – given that to this day we haven’t gotten E to drink from the bottle, once! But that’s taking things ahead, we’ll be talking about this later. So the thing is: from the minute I held our tiny E in my arms, we were in expert medical hands – and both enjoyed expert help and guidance in regard to breastfeeding. This seems like the making of our breastfeeding story, really. Especially as I was so clueless, I consider myself so lucky to have gotten so much precious input. I have seen many a mama giving up on breastfeeding entirely after a couple of days only as they haven’t had proper advice. Help which – especially in the first minutes, hours and days – is so crucial to establish the right breastfeeding techniques. For the record: Many mamas have asked me since what I did to maintain so much milk and to be able to be on such a long breastfeeding journey. Some asked out of curiosity but others for the lack of proper help they’ve had themselves. So yes, the help is crucial and it was the making of our breastfeeding story. I totally believe in this. And am so grateful, clueless how I was, I thus got a chance to breastfeed for so long.
Newborns are amazing, because they do all things instinctively! I remember lying there on the hospital bed, with a minute-old E lying naked on my chest, touched by her efforts and endurance at finding and sucking on my nipples. That’s also when the wonderful midwives took over, and they did it with love and strength, alike. Firstly, they placed E’s head in the right position, on my breast, carefully, to give her a chance to find the nipples, on her own, and maybe get a drop of two of the precious Colostrum. While I was speechless and simply taking it all in, in awe, they were cheering her on, like cheerleaders on a big foorball game, carefully watching her from the side of my bed. They squealed with delight whenever she found the nipple. In hindsight this was actually the cutest thing, two fellow mamas cheering on your little one and encouraging it to drink and latch on, over and over again. I remember thinking E looked like a naked little baby mole, with her closed, sticky little puffy pink eyes and tiny mouth, too, haha.
So we practiced and practiced, E and me. I let her latch on pretty much all of the time, to get the milk flowing. Eventually, my engorgement happened on the second day, after a rather frightful first night with E having a “thirst fever” up to 39 degrees. I didn’t have enough milk yet to feed her, and she was angry and thirsty. Her little suqishy head red and hot from the efforts. How I stayed so calm back then is a miracle to me. I just know I wandered the hallways of the hospital, all dark and deserted in the nocturnal, wee hours, in my hospital pyjamas, with E perched savely in her tiny hospital cot, wheeling her along next to me. Even through the fever, the staff told me to keep my cool and to trust in her, in nature, really. Told me to be patient. And I trusted, blindly. So we did not feed her with a bottle, we did not soothe her with a pacifier. We let her latch on and suck on and on. The next morning, my milk came in and I was able to express a little. We fed her with a spoon.
Practice makes perfect
It’s true, also for breastfeeding. Practice does make perfect. Just as it takes two to tango, it takes two in this, what I like to call “dance”. The first minutes are crucial – but it takes time to perfect a new skill. E did drink like a champion from the beginning. But I guess here I also have to mention the aspect of “shere luck”. I probably belong to those “lucky” women who have an “ideal physical disposition” or such (don’t ask me why or how exactly, and sorry if these are not the correct medical terms, too), in terms of breastfeeding friendly nipples and breasts. That and the fact that E drank so beautifully certainly didn’t hurt, because I never had sore nipples and I was never in pain. Through the course of the first days and weeks, first at the hospital and then at home, accompanied by a midwife occasionally who came by, we continued to practice breastfeeding. Those peaceful moments were sacred to me. I let E drink whenever she was fidgety, showed her (cute!) hunger-signs (opening her mouth wide and making funny moves with her tongue, stretching her tiny fists in the air, yawning) or cried. Ha, I know it sounds kind of awful, and many a mama I know was on a strict feeding schedule. We didn’t follow any schedule, just our guts and intuition. I let E feed on demand as we were told to. I trusted blindly, still, and also started to develop some kind of “breastfeeding mama intuition”. I remember being so proud of E for her champion drinking skills! I always stroked her head and cheeks and said “you are such a good girl for not hurting me, and for drinking so peacefully and strongly! Thank you for being so gentle to me!”. I believe the way we talk to our babies makes all the difference, any maybe she heard me and was all the more gentle for it.
Disclaimer / sel-love
So, yes, up to date our breastfeeding journey isn’t one of pain and hard work. It came to us naturally. We were blessed! But do read on, because there are some turns of events, really, ahaha. That being said… All mamas are awesome. Every mama gives her best, every day. We are all different, and everyone has a different story. I don’t mean to say only breastfeeding is good. Feeding your child – any which way – and dedicating our time, energy and love to them, that is love. And love comes in all shapes and sizes, breasts or bottles. If you haven’t been able to or have chosen not to brastfeed, then that’s okay. You are no less a loving mama and without a doubt you are the best mama for your little bub. We are enough.
To be continued…
As I realised I have so much to say about breastfeeding, this post will be continued! In the second post I’ll share why we continued to breastfeed “for so long” (i.e. to date), the pros and cons of (so called – though I hate the term) “longterm” breastfeeding and the associated ups and downs.
Last but definitely not least: Special thanks to The Glowing Tribe
Alex of The Glowing Tribe, for capturing these moments so beautifully. No words can describe your work, lady! You made us feel so comfortable throughtout the session. Which is I guess super important for a nursing session – as it’s such an intimate act. Your pictures help me share our story. It means a lot to be able to talk about breastfeeding. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, lovely Alex! If you are in the market for lovely pictures of your tribe, then don’t hesitate to contact Alex. She’s so sweet and talented and such a professional. Working with her is lots of fun, guaranteed.