The Battle Of The Breast

When a friend endures a pregnancy with hypermesis, bed rest, and prenatal depression, all you can do is be there for support and pray things improve after the birth. Like the majority of mothers, she had her heart set on breastfeeding, and having worked as a Midwife, she certainly had the knowledge to make it work. Here’s the story from one of my dearest friends, Sarah…

“I was a midwife for 5 years and I naively believed I’d sail through pregnancy and motherhood. It turns out pregnancy did not suit me, so let’s start there.

I suffered with hypermesis throughout my pregnancy and was signed off work and put on bed rest. Take that and add a history of depression, a splash of relationship woes with living alone and it’s a rather lethal combo.

My stress levels and emotions were high. I was determined I would make up for what I felt was my ‘downfall’ as a mother through pregnancy when my baby was finally earthside.

When our little Finn arrived, I was euphoric. He came out and took to the breast as though he’d read the manual. Also having trained others on positioning and attachment we were a dream team, right?

Ever heard of making too much milk? Well, that’s my thing apparently. Hyper-lactation is the technical term. Couple that with a baby with severe reflux and it’s a milk massacre of a different degree.

Two children’s ward stints later, I was exhausted and my poor baby was still prolifically vomiting after most feeds. It was disheartening and devastating. I persevered regardless, but started dreading every feed.

Then around 4 months I hit a brick wall. The big wall of depression. Oh, old friend – there you are. I can’t say I’ve missed you.

Unfortunately, this is a state I’m familiar with and I was advised to up my medications back to pre-pregnancy levels and give Finn reflux formula. Bottle feeding was an idea I’d flirted with a few times, but never followed through on.

The decision to switch to formula and bottle feeding is an agonising one, and one I felt I had no right to do. I felt as though I needed a solid reason for my decision. An inability to feed or something. It seemed doctors advise, a baby with severe reflux and a depressed mother just didn’t seem good enough reasons to justify it to me. I felt selfish.

Some soul searching and counselling later, it turns out I felt the only way I was able to be a good Mum was through breastfeeding. My mind had fixated on this and was ignoring all the other ways I was mother to Finn.

The stigma surrounding feeding enrages me. Feeding is such a small part of motherhood, yet I made it the biggest for 4 months at detriment to my own mental health, for what? Do you think my baby cares? Of course not, he’s just hungry.

The most important thing you can do for your baby is love them and feed them, whichever way suits. Breast is best? Nah, fed is best.

I may now have boobs fit to burst and cabbage in my bra, however I also now have a happy contented baby. He is no longer sick and there is no need for towels surrounding us at every feed to mop up. I no longer dread feeds and instead can’t wait to look into my baby boys big blue eyes as he gets happily milk drunk. I don’t know why I didn’t do it sooner.

So if it helps anyone – look after yourself. Your baby needs a happy Mum, and you need to be happy for your baby.”

My darling Sarah, I watched and tried to comfort as you battled on. Soldiering through one of the most difficult pregnancies imaginable. How magical it was to witness the sparkle return to your eyes with the arrival of your precious boy.

As the days passed, the cocoon of newborn peace and harmony started to unravel. The hours of fear, the moments of despair, the tears. All the while you maintained strength for your baby, even when you felt at your weakest.

I am immensly proud of you for getting the help you needed and for realising that your worth and ability to mother has nothing to do with breastfeeding.

No matter how many times people remind mothers of the importance of self-care, the very nature of becoming a mother is to become subserviant to your new baby. You are happy to make them the only focus… until the focus shifts to unhappiness. And then that brick wall.

The hard reality is that successful breastfeeding is pure biological luck. Now it’s time to rebuild my angel. You already have the solid foundations of devoted love; each day he will thrive, each day YOU will thrive.

This is where your battle ends.