Breastfeeding is considered necessary yet difficult, easier than bottle feeding in the middle of the night, but much harder in the day when one needs to be out and about. Nonetheless, it is a conscious decision every individual mother has the right to make for her baby.
Here’s my own journey of choosing to exclusively breastfeed my son in the first year of his life
Step 1: Cry vehemently every time the baby rejects nursing because, guess what … it’s only the fourth day since you delivered, and there just isn’t any milk there! Also … needlessly consider yourself a big, fat failure each time baby drinks an ounce of formula from bottle (yes, an ounce … no metaphors here.)
Step 2: Keep suggesting that pumping should help because the book and some friends say so, but don’t do anything about it; just sit in misery until your husband literally hands you the pump you bought months ago.
Step 3: Upon pumping 3 drops of colostrum and 6 drops of milk in 45 minutes, instead of deciding this crazy business is not for you, feel a glimmer of hope that your good-for-nothing body that DID just perform a miracle by giving birth, is producing something.
Step 4: Eat strange foods and gulp down milk until the tummy hurts … consume bland porridge and eliminate foods that you think are not helping … eat spoonfuls of cumin seeds … and swallow anything anyone suggests, as long as their sentence ends with “… to increase milk supply.”
Step 5: Persevere in offering baby the breast before the bottle, and cry out loud along with him because he’s crazy hungry but refuses to latch on.
Step 6: Forget staying hydrated through the first 10 days after delivery, and end up in the local hospital Emergency department because of a kidney-stone. Spend the entire day in a dizzy state unable to tend to baby, let alone feed him.
Step 7: Feel yourself fill up completely for the very first time, and proceed to pump. Dance with joy at the 4 ounces expressed per bottle, only to go back to discovering that the wailing baby still only wants the bottle. (Follow up with desperate measures like switching baby from regular quick-flow to Calma teat to reduce the difference between teat and nipple.)
Step 8: Witness baby miraculously switch from bottle to breast in exactly 7 days, and heave a sigh of relief. But wait, just latching on isn’t enough … he still needs a bottle after each feed! (At this point, go back to crying with baby.)
Step 9: Pump 4 to 5 times a day to increase milk supply along with 8 to 12 feeding sessions, and be completely drained in your already sleep-deprived state. Let utter helplessness sink in as baby not only feeds every 1.5 hours but is also a super slow drinker. (What was it that book said to make first time mums feel better …Oh yeah, GOURMET drinker.)
Step 10: Visit multiple pediatricians and lactation consultants to figure out if feeding position, milk supply and your numb state of mind is normal, and end up choosing the one who supports exclusive breastfeeding, blacklisting all the other equally-qualified ones whose views about feeding don’t match yours.
Step 11: Take lactation consultant’s suggestion literally to “feed baby as much as he wants, whenever he wants and as long as he wants” and keep him latched on for more than 4 hours at a stretch until desperation gets the better of you. And … voila! … you feel your first ever milk let-down, and are finally sure that not only is there milk for baby but baby is getting the fatty hind-milk too. (Herr, it’s normal not to know whether to celebrate or cry as it feels like someone is poking needled onto your breasts, neck and head. Every time.
Step 12: Slowly stop pumping until supply is established, wean baby off the bottle and annoy every pro-bottle family member by insisting that you must maintain supply by breastfeeding.
Step 13: Lock yourself up at every party for a feed, reminding yourself that this isolation is far more difficult for you than the concerns of a few disgruntled family members over your absence.
Step 14: Read 12, 345, 765 articles on breastfeeding, exclusive breastfeeding, combination feeding, exclusive pumping and success stories of moms who exclusively breastfeed into the wee hours of the night, until your eyes hurt so bad from the phone light they’ll probably pop any minute.
Step 15: Get mastitis twice, have swollen breasts, with blisters on nipples, experience blocked ducts and have several ultrasounds over those weird cyst-like things you can feel, yet stay psychotically set on continuing to breastfeed.
Step 16: Spend the first three months discussing only one thing with your husband: “my milk is not enough!” … and proceed to cry if postpartum hormones are out of control on a particular day.
Step 17: Hit the 4-month-mark feeling just a little relaxed that baby is perfectly active, super responsive and consistently putting on weight. (Do this despite the constant concerns of family that baby is not “chubby” enough, because in your heart you know he is doing just fine.)
Step 18: Celebrate all the endlessly long nights, the worrying, the crying and the desperation … along with your supportive and loving family and husband, because you just got through all the possible issues that could potentially come in the way of exclusive breastfeeding.
Step 19: Thank God over and over for helping you achieve the biggest parenting goal you had set for yourself because you know that breastmilk provides antibodies, hormones, anti-viruses, growth factors, anti-allergies, anti-parasites and enzymes in addition to the carbs, minerals, proteins, and fat that formula milk provides.
So there … that was my story of wanting to, and succeeding in exclusively breastfeeding my son in the first year of his life. And I’m very proud of it. It takes a lot of will power and consistent hard work to get where you want to be. I sure am glad I didn’t give up, and managed to come this far.
Good luck with your struggle, whatever you choose it to be.
Aizah Ashraf is a former brand manager who is now a stay-at-home mom and ecstatic to be able to follow her passions of writing and photography. She’s a dedicated wife, an enthusiastic entertainer to her toddler as and when required and day-dreams about organizing the house, going to boot camp and shopping for healthy meals.