Super Sonic + UnFunny Files

Breastfed

My daughter, my beautiful sunshine baby daisy girl; she weaned herself from the breast a few days ago. She is fourteen months old.

It sounds self-possessed, but my daughter's weaning happened so quietly, so quickly, and I was so distracted by the hum of everyday life, I barely even noticed. I didn't pay any special attention to her last feed. But, by some fortunate glitch of the mind, I do remember- I'll always remember- nibbling at the fingertips of her tiny, chubby hands the last time I fed her, her giggling and squealing, shoving baby fat hands into my mouth for mum to do that again.

My sweet, delightful princess. She was so easy to feed, unless you consider those few weeks between reflux being appearing and being medicated, and I barely remember them, so they just don't stand to be counted. She fed straight away after birth, both breasts, and really hasn't stopped eating since. A happy, confident little girl, rarely distressed enough to need the warmth and closeness of a breastfeed to comfort her. She sleeps well, voluntarily dropping her midnight feed. Then, as I frantically chase her three year old brother to scoop and manhandle him back into his bed again, she falls asleep, three nights in a row, with no quiet, warm bedtime feed from mum.

And that is it. It is over.

Breastfeeding had become so much a part of my life, such a natural thing for me to do, that I only noticed it for it's absence. Activities you've accepted, habitual and ritualistic, that you enjoy; you lose your gratitude for them and they become another flicker of the mundane. Changing nappies. Preparing food. Washing clothes. Nourishing a child.

My son, my first child, he weaned at the same age my daughter is now. With my son, feeding was far more intense- he has far more intense personality than she. At almost three, he would happily go back to the breast, and has requested it more than once. No, thanks. After nine months of pregnancy, fourteen months of breastfeeding, then another nine months gestating and another fourteen months lactating, stacked one on top of the either like weights on my sexuality, my femininity, my independence, I am shamefully overjoyed to have my body all to myself again. To donate blood again, if I choose to. To be inked again, if I should choose to. My body is own. Without having to incubate. To fatten no one but myself. And my body is being selfish with it's kilojoules, now they belong to no one but me, and is stockpiling them on my hips, my thighs, my belly.

Everywhere but my deflated, drooping breasts.

While feeding my daughter was a pleasure, feeding my son was torment and torture. He wouldn't feed, at all, for 24 long hours after his birth. A lactation consultant introduced us to nipple shields, a small, thin shield of plastic to cover the nipple and desentitise the hot shards of pain that shot through my chest. A God-send. The only thing that allowed me to keep breastfeeding my son.

But, sometimes, I wonder if those nipple shields were a curse as well. I breastfed both my children exclusively, not a drop of formula. But my son should have almost certainly had a bottle of formula, at one stage in those first horrid, incapacitated weeks. Weeks when I hadn't slept for more than consecutive hours since my son was born. When I was sobbing every time I fed my baby, from the agonising pain and the pure exhaustion; when I was kicking my legs in agony as he latched; weeping at the thought of the next two-hourly feed.

In a perfect world, everyone would breastfeed. Everyone would have seen women breastfeeding, everywhere,all their lives. If a mother couldn't produce milk, if their baby wouldn't latch, they had access to human milk, to a wet nurse, to a lactating family friend who would happily feed their baby for them.

That doesn't happen anymore. That tribal community is gone, and there is only so much we can do to replace it. Some women- most women- have never seen a mother, up close, breastfeeding her child.

Everyone has seen someone give a baby a bottle.

Formula, it's a necessary evil to the world of breastfeeding mums. Women have to work. New mothers have little to no access to the support the need, with feeding their babies and so many other little things, little things that matter so much when you are suddenly, awe-inquiringly in total responsibility of the health and well being of a tiny, fragile life. We have such a long way to go, re-establishing breastfeeding as a norm.

Formula, In Real Life, for mums who can't feed, or don't want to, it's a blessing. Breast may best, but In Real Life, what's best is not always what's right.

I don't know what would have happened, had I relented to my husband's requests and given our first baby a formula feed. I would have slept, perhaps. Would he have ended up a formula-fed baby? Perhaps. Would I have had issues with that, held resentment toward breast feeding mums in general? Knowing my own mind as I do- most probably.

But- isn't there always a 'but', when it comes to our babies?- at the same time my son should have, logically, become formula-fed, in the midst of the blackness of severe post natal depression, breastfeeding saved me. Breastfeeding was the only thing I was doing right, the only thing I was any good at it.

So what if I couldn't wrap this tight enough that he didn't kick himself undone, or calm his constant screaming, or tape the disposable nappies into tight little balls to pop into the bin? I was feeding him, I was providing for him, and that was all that mattered.

I was feeding him, so I must be his mother. Even if I didn't feel like a mother at all, even if sometimes I felt nothing for this baby, sometimes I wanted nothing more than to leave the house alone and come back and have him asleep, I was feeding him. So I must be his mother.

I got lucky. And stubborn. And possibly a bit stupid. But we made it, in the end. Fourteen months of feeding my son. Then a pregnant food-source, a newly discovered ability to walk and a virus that dehydrated me and sucked my milk almost dry, and just a little bit of encouragement from me, and it our time breast feeding was over.

Then, however, I knew there was another baby on the way. Another baby to feed, to hold close. To sniff the talcy, milky smell of. And the knowledge that breastfeeding, this time, would be easier.

Breastfeeding is a learned skill, not an intuitive one. But it is almost like riding a bike. Once you know how, you know how.

This time, there is no other baby on the way. No tiny, curly newborn to clutch at my skin, to cry high pitched and desperately and cause my nipples to tingle and my breasts to leak sticky yellow colostrum. No smell of milk and softness, the flowery talc of warm skin pressed against my own.

My beautiful baby girl. It's been so lovely, feeding her, giving to her, have her slurp and suck the life from me, absorb the best of me through my milk. I will miss it. The feeling of being needed, of being necessary, of being loved in such a complete way. The exquisite sweetness of a tiny child, falling asleep on the breast, your nipple slipping from the corner of their mouth as they sigh and their bodies relax and flop heavily in your arms.

Breastfeeding is so powerful, so empowering, for children, for women, in so many more aspects than physical health. I'm so proud of myself, of my body, for what it's done, for the beautiful children it's grown.

But to have my body to myself again... it feels like healing. Replenishing. Taking a much needed recuperation from the simplistic yet intense business of growing, of nourishing. The act of feeding tiny lives.

Boobies, bump, food, happy, health, love, relax, stuff that makes me happy, and more:

Breastfed + UnFunny Files