I have woken up for the fourth time tonight to nurse my baby, and I know tomorrow morning I will feel like the back end of a bus.
Don’t get me wrong, I have loved those quiet and sweet moments, nestling my babies. But so help me God, I have had it with this breastfeeding business.
My firstborn son, who is now 2-and-a-half, was mixed fed till he was one. My second son has been exclusively breastfed since he was born about seven months ago.
Breastfeeding was not easy for me, right from the start. Before my first son was born, I remember discussing the issue with my husband. My mother had warned me that she had serious problems breastfeeding, opting finally to formula feed my brothers and I. I had assumed, therefore, that this was going to be the case with me.
I told my husband that I was going to try my best, but if it did not work, then so be it. My preoccupation at the time was on the imminent labour. At the back of my mind, however, I did think that formula would be a possibility in the feeding of my child. I remember feeling okay about it. Relaxed, even.
The Realities of Breastfeeding
Little did I know what a total mindfuck my breastfeeding journey would be. I did not know how this was going to affect me so much and turn me into an emotional, blubbering, bitter zombie.
I would resent my husband, who slept through pretty much everything, but especially through a baby cryfest at 4am.
My breast pump would be a source of much hate – you stupid, loud pump with your stupid fiddly parts and your stupid bottles and stupid freezer bags. And oh, you sterilisers, damn you shitty sterilisers with your high and mighty ‘killing 99.9% of harmful germs’ crap.
Because I had such difficulty at the start, I had to resort to formula milk early on while waiting for the milk to come in. (I had no idea about colostrum or how ‘milk came in days after’). This would make me feel like a failure right from the get go, and result in me being extra obsessed about breastfeeding my baby. I was so determined that I went from feeding my baby 100% formula milk to 100% breastmilk. Only mums who have gone through the whole breastfeeding melodrama would know how difficult that is.
The Pain, Pain, Pain
Mixed feeding meant I had the worst of both worlds. I had to endure the never-ending chase for good supply, while dealing with the horrid world of pumping, bottles, milk powder and so on and so forth.
I had two tongue-tied babies – which means they could not latch properly, therefore resulting in excruciating pain and bloody, raw nipples. The agony was worse than labour, I remember thinking incredulously – and I have a pretty strong threshold for pain, having had two natural births without a lick of pain relief.
My mother watched me sadly as I cried when it hurt. Sometimes I would hold the baby right before a latch, pause, and take a deep breath, grimacing before the impending anguish. Mum would softly say to me ‘You don’t have to do this, let’s just use formula’.
I don’t know what happened to the me who said I wouldn’t torture myself about breastfeeding. Yours truly became the least chill person about breastfeeding. I would burst into tears talking to midwives, lactation experts, health visitors, even random strangers. I would spend quiet hours in the night wondering how to relieve blocked ducts and nipple blisters. Nursing on all fours, vibrating toothbrush on blocked ducts, popping blebs – you name it, I did it.
My husband was surprised at how intense I became over the whole thing – he kept reminding me gently that formula milk was fine and he would support me in anything I wanted to do. But my brain was somehow wired to this notion of success – this pressure to nourish my babies through my own mammaries. When anybody told me about how ‘formula was fine’, I imagined stabbing them repeatedly in the forehead. YOU ARE NOT BEING HELPFUL, GO AWAY. This was me, furious with my perfectly helpful and kind husband and mother.
The Lactative Prison Sentence
Why did I do this to myself? After having gone through all that with my firstborn, I was more ready with my second son. I knew what to do now. It would be cool, things would be better.
And they were, to an extent. I knew how to flag up tongue tie faster, and get the release procedure done in a flash. The pain at the start was still horrific, but I cried like shit persevered through it all.
My second son had the benefit of being breastfed since he was born. But that has resulted in its own set of problems. He now comfort feeds through the night, preferring little irritating ‘snacks’ every two hours or so. What is this nonsense, son? This is the thanks I get for supplying you with natural boob juice all this while? For never leaving you for more than a few hours so I can keep you alive? This is what I get for restraining myself from drinking my body weight in wine?
This evening I ranted to my husband and close friends about how I was going to put him on formula milk so I could at least finally release my body from this lactative prison sentence. The only thing that is keeping me breastfeeding is the great loathing I have for the world of bottles and feeding paraphernalia I will have to deal with if I choose to go with the formula route.
Different Mummies, Different Feeding
Having gone through everything and all the ups and downs, I have great empathy for a wide range of mums going through a wide range of feeding options.
To the mummies who have had a lovely and easy breastfeeding experience, you have my admiration and envy, now go away! (Smiley face)
To the mummies who have had a tough time at the start but continued on, well done you for trying so hard for your babies. I can only fist bump you in camaraderie, and hope you don’t judge me if I ditch it all soon.
To the mummies who turned to formula and feel guilty for not having breastfed your children, life is too short for such guilt. You love your babies just as much as the next mum. Don’t let anyone tell you different.
For the Mummies in Tears
But this is especially for the mummies who have tried so hard to nurse your babies, but had to turn to formula. Or the mummies who are agonising so much at the thought of possibly turning to formula.
I see your tears, and I feel your pain. You have tried or are trying your best, and it is making you feel depressed, distressed and helpless.
Do not fret about using formula – it is not the demon monster some people make it out to be. My firstborn was a mixed fed baby and is thriving. I feel a certain debt to formula milk because it allowed me to help feed and nourish my baby while we worked on improving breastfeeding.
So long as you are caring and loving your child the best way you know how, fed is best.
Breastfeeding can be wonderful, but even as a breastfeeding mum, I can say that my love for my children is not defined by whether I nursed them or not. Fed is best.
And even as I wake to another day thinking ‘Okay, maybe I am not done with breastfeeding yet’, falling into that guilty-mum vortex again, I see you now, and I assure you that it will all be okay. Fed is best.
By Laych Koh
Laych Koh is the editor-in-chief of makchic.com