I have been through some hardships in the maternity phase of my life. Giving birth was hard. Recovery after labour was quite hard. Postpartum hypertension was awful, to say the least, however, breastfeeding, I would say, by far outweighed all hardships. Not only was it hard; it was strangely weird too. Despite all the negatives, breastfeeding is hands down, my most favourite mom experience of all time.
To begin with, attaching a helpless little human, I had never met before to my breast and feeding it, was the strangest thing I had ever done. Yet the human latched on, with the strange ease, entitlement, confidence, and skill. I do believe, they could have at least asked me for a date first and tried to get to know me better at least, before getting so up close and intimate with me.
I was almost embarrassed by my lack of knowledge and experience. I found myself glancing around the room feeling awkward and grossly unprepared? All I knew about breastfeeding was that other women did it. How they did it, was an even greater mystery to me. I just remember being teary-eyed and whispering, ‘to all you women who have done this before, you are my heroes’, from my hospital bed. The fact of the matter was; I was in the deep end, learning to swim. Life had to go on!
As my human suckled softly and quietly, I expected to feel a withdrawal sensation flowing with the same rhythm as the baby’s suckling, and yet, there was nothing. On the night I met my firstborn, I learnt three things:
1. If I could, I should have been better prepared for this
2. No milk was coming out, which scared me
3. A scared me, worsened my inability to produce milk
That night, I was fortunate to encounter a wonderful Nurse Aid in the maternity hospital, who patiently schooled me on the above lessons. I thought, as soon as the baby was born, they would obviously be hungry, after all that hard work of being created, they had to eat a hearty meal, wipe their mouth and sleep. In my view, milk was just supposed to be there. After all, it took nine full months stitching this person together. I had no milk, yet others on our floor were already leaking milk from day one. I was amazed by how my baby lasted 2 full days without a meal! My husband and I were starting to panic and I was getting stressed. My milk only came in on the third day! I was thankful to the attending paediatricians for helping me through this milk crisis. For both children, I needed help.
In those few days of comprehending what was going on and learning to feed my child, I realized that breastfeeding is not for the faint-hearted. It has a whole physiology and science to it, that I could have never imagined.
Who knew that feeding out of one breast, also triggered milk to come out of the second one as well? Who knew that latching was a science that needed to be mastered in order to feed your child well? Who knew there are signs of a good or bad latch? I could have never guessed there are side effects of poor latching? I never knew that breastfeeding would hurt so much in the beginning, but for the love of your baby, you could actually imagine the pain away.
These are all questions I had to find the answers to, in my search and pursuit of conquering the elusive breastfeeding warrior. I soon found this breastfeeding app for health practitioners (iPhone and Android ), which helped me through the basics. Like, all mothers, I wondered if my child was getting enough? The app, put me at ease with indicators of whether or not breastfeeding was going on well. Through this app, I was able to theoretically support others, as well as share my experiences with them.
I struggled with a good latch and suffered for it with bruised and sore nipples. Pictorial guidance from the app, helped me figure out how to latch my baby and minimize my pain while reducing the amount of air my baby was swallowing. Just know, breastfeeding will always be hard in the beginning. Honestly, your twins never had that much attention outside of feeding.
I soon learnt about what it meant to exclusively breastfeed and appreciated why breastfed babies have small frequent meals. When you finally figure out the size of the baby’s stomach at each stage of growth, you’ll start to appreciate why knowing meal sizes is important. It was so interesting to discover through wider reading that milk is produced on a supply and demand basis. The more you feed, the more milk is produced. I also learnt that babies are born with an open digestive system to increase the surface area for milk absorption, which in turn increases the surface area for bacterial absorption when good hygiene is not observed. This is the reason behind exclusive feeding, and why feeding of solids should be delayed.
I loved the journey of figuring out which food increased my milk production, and how certain foods had adverse effects on my baby. For example; musanganiswa (sadza and beef mixed with veges) always left me with engorged breasts. It was fun to monitor my milk supply, when I felt we didn’t have enough milk, I would make it a point to feast on this miracle dish. I also just really love it. Then, I noted when I ate beans , my babies would struggle with colic or excess gas. So, I cut any gas inducing foods out of my diet for a while.
One very important lesson I learnt was, stress has a negative effect on your ability to feed your baby. The active hormone in breastfeeding is oxytocin. It is the same hormone that causes immediate love for your baby straight after delivery, it is also the same hormone that is released during an orgasm and the same hormone released when breastfeeding to cause your milk to 'let down'. It literally is the love hormone that makes everything feel good. Stress suppresses this hormone. Therefore, as you feed, stress less, enjoy that wonderful baby in your arms, and smile.
In hindsight, I am thankful for all the challenges, because they fueled my desire to know more and do better by my children. I may not have been a champion provider, however, I had enough for my child. In my next installments on breastfeeding, I will walk you through how I navigated breastfeeding each child for 2 years while going to work and how I weaned them at home.
I am happy to say, while I did not have a lactation specialist on hand at the time of my children’s birth, I got to discover a local practitioner in Zimbabwe. Katinka does both home and virtual consultations and supports first time and seasoned families with breastfeeding challenges. If you want to find out more about her and her business, you can WhatsApp, check her website and Facebook on the links provided. She is also amongst us, therefore you can engage with her in the comments. Katinka can also read Shona.
In closing, mother’s do all they can for their baby, even if it means not breastfeeding them. The fact of the matter is, breastfeeding is a choice, a decision to nurse or not nurse your child for their best interests. It is no one’s right to call out a mom who chooses not to. She is doing the best she can for her family.
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