I’ve never properly appreciated my breasts until now. They were always too small as far as I was concerned. An optimistic B-cup at best. And they were late to the party. Unlike other girls at school who seemed to grow them overnight as they hit their teens, mine didn’t bother showing up until school was almost over and my ‘nerdy, teachers daughter’ status was well and truly cemented.
Then I fell pregnant. Wow. Just bloody wow. From a B-cup to a DD-cup in a matter of months. No surgery, no cost. I was over the moon. AJ was too. We went bra shopping and when I saw those two D’s on the tag I squealed with the excitement only those of the flat-chest-society can genuinely understand. After Ziggy was born and my milk came in, they got even bigger! I was in love. I’d admire them in the bathroom mirror, turning from side to side, marveling at cleavage I’d only ever dreamed of.
They were great. And they were full of milk. So much so that I had to, for the first time in my life, wear a bra to bed, and breastpads too. I’d still wake up with big wet circles on the sheets, but I didn’t care, because, at 30 years old, I finally had boobs. Wet sheets was a small price to pay. They were amazing, these bosoms of mine. They had grown, they were producing milk, they fed my child every time he was hungry, even if that seemed to be every minute of the day.
But, it seemed like people would question their effectiveness. For some reason they found it hard to understand that my breasts were doing their job and feeding our child. They would doubt them, second guess them, and truth be told, it got bloody annoying.
I remember when Ziggy was a few weeks, old, someone asked me how he was sleeping. ‘Is he sleeping through the night?’ they polity enquired. I laughed, I may have even snorted. ‘Sleeping through the night? Well yes, he goes to sleep in the evening and he wakes up in the morning . . he just also wakes up every 2 hours or so along the way’. ‘Oh’ they responded, ‘maybe he’s hungry. Are you sure he’s getting enough to eat?’
Such an innocent statement. One not intended to cause harm, but one that I am sure every new mum hears and, for a lot of mums out there, a question that plants that niggling seed of doubt into your mind. You start to worry. Is he hungry? Is he feeding enough? Am I making enough milk? Oh hell. Am I starving my child?
Especially in those first couple of weeks, when it feels like all you are doing is feeding feeding feeding . . . a question like ‘are you sure he’s not still hungry’ can play havoc on the already exhausted mind of a new mum. I was lucky that I had found information to allay the worries I started to have. I had learnt about the feeding habits of a newborn in my antenatal classes, so I knew that at a day old, his tiny tummy was only the size of a small marble, and it grew as he grew.
Thanks to my midwife I knew that there was colostrum in my breasts before my milk ‘came in’ and that even if it took a few days for my boobs to produce milk, the colostrum was what he needed until then. I knew he would feed lots, it made sense. While it didn’t take long to fill up his belly, it didn’t take long to empty it either!
As Ziggy grew, the questions changed. ‘Are you sure he’s not hungry’ became ‘Oh, you must be spacing out his feeds by now . . aren’t you? You need a routine! You need a schedule! You need to time his feeding’. And I started to worry again. Was I meant to be scheduling his feeds? Every three hours? Ziggy fed ALL the time. Sometimes he would go half an hour between feeds, sometimes one hour, sometimes longer. Was I doing something wrong? Should we be stretching out feeds like all my friends who were going to the Family Centre were being advised to do?
It would have been very easy to doubt and second guess the choices I was making around Ziggy and his feeding. There were days I did, but AJ was my biggest supporter and he would quickly assure me we were doing nothing wrong.
My ‘feed him when he’s hungry, whenever that may be’ style of parenting raised a few eyebrows. I was told by well-meaning people that I needed to start spacing his meals. That I needed to ‘top him up’ in the evenings. That if I didn’t, he would get into a habit of ‘snacking’ and how could I ever hope that he would sleep.
When Ziggy started his ‘I’m going to scream the house down for hours every night because I did not want to go to sleep’ carry on, the advice all followed the same common theme. ‘He must be hungry’, I was told. ‘You’ve run out of milk by the evenings. You need to top him up. He’ll sleep better if you give him a bottle’.
Well I’ll be honest, there were nights when my boobs were soft, when I had tried him on one side, then the other and he still wasn’t going to sleep, he still was crying and carrying on that I started to think. . are they right? Have I run out of milk? Did he drink it all during the day and now there’s none left?
So one night, when the screaming wasn’t stopping, we prepared a bottle of expressed breastmilk and offered it to Ziggy.
He didn’t want a bar of it. Pursed his lips, shook his head and kept right on crying. We did this at least 3 times, and tried different bottles and different nipples, before I got sick of pouring refused milk down the sink (I had no idea you could put it in the bath at that stage – all that beautiful milk wasted). And so I figured, well he’s not hungry, it’s just a phase and we just have to work through it.
This was also around the time we found out he was lip and tongue tied. While I had plenty of milk, he was having to work super hard to get it, so feeding was exhausting for him. We had no idea about tongue ties, it wasn’t until I got a nasty case of mastitis that we put two and two together. Getting that fixed made a world of difference, both to my comfort and to Ziggys evenings.
For a while there, the questions died down. His tongue was fixed, he wasn’t screaming in the evenings. Yeah he slept like shit, but he was a baby and much of what I read assure me his ‘shit’ sleep was actually normal for his age.
And then, at around 4 months old came the inevitable . . are you giving him solids yet? Everyone wanted to feed him. I had to stop my uncle giving him pizza one night. Pizza? To a 4 month old baby?! Frustrating.
And when I would say ‘we’re not bothering with food until he’s 6 months old’, people would always question that decision. ‘Oh I started my baby on solids at 3 months’ they would say. ‘It does no harm’. ‘Oh I started mine at 4 months’ another would say, he’s a growing boy, he’s hungry.’ Gah! Yeah, because if your baby is hungry or needs to put on weight, mashed pear, carrots or apple are really going to do that for him. Let’s just cut down on the nutrient dense breastmilk, and swap it for food we eat when dieting. Cause that makes sense.
We ignored all the well intended advice we were being given regarding Ziggys feeding. Thanks to the information I had at hand, I was confident that my breasts were doing the job they were created to do, which was feeding our baby.
Short sleeps and frequent waking was to be expected. Evening irritability was normal. Feeding him on demand, well it just made sense. Even with all the pain I was experiencing in those early weeks, the thought of spacing out his feeds didn’t sit right with me. I eat when I’m hungry, why couldn’t Ziggy?
The main things that were helping me be staunch in my refusal to believe my milk was ‘drying up’ or that I was ‘not producing enough’ were the signs I was getting from my boy. He was gaining weight. He put on 30g in the first week of his life! He was healthy, he was happy, and he had a good half dozen or so wet nappies every day. Liquid in, liquid out right.
Since Ziggy was born I read a lot of material about breastfeeding. About how soft breasts are no indication of low supply. The more a baby feeds, the more milk your body produces, it’s a supply and demand issue. It’s totally normal for a baby to wake up many times during the night. The amount I was able to get in a pumping session (sweet fuck all by the way) was not an indication of the amount of milk Ziggy took at a feed, as the way a baby empties a breast and the way a pump empties a breast are totally different.
But still, the questions and comments were troubling. I got them from everyone. It was as if people found it hard to accept that my milk was enough. And it was always the first thing people bought up as being the ‘cause’ of whatever phase Ziggy was going through. Oh he’s not sleeping? He must be hungry. Oh his naps are short? He must be hungry. Oh he’s unsettled? He must be hungry. Oh, he’s putting things in his mouth? He must be hungry. Oh he’s looking at your food, are you sure he’s not hungry.
Ummmmm, no. How about, ‘oh he’s a baby and everything he is doing is normal’. Why did no one say that? Why did no one say; Oh his sleeping is sporadic? That is totally normal. Oh he’s unsettled in the evenings? That is totally normal. Oh he puts things in his mouth? That too is totally normal.
Why was it just assumed that he wasn’t getting enough milk, that he needed topping up, that he needed food or formula?
I don’t know. But I found it hard to hear. I wanted to yell at people to stop with the ‘he’s hungry’ comments. It really frustrated me. It didn’t help that he wasn’t a big baby. No chubby cheeks or chunky thighs. But he came from two tall slim parents, so what did people expect? He was fine. He was meeting all the milestones he was meant to meet. My midwife was happy, my Tamariki Ora lady was happy. AJ and I were happy, and Ziggy, well Ziggy was just perfect.
For Ziggy, breastmilk remained his main source of nutrition well past 6 months old. Even with all we had been through – the mastitis, tongue tie, lip tie, shit sleep, 3 surgeries and all the crap advice that came with those, my milk was enough for him. He was over a year old when the amount of food he ate started to overtake the amount of milk he had. Which I have since found can be very normal for many babies and toddler, especially when you follow the baby led weaning principals.
Looking back, I am so thankful that I persisted. That I knew where to turn to for advice. That I had such a supportive partner picking me up when things got overwhelming. It’s easy to doubt and second guess yourself. There is so much outdated information still passed on, and it can be hard to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Edited 7th August 2017:
Ziggy is currently 22 months old, and I am 33 weeks pregnant. The interest in my mammary glands, which had died down, ramped back up tenfold when it was made public we were expecting our second child. All the questions came at me. ‘What will Ziggy do?’, ‘Will you wean?’, ‘You can’t feed both of them can you?’, ‘What about your newborn?’.
Well, I’ll tell you right now, breastfeeding through pregnancy is a journey an a half! But, that’s a journey for another blog. So stay tuned.
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