The adventures (and misadventures) of breastfeeding

June 22, 2017

I have mixed feelings about addressing maternity matters on the blog. First, because I’m not an expert and don’t want to become one or give any maternity advice. And second, because this subject is very personal and I’m constantly debating with myself about how much to unveil in a forum as public as a blog.

After weighing the pros and cons, I chose to share. Because the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, because it helps me overcome every key step of motherhood, because I like to feel that you are accompanying me in this adventure and because, after all, what I may share on the subject is nothing special: experiences and feelings that any mother could share.

Today I want to write about breastfeeding because I just finished weaning Théo. This post marks the end to this beautiful and sometimes tough period.

I breastfed both of my children for nine months. It might seem a little bit silly but for me it was important, if possible, to offer them the same thing. I never thought of how long I would breastfeed nor did I want to put myself under any pressure in that respect. As with many subjects related to motherhood, I feel that I don’t fit into any of the dominant tendencies: the one of prolonged breastfeeding or the one of bottle feeding by choice from the beginning. I really wanted to give it a try and to do my best to make it work, but I wasn’t going to freak out if it didn’t work.

With Inés, the truth is that the beginnings were hard. She was born two weeks before term, and the first few days she had no interest in breastfeeding: she just wanted to sleep. As she was asleep every time I tried to feed her, she quickly lost a lot of weight (more than the commonly accepted 10%) and the nurses began to worry. We were forced to wake her up every two to three hours and, as it was so hard, to use slightly traumatic methods for new parents like us (wet her with cold water, scratch her feet…). I remember those first days at the hospital as completely exhausting. Having to wake her up every two hours, I was sleep-deprived and the truth is that milk didn’t come until the day my midwife came and told the nurses: “All Marta needs is sleep!”. And, in fact, I slept for five hours in a row, and the milk came.

I also remember those early days as being very confusing. Both Philippe and I are very ‘academic’, so we were taking everything we were told very seriously, until we realized that every nurse was giving us different advice and we ended up so confused. With inconsistent advice at the hospital and the well-meaning comments of our family and friends (to give you just one example, many women in my family could not breastfeed due to “lack of milk”, so some members of my family thought I wouldn’t be able to either), we began to think that raising children was the most difficult thing we had ever done (in fact, we still think so).

I will spare you the details (breast pumps to stimulate milk production, bruises due to bad position, etc.), but the truth is that we were so worried about Inés not gaining weight that I wrote down obsessively the time and duration of every feeding. And I did so for months!

I think it wouldn’t have worked or it would have been even more difficult had it not been for the good support given by the Swiss health system. After giving birth, health insurance covers a midwife’s visits to your home. When you leave the hospital, which is when you feel most lost, the midwife will come, check that you and the baby are well and that breastfeeding is ok. For instance, that you are doing it in correct position and that the baby drinks enough milk (weighing him or her before and after breastfeeding). She even shows you different positions and makes sure that you’re comfortable so you don’t end up with contractures from head to toe. She pays a visit several times until the breastfeeding goes smoothly and comes back after a while to make sure that everything is going well. Honestly, I don’t know what we’d have done without the help of that woman whom I remember very fondly.

After those hard beginnings, the truth is that everything went smoothly and I breastfed Inés for nine months.

With Théo everything was different. In my case, having another child has reconciled me with some aspects of motherhood. I lived through it all in a much more relaxed and conscious way. It isn’t surprising that second children are in many cases much more easy-going than first ones. Their parents are much more relaxed (please forgive me for this all but scientific statement). Milk came very quickly, I could feed Théo from the starts without having to wake him up to do it, and everything was very instinctive.

In fact, retrospectively, the only thing that becomes clear to me in maternity matters is that there is no manual or absolute truth that applies to all babies and all parents. What worked best for us was to listen to our instincts, without letting ourselves be influenced by what people told us.

Those who follow me on Instagram may remember a few months ago, when Théo suddenly began to lose weight. We were quite alarmed because the pediatrician began to run a lot of tests and the first hypothesis was that he was hungry. The solution was to complete breastfeeding with bottle-feeding. I had trouble coming to terms with the situation because my instinct told me that it wasn’t the right answer and that Théo wasn’t hungry, as it did indeed become clear when he refused the bottle after breastfeeding. During that period, the midwife visits helped me a lot, as she checked that I still had milk and that he was drinking enough. Carla (@planetababetes) was also very supportive during that time. Despite the distance, she gave me a lot of advice to be able to continue breastfeeding. I had already spent five months exclusively breastfeeding and I could have stopped, but the truth was that I wasn’t ready for that and I’m very glad I didn’t stop at that time because it would have been traumatic for both Théo and myself.

Weaning has been very natural and progressive. At first, I felt sad (as when I was going back to work) because I kept telling myself that it was the last time I was going to breastfeed a baby and that Théo was growing up. But I knew that at some point I had to stop and nine months seemed to be a reasonable period for him and for me. Because we are all different and should do things not like everyone else, but as we feel them.

* I have very few photos of me breastfeeding and wanted to capture those special moments, so a couple of days ago I pulled the tripod and took some self-portraits. Above all, remember to take pictures of you and your children – or ask someone to take them for you 😉

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