My Breastfeeding experience: powerful and positive
by Hilary Walker
Breastfeeding my son has been a wonderful experience. He’s now 3 months old and I knew even before he was conceived that that my goal would be to breastfeed him exclusively, which is what I’ve done.
My pregnancy was uneventful; labour started when my water broke when I was 38 weeks along. I didn’t get a contraction until almost 16 hours later and then they came on fast and strong. After 3 hours of contractions, we were on our way to the hospital. When I got there, I was 8 cm dilated. No time for an epidural! Soon after, I started pushing.
Alistair was born 23 hours after my water broke. He was born vaginally with no medical intervention. It was a magical experience. Immediately after he was born, my midwife put him on directly on my chest so we were laying skin-to-skin. He definitely wanted to be at my breast and the midwives encouraged me to feed him. I’m a first time mom so have no prior experience breastfeeding, but it wasn’t hard to get him to latch on and take in some colostrum. During our skin-to-skin time, my husband, newborn son and I were mostly alone in the room to savour the experience.
I stayed one night in the hospital and had incredible help and support from the nurses. The first time I breastfed Alistair, my nurse coached me along, showing me how to hold Alistair, how to sit, hold my breast, how to get him to latch on, what a proper latch looks like, promoting skin-to-skin contact and how to check that he was taking in milk. Every time I breastfed during my stay, a nurse was there to encourage me, help me and teach me about breastfeeding. I learned a lot from them; they were extremely helpful. After I left the hospital, Alistair was slow to gain weight, so I would feed him every 3 hours or on demand, whichever came first. Once he was back at his birth weight, I started breastfeeding him when he is hungry, which is how we have continued.
Breastfeeding isn’t without challenges, but I went in with the expectation that it might take time to get the hang of it. I view breastfeeding as a partnership; it takes both Alistair and I to get it to work and we both have to understand each other. So there was a learning curve for us while I figured out how he indicated he was hungry, which breastfeeding position we both liked, how to ensure he had the proper latch, when he was using me to soothe (rather than eat), burping him and how I was going to remember which breast to start with. I also had moments of uncertainty when my milk came in, when I decided to try pumping, around how much he should eat (he eats a lot and is a big baby!) and how my nipples were supposed to feel in the first couple of weeks.
I overcame these challenges with support, help, patience and perseverance. When I was looking for “official” help with my concerns, I turned to my midwives, doctor and the lactation clinic at the local hospital. I phoned with questions, and made appointments to ask more questions and to just check-in when I needed reassurance. I was assigned a breastfeeding mentor by my community health department who called and emailed to see how I was doing. A public health nurse visited the house with information and to check in on us. Another resource was reading; I was given books and took others out from the library to read about breastfeeding.
Also, very importantly my husband, family and friends are enormously supportive. When my milk came in and I was concerned, a girlfriend with three children came over to help and talk about the experience. My other women friends have checked in, been cheerleaders, listened, shared stories and are very comfortable with me breastfeeding in front of them. My mother and mother-in-law are both vehement believers in breastfeeding and have encouraged me, offered praise and shared their experiences. Even my friends’ mothers got in touch to check in on us, but also, very specifically about how my breastfeeding was going. I’m surrounded by people who believe breastfeeding is a natural, powerful and positive thing.
My husband, Alexx, is exceptional. While in the hospital, the nurse asked him to soothe Alistair by putting a finger in his mouth while Alistair had some blood taken. Alexx came back with tears in his eyes, marvelling at the baby’s suction and the bond that he could see would take place through breastfeeding; he said that he wished he could have the experience of breastfeeding our son. Since then, he helps make time for breastfeeding by helping with the household chores, shopping and cooking; he’s fantastic and most-importantly is very involved with the baby and is very supportive of my breastfeeding Alistair.
I look forward to my time breastfeeding my son. We understand each other and find it a tremendous opportunity for bonding. I follow his cues about when to start, switch sides and stop. No matter what time of day or night, it’s relaxing to hear Alistair’s eating noises: swallowing, humming, sighing and breathing. Whether he finishes “milk drunk” and relaxed, or alert and energetic, he’s healthy and happy and so am I. While breastfeeding my baby, he often rubs my side with his little hand and sometimes after eating he closes his eyes, opens them halfway to look at me and smiles – it’s the best reward I could imagine.