Despite knowing that it was likely I would struggle to provide enough milk for my 3rd child, nothing prepared me for the range of deep emotions I would experience over the first 9 months of her life. The two breastfeeding journeys that I had experienced with my sons had been relatively straight forward, but 2 years after my second son was born I had breast reduction surgery. It’s something that I had been waiting to have for several years and I had researched it in relation to breastfeeding and had decided to wait until after I had had my children to go ahead with the surgery. But then, 2 years after surgery, along came my daughter, and I felt pretty positive about feeding her. After all, I had done it twice before and felt ready for any challenges that might come my way.
And in lots of ways I WAS ready for many of the physical challenges. I watched her nappies carefully in the early days to see if she was getting enough milk. I quickly went to the local Lactation Consultant clinic when her weight wasn’t increasing enough. I knew that I wanted to supplement at the breast instead of with bottles, and I had a book at hand to help me to work out how much extra milk to give. It was hard work and at times soul destroying. But I kept going as I knew it was what I needed to do.
But what I hadn’t prepared for was the emotional challenges. The guilt I felt for giving her formula so early on when her brothers had just had breastmilk. The anxiety I felt when I pumped, wanting to see how much milk I actually had. The disappointment when I only got drops out. The shame I felt when I went to the weighing clinic and she hadn’t put on enough weight again, despite me thinking that I’d given her enough extra milk. The anger I felt towards myself and my body for not providing what she needed. I experienced boredom, even, at having to supplement several times a day and frustration that no matter what I did, I couldn’t get my body to make more milk. What topped this all off, what enveloped all of that, was self-pity and sadness about the experience I was having with her in her first weeks of life. They were tough times, spent feeding and feeding and feeding and not being with my boys as much as I would have liked. I felt like I was getting nowhere.
But a few months in, something flipped, and it wasn’t a sudden increase in my supply! I decided to change my entire outlook on our situation. I realised that all along I was trying to recreate what I had had with my sons. I wanted to provide all the breastmilk she needed and I wanted it to be easy. Well, it was becoming clear that my first goal was an impossible one and it was unlikely to happen. I had done all that I could and the most I had made was 50% of her needs. I could change how difficult it all felt though, and it was almost as simple as that…… I changed my mindset. Instead of looking at what I couldn’t do, I looked at what I was doing. I changed the self-criticisms into positive thoughts. Instead of thinking: I’m not exclusively breastfeeding, I said: My baby gets breastmilk at every feed. Instead of thinking: I need to do more to increase my supply, I thought: Look at how far we’ve come and what I’ve done for her. It worked like magic and things did start to feel a lot easier.
I also discovered around this time that when I was very relaxed, my milk flowed much quicker. This had a great effect on my pumping output and I soon learnt about how sensitive my let down reflex was, how it had been damaged by the surgery, but that by relaxing and helping the oxytocin to flow, that the milk flowed better too. It’s amazing what a bit of kindness and self-love can do. I even started to see how incredible my body was to be able to produce milk after such extensive damage.
As time went on, things did get easier, I didn’t make more milk but I did keep the supply that I had already built up and more importantly I felt better about myself and what I was doing for my daughter. It was at this point that I decided to train to be an IBCLC. I was already volunteering as a Peer Supporter but I saw a real need for more specialist breastfeeding help in our area. My experience gave me insight into the kind of challenges that some breastfeeding families face, and I felt I could help. After my own experience I knew that the emotional side of breastfeeding would be a big focus for me and that was one of the first little sparks that was to become Mindful Breastfeeding.
When I put together the Mindful Breastfeeding School I knew that I wanted to focus as much time on the emotions, hormones, mindset and self-care aspects, as the practical side of getting breastfeeding going. I knew first-hand what a difference it makes and now I see it every day with the clients that myself and all the mindful breastfeeding practitioners support….they all love Mindful Breastfeeding!
You don’t need to be struggling with breastfeeding to the extent I was to find mindfulness techniques useful. Many of the families who ask me to go and see them are not struggling with supply issues or pain at all. They may perceive that they are, but what is really going on is that they are struggling to trust in their body. They are struggling with parenting and they don’t believe that they are getting it right. These are emotional issues that are impacting on breastfeeding. Mindful Breastfeeding helps with these aspects of feeding a baby.
Whether you expect breastfeeding to go well or you don’t, having mindfulness tools to support your journey makes all the difference. Your hormones, emotions, milk flow and happiness are all so closely linked, mindfulness supports all of these. With breastfeeding, preparation is key. Knowing what is normal and what isn’t is vital and being kind to yourself in those early days weeks and months makes all the difference and is a great start to parenthood.