Breastfeeding is quite the Hot Topic in my family.
Between each of the women who have given birth, we have covered most bases. Ask Mum about her breastfeeding experiences and she’ll say she loved it - but weaned each of us the minute we learned to walk, as she couldn’t stand the thought of a child walking to her to be breastfed.
My sister-in-law chose not to breastfeed, feeding her two children formula from the get-go.
My sister has breastfed each of her three children ‘full-term’, that is, until they have been ready to wean themselves. She is also a breastfeeding counsellor with the Australian Breastfeeding Association and (obviously) a proud advocate of the benefits of breastfeeding for babies, mums and families.
As for me - when my daughter was born over three years ago I was adamant in my choice. There was no way on earth I would breastfeed. Despite talking through it with my mum and sister, who both gently suggested I at least try it, the thought of having milk coming out of my body quite frankly repulsed me. And the idea of a small human sucking it from me was even worse.
But, safe in the knowledge that everyone said breastfeeding is hard work - difficult to establish, stressful for the mother, a steep learning curve - I agreed to give it a go. It was a token effort, made simply so I could shrug and say, ‘Well, I tried, but it was too hard and too stressful’. I did it so that I’d be armed with an excuse for bottle-feeding, to shift the blame because I felt I’d be criticised for that choice in the community.
What no one told me is that breastfeeding can be extraordinarily easy.
My baby got it on her first try. I was shocked, and even the midwives were astonished. (‘Are you sure this is your first time?’ they asked me.) I found myself with no excuse; I had to do it.
I tried to give it up a few times. When I had mastitis two weeks later I suggested to my doctor that I get some bottles, but she shook her head. Turns out that the best way to help cure the infection is to feed (painfully) through it. Damn.
I thought about persisting with bottles at other times, but circumstances dictated otherwise. With the hottest Victorian summer ever (the year of the Black Saturday bushfires), I knew the best way to help her stay hydrated and healthy was to not only continue with breastfeeding but to not mess with something that was working so well.
And it really did work well: she thrived. Why change things?
I didn’t want to breastfeed at all, but in the end I did it for nine months, and you know what? It wasn’t so bad. I came to like the ease of it, and I slowly learned that this baby was teaching me a valuable parenting lesson. She taught me to watch her signs for being ready for things, and not to try forcing things differently.
When my second child is born this coming October, I once again know exactly what I’m going to do. This time, I’m not setting rules for myself and him/her. We’ll do exactly what works for us. (I have a slight suspicion that because I want to breastfeed this time it’ll be harder, but that’s just me being a pessimist.)
In my family breastfeeding is a Hot Topic, and we’ve covered all bases. But at the end of the day, all that matters is we are a family filled with healthy, happy children. Each set of parents did what worked for them and their babies, and all judgement was reserved.
Just as it should be in the wider community.