A woman I worked with once described breastfeeding as ‘taking a peg, latching it onto your nipple and pulling back – yeah, that’s breastfeeding,’ she said, recalling her painful – and, by all accounts, I mean painful – memories of almost a decade earlier.Indeed, ‘twang’ is the sound my parents made when recalling my mother’s decision to give up breastfeeding her last baby some thirty something years ago. (Hopefully I received all the added health benefits and extra brain cells before she called it quits). At eight months with our first child, my own painful experience of breastfeeding involved teeth.
One of the most supportive things my eldest brother (eldest by a matter of minutes because he is a twin) said to me before the birth of our first child: ‘Don’t feel pressured to feed. You do what feels right.’ A hands-on dad, with two children of his own, my brother was equipped to offer this advice, and I was glad to receive it.
However, there are many, I would suggest, who should resist the urge to put in their two cents worth. Despite being a personal decision, Breastfeeding is a highly politicised issue – the first baby to be breastfed in parliament making history in recent years. It is wrought with pressure.
The pressure to feed. ‘Are you going to feed?’ a question often asked of expectant mothers (Ah…yes. I plan to feed my child. I mean, I’m not going to let them starve…).
The pressure to continue. When things are just not working, caught in the undertow of expressing after every feed; Just keep feeding. Just keep feeding is the mantra of a new mother in a zombie-like state, clamping suction cups to her overworked nipples.
And finally, there is the pressure to stop. As the baby thrives, growing big and strong, (and big!), the perspective of others changes – remember those I spoke of who would do well to keep their opinions to themselves? Despite the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommending ‘…breastfeeding up to 2 years of age or beyond,’ the societal pressure to ‘kick the habit’ sets in well before this milestone.
This stage came rather abruptly for our first baby, born at ten pounds. (Even now as a six-year-old he is the size of an eight-year-old – A big, healthy, thriving boy.) ‘When are you going to give that up?’ well-meaning family members asked at the sight of this oversized baby nursing in my arms. A question put to me well before his first birthday. Probably as a direct result of my response, the question was then softened to ‘How long are you going to keep that up?’
In recent months, I gave up breastfeeding what we intend to be our last child. The decision came fairly easily – comparatively to our middle child for whom I felt much more conflicted in breaking this bond; that special something just for us. With our last babe, however, the timing felt right as I became ready to reclaim my body as my own.
As my milk began to dry up, our baby, who was really knocking at the door of toddlerdom, happily folded her hands over a bottle of formula, making a sleep-inducing sound of contentment.
In those final days, I offered my baby a last feed (and one more after that). I told my husband what I had done, quoting the Australian Breastfeeding Association as if to justify ‘my relapse,’ that weaning should occur slowly. That second last feed was exactly what I needed. I sat in our bedroom, alone with my baby, looking down at her being soothed by my milk into a state of bliss.
The very last feed, however, had a different effect. It was affirming. For this mumma and her babe, the time was right.