When I had the first of my four children, I was determined to breastfeed. And I did. It was wonderful, beautiful, and it ended all too soon. She was just three months old when I returned to work and breastfeeding came to a premature end.
Exactly three years on from that point, her baby sister was born. She suffered some injuries at birth and, if it were at all possible, those problems made me even more determined to breastfeed her, and for much longer than I had her sister. What I did not realise at the time, but can appreciate with hindsight, is how much easier life was as a result of that determination. Whilst her elder sister was a gentle and easy child, which obviously helped, my new baby was difficult, demanding and disturbed. Breastfeeding offered me the only means to comfort her when she became distraught, and meant that, without the stress and hassle of having to sterilise and make up bottles, I had more time than I would otherwise have had with her elder sister, to make sure that the older child did not suffer any neglect.
But I still had to return to work, and, when I did, she came to prefer the bottles she was given at nursery and she rebelled against breastfeeding. It then became clear how much breastfeeding had helped maintain the status quo. Having to work and yet still having to get up to make her a bottle at night time was soul-destroyingly exhausting and I went through a really bad patch, during which I felt so overwhelmed and overrun I could barely function. Had I been able to continue breastfeeding, my nights would have been far less disturbed and life could have gone on in a more even manner.
Just 22 months later my third daughter arrived. I then had a five-year-old, a toddler and a new baby. For a while, I doubted my ability to cope, but breastfeeding was still of paramount importance. It had become second nature to me to breastfeed, there was no way I was going to complicate my life with a steriliser, bottles and assorted feeding paraphernalia. I had two babies in nappies and a busy, intelligent and interesting schoolchild; it was mad!! Add to the confusion by bottlefeeding? No way!! I think that this period represented one of the most chaotic of my life. I took a new full-time job when my third daughter was nine months old and I’d never intended to go back to work and, like her sister, she came to prefer her bottles. So breastfeeding finished when she was ten months and wanted no more of me. I was heartbroken, and, although I did not sterilise her bottles at that time, I still used formula milk for her and still found a sharp increase in my stress levels when the convenience of breastfeeding, its soothing capabilities, and the protection it offers against illness were gone. Trying to juggle the two older girls, a demanding job as a teacher, and a baby who came down with every bug the world in general had to offer (and could not, therefore, always go to nursery) was not easy. I’m not sure, even now, that it was actually possible, but we somehow scraped by!!
As the youngest daughter grew up, I found myself longing to do it all once more. I didn’t particularly want a baby boy, but I did want another baby. Badly. Told by my doctors that it was unlikely at best, I continued to hope and to pray, and found myself pregnant for the fourth time in August 2001. But I got rather more than I bargained for. Desperately ill, and with psychological issues regarding my second birth still unresolved, I suffered devastating depression and was almost admitted to the local psychiatric unit. I was in a very, very bad way, but the one thing I held fast to was that I was going to breastfeed my baby. Given the information (which I refused for some time to actually believe) that I was carrying a boy, I feared that the likely connection, between his sex and how ill he made me, would lead me not to love him. At this point, I can hear everyone who knows how I adore my son laughing, but, at the time, I had serious fears and genuine worries about whether or not he and I would do that mystical bonding thing. And so did those caring for me.
There were two things that I needed. I needed to feel that special closeness with my baby, and I needed to keep my life as simple as possible after he arrived. By now, I knew that only breastfeeding was going to work for us. And I held on to that throughout everything, researching the effect of the drugs I needed to take on my breastmilk and building my determination to breastfeed no matter what.
There were, however, bigger blows to come. And, when I say bigger, I mean bigger . His birth was slightly complicated by shoulder dystocia and, though wonderful and triumphant, it was a little shocking and bewildering. And then, when he was weighed, it transpired that he was a whopping 12lbs 2ozs!!
Well, everyone had something to say about that!! No-one believed that such a big baby could be sustained by breastmilk alone, but, of course, he was. He and I share a marvellous bond and he is still breastfed at 23 months of age. With his three older sisters also to contend with, there was no way I was taking the chance that he would come to prefer bottles so I never gave them to him. The only formula he has ever had has been on his breakfast cereal. He is unbelievably healthy, has followed his growth pattern off the charts, eats a variety of foods and has quite adult tastes.
So my philosophy is that breastfeeding a baby when you have older children to occupy you can only make things easier on you. Breastfeeding was simpler and quicker, so I had more time for the other children, whether there was one or whether there were three. Breastfeeding keeps a baby healthy, boosting his or her immunity against the bigs that older children inevitably contract and bring home for you all to share. That can only be an immense boon to any harassed mother. Breastfeeding bonds you closely to your child, and when there are others to consider, that time to generate a close bond with your youngest can go by the board. It’s true that, a first child has it’s parents fitting around it, whereas subsequent children tend to have to fit in with the existing family. So many times I have nursed my son on the sofa with one of my daughters next to me, getting my help with her homework or reading whilst he fed. Breastfeeding makes for easeir nights, especially if you combine it with co-sleeping, which means you can cope better with the demands of your family because you are not so exhausted. Breastfeeding gets your child accustomed to a variety of flavours (as the flavour of the things you eat comes through in your milk) and that means that weaning is far less traumatic for the mother of many, who has little space in her life for complications in the form of fussy eaters.
Oh, and the best thing of all? If you breastfeed, you never get to a stage where a baby can hold the bottle itself. You just have to sit down!!!!!
This article by Kate Pryde is reproduced with permission from www.breastfeedingsupport.co.uka ‘not for profit’ website packed with articles and advice about breastfeeding, written by mums from their own experiences.