I never anticipated breastfeeding being such an emotional rollercoaster. As a GP, one that delivered babies no less, I thought I would just pop my first baby onto the breast and get on with things. I pictured maternity leave featuring coffees with friends, baby contentedly breastfeeding away. I didn’t even buy a breast pump, or bottles, or a steriliser, because I hadn’t thought about needing any of these things. The day after my eldest was born, a good friend asked me how breastfeeding was going. “It’s great!” I replied and she appeared to be surprised by this “but nearly everyone finds it hard, they just don’t tell you”.
Then a couple of days on, we were preparing to take our little guy home and we had his discharge weight done. He had lost more than 10% of his birth weight. I knew what this meant. My husband was promptly shipped off by a midwife to buy bottles and a steriliser. The double pump was dispatched to our room and I started the “triple feeding” journey (breastfeed, express and top up). Despite recommending this regime to Mums, I was shocked by the effort of it all. “When do we actually do anything else? When do we sleep?” I asked my husband. Down the rabbit hole I went, focussing on numbers – numbers on the scales, time on the breast, time on the pump, volume expressed. Medications, supplements, lactation cookies were consumed by the bucket load. Some days there were more tears than breastmilk. It was exhausting. At times I felt my son hated breastfeeding as he would pull away screaming when I offered him a feed. That of course makes you feel inadequate, like you are unable to fulfil your baby’s basic needs. But onward we struggled, dreading each feed, planning the day around pumping schedules. Every time someone commented on my son’s size, I took it as a personal affront, despite the fact he was developing well. I was fortunate enough to be supported by my own fantastic GP and paediatrician, as well as my wonderful family and friends, but honestly felt breastfeeding and the first year with my first baby as one of the biggest learning curves of my life – much more challenging than medical school!
When my second son arrived, I was determined not to end up in a similar position. But in the hospital, prior to discharge, he was jaundiced, slept a lot and also lost “too much weight”. I was told to accept that I would not be able to exclusively breastfeed him. By the time he was 3 weeks old, I had mastitis, blocked ducts and was very well acquainted with my old friend the breast pump. We took things day by day, and between the two boys I felt I negotiated nearly every breastfeeding challenge on the Australian Breastfeeding Association page. I became passionate about using my own experiences to help families in similar situations. I encourage women to seek help if they are finding breastfeeding challenging, because they are not alone, even though it feels like an incredibly isolating time. Dr Andrew and I hope to discuss your families’ values and help provide solutions that work best for you as a family as you negotiate this path yourselves. Every mother-baby pair is unique and every breastfeeding experience different and we look forward to hearing your story and hopefully help to make a tough time a little easier.
This was my journey. I will support you in whatever you feel works best for you and your family.
Dr Rhiannon Smith is a GP Obstetrician and co-founder of Adelaide Mums and Babies Clinic