Ashleigh, a first time mum, shares about the breastfeeding challenges she faced and overcame together with her baby girl, Freya.
I spent all my time preparing for BIRTH. Like an exam I was about to sit. It was a ritual for me to take a long bath, listen to the Australian birth stories podcast and think about my baby’s entrance into the world. I spent so much time focussed on that, and so little on what would come next.
When my due date was approaching, I tried every trick in the book- long walks, stairs, bouncing on a fit ball, acupuncture, raspberry leaf tea, spicy curries, sex, meditation, eating copious amounts of pineapple, massage. But bub didn’t budge and I was eventually induced. Whilst it wasn’t the birth I’d envisioned it was an incredible experience, fast, intense. I was informed, had terrific care and a safe delivery via a vaginal birth.
Freya latched within the first hour of being on my chest and the first feed was amazing. I’d done a short (too short!) breastfeeding class and was aware how important that first feed was. So I was elated that she’d latched well. But that first feed was the last feed I’d have in over a month that didn’t have me in tears with toe curling pain.
In all other aspects I recovered well. But breastfeeding was a physical, emotional, and mental challenge. On top of the constant need for bulky ice packs to combat the two heaters sitting in my chest. I was reassured when I sought help that the pain when feeding was normal and I questioned how I’d be able to put up with it, and how did so many other women deal with this pain?! It took a private lactation consultant coming into our home and spending 3 hours with us and understanding my feeding goals before we realised that Freya had an upper lip tie resulting in a poor latch (she couldn’t curl her top lip back). Nipple shields, and improved feeding positions got us on the right path with further support from my lactation consultant.
Yet the pain came back with force, stabbing pain in my breasts. This time I was diagnosed with nipple thrush. Another challenge that I didn’t even know existed! (Yet standing in the pharmacy paying for my treatment ointment, the assistant and another lady in the pharmacy both looked at me emphatically when I told the pharmacist what I needed and then said how they remembered that pain well). Recounting this to friends, more commented they too had experienced this. I was gobsmacked that something seemingly common had never come up in any conversation or preparing before birth.
At 2 months it’s like the fog passed and breastfeeding became the experience I was expecting. But I deeply wished I could redo those first 2 months with the knowledge I have now, and know that severe pain is not normal, and that I’m not alone in these challenges.
I don’t regret any of the birth preparation I did, but I wish I had known to prepare as much for life with a baby and how my world would change. The baby blues also hit me quite hard and I wish I’d known the actual harsh reality of that.
I’m thankful that both the baby blues and breastfeeding challenge were resolved but I aware that it was me reaching out to consultants, friends, family, raising these issues. Rather than support and the necessary education being offered in advance and proactively. It made me realise that so many would struggle alone and silently.
Doing a photo shoot with Freya and especially getting some photos of us feeding is a beautiful memento of an experience that started as an immense challenge for me and blossomed into something that I cherish each time I’m able to feed her.