My milk journey got off to a bumpy start
By Benita Zive
It’s 2am. I’m in a cold sweat. Hot salty tears streaming down my face.
The silence of the maternity ward punctuated only by my ugly crying and baby’s hungry wails.
‘Show us your milk’ says Nurse A impatiently.
‘She doesn’t have any’ smirks Nurse B.
‘Come. Take this spoon. Express milk into it. We want to see how much you have’
Nurse A again, as she lunges for my breast and squeezes it hard.
My baby isn’t even three days old.
My boobs are engorged but the milk isn’t flowing.
It’s not supposed to yet though, right?
Doesn’t the milk only really come in around day three?
I’ve been doing exactly as I’ve been told. Putting his tiny squirming body to my breast at least every two hours. Trying to ensure that not a drop of liquid gold colostrum goes to waste. Following the strict instructions of my birth doula to keep going to maximise milk supply and give us the best shot at breastfeeding.
But the five angry women surrounding my bed are insistent:
‘YOU DON’T HAVE ENOUGH MILK. YOU CAN’T FEED HIM’
His wails intensify. Mine too…
My milk journey got off to a bumpy start.
I thought a traumatic maternity ward experience would be the low-point, but there were many, many more to come. My baby boy and me eventually found our flow only to lose it again here and there, but I was able to sustain Ezra on breastmilk alone for six months, and for another three after he started solids. When he was nine months old I fell pregnant again (no, breastfeeding is not always the best contraceptive!), and decided not to risk putting myself under any additional stress by reluctantly switching from boob to bottle.
We opted for a fancy formula containing as many organic ingredients as possible, and he took to it immediately, allaying any initial mom-guilt and fear around formula-feeding. Sure, there is absolutely no equivalent substitute for the miracle that is breastmilk, but I’ve come to appreciate that when breastfeeding isn’t an option we’re blessed to have an array of other options to choose from.
My daughter Seraphine was born 17 months after Ezra. The mechanics of breastfeeding were less of a challenge second time around than finding the time and space to feed her with another baby clutching at my ankles. I breastfed her for nine months, until we both decided we’d had enough and transitioned easily to formula. This time though, we opted for one of the most popular formulas on the market (Ezra’s organic one was often difficult to find and the price had skyrocketed) and thankfully Seraphine loved it.
My third, Na’amah, is almost fifteen months now and our breastfeeding journey recently came to an end. We had ups and downs (numerous bouts of mastitis, blocked ducts, pink milk from bleeding nipples, night sweats, a global epidemic, three children under five and no help at home, etc.) but it was pretty incredible on the whole - probably because this time I tried to approach each day with grace and curiosity, surrendering to nourishing my baby however worked best for us both.
And it’s just so happened that that’s been breastfeeding.
Back in August it was World Breastfeeding Week and when posting on Instagram to mark the occasion I realized that I’d breastfed for at least three of the past five years. No mean feat considering it was an action-packed half-decade. I’ve married; lived in a foreign country; birthed three babies; transitioned to motherhood three times; worked intermittently while juggling stay-at-home mama-ing; renovated an apartment; moved three times; lost my father-in-law, mother and grandmother within five months of each other; launched a community organization, and qualified as a postpartum doula.
The breastfeeding journey - like the journey to becoming a mother - is not easy. It’s incredible how the female body is able to sustain another human body on breastmilk – but it is certainly not capable of sustaining another life on breastmilk alone. For breastfeeding to flow it takes time, a quiet, safe and secure space, patience and a supportive partner, family and/or community. And sometimes the journey may even require a little topping-up with formula – and that’s ok too.
I was fortunate not to have encountered negativity around my decisions to breast or formula-feed, but many women do. Rather than shaming, or holding ourselves and other mamas to impossible standards, we need to work together to ensure that every mother has what she needs to nourish herself and her child with LOVE, because ultimately that is and always has been what every baby needs the most.
Benita is mama to three under-five’s; a postpartum doula and founder of IMA (Hebrew for ‘mother’) – a community organization connecting and supporting expecting and new Jewish mothers. IG: @imacircles FB: IMA
Photo Credits: Lynn Shapiro
MyMilkClub is about sharing experiences and supporting each other. We launched the #mymilkjourney series to share stories from other mamas about their experiences on their milk journey. If you have a flair for writing and would like to share your story get in touch
Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. MyMilkClub reserves the right to its opinions and fully supports the notion of promotion that breast is best in line with the World Health Organisation (WHO) infant feeding guidelines. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of an infant’s life, and continued breastfeeding with complementary foods for up to two years of age. Breast milk is the best food for infants. Good maternal nutrition is essential to prepare and maintain breastfeeding. If breastfeeding is not possible, an infant formula may be used according to the advice of registered health professionals. Preparation and storage of any infant formula should be performed as directed on the tin in order not to pose any health hazards.