This post is dedicated to every breastfeeding mother who carries on with determination against all odds.
I thought I had it perfectly etched out. I had established a set of parenting principles for myself long before I even became a mother. I wasn’t going to sign up for the conventional 21st century methods of parenting. I was going back to the basics; not just to be true to my commitment to help save our environment but also because I wanted to set a legacy by doing what I felt was the best thing for our world. More so, this is just what the typical black African mother would do. So, I found myself advocating for modern cloth diapering to keep waste out of landfills, I supported traditional baby wearing to facilitate mother-child bonding and most of all, I encouraged normalizing breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months and continuing in between solids for the maximum two years. I invested in all organic baby products telling myself that if it wasn’t something I could eat, I wouldn’t put it on my baby’s skin. Little did I know that practicing these rules in real life was not a walk in the park. Fast forward to this present moment and reality rears its head in. The road has been full of bumps and potholes and at certain points, I have found myself compromising. However, seeing my baby fall in love with everything I do for him and rewarding me with his heart melting smiles directs more air beneath my wings and I find myself soaring on. But just before you begin to ask me about the challenges I have faced on this journey, just read on.
Not so long after I had my baby did I realize that breastfeeding wasn’t as fun as I thought. For the first three days, my breast milk refused to come. I tried everything possible; taking lots of warm drinks, doing warm compresses and even massaging my breast with oils. Nothing seemed to work. I couldn’t bear to see my baby cry all the time out of hunger. It got so bad; I eventually had to give him a bottle of formula. That was the first phase. Just a day after I introduced formula, my breast milk came in. It was crazy. For the next couple of days, I battled with a painful engorgement which eventually subsided after frequent breastfeeding sessions with my baby. In between it all, I had to express my milk out to waste. The following four weeks found me struggling to breastfeed my son amidst whimpers and tears. It was tough and very painful. My nipples were sore and would sometimes bleed. The next feeding had my entire body quivering out of the fear of an anticipated painful moment. I cried. Sometimes, not because of the pain I felt but because I felt I couldn’t feed my son with joy.
However, considering the numerous benefits of breastfeeding gave me the drive to carry on. Apart from the fact that human milk is the perfect food for human babies, it would strengthen my son’s immunity, boost his IQ three to five points higher, save me roughly $1700 which I would have otherwise spent if I were to formula feed my baby for twelve months and also reduce my chances of breast cancer in the future. I would look at my baby in all his beauty and glory and say to myself, “You will thank yourself for doing this”. So I kept on going. Each feeding came with a stronger determination and I found my baby enjoying it. He began to latch on better. And as this happened, the pain began to dissolve. I was finally happy, thinking I had conquered the challenges of breastfeeding.
When my baby clocked eight weeks, I noticed a big painful lump on my left breast. I called the doctor immediately and I was told it was another engorgement. I was asked to do frequent warm compresses and express the milk as often as I could. I was also placed on antibiotics and analgesics. I did everything I was told to do. Gradually, the lump began to soften. As this happened, I became relieved. But to my utmost shock, the lump became so soft that it seemed my breast was going to break open. And it actually did. The doctors said I was battling with mastitis, not an engorgement. Eventually, it became an abscess; a pocket of pus and blood that had to be surgically incised and dressed. The pain I went through cannot be described. I had to stop feeding my son on my left breast. He wouldn’t even feed on it if I tried to. I wept profusely and so did my son. I wondered if my dream of breastfeeding my son full term will ever be realized. My husband even suggested switching to formula. But I couldn’t bear to think of it as an option. I continued feeding my baby on just one breast and so has it been ever since.
I refused to give up and I guess my son didn’t give up on me. Now, my baby loves breastfeeding so much. He won’t even take a bottle of expressed breast milk, talk less of formula. The sight of him holding my breast with all his fingers and sucking with so much concentration makes me giggle with joy. I can’t quantify the happiness I feel each time he smiles charmingly at me after each feeding. Now he’s four months old and we’re counting down to the six month exclusive breastfeeding benchmark. I look back to all those days of difficulty and I can’t help but be proud of myself. Right now, he’s with me 24/7. I don’t have a break but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
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