Breastfeeding is like a marathon

This blog post was contributed by an anonymous mama.

Early on in my pregnancy I found out that my baby was sick, and was more than likely going to have to be delivered in another city where there would be specialist care for him. We came to terms with the idea of having our baby away from home, and did everything we needed to do to prepare for getting him here safely. In the weeks leading up to giving birth, I hand expressed colostrum and built up a frozen stash for the early days of his life. I was so proud of that stash!

On the day we were due to fly, there was a lightning strike at the airport. Our flight was delayed, and I was so worried about making it that I forgot about the colostrum which I'd put into a chilly bag with ice packs. When we arrived, it had thawed out completely and had to be thrown away. I was so emotional and disappointed! All that effort building up my stash gone to waste.

My baby was nil by mouth for the first eight days of his life, so there was a constant cycle of collecting colostrum, but under very stressful circumstances while he was in the PICU. We had to leave each night, but he had the most amazing nurses looking after him who we are so thankful to.

My options were to sit next to his bed to collect colostrum, or I could go down the hall to what I came to describe as the tiny cupboard. It was a small rectangle room the size of a single toilet, with a small freezer at the end, a sink and cupboard and five double breast pump machines. I'd lock myself away and concentrate on collecting as much of the liquid gold as I could for when my baby could have it. I found it became an opportunity for me to emotionally recharge, and resulted in some bonding time for baby and dad. Turns out you have to share your baby - you can't just wrap them up in your arms to try protect them on your own. You're a team.

During my expressing sessions I managed to get a good supply, but not as much as if I was breastfeeding from the start with baby helping build my supply. Eventually the day arrived where the nurse asked if I'd like to try feed him for the first time. Previously he'd been fed through a feeding tube with defrosted colostrum and then milk. It was such a special moment to be able to wet my baby's lips with a bit of fresh milk. Initially he wasn't keen to latch, but these things take practice! We persevered with it and slowly but surely he was learning. Eventually we got to the point where he was having as much milk as I was producing, so it was nice fresh milk rather than the frozen stash. It can be a little deflating when you've worked so hard to built a stash to see it gone suddenly, but knowing it was helping him grow stronger was amazing.

We had a lactation consultant visit us who was very matter of fact - I was a bit too fragile to take it all in at the time. She came to check on us a couple of days later and things were improving. Slowly does it. A few days later and we were moved to the ward as baby was doing well. This is where I got the BEST piece of breastfeeding advice from the most amazing male nurse.

You have to remember breastfeeding is like a marathon. Marathon runners don't just go and run a marathon, they need to train hard to get there.

Why didn't someone tell me that when we first started? It made so much more sense, and made me feel so much better. We began to find our way working towards trying to fully breastfeed, but unfortunately my supply hadn't built up enough so I couldn't express enough for the top ups. So we went with formula top-ups to ensure he was getting all the nutrition he needed.

Four months later and there are finally some exclusive breast feeds, but other feeds are a mixture of breast and formula. We came to the conclusion that fed is best. I'm so proud of this journey we have been on, being able to breastfeed through all the stress and difficulties. It hasn't been easy, to say the least.

So remember, you've got this mamas! Just do the best you can for your breastfeeding marathon. It's not an easy road, but most of all, enjoy your baby no matter how they're fed.

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