When I became a mum for the first time, to my eldest son Charlie, I made Helicopter Parents look laissez faire. I sterilised everything, if Charlie’s dummy hit the floor I would wash it under a tap before sterilising it thoroughly with an electric Bottle Steriliser. My house was immaculate to the point it was socially isolating, I baked from scratch at least once a week and Charlie was always clean and dressed in a designer outfit. I did charity work, set up and ran a mothers group at my local church and was the President of the Junior CWA branch in my area.
I had recently moved over 2000 kilometres away from my hometown and the only people I knew in my new city were still doing what I was doing before I had Charlie – working, travelling and partying. With my husband working twelve hours a day I was pretty much on my own until I joined a local mother’s group and met other mums I could model off and get advice from.
Since I had no idea what I was doing and no one to ask, I took expert recommendations as Gospel. When I read that children under the age of two should not watch television and I caught Charlie staring at the TV screen, I moved it out of our lounge room so he couldn’t watch it again until he was two.
I wanted the very best for my child and went to, what I can see now, extreme lengths to make sure he had it but the one thing I could not do was breastfeed.
I can’t tell you how much frustration, shame, guilt and resentment I carried around not being able to breastfeed. I wanted the best for my son and all the experts kept telling me “breast is best” but no matter how hard I tried or what expert I saw I just couldn’t do it.
I felt like I failed my child but I always made sure I had a smile on my face, no matter how I really felt inside and people would often call me “Super Mum”.
The reality was that I was highly strung and hell bent on getting people’s approval and love because at the time my self-worth and happiness relied on it. It was like oxygen so I did everything I could to get it.
After my second son, Max, was born I went through some hard times and came out stronger better woman. He taught me how to love and accept myself, flaws and all. So because I loved and accepted myself I was no longer reliant on the approval of others to feel worthy and happy. Therefore their opinions were no longer so important and I became a relaxed, confident, happy and calm person.
By the time my third son, Leo, was born I thought to myself I would really love to breastfeed but if I can’t that’s ok. It really is ok!
Lo, and behold after finding it impossible to breastfeed my first two babies, feeding my third was a breeze in comparison.
I have no idea exactly why but here are a few of my ideas:
I am a completely different person than I was a few years ago. The precipice of this change came about because I had toxic people in my life that were not only hurting me on purpose but seemed to find my suffering entertaining. When the dysfunction starting affecting my kids I made the heart-wrenching decision to cut ties and began the journey to healing and moving on.
Once I let those toxic people go my whole life changed dramatically – I was free.
I could be who I wanted to be – my authentic self, without being bullied or back stabbed.
The saying “Your vibe attracts your tribe” is so true. Once they were out of the picture it created space for new, kinder, people to come into my life.
It really took the pressure off and my stress levels came way down. The people around me now couldn’t give a brass razoo if I breastfeed or not, they just want me to be happy and at peace. Instead of judging me they ask “what can I do to help?” or even better they just know what to do to help and support me without me even having to ask.
I stopped trying to breastfeed to be the “perfect mum” for others approval because I learned that happiness is an inside job. If people are really unhappy with me because I don’t breastfeed or my house isn’t perfectly clean or I am still in my PJ’s when they decide to drop over unannounced that is not my problem, that is their problem.
Learning how to become kind and assertive instead of agreeable and nice has changed my world. It has allowed me to be more honest and say no when I mean no and yes when I mean yes and help establish healthy boundaries which reduced my stress levels dramatically.
My kids pick up on my vibes and act accordingly. If I am stressed and trying to feed, Leo will start arching his back and won’t stop crying. My older boys start randomly shrieking and acting out. The saying “If you want to calm your child, first calm yourself” certainly rings true for me.
The answer to (almost) everything is breastfeeding
When I was pregnant with Leo I read this article that said that African babies hardly ever cry and when they do try it is treated almost like an emergency.
After having two children of my own the concept of babies not crying was foreign to me -that’s just how they communicate what they want right?
This article stated that what African mothers do is babywear and when their babies cry they offer a breastfeed first and if they pull off and cry again they try something else; burping, change nappy etc. next.
I tried it and it worked!
I learned that sometimes babies cry because they’re hungry but other times they cry for a breastfeed because they want their mother’s warmth, comfort or friendship. Either way, even if I couldn’t work out the exact reason why Leo was crying I would just offer him a feed and most of the time it worked.
The only time it didn’t really work is when I let him get over tired. I didn’t mean to, it was an accident – it is amazing what you forget in three years! Most of the time he would feed to sleep but a few times in the early days, if he was awake for too long, breastfeeding was not enough to get him to fall asleep. I had to sing, shush and rock him to get him down.
It is now at the point where he cries even less because I know he is going to be hungry so I offer him a feed before he cries. You can’t overfeed a breastfed baby. If Leo isn’t hungry he lets me know by turning his head away instead of latching.
After the massive supply issues I had with my first two sons I wanted to try anything (safe) to make sure I had enough milk to feed my baby.
I bought a three pack of gluten and dairy free Boobie Bickies off the Pinky McKay website and I would have one or two a day. Usually at 2am with a banana and a litre of water when I was feeling ravenous.
Increased my water and food intake
I found that when you are breastfeeding you need to drink a lot of water and you will be very hungry, especially in the early days. So I made sure I drunk as much water and ate as much as I need to. I try to eat the best quality food I can but I don’t stress my diet isn’t perfect.
Sleep and Rest
When you are completely exhausted and someone tells you just to “get more sleep and rest” it is not always helpful. When people use to say that to me I felt like screaming at them, “instead of telling me to get more sleep and rest why don’t you hold my baby so I actually can get some sleep and rest?! I am desperate – freakin’ help me!!”
I can’t hold your baby while you sleep, sorry, but there are people around you that will. I still really don’t like asking for help but I know now that it is the only way to cope.
My mum would look after my older kids so I could get some quiet time and my husband took Leo much as he could when I needed it. When you are that sleep deprived a 20-minute nap or lie down can make all the difference.
Asking for help
Prior to having Leo I had always been too ashamed to ask for help.
I used to have very poor self-worth and felt like I wasn’t enough so I tried to prove that I was enough by trying to be “Super Mum” and take on too much.
That did not end well for me.
When I was pregnant with Leo my husband saved up all of his holidays and bought leave so he could have seven weeks off with me once we was born and I got a cleaner every fortnight. Our finances took a big hit but it was worth every cent.
I also allowed my mum and a close friend that I trust to pick up my son from school and bring him home if need be. Trying to do the school run with a newborn in winter is not fun!
I allowed myself to be human and for people that I trust to see me struggle instead of trying to hide it and acting like everything was Disney perfect.
I stopped trying to be “Super Mum” – I wasn’t fooling anyone anyway!
I know a lot of people are not going to like this at all and I am going to be shot down in flames but the only thing I can do is speak my truth and the truth is that my son used to have a bottle a day.
I need to sleep and rest and especially in the early days I found that I couldn’t do that while exclusively breastfeeding. It was a catch 22, I needed to rest and sleep to function and breastfeed but I couldn’t sleep while I was breastfeeding.
I remember being so exhausted that I passed out and my husband was trying to hold my breast and latch Leo while I fed – I was so exhausted I just could not get up. My mind was willing but my body wasn’t able. After that I thought this is ridiculous, I literally can’t keep going like this. Trying to be perfect and breastfeed only was the one thing that was going to be my undoing! I figured it was better that Leo had one bottle a day so I could sleep then be so exhausted that I gave up breastfeeding and switched to bottles permanently.
So every night after I gave Leo a bath and a big feed I would take myself off to bed at 9pm and my husband would look after him until 11pm. If that meant he was awake and needed a bottle then so be it.
Those two hours of sleep were the difference between making and breaking me.
Now Leo is seven months old he has completely rejected the bottle but in the early days my husband bottle feeding him got me through some tough times.
I kind of co-sleep, the anxious person that still lingers inside me who used to follow all of the expert’s rules, makes it hard for me to sleep with Leo in bed with me. My husband securely attached Leo’s cot next to our bed, sidecar style, so while he does sleep next to me, technically he in on his own surface. I still follow the co-sleeping guidelines just to be on the safe side.
Co-sleeping works really well for us and makes breastfeeding multiple times a night a lot easier. I have become attuned to Leo’s noises and their meaning so quite often I will wake up to his hungry noises and feed him before he wakes fully and cries. It is a lot more peaceful for him and for the rest of the household. It is a real gift to watch Leo smile as he falls asleep and when he wakes up, safe in the knowledge I am right by his side.
With my first two sons, I can tell you hand over heart, I did the best thing I knew how to do at the time. I followed the current expert recommendations which were to let Charlie grizzle and sometimes cry to sleep. I rocked Maxwell to sleep for over two years!
Co-sleeping isn’t perfect but I have found it to be the most peaceful and calming way to get Leo to sleep.
Looked after myself
I used to think that good mums always put their kids first, even if that meant burning themselves into the ground. I found out the hard way that the complete opposite is true.
How can you fill up your children’s cups when yours is bone dry?
Taking care of yourself isn’t selfish, it is smart and the best thing you can do for your family.
I am no good to anyone when I am so exhausted I physically can’t get up or sick because I haven’t taken care of myself properly. So I do my best to do things that fill up my cup; sleep, eat nourishing food, read, write, walk in the sunshine, swim and catch up with friends and family.
If I ever catch myself feeling guilty for spending twenty minutes reading I stop and remember that it makes me a calmer, happier person, and a better mum.
I hope this list helps someone. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.