Breastfeeding ~ Always A Learning Journey
Looking around the BB playgroup as mums sit feeding their baby whilst reading a story to a toddler or helping a child with a craft, it can seem like breastfeeding is the most easy and effortless thing in the world. When we see a breastfeeding mum out and about, often she is balancing feeding her baby with chatting and playing with her toddler, eating a meal or talking with friends. We see mums feeding their babies in wraps and carriers, or leaning over to feed their baby back to sleep in the car seat on a long journey.
Seeing breastfeeding in this way it can seem so easy and simple, women just knowing what to do, effortlessly, easily and with no sense of anxiety of struggle. Yet what we are seeing are women at this particular point in their journey. And without a doubt before reaching this point, there will have been months and years of learning, growth and experiences which led them to this place of feeding with ease.
Many of the women who contributed their stories and experiences to Milestones Of Motherhood wrote at length about their breastfeeding experiences, and they described these events in terms of a journey. For at the beginning both we and our babies are totally new to the breastfeeding experience, and for many of us, it does not begin smoothly. Women spoke of having the assumption that because breastfeeding is natural, it would be easy, yet their experiences in the early hours, days and weeks with their babies proved to be anything other than simple or easy. They spoke of the intensity of nights and days where they were learning about holding and positioning their babies at the breast, of encouraging them to latch on, of pain in the beginning, and then the feelings of joy, relief and tears of happiness as their babies eventually began to feed happily at the breast. They spoke of their joy at receiving good support, and their anger and frustrations at not finding the help which could have supported them to carry on.
What women went on to share were their learning journeys. For like all aspects of mothering, breastfeeding is something both we and our babies are constantly learning about. And as we have more experiences, both joyful and challenging, we gain more terrain from which to reflect, learn and understand. And such learning takes place across many levels; we learn of the supply and demand nature of breastfeeding; that it is the time our babies feed from the breast which stimulates milk production. We learn to notice the signs and feeding cues which our babies express when they are feeling hungry. At first we don’t recognise this, as one mum recalled when looking back at video of her son as a newborn, their feeding cues are plain to see, yet at the time we just see these as ‘baby doing cute stuff’, it was only when she looked back from where she is on her journey now ~ as a mother of two breastfed children with years of experience and knowledge accrued from the days and nights of feeding her infants, that she had the knowledge and experience to instantly recognise that her baby turning his head and opening his mouth were his cues for feeding.
Similarly, we learn to adjust our expectations and eventually come to reach a whole new understanding of normal; we may have expectations or ideas of our baby feeding and then sleeping soundly for hours, yet as many of us come to realise, babies need to feed very regularly, often for long durations, and so often like to sleep in our arms, but not so much in their cots or baskets. We may see a mum out and about with her baby and toddler, feeding seemingly-effortlessly, yet let us not overlook the journey she as been upon to reach this point; the hours and hours, nights and days of adjusting her lifestyle to be able to understand her baby’s cues, to learn about the breastfeeding process and to gain her confidence in responding to the needs of her children.
Such learning is rarely glamorous and can even feel uncomfortable at the time, for any type of learning requires us to extend outwards of our present comfort zone; sitting, lying, struggling with aching shoulders and sore nipples, wondering how to get our baby to open her mouth wide enough and latch on like the pictures in the leaflets, or wondering why she sleeps for only blocks of 20 minutes, but seems content to feed for hours, literally. Yet as we continue on, committed to learning and carrying on, eventually things shift, they grow, we learn, and feeds begin to feel less stressful. We have experience and knowledge of both the breastfeeding process, and our own individual baby and her preferences.
This is the learning which we are all undertaking constantly and which we explore in Milestones Of Motherhood, yet, probably due to the busyness of mothering, we rarely take the time to pause, recognise and reflect upon just how much we, ourselves, are learning, growing and changing. We marvel at the learning, growth and remarkable transformation of our children, and so easily do we compare ourselves to others. Yet rather than viewing our mothering as some kind of competition or contest where we are judged and compared to others, or against our own ideals, where we are ‘successes’ or ‘failures’ and lost in the ensuing spirals of guilt and inner criticism, let us instead cultivate a sense of mothering as a journey of learning. As a shared journey of shared learning. For none of us knew anything of this before we became mothers ourselves, and we are all together, learning how to love and nurture our children in the ways we are best able.
Rather than judging ourselves or others for how long we breastfed for, or if we even breastfed at all, let us recognise that every experience of breastfeeding is valuable, but more so, every experience along the mothering path is a valuable experience of learning. Rather than meeting ourselves and others with judgement, let us, instead, reflect upon, and come to recognise and value, the immense learning we are undertaking, in all of our interactions with our children. Let us feel proud of the work we are doing as mothers, and remind ourselves that no efforts upon the mothering path is ever time wasted, but always love invested.