Phoebe is now 4 ½ months old and I'm still exclusively breastfeeding her. That means she gets absolutely no other food or drink (apart from some homeopathic teething tablets), not even water. Some mums I know think it's great that she's still fully breastfed as their babies are now supplemented with, or fully on, formula. Others have started feeding their babies solids. But most of my mum friends are also still breastfeeding.
Long before I was pregnant I wasn't really sure whether I would breast or bottle feed. I didn't know much about either and I'd mainly been exposed to bottlefeeding and had fed a few babies myself this way. I always thought it was lovely that bottlefeeding could involve members of the family other than the mother. I remember bottlefeeding my cousin when she was just nine days old and it is a memory I cherish. I really felt like we bonded during that experience and that our future relationship benefited from it.
By the time I was considering pregnancy I thought I probably would at least try to breastfeed as it seemed the natural thing to do and I was aware that it was the best for the baby, although I still didn't know much about either. I wasn't sure how long I would breastfeed for but I was sure that I wouldn't stress myself out too much if I felt it wasn't for me and I thought I probably would stop by the time the baby had teeth, or maybe even at three months. I certainly didn't want to feed a baby who was old enough to either ask for it or remember the experience.
Once pregnant and the reading frenzy began, I became determined that I would breastfeed for at least the first three months. I also became anxious about the potential difficulties I might experience. I kept hearing awful stories about cracked and bleeding nipples and women screaming in pain, and a friend had a terrible time with blocked ducts and mastitis. Everything I read told me how good breast milk was for a baby and the more I thought about it the more I realised it was the right choice for me as it requires far less preparation than formula and I am an intrinsically lazy person, as anyone who has seen the paint job on the doors in our house will agree. This was particularly appealing when contemplating those middle of the night feeds. However, I didn't want to be the only person able to feed the baby, and I particularly wanted Toby to get involved so I decided that I would express milk.
When Phoebe was born we were relatively lucky with the feeding. Sure, my nipples got a bit cracked but thankfully they're not that sensitive and any pain I might have been feeling was nothing compared to what was going on down below. Phoebe and I learnt how to feed together fairly quickly and our breastfeeding relationship got off to a great start. I think a lot of this was to do with all of the preparation I had done during my pregnancy. As well as the ante-natal class on feeding I joined the Australian Breastfeeding Assocation and received their book Breastfeeding ...naturally. I read forums and talked to other mothers. One of the most useful pieces of information was a discussion forum titled "What do you think new mums need to know about breastfeeding?".
What I wasn't prepared for, however, was the fact that I would actually enjoy breastfeeding. I just didn't see myself as that kind of person but after spending my pregnancy worrying more about the feeding than the labour or birth, it has ended up being one of the loveliest experiences I have ever had. It is so intimate and Phoebe and I have had some gorgeous moments together that I am not sure we'd have had if she was bottlefed. Breastfeeding is my chance to have a bit of time out of a busy day, to put my feet up, read a book and cuddle my beautiful baby. I love the cuddles so much I often sit with her on my knee, playing with her and talking to her long after she's finished her feed.
I feel incredibly lucky to have had such a lovely and easy breastfeeding experience. At times I find it draining. I am constantly amazed at how much I need to eat and sleep and don't even get me started on growth spurts, or using me as a dummy during teething. (Incidentally I do find the phrase "using [the breast] as a dummy" a rather contradictory one. Surely a dummy is just that, a dummy breast, so don't babies use dummies as breasts rather than the other way around?) Oh! And then there's the biting. Yes, teething babies bite down on boobies for relief and it really ain't that nice an experience. I do hope she doesn't try it when she's got teeth or I may be giving up sooner than planned. But all in all it has been a very positive experience.
I was surprised at how protective I quickly became over our breastfeeding relationship. I didn't actually want anyone else to feed her and when she was about a month old and the time came to try her with expressed milk from a bottle it was extremely difficult for me to watch Toby trying to feed her. I actually almost cried. Hormones are powerful things indeed. Although I had managed to get her to drink from a bottle, Toby didn't enjoy the experience all that much and didn't persist with it. Because I had found it so uncomfortable I didn't encourage him to keep trying. After three months the hormones wore off and I didn't really mind who fed her so long as it didn't affect my milk supply and I still did most of the feeding. By then Phoebe wouldn't take a bottle and she still just chews on it rather than drinking from it.
Feeding in the night is certainly fuss-free. Phoebe sleeps in a cot in our room. When she wakes for a feed I get up and bring her back to the bed and either prop myself up whilst she's feeding, or lie back down with her next to me. Sometimes we doze like that for hours. When she's finished I put her back in her cot and she falls asleep again. There is no formula to mix or get to the right temperature and no bottles to worry about afterwards. Even during the day when I'm tired we lie down in bed together and I'll shut my eyes and rest whilst she's feeding. The morning feeds are lovely. She looks into my eyes and sometimes stops and smiles or talks before going back to her breakfast.
The other afternoon we lazed on the bed for quite a while after a feed and she was in a very relaxed mood. I love it when she's like that because she's usually so active. We just looked at each other and smiled and I made silly noises and faces, and kissed her chubby little cheeks whilst she laughed at me. She reached out and touched my face. That's her latest thing, reaching her arm as far as she can and touching or grabbing whatever is there. She often reaches towards my face whilst she's feeding. She touched my mouth and I said "mouth", then touched hers. She touched my nose so I said "nose" and touched her nose. She touched my mouth again. This went on for ages. I thought she'd get bored and I'd have to get up and do something more active but she was happy like that for about 20 minutes after her feed. It was a nice break for me and a lovely little interaction I'll remember forever.
It is a wonderful gift to be able to feed your baby and know that you can single-handedly sustain her. I now plan to exclusively breastfeed her until she is six months old (although I am quite happy for her to try foods between now and then if that's what she wants) and continue to breastfeed her until I either go back to work, she's a year old or perhaps even beyond that. Maybe for as long as she wants, perhaps even until she leaves home. I am joking... the jury is still out on how I feel about breastfeeding older babies and toddlers but I feel less strongly against it and will play that one by ear. To be honest part of it is that I'm not entirely sure how to stop feeding her. Even when she misses one feed, for example sleeps through a feed she usually wakes up for, my boobs hurt and I have to express milk. Gradually weaning her when she's ready seems the easiest way to do it. After all, that's nature's way so it should just happen and shouldn't require too much thought or research, right? Then again, I may get fed up of the whole thing long before she does. Either way, until then I'm just going to enjoy our little moments together and make the most of her being my baby.